Monday, October 24, 2016

Microblog Monday: Ask Again Later

Magic 8-Balls fall into the same category for me as Easy Bake Ovens: things I desperately wanted as a child but never had, because my parents found them frivolous.

Being the control freak that I am, maybe it's not surprising that I needed certainty from an early age, even if I knew, deep down, that it was unachieveable.  (There's something telling about the fact that the first appearance of a Magic 8-Ball was in a 1940 Three Stooges short, as if to say that seeing into the future is the stuff of slapstick.  And yet, only a few years later, the son of a clairvoyant filed a patent for the real thing, which drew the attention of Brunswick Billiards in 1950, and became the toy we all know and love.  I guess I'm not the only one who wants answers?)

Before we left Flemington, when I was out running with my daughter in the jogging stroller, I noticed a box of discarded toys at the curb.  And there, on the very top, was a Magic 8-Ball.

I picked it up, because I thought it would be fun for N. to play with as I was running (teaching her how to ask the right kinds of questions was a little challenging), and because, let's be honest, I wanted it for my office, where students often ask me questions that demand I have some ability to peer into the future.

I'd never noticed just how ingeniously the Magic 8-Ball mirrors our own inclinations.  Dreamers and optimists ask the Magic 8-Ball for things that they hope will happen, and 50% of the time, the 8-Ball responds with affirmation; 25% of the time, it responds with uncertainty (which might as well be hope); and 25% of the time, just to make it seem like chance is as work, it responds in the negative. Do pessimists ask pessimistically-phrased questions, I wonder? Some people (Mike Dooley of among them) would say we create the future we imagine.  The Magic 8-Ball would seem to agree.

One of my colleagues comes to check the Magic 8-Ball every day. She shakes it, but doesn't ask a question; she just looks for a general approach to the day.

Over the past few years, the world has seemed more and more unknown, unfathomable, unpredictable, precarious.  I don't know if that's because I'm older, and my world is wider, and I know more about how plans go awry; or because everything is shared so instantaneously that we feel the small ripples in the space-time continuum that we never felt before; or because the world itself is changing and becoming unpredictable.  I worry for the future: I worry about the rift between people in our nation that this presidential election has made painfully evident, I worry about the safety of my children (especially my daughter), I worry about refugees and immigrants, I worry about terrorism.  I hardly know what to ask the Magic 8-Ball, but I worry that when I do, it will say: Reply hazy try again.

Maybe it's the "try again" part I should focus on. Because really, that's the only certainty we have, isn't it?

This weekend I went to yoga at my old studio, and the focus of our practice was the story of Hanuman, devotee of the god Rama, who goes looking for Rama's love Sita, just as we go to look for truth.  What we find, through the practice of yoga--through not looking ahead but looking within, by staying still--is that the truth is always known, though just temporarily forgotten.  Something about this version of seeking and knowing feels more comforting, somehow, than shaking the Magic 8-Ball.

Did you ever have a Magic 8-Ball?  Would you want to see into the future if you could?

Not sure what #MicroblogMondays is? Read Mel's inaugural post which explains the idea and how you can participate too.
Pin It

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Homecoming, and Cinnamon Apple Cake

I stand in the kitchen, spoon deep in the batter. My oven is on, not for the first time, but for the first time that involves cake.  Tomorrow, I'd be pulling extra chairs into a living room that is now big enough to fit my entire book group.

There is something about the light, the space, the countertop filled with apples and flour and cinnamon and sugar, that makes me feel like yes, this is home.  And I am me again.  Not that I'd lost myself, exactly, but that a part of me had been missing.

There is room to dance in my kitchen now, too.  My daughter bops up and down as she pours ingredients together.   We turn up the music, and it echoes, partly because there are no rugs, partly because we may need more furniture.  It doesn't seem to bother anyone.

I don't have the right pan for this recipe, but I'm making do with a Bundt pan, and I don't worry about how things will turn out.

Two days later, I am cooking dinner, and it occurs to me that maybe we have enough for friends.  So I invite them over, on a whim.  They come, bearing wine, and guacamole, and chips.  What started as dinner becomes a party.

Two weeks later, after dinner, there are neighbor children in our yard, in the playhouse, chasing each other with flashlights, on a weeknight.  I lose track of them in the darkness, only to realize that they've reappeared on the other side of the house.  They flow in and out like water, as if they've been there all along.  When they have to go home for dinner, inexplicably, there are other neighbor children that replace them, having let themselves in, or come in with one of mine, appearing out of nowhere and entirely comfortable and welcome; they tumble upstairs where they are laughing and playing.

At some point, before children, after my own childhood, I imagined a parenthood like this, having a place where children come after school and eat cookies, but somehow a place that is also compatible with a full time job, a home that smells like baking cinnamon and sugar, where food is homemade when it can be.

Our house is not perfect.  There is a man in my bathroom today who has ripped out the shower walls because the crack in the floor led us to mold in the walls, in the insulation.  The doors don't all close all the way.  Things stick. Wood is rotten.  There were parts put together hastily.

Our house is not perfect.  I yell at my kids in the morning to move faster, try to motivate my son to work harder at his piano and trombone, sometimes feels like I'm juggling a schedule for our busy family that doesn't allow me time to grow or learn anything new.

Our house is not perfect.  I watch the news too much, and despair about Syria and the election and hurricanes and poverty and racism and senseless killing of people who never deserved to die.

But our house smells like apples and cinnamon sometimes, and it's warm, and children play there and feel welcome without being invited, and friends come, and we can be spontaneous, and there is space for everyone, and there are moments when this house feels like home.

Cinnamon Apple Cake
The recipe is originally Smitten Kitchen's, though it also seems, if you read the comments on that post, to belong to everyone.  I almost didn't try it because I didn't have the right pan, but I thought it worth a shot, given that it had worked for so many others.  I've since bought a tube pan, and they both work fine. I love bulletproof recipes.

6 apples, peeled, cored, chopped into 1" chunks
1 T. cinnamon
5 T. sugar
2 3/4 c. flour
1 T. baking powder
1 t. salt
1 c. vegetable oil (or other oil of your choice)
2 c. granulated sugar
1/4 c. orange juice
2 1/2 t. vanilla extract
4 large eggs

Heat oven to 350 degrees. If you have a tube pan, grease it; I used a Bundt pan.

Toss the apples with cinnamon and 5 T. sugar; set aside.

Stir together the dry ingredients (through salt) in a large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together wet ingredients (through eggs). Gently fold wet ingredients completely into dry ones (don't overmix!).

Pour half of batter into prepared pan. Spread half of apples (and their juices) over it. Pour the remaining batter over the apples and arrange the remaining apples on top. Bake for 1 to 1.5 hours, or until a tester comes out clean. (I started at the shorter end and kept going until the batter under the apples was dry.)

Cool completely before running knife between cake and pan, and unmolding onto a platter.
Pin It

Sunday, July 17, 2016


It's been almost a month since we've moved officially to our new house, since our furniture arrived, since we unpacked our knick knacks and clothes and found new homes for kitchen utensils that we're still trying to find again on a regular basis.

We've made pitchers of sangria and had family and friends arrive in rotation, on the 3rd and 4th and 10th of July; on Thursday one of the local moms rang the doorbell and invited me to join the other women from the block for a drink on her back deck; and on Friday, after our neighbor delivered a delicious carrot zucchini bread, my colleagues from work came over with their families for dinner, during which we consumed many bottles of champagne. One of my colleagues brought a dense dark brown bread and salt, a traditional European blessing for a new home, reminding me of my friend's blog, which is named for those very gifts.

On Saturday, the neighbors pulled chairs out to the cul de sac, and the kids (there are many on our road) rode bicycles and pulled each other around (sometimes dumping each other out of) a home-made rickshaw and drew in chalk on the road while we all talked and drank beer and water and whatever else people brought out with them to share.

This is more partying than I think we've ever done in such a short period of time; we've smoked loins of pork and entire chickens and grilled chicken and salmon and burgers and hot dogs; we've made kale salads and watermelon salads and corn and Spanish tortillas and gazpacho and icebox pie and lemon Bundt cake. We've sat outside until it gets dark, and until the mosquitos begin to nip at us. It only rained once, and even then, just during dessert.

The people from whom we bought this house entertained a lot, they said; they talked about how they loved having a crowd over, cooking and baking and laughing together.  While we did that in our Flemington house sometimes, too, it's been nice to feel like there's space to share. This house invites gatherings of loved ones and new friends.

I still worry sometimes about feeling lonely here, about missing old friends, about not making the kinds of close friends I left behind.  But as I said to my son just this morning, it may be that the people we meet here don't become our best friends, and that's OK, because they seem to be kind people, and we're haven't left our other friends behind. Both have already warmed our house with so much laughter and good food and good company, for which I've been especially grateful this summer, given the sadness and darkness unfolding in the world.  Maybe, in some small way, our celebrations of each other can continue to create ripples of light.
Pin It

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

On Domestic Abuse

I have cried a lot, watching the events of the past week unfold.  More dead Black men. More protests. And then dead police in Dallas.

I had a title, but not a post, for a few days: Black and Blue. Like a bruise. Like the result of battering. A domestic abuse.

But I had nothing new to say. I felt like a voyeur. Watching the videos, scanning the photos from the comfort/discomfort of my couch, on my laptop.

Perhaps most memorable for me, this one, taken by Jonathan Bachman of Reuters:


A young Black woman, standing tall and straight, bold and powerful, being handcuffed.  White officers in full riot gear. Destabilized. Why do they need to approach this unarmed woman this way? How much is this like the initial moments of colonization and slavery? How can they see her as a threat?  And yet, they do.

Is this, as Michelle Alexander writes, our mirror? Will this be enough? Will it disturb us enough?

My neighbors went to a Black Lives Matter protest in Trenton last night. I was home with two kids who were not going to a protest. Part of me has been looking for a protest, and another part of me, like this woman, wonders, what the fuck is a protest going to do? We can march all we want; what is really going to change? How many times will we lose energy, and forget?

I watched protest video footage from Baton Rouge.  I wanted to reach through the screen and pull those people to safety, here in my living room.

Our students, this past year, occupied the University President's office, telling him they wouldn't leave until he agreed to their demands.  He did, eventually. Or at least, agreed to consider them. Which, of course, wasn't really the same thing at all. Why did he agree? Because he believes that the institution he leads is a fundamentally racist institution?   I doubt that, though I know his heart is in the right place, and I'm sure that he realizes the institution will need to change and evolve and respond during the next few years. Will our students return to their protests this year, knowing that they haven't achieved their goals?

Beyond our campus, where do we sit in? Whose office do we occupy?  What do we demand?  Not more task forces. Not more committees.  Yes, justice. Accountability.  But more. So much more.

What counts as a crime? Who gets stopped, imprisoned? How do we make sure that our measures are equal, regardless of the color of our skin?

Who gets to live in places that are clean and safe and bright and affordable?

Who gets access to a good education, good jobs?

Who gets a chance in this nation of opportunity?

We can approach each other -- black, white, brown, blue -- with open hearts, but how do our open hearts create equality?  We encourage our students to meet each other with civility, with respect, but how can we change lifetimes of wrongs before someone else has to die?

Years ago, I served as a board member for our county's domestic violence agency. We didn't get to see the agency's clients very often because of the policies around confidentiality.  But we did get to see a lot of the infrastructure that supported them.  We toured the safe house and the transitional house, where families were protected and then getting back on their feet, preparing to start over again.  We met children in the Peace: A Learned Solution (PALS) program, who were finding voices through art and music and theater, unlearning conflict and violence. We talked with the people who manned the crisis hotline, were often joined in meetings by the lawyer who supported clients free of charge through difficult appearances in court. And we also met counselors and community educators who worked with the abusers and with outreach to high school students, who shared a belief not just that we could create safe spaces for the victims of domestic violence, but that the perpetrators of violence could change. There is research on this: that abusers can stop abusing their partners, if they take responsibility, if they learn communication skills, if they examine their own pasts.

Maybe there are lessons to be learned here.  That domestic abuse can stop. That abusers can redefine what it means to be masculine, that they can begin to see their partners as partners, not as threats. That we can find ways to support both abusers and survivors. That we can offer hope. That we can heal our broken and bruised political body.

Because the alternative is too much for our nation, and for us all, to bear.

For Tamir Rice, Ousmane Zongo, Rekia Boyd, Walter Scott, Eric Garner, Kajieme Powell, Samuel DuBose, Laquan McDonald, Sandra Bland, Oscar Grant, Sean Bell, Kayla Moore and Tanisha Anderson. For Michael Smith, Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Patrick Zamarripa, and Brent Thompson, who were there to protect that day, and who, I have to believe, shared the conviction that #Black Lives Matter.
Pin It

Monday, June 13, 2016

What Are We Waiting For? (For Orlando, and for all of us)

I have been at loss for words.

My Facebook feed is full of "gun control," but also (because I have grown up with, and still talk with, people who are pro-gun-rights) "shooter shoots, not guns."  There are people condemning Muslim terrorists, and Muslim friends calling for more overt support of the LGBT community. (BTW, Donald: he was born in New York.)

CNN tells us the police have found no accomplices, though the shooter pledged allegiance to ISIS during a 911 call.  

The victims whose names have been released so far are largely from the Latinx community. Given where they were killed, a place that is a sanctuary, I wonder how many of them had families who knew, how many of them have families who will mourn, how many of them died with the only family they knew.  At least two of them were college students.  They could easily have been my students.

Everything we know about people who become radicalized suggests that they are isolated, disconnected, lost; that they turn to radical ideology (even if they're not religious) for meaning, for structure, for order in a world over which they feel no control, for belonging when they don't belong anywhere else.  Maybe they have parents who have fanned the flames of their hate.  But in the end, they're not so different from abandoned mentally ill people who, say, enter a theater and open fire.  Or who go to an elementary school and take the lives of twenty first graders. What happened in Orlando was a hate crime against LGBT people of color, against diversity of expression of love itself, done in the name of domestic terror. Hate, fueled by hate.

Let me be clear: I don't understand why anyone needs an assault-style or semi-automatic weapon for their personal use.  I don't understand why people don't have to pass the same kinds of tests to own and operate a gun that they do to own and drive a car. I don't understand why someone who has been the subject of a domestic violence report gets to purchase a weapon without some pretty detailed background investigation.

I also don't understand how, if this person was mentally ill, no one realized this before.  Did anyone at his college notice?  Did anyone at his security firm notice (did he have to pass any psychological tests)?  His ex-wife noticed. Did anyone do anything after she filed her domestic violence report?

And most of all, I don't understand how there can be so much hate, and how we can't seem to do a damn thing about it.

Particularly because the gunman wasn't an immigrant, but a native-born American who was just like any one of us, I've been thinking about this event in connection with the debate about free speech on our campuses, the ways in which some students say they don't feel safe when they hear racist or sexist or anti-religious or homophobic discourse.  As administrators, we try to walk the line between free speech and civility.  We try to make sure that everyone's voice is heard.  Some people even dismiss students' demands for "safety," saying that they shouldn't be so coddled, saying that they're in no real danger.  But when tragic events like this one unfold, and we have no mechanisms to prevent them, how can we be so sure?

I'm tired of signing my name to petitions.  I'm tired of having to explain to my son, who reads the news on his tablet before we can intervene, why this keeps happening. I'm tired of hugging my children and my friends and saying we should hold each other close. I'm tired of feeling powerless.

We are all victims.  We are Charlie, we are Aurora, we are Brussels, we are Charleston, we are Lebanon, we are Columbine, we are San Bernardino, we are Fort Hood, we are Sandy Hook. Now we are Orlando.  When will the loss be too great to bear?

What are we waiting for? When we will say we have had enough?  When will we put people in power who can do something in the name of love?

Pin It

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Brock Turner, Rape Culture, and Us

(with apologies for another angry post without mention of food. and with a warning for anyone triggered by sexual assault, in case it wasn't already obvious.)

I have been following the coverage of Brock Turner with my stomach tied in knots.

It makes me sick that he thought he could do this (or worse, that he didn't think it important enough to think at all); it makes me sick that the judge let him get away with it by handing down such a light sentence; it makes me sick that anyone would come to his defense after the fact, citing "political correctness" or "promiscuity" or alcohol as the culprit.

But perhaps it makes more visible than ever both the privilege of white male athletes (each of those words an additive in privilege), and the rape culture that is so pervasive we don't even see it any more.

I work at a university that, like most universities, requires all of its incoming freshmen and graduate students to complete an online mandatory sexual assault prevention program.  During orientation, students participate in an hour and a half long performance and discussion focused on sexual assault, rape, and bystander intervention. That program is followed by small group discussions, and additional information later on in the week.

During which many of them, I know, are thinking: "this would never happen to me."

And yet, it does.

A recent survey on our campus (with a high response rate) revealed that in the past year, 20 percent of all students (with a higher proportion of women then men, and higher proportion of undergraduates than graduates) have experienced sexual assault (which includes everything from harassment to stalking to nonconsensual sexual contact). And that during the past year, four percent of all students (men, women and gender nonbinary) experienced nonconsensual sexual penetration: rape.  Breaking that down by self-identified gender, eight percent of undergraduate women report that they were raped.  Mostly by people they knew.

One rape is one rape too many.  But 1 out of every 12 women?

We know that orientation isn't enough. So we try to start conversations that continue to loop students back in, remind them about how to have healthy relationships.  But they have had so much programming by age 17; it's an uphill climb.

They learn that if someone doesn't want to be with you, you buy them another drink.  They learn that no really means "not yet."  They learn that red means stop, green means go, and yellow means floor it so you can get through before it turns red.

Eighty four percent of college men who were found guilty of sexual assault did not believe their behavior was illegal.  Why?  Because women are described as objects so often that it becomes easy to see them as objects.  Because masculinity is described in terms of sexual conquest, and men--especially adolescent men, and they're trying to figure out who they're going to be--fall prey to those definitions. All of this makes rape culture normative, invisible, particularly, I'd argue, when it lives inside of white privilege, which is also invisible.  (*I am very aware that sexual assault is not limited to male perpetrators and female victims/survivors; I've worked with gay students who have been assaulted by other gay students, men assaulted by women, trans people assaulted by cisgender students. That said: rape culture feels rooted, to me, in power dynamics that are attached to gender.)

Why is it that so many people are more concerned about what will happen when a trans person steps into the bathroom than they are about what will happen when a white cisgender male is trying to prove his masculinity to himself in a culture where he'll never measure up?

I was heartened to read Vice President Biden's moving open letter today.  It was an important statement to make. But I also know that this river is deep. And that even Joe Biden doesn't go back to the place where rape culture begins.  Because you have to go back pretty far in the development of our children to learn when we first start to talk about consent, and bodies, and limits, and respect.

In case you hadn't heard, it turns out that Brock Turner will only be serving three months of his six month sentence.   Even college campus processes have more successful sanctioning than the prosecution record of rape cases. I don't have to ask you how you think this might have unfolded for a Black male, because we know.

Is it any surprise that survivors of rape don't want to report the crime to the police, knowing that this will be the outcome?

Is it any surprise that I didn't say anything to anyone about my own experience for more than ten years?

I know that many of you were silent, too.

What are we--you--me--doing to change this, not just at college orientation, but long before we ever have to have those conversations with our youth, before they ever find themselves bystanders?
Pin It

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Table Manners

Imagine, if you will:

Your boss has invited you to lunch to discuss your summer project plans.  This is not a special invitation, exactly, because she has also invited your colleagues to similar lunch meetings, all during the same week. But you have settled on a semi-fancy farm-to-table place, prepare a list of things you want to make sure you cover, stash said list in your purse, and wear something in which you take yourself seriously.

By Chrisrobertsantieau - Own work, Public Domain,
Things are going well enough; you have a good conversation, you enjoy a delicious meal, you manage not to have salad sticking out of your teeth.  You order coffee, after asking if she is also ordering coffee.  When it arrives, you select a yellow packet from the sugar bowl, stir, and sip.

Three sips in or so, you realize that the coffee needs cream, or milk, or whatever happens to be in the small creamer on the table, the one that is even smaller than your coffee cup.  She has already added cream to hers, so you reach for the creamer and begin to pour.

At which point, it slips from your fingers, and lands with an impressive splash directly in the middle of your cup of coffee, where it is now making cafe au lait of its own accord.

You have managed to splatter it all around the cup, but not on your dress, which, of course, is brand new.  You take your napkin, and wipe up around the spill; your boss asks if you are all right, you assure her that you are unscathed.  Nothing to see here.

And then?  Then what do you do?

Well, if you are me, and you want coffee, and you're not thinking very clearly, you gingerly fish the creamer out of the cup, wipe it off, add the appropriate amount of cafe au lait to your cup, making some comment about how much you'd had in the cup originally, and drink it.

And then, on the way home from work four hours later, you realize your faux pas, feel mortified, and wonder how you will now teach your children table manners with a straight face.
Pin It

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Look(ing) Out

Word travels fast.

Facebook told me this morning about an active shooter at UCLA, before any other media did, since I'd already gotten the Times digest for the day.  As soon as I heard, I went to the LA Times for more in-depth coverage.  Once I had the backstory I turned to Twitter for immediate updates, and back to Facebook for updates from a friend who was there.  Tomorrow there will be coverage in the Chronicle of Higher Education, in Inside Higher Ed, in The Skimm, and in my Thursday digest of the Times.

It all felt, and continues to feel, a little surreal.

I attended UCLA as a graduate student.  I know exactly what building the suspect and victim were in. I saw students running down paths that were familiar, hands raised above their heads.  A friend from graduate school, now returned to UCLA as a colleague, was there on campus, as were professors I'd had years ago. One of our current students was headed there to take a class this summer; we didn't know if she'd arrived yet.  My heart is with the UCLA community tonight, and everyone connected to the victims.

This could just as easily have happened at the place where I work.

There is no security stopping people as they enter campus.  There are no checkpoints.  There are no metal detectors to make sure students don't have guns when they enter a building. Yes, you can lock down a building, but not until it's already too late.  We are lucky that we haven't had anyone threaten to hurt others, but it's not uncommon for students to think about--and even act on thoughts of--hurting themselves when they can't cope.

via flickr user Duncan Rawlinson
I worry about a culture in which students who see themselves as academic or social failures feel that they have no recourse but violence.  We can debate about the need for gun control (making it the fault of a system that will allow people to acquire guns, though people who want guns badly enough can find less legal ways to get them); we can debate about the availability of mental health resources (making it the fault of a system that lets people fall through the cracks); we can debate about parenting (making it the fault of parents who are raising less resilient children).  We can even debate whether we should recognize achievement at all (like the North Carolina school board who voted to stop recognizing valedictorians just did), or whether we should "cover" grades (like many universities are doing) to remove at least one of the sources of stress.

But at the end of the day all we do is debate whose fault it is, if all we do is watch it happen over and over again, what good have we done?

With all of our social media voyeurism and instantaneous sharing of news, why do we do so much "looking out," instead of looking out for each other, from the moment we understand what empathy means?
Pin It

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Caveat Emptor

Inspired by Searching for our Silver Lining's post about putting her home on the market.


Caveat emptor:

You will need to check the raspberries in early July.  I know the bushes are prickly, but please pick them daily; don't let the birds get those two quarts.  I worked too hard for that, pruning the canes each year, the tiny thorns stuck in my skin. I have a recipe for fresh raspberry pie if you need it.

About the hydrangeas.  I know they look dead right now.  They've come and gone these ten years (we coaxed them to bloom the first year we moved in); perhaps they're in mourning for us.  They came too early this year, with the warm spring, and were taken by surprise by the cold snap in March.  You might want to leave them be, in case they come around in the end.

I know that you're planning to live mostly on one floor, but I hope you'll take a shower upstairs every once in a while, where you can look out the window and see the barn bathed in early morning sunlight. I'll make sure it sparkles for you before we leave.

I hope you don't mind my forwardness, but the best place for your couch is near the window in the living room.  The breezes are calming at night, and you'll be able to look outside, sitting sideways, and hear the sounds of people enjoying summer at the pool. If you're not feeling well, the sounds will lull you to sleep.

Are you bringing some chairs for the front porch? It's the best place to watch thunderstorms and the 5K races on Thanksgiving and in June. I recommend a rocking chair.  It's an old porch.

While we're on the subject of porches: please plan to buy at least ten bags of candy for Halloween.  There will be about 300 children who come to your door, and I don't want to disappoint them.

I hope you like the neighbors.  Feel free to ask to borrow an egg or some aluminum foil, like we did on the day we moved in. Maybe they'll tell you about the time I won an ice cream block party from Edy's for an essay I wrote about my community, and we all sat out under the tree between your driveway and your neighbors' driveway, with tubs and tubs of ice cream they shipped to us in styrofoam containers with dry ice.

And one last thing: there may be ghosts.  They're quiet, mostly, but you may hear them at night, unfulfilled dreams, children that never saw this world.  Be kind to them.  Speak softly to them.  They shouldn't trouble you; they're looking for me.  You can tell them where we've gone.

Take care of this home, with its patches in the drywall, with its spiders in the basement, with its letters scratched in the concrete foundation. It's been here a long time.  I promise it will take care of you.

with love,

Pin It

Monday, May 16, 2016

Microblog Monday: Honey Gone Nuts Granola

Not sure what #MicroblogMondays is? Read the inaugural post which explains the idea and how you can participate too.

I have been stress eating.

The house needs to be packed up, but we can't pack it up much more because we're living in it.  Students are still having crises.  Our summer vacation plans, meager as they were, have been blown up bit by bit by other commitments: to family reunions, to orientation at my son's new school, to work responsibilities that have cropped up in the middle of July and August that require me to be there when I thought I'd get a week off.  My commute, long though it may be now, when shortened will no longer take me past the fields of horses and cows and alpacas I've grown to love. It's been a long, long time since we took more than a few days' vacation, and it's starting to wear on me.

Mel posted about craving this morning, about how it's not about the food we want but about the experience connected to the food that we're trying to recreate.  In my case, though, I disagree: I think it's purely chemical. Sometimes I crave chocolate cake, and in my more desperate endorphin-seeking moments I make chocolate mug cake.  It's not beautiful, but it serves the purpose.

I've also, oddly, been craving granola.  I used to make cranberry ginger granola, mostly in the winter for Christmas, but two years ago my blogger friend Ilene opened her store Hippie Chick Granola Co., and I rarely bother to make my own any more, because hers was even better, even if I did have to ship it from North Carolina.  Besides, I like supporting a small woman-owned business. And I wanted to order some the other night, but Ilene was in Raleigh pitching to Shark Tank, and even if she were at her ovens in Oak Island, I couldn't get it fast enough.

Kimberly, the baker at my beloved coffee shop (she takes orders) also makes fabulous granola (come to think of it, Ilene and Kimberly would get along very well). Truth be told, I hardly ever buy coffee at the coffee shop; Kimberly also makes the best scones and cake and yeast doughnuts that don't come out of my oven. They sell their granola with yogurt and fresh fruit in a cup that is just the right size to stick in my cupholder so I can eat as I drive to work.  Sadly, this breakfast of the gods costs $4, so it's not an everyday occurrence.

So I bit the bullet, went to the grocery store, channeled Ilene and Kimberly, and hoped for the best.  Both of them taught me (by taste, more than anything else) that salt is key. And that you should dial back on the oats. And that you shouldn't oversweeten your granola.  And that olive oil makes for a light, crispy, even nuttier crunch.

Though I'm sure that I'll still be buying Kimberly's and Ilene's granola, because they are far more talented bakers than I could ever hope to be, the results were satisfactory.  I've been snacking on it since it came out of the oven, and this morning, I heaped it over greek yogurt and apricots, and drove to work with my own container in the cupholder, admiring the fields of buttercups where horses grazed, trying to let the knots in my shoulders go.

Salted Honey Gone Nuts Granola

1 c. hazelnuts, coarsely chopped
1 c. almonds, slivered
1 c. cashews, coarsely chopped
1 c. unsweetened coconut flakes
2 c. oats
generous grind of sea salt (yes, you really need sea salt)
4 1/2 T. olive oil
3 T. honey (or 1 1/2 - 2 T. agave for your vegans out there or people watching your g.i.)

Preheat oven to 350.  Prepare a metal sheet pan by lining it with aluminum foil, lightly oiled.

Mix all of the dry ingredients together with your hands.  Add the honey and oil, toss well to coat.

Pour onto prepared baking sheet and bake for about 20 minutes, until lightly browned, and cool for a while on the pan, until your self-restraint has evaporated and you must eat some.

Pin It

Monday, April 18, 2016

I Don't Post On My Blog Because I'm My Own Worst Critic.

Are you your own worst critic? Does it affect your writing?

My post about this topic is being featured on BlogHer today ... come on over and visit, and join the conversation about strategies for overcoming your inner critic!

Pin It

Sunday, April 17, 2016

The Bridgetender

At the far end of edge of a bridge spanning the Delaware River between New Hope and Lambertville sits in a booth that is just large enough, perhaps, for two chairs.  Sometimes, crossing the bridge on foot, I've peeked in the window, wondering what it's like to sit there in the same spot for hours day in and day out, watching the river pass, watching the people pass, confined to a space just slightly larger than your body.

Today, I heard an interview with a woman who left an office job where she worked for 14 years, realizing that if her life ended suddenly, she didn't want to have woken up that morning not wanting to go to work.  The job she took: tending a bridge.

"The pay was terrible, the benefits worse," she confessed.  But what she loved about the job were the intangible benefits: the cultivation of vigilance, patience, and attention.  She became accustomed to the rhythm of the days and the seasons, seeing the same joggers and fishermen, people she knew intimately, despite their complete anonymity. She would overhear people's lives: the marriage proposals, the arguments, the deep conversations unaware of an observer.  It made her appreciate the world in a way she'd never done before.  

I wonder how many bridgetenders are left, now that so many of them are automated, or built to accommodate larger boats, or don't open at all, because they no longer get that kind of water traffic. It seems like the sort of vocation that you don't see much any more.  Which is sort of sad, given how important that role of watcher can be.

Some days, I'm a bridgetender, too.  Though I'm plenty busy, at work, the students move past me through the semesters and the seasons that I feel more keenly towards the end of the year, when final exams and graduation looms; my job is to make sure that they can get to the other side safely, that the obstacles in their way are removed (or at least that they have some means of getting past), that they have someone watching over them, someone they might not even notice.  I overhear private moments, the kinds of things people say when they cross a bridge, when they think their voices will be carried away by the wind and the current.
Maybe it's not so bad, the sitting still.

What bridges do you tend?  Would you be a bridgetender if you had a chance? Who are the tenders of your bridges?
Pin It

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Legacies (with Soda Bread)

My first apartment in New Jersey, after I returned from the West Coast, was at the back end of a long, two story half-empty building, where the only other tenants on my floor (or so it seemed to me) were an older woman named Marcia and an older man named Harry.

Harry lived next door to me, and he hadn't been well past mid-life, I would have said he was having a midlife crisis.  He drove a red sportscar and had a bleach-blonde older girlfriend.  I didn't see much of him, beyond his comings and goings.  I may or may not have heard him (and his girlfriend) at night.

Marcia lived across the hall from me, in an apartment that always seemed to be full of steam.  Our building was perpetually cold (because our landlord was a miserly SOB, earning tax credits for his empty apartments, despite our super's best efforts to make the place liveable), and so Marcia would boil great pots of water on her stove, heating her cramped space as best she could, covering herself with hand-crocheted blankets in the most raucous of colors.  When I knocked at her door, I knew that I'd be in for an hour long conversation, and that she would implore me (in a way that was impossible to refuse: "Zhus-tin," she would call) to come, to sit, and to eat: small hard blueberry muffins, or dry crumbly cookies, or something that her son had brought, which was "too much" for her to eat alone.

Marcia was a Holocaust survivor.  Her sister, who lived in Brazil, was her only other surviving relative; sometimes when I went to visit, as I often did on the weekends or after work, I would find her laboring over her letters, or talking a million miles an hour in Hebrew, long distance.  She never told me her story, though she alluded to it; she didn't want to talk about it, she said, because it was too sad for me.  (She eventually published a memoir, here, which I discovered just this week.) I never understood what she meant by that, but I told her it was OK, and that I loved her, and that I was glad I lived there with her, grateful for her friendship. On rare occasions, wiping away her tears, she would confide to me she thought she was spared for Ora, her granddaughter, to leave her legacy with her. Selfishly, sometimes, though I would never tell her so, I thought she was spared for me, too.

I dated my husband when I lived there, and when we got engaged, she was one of the first people we told.  I remember her blessing us, and trembling with joy, and telling me how sad she was that I would be leaving, but what a happy life we would have together.  One day she called us in, presenting us with a wedding present: a silver serving plate, embossed in great detail with grapes and leaves and vines. She told us that it was symbolic; that in Jewish weddings the secret to happiness is in the blessings over the wine.

We visited her occasionally those first few years; she left our complex not long after I did, when her son, finally taking issue with the lack of heat and other creature comforts, decided to buy a condominium for her with a scenic view of the park that boundaried the nearby river.  I loved seeing her in her new place, with the same crocheted blankets flung over the backs of furniture.  She still fed us cookies and fruit and tea.  But after my son was born, we slowly lost touch.

We don't have much in the way of fancy serving ware, but every once in a while, we use Marcia's plate for a special occasion, usually to serve bread, wrapped in a cloth napkin; every time, I remember her blessings.

I took Marcia's plate out of the cabinet last week, thinking that I'd put it in the bin to bring over to the new house, and decided to polish it up a bit first.  I hadn't realized that it had so tarnished over the years that the spaces between the details were outlined in black; S. and I both thought it had been that way always.  I scrubbed and scrubbed with polish and paper towel; we tried a soft-bristled toothbrush to get the polish in between the cracks; S. tried submerging it with aluminum foil in a baking soda solution.  I've spent hours on the project, and though in some spots it now gleams, still, the more I polish it, the more I see the tarnish left where I have more work to do.  Marcia, reminding us not to put her away for too long this time, to do the hard work of memory that keeps legacies visible.

Legacies are complicated things.  We never know what kind of impressions we've made.  But I hope that I'll leave behind pieces of myself that are as stubborn and beautiful as Marcia's are, even now.

Soda Bread
A friend shared this recipe, and refers to it as "Mother Hudak's" Soda Bread.  I don't know who Mother Hudak is, but I'm glad that she's left me this piece of herself, whoever she is.  Though it's from a very different tradition, it's actually not all that different from something we might have been served at Marcia's over tea.

2 c flour
1 ½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
½ c sugar
1 c raisins
1 egg
1 c sour cream
¼ c milk

Preheat oven to 350, and prepare a baking pan by greasing it or lining it with parchment.

Sift dry ingredients together in a large bowl with a whisk.  Add raisins to mixture.

Beat egg and make a hole in center of mixture – add beaten egg, and mix well with a fork.

Cream together and add to bread mixture the sour cream and milk. Fold dough together gently using a spatula.

Dump the dough from the bowl onto the pan and shape into a loaf; bake for 35 minutes to an hour depending on how crusty you like it.  When crust looks brown and done, it’s likely not baked thoroughly inside.  You'll likely want to cover the bread with aluminum foil on top and continue baking for ~ 15 more minutes.
Pin It

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Four Hours Out of the Cloud

I was just updating my phone.

You know how it is.  You reach a point at which you're tired of "ignore" and "remind me later" and you go ahead and bite the bullet because you have power and wifi and a little time on your hands, because you're reading your email on a desktop to which your phone is connected.

At least, that's how it was for me.  Pedestrian update.  So imagine my surprise when I looked down to see my phone stuck on a screen with the iTunes logo that wouldn't go away no matter how many times I restarted, and looked up at my computer, where a pop up window implored me to restore my iPhone to factory settings.  After wrestling with it for a while, not feeling ready to dump everything and start from my last cloud backup (Mel is right: go do your backups. Of everything), it was time to leave work.

Without a functioning phone.

It's one thing to take a voluntary break from the grid, to step away for a few hours or days, to be in control of the drug.  But to have the plug pulled by someone other than you, and to not know whether you'll get your data back, or when: that's a different experience altogether.

I drove home in silence, feeling an overwhelming urge to call someone, doubtless the result of not being able to do so.  I waited for the phone to buzz, telling me I had new email from students during the pre-dinner internet rush, but of course, it didn't.  I worried that my husband would text me that he'd been in some terrible car crash with the kids, and I wouldn't know.  I worried that a student would try to reach me, and would get only voice mail, which I'd never hear.

An hour later, after I'd hastily crammed some tacos into my mouth and kissed my family hello and goodbye, I was on my way to the Apple store.  This is madness, I thought.  How did I become so reliant on my phone?

Because I don't spend much time in the Apple store, I didn't know that one needs an appointment to get a seat at the Genius Bar.  I confided to the friendly-looking gentleman with a clipboard that my students have my number, and that they use it for emergencies (which is a slight exaggeration, but also completely plausible).  Taking pity on me, he sat me at what I called, in conversation with the grandmother sitting next to me, "the second-class Intelligensia bar."  He plugged me in, started me up, and did what I probably could have done at work, had I had time to do so: rebuild my phone from the Cloud (did I mention that you should go make your backups?  Make your backups).

My table-mates and I talked about raising young people in the digital age ("it's how I keep track of my 14 year old granddaughter that I adopted; I know everything about her," confided the woman to my right), about the attachment we have to our devices, both for work reasons and personal ones ("this is where all the things I really care about live," said the older woman to my left, "the pictures, the texts, the things nobody but me cares about.").  We talked about feeling disempowered, disconnected without our devices (without having control over the disconnection).  It was a delightful way to spend an hour with strangers I would have never met, except that karma took my phone away.

I was back in business by 9 p.m., four and a half hours after I lost connectivity to the mobile universe. Everything was just as I'd left it; nothing had blown up.  I hugged the employee who helped us, who blushed sheepishly.  I told him I'd hate to deal with people like me all day, in store so loud you can't hear yourself think.

And I drove home in silence, without feeling the need to call a soul.

Have you ever lost connectivity for an extended period of time, for reasons beyond your control?  What was the experience like?
Pin It

Tuesday, March 29, 2016


When we moved into our current house, more than ten years ago, my aunt from Maine bought us a bouy bell.  It was a cool gift, a deep, clangy chime that reminded me of summers in Kennebunk Beach when I was growing up.  We hung it from the barn, over our garden, for a while, until it fell (did it fall?), and moved into the barn, where it accumulated wasp nests and rust.

We don't have much we don't need, but we are systematically ridding ourselves of the few things we own that fall into that category.  I'd taken out the bell, thinking that perhaps I'd move it, when I realized I didn't much like the sound of it after all.  Too clangy.  Might piss off the neighbors.

I've sold some things online, but mostly I've Freecycled things, hoping that they find another home and new life.  Sometimes I wonder about Freecyclers, hoping that they don't just go try to sell my stuff on eBay, dumpster diving like the big white truck that drives slowly up and down the streets of town on the night before garbage day.

I decided to Freecycle the bell, hoping for the best.  I got a lot of responses soon after I'd posted it; the chime is, after all, still working just fine, and it's a $70 item.  I looked at the list of willing takers, wondering if I'd made the right choice, reassuring myself that no, I didn't need the bell, and that the right thing to do was to give it away to someone who would love it.

But because of my ongoing misgivings about the intentions of people who pick things up for free, I decided to Google the people in line.

(I have mad Googling skillz.  I am not ashamed to own this; I could probably make money as a Google-stalking-private-detective.  My real gain from years of doctoral studies.)

Some of the people claimed ties to Maine, or to Kennebunkport, telling me that the bell would feed their nostalgia.  Some people told me where the bell would live.  The first person to respond hadn't said much, though, and I was hesitant to let him claim it.

Turns out he is trying to bring new life to a theater in a town I used to frequent, where flooding had completely wiped out local businesses, and an immigrant community had moved in, just barely making ends meet.  He staged a production of "Jesus Christ Superstar," and was working on "Assassins," to debut in May.

I wrote back to him, telling him where he could pick up the bell, and asking whether he was indeed the same person I'd found.  He affirmed, delighted that I'd found him (surprisingly not creeped out at all, which most sane people should be, I guess).  We had a brief correspondence about pickup arrangements, and some time this afternoon, the bell disappeared from my driveway.

In my inbox: a short note, thanking me again, and offering me two comped tickets to "Assassins" in May.

Which, though perhaps a more short-lived pleasure, I think I'll enjoy a whole lot more than the bell.  I'm glad it found a new home, for both of our sakes.

Have you ever Freecycled something?  Or picked up something free?  Or participated in a parallel economic system that seems to work better than you'd expect it to?
Pin It

Thursday, March 24, 2016


From a young age, my daughter has insisted: I want to do it myself.

My son, somewhat less adept at expressing himself, despite impressive verbal skills, also demonstrates stubborn self-reliance.

I've encouraged this independence; it's in our best interest to raise children to be self-sufficient, to be people who can make themselves a meal, put clothes in the laundry, wash dishes, eventually go to work take care of themselves, making a contribution to the world.

But I worry, sometimes, about tempering the message.  About teaching them about accepting help, or even better, seeking it out on their own terms, making help part of what it means to be independent.

In case it's not obvious, I am terrible at asking for help.  I like doing things my way, having control. I have a plan, and I carry it out.  It took me months before I finally called a therapist to get help for what, by that point, was crushing depression and anxiety.

The irony, of course, is that this is what I do all day long: connect students with help, get them to consider help, help them to accept help.  Hypocrisy at its best.

S. has been traveling again, and the child care situation is, as usual, challenging.  While I pay for care from 6:30 (for I.) or 7:30 (for N.) until 6:00 (for N.) or 6:30 (for I.), it's simply not enough when I need to drive from work to get them, not really great to leave early four days in a row during one of the busiest times of the year.

I have called people to help me pick up the kids quite a bit over the past two years now.  It doesn't get easier.  Sometimes I start with my mother, who sometimes says things like "it will be difficult because I'm supposed to get the bagels for book group" (which drives me bananas; I'd rather she tell me she just doesn't want to do it).  Sometimes I start with a stay at home dad friend who I am convinced is a superhero in disguise.  Sometimes I ask our friend down the block, who tells me how much she likes helping us, though she has two small children of her own and a traveling husband to contend with, too.

The other day, my colleague (whom I like a lot, and who I find generally quite kind and considerate) commented to me that he raised a child without the help of any grandparents.  I felt embarrassed at my neediness, at first, and then a little upset: how could he compare his situation with mine?  Good for him for not needing help.  Did he spend $40K/year in child care, which still didn't cover enough hours in the week?  Did his colleagues encourage him to take flex time, but then also send the message that presence after hours was actually important after all? Did his spouse travel for days at a time each month?  The answer to all of these questions, of course, is no.

I worry, when we move, that I'll lose this village, that I won't know how to make friends again, that they won't want to be friends, that I'll forget how to ask for help, a skill and a grace that has taken me so long to learn.

Pin It

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Original Post

For Lease, reads the sign in the window, in bold sans serif font above the large white phone number of some commercial real estate company.

But who would lease the post office, I wonder?

It was enough of a surprise when our post office downtown decided that it was going to subdivide, keeping only half of its current building, closing the other half and selling it.  They installed a door where a large pane window used to be on the front of the building, poured a concrete walkway that zigzagged unnecessarily across the lawn, and tacked up a laminated reminder on the old door that "patrons should please use the front entrance."  As if there were now any other.

But when the second post office down the street from where I work closed, too, making me wonder whether they'd preserve the mural I'd studied so often, standing in line, I felt a pang of anxiety.  What did it mean, the closing of the post office?

Turns out that post office is going to become a brewpub.  Though at least they're preserving the mural.

When I was much younger, I used to write letters.  I had (still have) a wax seal with my first initial, and wax that I'd melt letting the whole stick catch fire momentarily as it dropped across the seal.  I sent small packages with bracelets, coupons, all sorts of things.  I wrote away for free stuff, enclosing self-addressed stamped envelopes that would come back to be with pamphlets and maps and plastic. I loved, and still love, the inky, papery smell of the post office.  It's the same no matter where I go, no matter which town I'm in.

I guess Twitter and Snapchat and Instagram have replaced the post office.  I hope the brewpub gathers friends just as paper letters once connected us.  Maybe Jeff Bezos' drones will fulfill my need for mystery packages.  Somehow, though, I feel like I'm being robbed of something magical.
Pin It

Monday, March 21, 2016

Thaw. (with Slow Cooker Lentil Soup)

The snow had left powdered-sugar dust on the grass, on the daffodils.  A thin crust of crystal, dazzling in the sunlight, invitingly crunchy, like water ice.

I wanted to stop and take pictures on the way, here, and here, and here: the alpacas, clustered together, moving slowly across the frozen field; the branches, bending, touching, bridging across the road; all of the world captured, for a moment, in thaw.  I can't seem to capture any of it well with an iPhone5, though, which is all I use for photography any more, simply because I have it with me, and because the big beautiful camera doesn't behave for me. The phone camera thinks it's smarter than I am.

It has been a strange winter here in the Northeast: first nonexistent, then relentless, then February (which is like relentless but worse, for so many reasons), then a weekend of spring, then snow again. But finally, now, when I sit in the sun, it feels less ephemeral, more determined, stronger, like maybe it will stick around for a while.

A blogger friend says she misses my voice.  I miss my voice, too.  Part of me wonders if I have lost it entirely.  But also why I should bother looking for it, and whether I might want to find it here, out in public.  Why not just write for an audience of one, where I worry less about judgment by the people I know in real life.  The answer, of course, is like the phenomenon of thaw: without the warmth and sunlight that can only come from the world, the plants are perfectly happy to stay hibernating.

Let the lamp affix its beam.

Welcome spring.

Slow Cooker Lentil Soup
This is what's in our kitchen: a hodgepodge of winter beans and root vegetables, with spring greens and new garlic.  Sort of like thaw in a bowl.

3 medium carrots, chopped (or 4 small or 2 large)
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 large yellow onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 large clove shallot, chopped
2 cups dry green lentils (rinsed)
8 cups Vegetable stock
1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 bag of baby spinach
1 1/2 teaspoons balsalmic vinegar
2 teaspoons Kosher salt
1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin

Chop carrots, celery, onion, garlic, and shallots in the food processor.  Place chopped vegetables into crockpot along with lentils, stock, canned tomatoes, bay leaf and dried thyme. Cover with lid and set cooking time (4 Hours on high or 8 Hours on low). When cooking time is up, add spinach, vinegar, salt, black pepper, and ground cumin. Place lid back on and let sit covered for fifteen additional minutes before serving.

Pin It

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Privilege, for Flint

N. sat, her examination gown open to the back, legs dangling over the edge of the table, while the nurse prepared her questionnaire.  She'd asked the questions a thousand times before.  We'd answered them eleven times before, and now we answered in unison, like participants in a responsive reading.
Does your child live in, or regularly visit, an older home or other place built before 1978 with peeling or damaged paint?
Does your child live in, or regularly visit, an older home or other place built before 1978 that is being or was renovated within the last 12 months?  A day care center, preschool, and the home of a babysitter or a relative?
And there, like ghosts in the room, were the children I'd seen on the news, recently, the children whose lives of bottled water were being chronicled in blogs and on my Facebook feed.
Has your family/child ever lived outside the United States or recently traveled to a foreign country?
Does your child have a brother/sister, housemate/playmate being followed or treated for lead poisoning?
A study done by the CDC shows that black children are more than twice as likely to be at risk than white children.
Has your child ever taken any traditional home remedies?
Does your child frequently come in contact with an adult whose job or hobby involves exposure to lead?
I looked at my beautiful, healthy, smart daughter perched up there on the table, and thought about the children who would never have a chance.  Who would face cognitive impairment. Fewer opportunities. A life of struggle.

"Does your child live in Flint, Michigan?" I asked, to no one in particular, interrupting the litany.

The silence was thick; I had called out the whiteness in the room, and it stood there now, an elephant of privilege.

Finally, the nurse shook her head.  "That's a sad situation," she replied, as if that were enough.

Here are a few ways you can do something right now.  But we can't just throw money at the problem of environmental racism, which happens not just in Flint, but all over the country.  It's time we did better by all of our kids.
Pin It

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Power of a Story

Today, my daughter turns five.

In her Montessori classroom, there are no cupcakes, no balloons, no party favors.  Instead, they will tell the story of her life.
The Earth goes around the sun, tra-la-la ...
The Earth goes around the sun, tra-la-la ...
Her classmates will gather in a circle around a candle "which represents the sun," and she will walk in a circle around it, holding a globe, once for each year of her life, while her classmates sing.
Around and around and around and around ...
The Earth goes around the sun, tra-la-la ...
After each turn around the sun, one of us will show the class a photo of her at that age, and remember something about her: how she took such good care of her first doll, how she loved her first tutu and was dancing from ealy on, how much fun she had playing with hula hoops at her first friend party, how she discovered her love of reading.  The story will begin with her birth, and continue until she reaches her current year.
A long time ago, Mommy and Daddy were very happy together (or: because they had [sibling]) ...
But they knew that someone very special was missing from their lives ...
(child says: "me!")
I love this ceremony, because it honors the power of our stories, the importance of giving children narrative roots that empower them to find their place in the world, to determine their futures. Even her classmates who were adopted as older children (there are some in my daughter's school) tell their stories, with as much information as they have.
The Earth goes around the sun, tra-la-la ...
It requires children to listen to one another, to learn about one another, to appreciate each other as unique individuals. It helps them to see people as people: multidimensional, growth-minded, incomplete.
Around and around and around and around ...
I wish that we were all so fortunate, that we took time to tell each other our life stories once each year, to look both backward and forward, to know each other in more than just three dimensions.  Perhaps it just takes too long now to circle the sun.  Or perhaps we are too afraid of the power we might discover in the retelling?
Pin It

Monday, January 18, 2016

People, on MLK Day

I used to believe I was colorblind.  What that meant, to me, was that I thought I could judge people, in the words of Dr. King, not on the basis of the "color of their skin but on the content of their character[s]."  And maybe I was (though I know better now, I have my own biases that I work to overcome); but maybe--more likely--I was just blind, not so much to injustice (easy to point fingers), but to my own role in perpetuating it by imagining that standards created by a dominant group could be race-neutral.

Now, I think we need to see the difference that we have been taught to (or become accustomed to) un-see, to acknowledge the difference that difference has made, and decide to throw away the glasses that cloud our vision, whitewashing everything.  We need to question what we think we know, about the world and about ourselves.  My eloquent friend Noah (who can riff in words as well as he can in music) wrote something along these lines last year, when he challenged us to be more self-reflective, to ask ourselves, every day, in the words of Thich Nhat Hanh, "are you sure?"

A few years ago, my son was gifted a hand-me-down book entitled, simply, People.  It's a beautifully written and illustrated book, originally published in the 1980s (in many ways a product of its time) that describes the astonishing diversity of humanity on all four continents, and touches on issues like poverty and racism and body image (even body modification) in a way that isn't moralizing, but that opens the door for questions and conversation.  Who are human beings? What are they like? Where do they live, how do they communicate, what games do they play? How are people different, and how are they the same? What can we learn from each other? Why should we respect -- and celebrate -- difference?

And while there are sections of the book that feel like a dated "salad"-style multicultural curriculum, or some pages that replicate cultural stereotypes, there are others that talk about the ways in which we create artificial power structures that don't, in the end, protect us from all experiencing the same fate: death.

My daughter chose this book as her bedtime story last night, and as I read, admiring the artwork and the book's matter-of-factness, I found myself wondering how her reading of People might be different with her own children.  Whether she would look at the pages about diversity of employment and think about the white man in the grocery store, complaining that black people get and keep jobs just because they're black (with whom she'd gently disagreed, pointing out the roots of urban poverty in slavery and industrialization, asking him why he thinks people in power shouldn't do something about the mistakes that we've made as a nation). Whether she would look at the pages about poverty and remind herself that all of the people in the poorly maintained apartment complexes at the other end of town are nonwhite.  Whether she would read the pages about diversity of religion and think about a world that turns away migrant women and children from war-torn countries.

Or whether she would be reading that book to a child in a country that continues to ask itself "are you sure?" ... that faces its unsavory past, has been brave enough to tell more complicated stories, recognized institutional biases, overcome fears of each other, and found a way to move forward, to promote peace and justice.
Pin It

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Something Old, Something New: Rye Brownies

"A place for everything, and everything in its place," my father was fond of saying.  He was a master of organization.  Or at least, he strove to be one.  He was certainly more type A than my mother, who claimed to have places for things in piles on the dining room table.

I hear that voice in my head as I've started to bring things, little things, to our new house.  We're only moving 20 minutes away, so it shouldn't be a big deal, but on the other hand, the world is slowly tilting upside down.  Where will the cups go?  The plates?  How do these old things fit into this new (larger, but differently configured) space?

There is a closet that I know is right for a roasting pan, a footed cake server, our assortment of lesser-used small appliances.  There is only one really right space for dishes, so the silverware (it seems to me) goes in the drawer beneath them.  The mugs and glasses go on either side of the stove, and close to the sink.

And of course, the smaller questions mirror the bigger ones.  How will we fit, this old configuration into a new place?

Something old, something new.  A place for everything, and everything in its place.

It's a strange process, this imposition of order.  Every day the old house becomes imperceptibly less full.  Every day I live, for a few minutes, anyway, in the new house.

Someday, maybe it won't seem so new anymore; it will just be our house.

Rye Brownies
I've been making homemade brownies since grad school, when I realized how easy it was to melt chocolate and butter together.  When I started seeing recipes for rye brownies in my feed, I rolled my eyes.  Could they be better?  And yet, there's something appealing about them.  Earthy, chewy moist.  Something old, and yet also something new.

11 T. unsalted butter, cut into 1/2" cubes, more for greasing pan
10 ½ oz. bittersweet chocolate (60 to 70% cocoa), chopped
1 ½ c. rye flour
½ c. unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
½ t. baking powder
1 t. salt
4 large eggs
1 c. sugar
1 c. light brown sugar
1 T. vanilla

Heat oven to 350 and grease a 9x13" baking pan.

In the microwave, on half power, melt the butter and chocolate, stirring ever minute or so with a heatproof rubber spatula. Let cool.

In a separate bowl, whisk together rye flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt.

Beat eggs, granulated and brown sugars and vanilla until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in melted chocolate mixture until smooth. Beat in flour mixture.

Transfer batter to prepared pan (it will be quite thick, not even really pourable) and smooth the top. Sprinkle with sea salt, if you like that sort of thing, and bake until brownies are mostly firm, but the tester still comes out with wet crumbs, about 25 minutes. Let cool completely before cutting into squares. Serve or freeze.
Pin It

Wednesday, January 13, 2016


My father played Powerball.  But not until the jackpot was, in his estimation, worth the drive over the border to New York State (because Jersey didn't sell Powerball tickets then), where he would also visit the Rockland Bakery, coming home with a half-eaten loaf of fresh Italian or challah or raisin bread, danish, and if I was lucky, a scone.  This motivating figure was something over $50 million, so it wasn't often that he went to buy tickets. Still, he had his red-ink pencil-bubbled-in card--a study in numerology, some combination of birthdays and anniversaries and other dates whose importance we would never know--which he brought with him on each trip, as if he were a professional gambler.

I often wondered why he would drive the 20 minutes to New York to buy a lottery ticket for a jackpot that was $50 million when it wasn't worth driving there for, say, five million.  But my father was not a man you could cross-examine.

We never did win the lottery.

My colleagues all bought a ticket today, and assumed I'd had, too.  I hadn't.

"But when you start thinking about all of the things you'd do with a billion dollars," they reasoned, "you feel happy."

And maybe that's exactly why I didn't buy a ticket.

Not because I don't want to be happy, but because I don't need to buy disappointment.

Sure, it's entirely possible  that I'd win.  But if I don't?

Maybe I've spent one too many hours of my life dreaming and even planning about the probable futures that become impossible after all.  I don't know if that makes me a pessimist, a realist, or a curmudgeon.  But one thing is certain: it will never make me a lottery winner.

Did you buy a lottery ticket?
Pin It

Monday, January 4, 2016

#Microblog Monday: On My Sleeves

I never used to wear dresses, preferring instead the pantsuit approach, but when I started working at my current place of employment, I did what people usually do: I started dressing like other people who worked there, hoping to fit in.

Unfortunately, I'm down to two dresses in my closet, so it was time to find another.  I scoured the consignment stores, my local box stores, and the internet.

But have you noticed?  If you live in the Northeastern U.S., someone has decided that women don't need winter wear this year.

Dresses are 3/4 sleeve tunics, only halfway down the leg, presumably to be worn with leggings, but really, not.  Or they're short sleeve or sleeveless affairs, to be worn (I'm assuming?) with a light sweater.

I confess, I'm confused.  Why are women expected to wear less clothing in the winter?  What would happen, I wonder, if we decided that men had to go sleeveless in January?
Pin It

Friday, January 1, 2016

Trading Cards

It was part of the ritual of December.  Every year, the large box of Christmas cards, covered in a thin layer of dust, would come down from the shelf in the back room (referred to as the "cold room" even in the summer, when it wasn't) over the garage.  On top of the assortment of cards sat, in my mother's neat typewriter print, the list of people who got sent a card last year, and the year before that, and the year before that, an accounting of greetings sent and received in tidy columns.

As an adult, I developed my own December rituals, sending holiday cards (not Christmas cards, because I have enough non-Christian friends I like to include) to people I hardly see, and people I see every day.  I used to send hand-written letters, but as the list has grown longer and time has grown shorter, I've gotten lazy in my old age, and now we print photo cards with a single picture of the four of us (not just pictures of my kids, on the theory that my friends might want to see me too--as an aside, I'm always happy to get picture cards from my childless/child-free friends, and wish this was something more people did), on which I scribble a brief cheerful personalized greeting in fat black or silver Sharpie.  I excuse this shortcut by telling myself that I'm in touch with most of these people anyway, that the "Christmas letter" isn't necessary because they read my posts on Facebook, or they read my blog, or they see me around town.

Somewhere in the middle of the card-writing frenzy, my college roommate sends an email to everyone in our friend group, an effort to confirm addresses before she sends out her own cards. Inevitably, someone has moved, or someone has something silly or snide to say to someone else.  A flurry of reply-all email ensues, a little more longform than Facebook, a little more personalized than the Christmas letter.  And we realize that while we're technically all in touch, we're really not in touch at all.  The email flurry is almost like having us all in the same room again, even though I know it's short-lived, ending in everyone having what my roommate refers to as "trading cards."

I welcome the "trading card" email.  It acknowledges the weird adult phenomenon that is the photo card, agreeing that it's not enough while also supporting our perpetuation of the tradition.  And it also reminds us of the people who aren't on the email chain, the people I then Google-stalk.  This year, it poked me to get in touch with a college roommate I haven't spoken to in over ten years, who has a new job, a new husband, a son of her own and two more that came with her new relationship.

I used to ask my mother why she'd send cards at all, why she'd bother with a stamp for people around the corner, and why she'd bother with a card for people she only touched based with once a year (it seemed disingenuous to pretend she cared, because that's how it seemed to me: pretending).  But now I think I understand, both the deceptive nature of constant communication (which she couldn't have foreseen in the way that's it's become manifest), and the possibility of promise in rekindling the relationships that might have fallen away, even if you only start the fire once a year.  My ledger lives in Google Sheets, but maybe the annual accounting--perhaps to myself, to hold on to people, knowing that life is too short--isn't so different, after all.

Pin It
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...