Halfway There.

Today, someone posted that we are now exactly as far away from the year 2030, as we have come from the year 2000. Which, sure, intellectually, I knew on some level, but still, it sort of startled me.

I mean, I remember what I ate for dinner when I turned 30 in 2000, and how the wood smoke smelled raising from the chiminea that night. It doesn’t FEEL all that long ago at all. Certainly, my three kids went through middle, high school and college during that time. Two of them got married. I moved to four different states and I’ve cooked roughly 5,000 dinners since then, but still –it doesn’t seem like that long ago.

And with as much rapidity as those years went by, I’ll land in 2030 at the age of 60.

Somehow it seems that will be far too soon to be 60. And I have terrible feeling that as quickly as the past 15 years went, I’ll arrive in 2030, STILL never having seen Thailand from the back of an elephant, or having squirreled away enough money to buy a 200 acre ranch in the Santa Ynez Valley.

Well …..

……crap on a cracker.

I guess it’s true what they say; life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.

I was talking to a friend yesterday whose daughter is going through the cruelty that is middle school. I said something to the effect of…. it’s sort of sad isn’t it? We spend all of the preschool and the early elementary years teaching them to say please, and thank you, how to get along with others, the importance of kindness, how the world should work. Exposing their little malleable brains to Mr. Rodgers and Sesame Street, full of tidy endings where goodness prevails. Then we send them off to middle school, where people are cruel, goodness doesn’t always prevail, and no one comes along to set it right. All the magic of human kindness and justice that we so carefully nurtured, can be completely unraveled at the 6th grade volleyball team try-outs. It’s a hard fall.

The same is true with middle age I suppose. You begin your 20s full of earnest expectation that with hard work and diligence, you will have a beautiful big house on a hill, with an amazing view, and a very long tree lined driveway.  But, 25 years later, and 25 years closer to retirement, you have to modify your dream driveway length down, inversely proportional to inflation and salary stagnation. And maybe you end up settling for the place with an ugly dropped ceiling and 80s fake brass light fixtures. Sigh.

The Mr. Rodgers myths we tell our little ones, where goodness always prevails, and the American dream myths we tell our emerging adults, where hard work and a college education are the sure fire key to financial clover fields and very long tree lined driveways, are just that, myths. Oh sure, we still have to do it, we can’t give up on the prevailing of goodness or hard work…but still there it is, the significant data that suggests neither is all that much of a sure thing.

The only sure things I have found in this life, so far, are family, love, and friendship. Love doesn’t get adjusted for inflation, or let you down when you’ve had a crappy day at volleyball tryouts. Though on occasion, love does forget to replace the empty toilet paper roll.


Mom Was Right…Again.

May my life serve as a warning to you ladies. Always wear your best underwear…no matter what.

Yesterday, I had, what I understood to be, a follow up appointment with my dermatologist, to look at how my skin had healed where he had removed a wee little cancerous mole.

We fair skinned people need to be particularly diligent about these new weird colored or shaped moles, and I have been, and had one removed in March.

I got up yesterday morning and decided to take the dog for a walk before my appointment. I slipped on my most comfortable panties for the hour walk…and by most comfortable, I mean, largest, oldest, and ugliest. I also put on a jog bra. I am not a small woman in this department, so my jog bras are neither diminutive nor cute. They are supportive, and industrious. In order to be supportive, they are a white, criss-cross of industrial strength fabric which holds everything sturdily into one giant uniboob shelf situation. I do own pretty bras, but the jog bra is not one of them, not by a long shot.

So, off I went and the dog and I enjoyed a lovely, unseasonably cool, morning walk through wildflower fields. I returned home and did not have much time, so I threw on a nice pair of pants and a pretty blouse…refreshed my curls, dabbed on a hint of blush, some mascara, a little lip gloss and I was off to the doctor’s so he could check the incision.

When I arrived the tech said: “Okay, so you’ll be having a full body scan today, please take your clothes off….well, you can keep on your bra and panties, he’ll work around that.”

Ummm. What? Full body????? No. No. There has to be some mistake. I am pretty sure he just wanted to check the incision site.

Nope. Full body.

Crack the door when you’re ready and we’ll be back.

I cursed my stupidity and my penchant for comfort…and my not taking The Time….and I took a deep breath and stripped down to my oldest, largest, and ugliest walking panties and my industrial white uniboob shelf bra and waited.

My doctor, who I am fairly sure is gay, and would care nothing for what my underwear looked  like in any circumstance, except to stand in fashion judgment, waltzed into the exam room followed closely by the handsomest man who ever lived.

“This is Dr. McGorgeous. He’s been a practicing surgeon for 7 years, but now he’s training in dermatology. He’ll be watching the exam.”

Ummm. Gulp. Fabulous. Just what I was hoping for this morning. The opportunity to slowly turn 360 degrees in my absolute ugliest underwear in front of the most handsome man I have ever seen. Yep. Tops on my list of Fun.Things.To.Do. By. 9 am.On.A.Wednesday.

And so I did. I turned slowly in a circle and bore with them while they both took turns sticking their heads under my arm and examining something in my left arm pit, while Dr. McGorgeous was quizzed on the scientific name for a skin tag. They looked down the back of my panties and made sure I did not have any cancerous moles on my buttocks…the poor elastic in my old underwear making this an easier procedure than any new fangled pretty lace elastic would have, I suppose.

They both finished. Took turns shaking my hand and thanked me for coming in.

I put my nice pants and pretty blouse back on and vowed that I will never.ever.ever. leave the house again without wearing my very prettiest underwear. My mother was right, as usual when she said, “Always wear your prettiest underwear,  because you just never know.”

Born Again

A bit from some writing that I did yesterday, which published here, is completely out of context. However, I think there is a bit of truth in this fragment which came to me as I was walking yesterday…a memory of someone I knew who was born again, and again, and again. And walking along with the muffler drawn up over my nose, I realized where that fit in. So take it for what you will. 

I stepped quickly with bare feet over the hot river rocks which burnt like hell all the way down to the water’s edge. There, I waded in a little ways to soothe my burning feet with the rest of the small crowd at the shallow edges of the river.

She waded in with the pastor, fully dressed. Down, down until they were both in that cold clear water right up to their waists. The hot wind swooshed up the canyon, lofting off the pine branches, rippling her brown hair and his beard, it carried his voice away over the babbling rapids as he bowed his head to pray. I shifted my weight, leaning forward, unable to hear his voice as he called upon Jesus. Two old ladies next to me had not yet wrapped up their conversation about the potato salad needing to be refrigerated. The pastor bent her back into the water, fully submerging her. He brought her up, gasping, in a flash of light, which glinted and danced off the spray of water droplets.

They waded back with her t-shirt hugging her form, showing the lace patterns of her bra against the wet fabric. Standing ankle deep, the pastor let go of her hand and someone handed her a big beach towel in bright tropical stripes. People were congratulating and blessing her, especially the old church ladies who had whispered about her last summer, behind their glasses of ice tea at the community hall barbecue.

“I’ve been born again” she said, her eyes gleaming with a new found semi-maniacal freedom of sin.

And for that day she was, her sins washed away down the river and she stood at the table of community, breaking bread of acceptance with Pillsbury dumpcake…the canned cherries staining the paper plates red.

She had packed up her box of sins and handed it off to Jesus at the National Forest Campground, but Jesus just takes that box and puts it aside for you. He never says he’ll guard it with chains and locks. There is no fence topped with razor wire. He doesn’t keep it in a building with security cameras; he just takes it and puts it with all the other neatly packed boxes of sins. You are free to skulk by any time to pick it back up.

“I am born again” she said. But somewhere in the back of all our minds we knew that it was not the first, or the last time, any of us would be.

The Beatnik’s Daughter Discusses Dinner


Dinner can be so much, or not much at all. It can be a magical hour where we nourish our families and reconnect around the table, sharing the experiences we had that day. It can be a gathering of friends to laugh and tell stories over food. It can be love, family, history, culture, a sense of place; dinner can connect the past to the future. Or…..it can be rushed and just some sort of energy source to stuff down our gullets while we play candy crush on our phone.

Some research indicates that the dinner hour, that small window of innocuous time, holds tremendous power, upping grades and inoculating its youthful participants against drug use and teen pregnancy. Why? If used mindfully, dinner builds strong community.

Of course, we have all seen the studies on the over use of processed foods leading to health risks, so dinner also, if prepared mindfully, increases health. Physical health lowers long term care costs and increases our sense of wellbeing.

Dinner, that mundane period of each and every day, which so often illicit the response, “oh hell, it’s dinner time already? What AM I cooking?” actually holds the power to building relationships, to good health, to long term cost savings. Crazy, isn’t it? And who says housework is boring and worthless?

Of course, the food can be boring, if not prepared with some inspiration. It can be tedious. It can be monotonous if we have no inspiration to guide and excite. Every freaking day, those people want something on their plates to consume around 6 pm. How much easier to run through the drive thru on the way home from Little League? Yes. Far easier. But, not far more delicious. Certainly not as healthy. Certainly not inspired.

I have a few friends that I count as inspired home cooks. Sure, many of us are good home cooks, some of us are diligent cooks, some of us are unwilling cooks, a handful of us are helpless cooks, some of us are happy cook shamers, but only a very few people are inspired cooks. Those are the tables you come away from, inspired to do better yourself, by the gastronomic EXPERIENCE you just had at their table. Their food delights all the senses. It is smell, it is brilliant color, it unique and living flavor, and is beguiling textures.

My sister, Johanna, is one of these inspired cooks. She truly enjoys the experience; her whole body seems to hum in happiness through the entire process of cooking. The process starts in February in her garden, prepping soil and planting seeds. On a normal Tuesday in July, that dinner process comes through the back door and is washed at the sink, it is chopped and sautéed and danced with to reggae. There is laughter, there is wine, and there is a Golden Retriever to be stepped over. There are fresh flowers on the table….and viola, an hour or so later you are having that dinner experience.  She is the sister who inspired my own salad last night, romaine, diced jicama, navel oranges, and avocado – fresh, happy, living flavor which dances.

My friend, Sally, is another inspired home cook. Her food also starts in her garden. It starts with the soil preparation and it moves through seasons. In the dead of winter that lovely spirit of harvest is opened up and relived, captured in something that was a 6 month labor of love, from seed, to listening to the Mason jar lids pop as they sealed. Sally introduced me to Mooswood Cookbooks and I spent one memorable meal at her home dining on freshly made noodles, with lamb meatballs, and fresh mint sauce. Though it’s been years since I have eaten at her house, the photos of her garden, her food preservation, her lemon curd jars lined up on the counter, all inspire me on facebook.

Our friends, Gordon and Melinda, are inspired cooks. When we all young and poor, our Saturday night entertainment was dinners with friends, where we all cooked a portion of some theme.  They made pad thai, they made flourless chocolate cakes, they made ganaches. They double boiled and they citrus zested. They were unafraid to try things and they were excited by the process. Their excitement for trying new things with food, new flavors, new techniques, is still contagious.

My friend, Sarah, can always be counted on to be roasting a chicken, setting out flowers, creating a salsa.  She uses cooking as meditation, a Zen process to guard against chaos. When the world has gone crazy, at least you can chop, mince, and bake your way to some quiet place, where the flavor and the pleasure of that food has some beautiful predictability. In the midst of crazytown, the table is that safe port in the storm, where everyone comes together and just IS.

My friend, Saundra, is a consistently inspired home cook; I think this is because she loves food, the sensuousness of flavor, more than anyone I know. This is the woman that rolls her eyes in pleasure and can make a recipe sound somehow slightly erotic. Tell me about the coconut cake….slowly. You do WHAT to the egg whites?

My friend, Jennifer, was my partner in a dinner swap when our kids were in elementary school. The concept was simple. We both wanted a healthy hot dinner for our families and we did not want to feed them Chick-Fil-A from a bag on softball night or gymnastic night. So, on the nights my kids had baseball practice and I spent three hours driving and waiting, Jennifer cooked enough for two families. On the night her kids had gymnastics, I was home cooking for both our families. It was the “it takes a village” concept at its best.

I hope we all have those friends in our lives that inspire us to try new things, to stretch and learn. Thank you to my inspired home cook friends, for inspiring me throughout the years. Dinner is a word that means far more than just eating.

Can You Spare an Ear?

Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive. ~ Dalai Lama
Yesterday, my grown up married daughter in another state, had car issues. Her husband was out of town on business of course; which is precisely when all batteries determine to die, because that is how life works.

I was at a friend’s house visiting when my daughter’s call came in and I decided to answer it. The panic was clear. Her car would not start. She was supposed to be at work. In her panic she could not solve the problem.

“My car won’t start. Listen. Listen……..do you here that CLICKING????????? What IS THAT?????? I am late. WHAT IS THAT????”

“Your battery is dead”

“Oh nooooooo….ooooohhhh gooooood….what am I going to do???”

I made the mistake of taking this question literally, and much like a man, I started systematically coming up with some solutions.

“Well, you don’t have time to wait for USAA to come jump you now.”

“Do you know where his jumper cables are?”

“Is Jill home or is she at work?”

“You could call Mrs. Adams, or Mrs. Adler.”

“Do you have the office number? His boss said to call if you had any problems”

“STOP TALKING,” she yelled into the phone. “Can’t you just listen to me cry?”

And so I did, I listened to her cry into the other end of the phone for a good three minutes and then she took a deep breath and said, “I am going to call Craig and he can come get me on the way to work.”

Sometimes all we need is for someone, God, our mother, our husband, some poor old lady on the bus, to just listen to us cry.

Thoughts from the Top of Maslow’s Precarious Pyramid

I was talking to a friend yesterday about what a tremendous luxury it is to live now, in this period of time, that I have both the time and money to have a tremendous naval gazing, pity party, breakdown. I mean I have been a whiny, self absorbed, mess.  And without the fact that I live NOW, that I live HERE, that I am a woman who can VOTE, that I am a woman who doesn’t have to grow my own wheat or crank my own well water out with a bucket and haul it back to the house, just to feed myself…all these magnificent things converged to make it possible for me to lie on the sofa and sniffle pitifully about my own inner fulfillment.

What a miracle, in the context of human history.

And yet, maybe it’s not so great. Maybe we (the collective American, 2 cars, 2 pets, 2 data plans, 2 master sinks, 2 widescreens, WE) have just reached the top of Maslow’s pyramid and the view isn’t as grand as we expected.

Too much time to focus on what would make you happy, instead of focusing on what you can do for others is a fairly good recipe for being unfulfilled, in and of itself!

A friend sent me a letter a few weeks back. She has felt led to write a women’s devotional and she asked me to share a story of personal suffering that brought about a deeper union with Christ. I have never considered that my own stories of faith were strong enough for anyone else to lean on.

Even though I go to church and I believe in God, I have always felt a little uneasy, like I was an impostor in a room full of true believers. Not really good enough to be sincere. I am sure part of that is rooted in never having belonged to a church or been allowed to go until I was an adult. It still does not feel natural to me and these words and phrases “faith” “ journey with Christ” make sense to me on an emotional level, but I still feel, 25 years later, like I am speaking in a foreign language. They are tentative on my tongue.

However, my friend’s letter of request reminds me that whether we realize it or not, some poor fool may be looking at us as an example. I have been tremendously blessed with a strong loving family, with a wonderful marriage, with friendships made at many different assignments. God, Heavenly Father, The Supreme Being, The Divine Instigator, The Source of all Good, whatever you choose call Him/Her has given me many life blessings…and to whom much is given, much is expected, no matter how off kilter you may feel about life transitions. So onward and upward, step by step, with FAITH, the Divine Instigator will show the way.

God Sends a Boat, a Helicopter, and a Small Airhorn

“But, it isn’t easy,” said Pooh. “Because Poetry and Hums aren’t things which you get, they’re things which get you. And all you can do is to go where they can find you.” ― A.A. Milne, The House at Pooh Corner

 So, having started classes at the university and then getting news that I probably would be unable to complete the program, because of silly military timetables that just go on without ANY regard for what is best for ME, I withdrew, because it did not make economic sense. Next I spent a couple days in the fetal position, crying intermittently on the sofa, feeling immensely sorry for myself and wondering the age old question “What the Hell Am I Doing With My Life.”

I complained aloud to God, for not leaving me a post it note on my fridge detailing Alice’s three step plan to achieve fulfillment. Rude. God and I were on semi tenuous terms as I sulked like an overgrown toddler.

I hiccuped at my enormously patient husband that maybe we should adopt 10 orphaned refugee babies so I once again had PURPOSE.

And my husband said; “Why don’t you write?”

And my grown up daughter said; “uhhhh???? Just write, stupid.”

And my friend Sheldon said, “You should quit school and write and keep us all amused.”

And then I thought about a letter which I had gotten out of the blue from a friend last fall, which had said, “Don’t get a paying job. You are worth so much more to people when you write.”

And I went back and looked at a post a friend had put on my FB wall, after I had posted something semi amusingly bitchy about ABC’s The Bachelor or some such very important pop culture topic. ”I think you could be our generation’s Erma Bombeck.”

Really? Okay. That might be a stretch.


God, is this the post it note on my fridge? Am I the pathetic guy on the house roof during the flood, telling the guys in the boat and the helicopter who offer to rescue him, to just go on and leave because God will rescue him? The one to whom God says after he drowns and arrives in Heaven, “I don’t know what more you wanted. I sent a boat. And then..a helicopter.”



I can’t WRITE. I can’t make myself sit down and write every day. No one is watching me.

“Sure you can” said my husband. “You wrote a 46 page research paper on the influence of public policy on rural economics last semester. And you finished it before the due date.”

“Of course I did. Because someone was grading me and they gave me a deadline and I want “A’s” I WILL kill myself to get an A.  And, besides there is a rubric that the professor gives you which outlines precisely how you can get an A, so it is EASY.”

“So, you know you can write to a deadline.”

“Yes, but you are missing the point,” I argued; “no one has given me an assignment. I have no deadline and no rubric of how to achieve an A. Sometimes I can write to the assignment given to me by some invisible muse, but not often. It’s not like I am on his regular route. He shows up unannounced randomly. Suppose he is busy and my muse doesn’t hand out assignments in this hemisphere this year? Suppose he never shows up EVER again?”

My husband sighed at me.


What if I never finish writing a book? You can’t judge work that isn’t finished. What if I do finish it and it is complete shit? That is simply terrifying. It is far more terrifying and difficult than adopting 10 refugee children. At least to me.

My sister called me. “I’ll be your editor, you send me what you have written and if you don’t meet your page quota I will scream at you. Would that help? Because I can be a real bitch.”

She can be a real bitch. That is tremendously comforting. I will give her that.

The scariest part about writing is that once finished, you have no one to blame but yourself.  I prefer blaming others as a general rule.

I have an idea about what I would like to write, if I could just get over my complete neuroses of abject failure. If I could just show up, day after day, perhaps for a few YEARS and write, without fail until it was FINISHED. If I could continue writing without really knowing if it WAS a miserable failure and if I was wasting my time finishing something that would never see the light of day. Or worse yet, that I would be afraid to have someone read it, because they might think it sucked so horribly that they burnt it in a campfire. Cough.  Not that I know anyone who has done something like that.

I have talked it over with my bitchy editor. She has given me some very good advice, which helped me to lean somewhat more confidently into the anxiety. Today I began to outline my idea.

Then I decided, in the spirit of all self help books and The Secret, to just for a moment, imagine that I had already WRITTEN the book, and I had already done the tedious book proposal. That I had created the perfect pitch, I had already gone through the 300 rejections and finally found someone who wanted it and it was going to be published. And so today, in the spirit of all that is Oprah, instead of writing the first chapter I wrote the credit page:

“This story about my family is a conglomeration of fact and fiction. Some portions have been created with generous poetic license, so as to make them somewhat interesting. Others – the completely unbelievable parts-are all true.  I would like to thank my family for encouraging me to tell our story with my own voice and for reminding me, when I was frustrated by the process that most of our Dad’s stories were complete bullshit anyway.  To my husband, thank you for believing in my abilities, even when I didn’t. Thank you to my eloquent brother, whose note to me when I sent him a photo of my college degree said: “Good. Enough of that shit. Now write.” To my sisters and my grown up kids who are good at yelling and guilting, I could not have done it without you.” 

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