Greetings from the Trenches

Well, hello, strangers! Remember me?  I have started and stopped writing this post at least three times. There is so much I want to say. There is so much I can’t say. There is so much I’ve tried to say but none of it is turning out clearly. I am supposed to be vacuuming right now. Or folding laundry. Or cleaning a bathroom. Take your pick!

My first week of work went pretty much as expected, which is to say it totally kicked my ass. I knew it would be hard, and hard it was. But not in a bad way.

I am fortunate to have a really wonderful work environment filled with people I respect and enjoy. As one of my coworkers said, “It’s just so civil here.” And it really is. That said, it’s hard being the new girl, the bumbling one always asking questions or looking for clarification or just messing up. That’s all part of the process, of course, and my coworkers have been nothing but encouraging and supportive. In terms of work environment, I’m pretty sure I hit the jackpot.

Back on the home front, I have three responsible, independent, capable kids who do their homework willingly and only turn on each other occasionally. I have a a supportive spouse who is an equal partner and didn’t have to suddenly “learn” any of my mom duties for the first time last week. I have the freedom of knowing that if things get really hard, if the kids are suffering, if I am unhappy or if I simply change my mind, I can always walk away. Not that I’d ever want to, but I can. Knowing that I have support and options puts me in a very fortunate position, and it’s not one I will ever take for granted. Any way you slice it, I am a lucky, lucky lady. And it is still damn, damn hard, this juggling act.

I was hoping to get back into the kitchen to concoct something new and exciting to share, but I’m just not at that point yet. I am sticking to all of the familiar favorites and nothing worth posting yet. I am hopeful that I will find my groove in a few more weeks and carve out some time to write and cook, but for now my goals are meager: clean underwear, food, baseball, sleep. Eventually I will conquer more. Probably.

 

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A Few Days in Palm Beach

My rarely spontaneous but always wonderful husband decided to book an impromptu little getaway for us last week to Palm Beach in honor of our April and May birthdays and twenty year anniversary (which is still many months away — we like to get this party started early). We were so lucky/grateful my mom was able to come up and watch the kids. Getting away as a couple has been very important and worthwhile for us, but I’ll admit I dragged my feet about ever leaving them until 2010. The kids were in good hands, and we were both able to take a nice little break from Real Life for a few days.

I am normally not a big Florida fan, but Palm Beach helped to convert me. And the Eau Palm Beach Resort and Spa (formerly the Ritz Carlton) sealed the deal. We were very fortunate to be upgraded to an ocean front suite, and when I opened to door to see this view, I gasped:

Palm Beach View

It was unseasonably chilly in Philadelphia when we arrived at this beautiful sight. I feel serene just looking at the picture.

Reading is an essential part of any vacation for me. When I wasn’t eating, drinking or napping, I was reading by the pool or beach or balcony. I am currently working on Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg and Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Stroudt. (Note: also just downloaded David Sedaris’s newest novel last night, and I’ve been laughing my head off, much to the annoyance of my family. I will finish that before the other two).

I am not a trendy person at all, except when it comes to nail polish. Yellow is the hot color of spring/summer 2013, so I got right aboard that train — despite all the jokes from Ed. I think sometimes people in the, ahem, older generation have trouble accepting anything beyond the traditional pink/purple/orange/nude palate for nails. Even though I’m a bit of a nail polish snob, sometimes I slum it with Sally Hansen, which is what’s on my toes below, along with Eliza B flip flops. The formula of the polish is really clumpy, streaky and terrible (further fueling my future rationalization of pricy nail polish), but the color is lemony and cheery. And very Palm Beach, wouldn’t you say?

Years ago, I had the pleasure of knowing this lovely lady during my time in London, and through the magic of Facebook, she has always been generous about dispensing fashion and dining advice for many of my trips over the years. Based on her recommendations, we booked reservations at Buccan and Chez Jean Pierre, and they were both very good suggestions.

Buccan has a wonderful vibe, and despite not being of the Beautiful People set, we were treated very well. We met some friends last minute for cocktails at the Ritz and then dinner at Chez Jean Pierre and enjoyed a very respectable French meal (although in retrospect Buccan might have been the better spot to go with friends). It’s always the quirky, weird things I seem to remember over the years, and I can guarantee that this piece of artwork hanging over my head at Chez Jean Pierre will not soon be forgotten:

baby leg

In case it’s not obvious, that’s a baby leg and a black high heel shoe mounted on the wall. Perhaps after a few more cocktails I could have made sense of it, but instead I just wrote it off to the quirky charm of the French.

It is finally warm and feeling like spring, and I’m enjoying my last weekday of being a lady of leisure by reading, blogging, and watching some Bravo while folding a lot of laundry. I feel rested and restored and ready to return to the workforce on Monday.

Farewell to SAHMhood

On Monday, I will begin a new chapter of my life. Like all new chapters of really good books, I feel a little bit of sadness that the last chapter has ended and a lot of excitement about learning what comes next and how the story will continue to unfold.

After over seventeen years of staying home with the kids, I will be going back to work full-time. While I have dabbled in this and that part-time throughout the years, as well as helped manage our investment properties, I haven’t worked an eight hour day in a very long time. But what have I done?

I have changed a lot of diapers and nursed three babies and attended MOMS Club outings and play groups and swimming lessons and Kindermusik and Gymboree classes. I have treated preschool admissions like Harvard and parent-teacher conferences and well-visit annual checkups like an audience with the Pope. I have been Homeroom Mom and Staff Appreciation Volunteer and Halloween Party Helper. I have been covered in hot glue and glitter and stickers and Sharpie ink and addressed so many Valentines to girls named Caitlin and Kaitlin and Katelyn. I have been to countless field days and school plays and science fairs and chorus concerts and talent shows. I have been soccer mom and lacrosse mom and karate mom and tennis mom and basketball mom and baseball mom. I have driven many miles, mostly in a minivan.

I have dealt with various medical crises, some big and scary, but most blessedly just a nuisance. I have found the best pediatric specialists, whether for ophthalmology or otolaryngology or dental or educational testing or minor surgery. I have fought with several insurance companies, and I have usually won.

I have volunteered as an adult reading tutor and taught English grammar to immigrants wanting to speak better. I have volunteered at the local food pantry and animal shelter. I have happily cooked meals for women’s shelters and new moms and needy families and friends who just needed help.

I don’t regret a single minute of it, but it is finally time for me to move on from the world of stay-at-home-motherhood. I honestly never expected to be here for so long, but that’s what happens sometimes when your children are spaced out so widely. I will still be a mom, of course; that’s a forever job. But I will no longer be that mom.

Years ago, when I thought I knew everything, I was sure staying home and raising children full-time was the only right choice. On behalf of my former self, I apologize. There really is more than one right way to do this thing. I have seen friends and family members with impressive, demanding jobs raise amazing, well adjusted, nice kids who love their working moms every bit as much as my children love me. The answer is there is no answer. We’re all just trying our best.

Like all mothers everywhere, I would happily take a bullet for any of my children, but I no longer feel it’s in our best interest to make them my entire life. It’s time I find another identity besides wife and mother. Wife and mother will always remain my two most valued and important identities, but I am a working dog at heart. I crave a set schedule and a To Do list, and I’m happiest when I’m accomplishing something tangible.

The last couple of years have left me with too much free time, and I’ve not always used it constructively. As much as it sounds luxurious to do whatever you want, whenever you want, I can personally assure you that for my personality type, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. My mother-in-law has a caligraphied saying which reads, “Only through discipline may a man be born free,” and over the years I’ve come to understand that. I need the discipline and feeling of accomplishment that a job outside the home can bring.

One of the best things I ever did for myself was to start this blog. It has brought me so much joy and satisfaction to document parts of our life (and some of our better meals), and I have no plans of letting it go. I may post more, I may post less. Okay, likely less. I still hope to cook real food, although I can guarantee that won’t be happening much until I get my sea legs.

I hope you’ll stick with me as I start this new chapter. As always, thanks for reading.

Happy Things for a Rainy Friday

Happy Friday, friends! Here are a few things which are cheering me up today:

1. The Garden Fence. Our house is on one acre, but the adjacent property has over twenty acres, mostly wooded. I like to call it Deer Gardens, an executive community for deer demanding only the finest organic produce, fresh spring water, and award winning schools. Last spring Ed constructed a new fence, so the deer are forced to eat my tulips instead of my vegetables. Pictured below are the very beginning sprouts of radishes (plus weeds which instantly sprung up in the rain).

DeerGardens

2. National Grilled Cheese Day. At first I thought this was like all of the other fake Facebook-inspired holidays made up by some bored fourteen year old, but then I thought, “Who even cares? This is a day I am planning to celebrate!” Turns out it’s a real thing.

Grilled cheese is one of my first favorite foods. I remember being around age four and asking my dad if he is allowed to eat “girl cheese” since he’s a boy. I probably remember this because my family made me ask him this again every single time I ate a girl cheese for the next year. I might have thought they were stupid back then, but now I get it.

I plan on making today’s grilled cheese with grated Gruyère and sharp cheddar, heavy on the butter. Why can’t I lose weight?

GirlCheese

3. Nail Polish. I have a bit of a thing for nail polish. As a child, I always enjoyed the thrill of a new box of crayons, and I love choosing colors. No surprise, I am like a moth to flame at any nail polish display and often find myself powerless. I suppose there are worse shopping addictions one can have. It’s almost time to pick a new color, which is half the fun for me.

While I’m happy with most Essie and OPI shades, my real weakness is Dior. I am currently wearing OPI’s Bubble Bath in a gel — a decent nude but nothing too exciting. I definitely prefer my Dior Safari Beige. That’s me in a nutshell: Fifty Shades of Beige.

4. My Mad Men lamp. This lovely relic currently resides in my basement in a room whose decor can best be described as Garage Sale/Bennigan’s Transitional. When my mother-in-law went into assisted living, we snatched this baby right up. I truly do love it, but it doesn’t quite work on my main floor. I am hoping to find a better spot to showcase all of its Don Draperesque awesomeness. Sorry, folks, it’s not for sale.

mad men lamp

Wishing you all a beautiful weekend filled with good food and happy things.

The Joy of Going Dark

Watching the season six premiere of Mad Men Sunday night reminded me once again of a simpler time. However, witnessing the lack of constant communication and inability to Google anything on the spot always unsettles me; it feels like reverse science fiction. Did I once really live like this? When Betty went into The Dicey Neighborhood without a cell phone, I was very nervous indeed. How did we manage back then? Almost unbelievable.

It’s an interesting experience to be an American woman in her forties. I’m young enough to have adapted and embraced most new technology with ease, but I’m still old enough to remember having a real life before smart phones and GPS. I remember going out on dates, to parties and various day trips with friends and I rarely could call home to say I arrived safely; I just needed to return when I said I would. What a leap of faith! I remember going to New York City, Paris and London, meeting people at various pre-arranged spots, and if they were late or their train was delayed or they got a little lost…I just kept waiting. Eventually everyone always showed up. Finding someone in a big city without a cell phone seems like a true miracle today.

When I’m working, I don’t have my cell phone with me on the sales floor. It’s against policy and everyone knows I’m usually an obedient rule follower. For many hours at a time, I have no access to my phone, texts, emails, etc. And I kind of like it. For that time period, I am focused fully on being where I am and not distracted by the constant pings of notifications of my Other Life. The world, so used to my usual quick reply, needs to patiently wait until I am done working.

The world is not accustomed to patiently waiting for me. Once, while working a mere four hour shift, I found a voice mail, then a text seeing if I ever got the voice mail, and then another text to follow up…all from the same person in less than four hours. And this was not a 911 emergency, either.  People expect me to be a rapid responder and tend to panic a bit when I’m not. What would Betty say? Probably something delightfully bitchy.

I have learned to embrace my periods of digital incommunicado. They feel like mini vacations back to my youth, a life where I can go almost eight hours without knowing about baseball schedule changes and 40% off Banana Republic coupons and spring fair volunteer sign ups and the latest celebrity gossip and my son’s physics grade. Sooner or later, I find out about all of this stuff. For now, on brief occasions, I am enjoying the charmingly retro concept of Just Being Where I Am. I do believe it will be the next big thing.

Another 8766 Hours, Another Birthday Cake

Years ago, my old book club read Michael Cunningham’s brilliant Pulitzer prize winning novel The Hours. I absolutely loved this book, but I can still hear my fellow book club members groaning from here. Let’s just say everyone did not share my enthusiasm for The Hours. In their defense, it was rather depressing. I lent out my copy, so I can’t refer back to specific passages. But one in particular really spoke to me.

Laura Brown was an unsatisfied, depressed housewife in 1949 suburban Los Angeles. Like me at the time, she attached a little too much significance into baking (creating) her husband’s birthday cake. It was her job, her art, her lot in life. And no surprise, despite her ardent efforts, it came out imperfectly.

While thankfully I was never anywhere near the level of misery of Laura Brown (who winds up leaving her family), there was a lot of me who could relate to her struggles during that time of my life. Back in those days, a cake was one of the few pieces of evidence that I “did something.” And then the reminder that I once had so many more dreams for myself than just baking cakes.

She, Laura, likes to imagine (it’s one of her most closely held secrets) that she has a touch of brilliance herself, just a hint of it, though she knows most people probably walk around with similar hopeful suspicions curled up like tiny fists inside them, never divulged. She wonders, while she pushes a cart through the supermarket or has her hair done, if the other women aren’t all thinking, to some degree or other, the same thing: Here is the brilliant spirit, the woman of sorrows, the woman of transcendent joys, who would rather be elsewhere, who has consented to perform simple and essentially foolish tasks, to examine tomatoes, to sit under a hair dryer, because it is her art and her duty. — Michael Cunningham, The Hours

I am better now that my kids are older and I have crafted more of a balanced life for myself, but for every birthday cake I bake, I still remember that gray period of my life when the cake was such a powerful symbol. It represented my job, my worth, my abilities. While there are many times when I still mourn for my life with small children (usually when I see a cute one in the grocery store), I remember that it was also a difficult and sometimes dark time filled with much loneliness, isolation and boredom. Women don’t talk about that part, but they should. Despite my fierce love for my family, I was a little lost and unfulfilled as a person during my early years of motherhood.

It feels taboo to admit that. It feels whiny and self indulgent, and maybe it is. But I serve no one by pretending it was easy, happy and perfect. It wasn’t. Not for me, anyway. There were wonderful hours, for sure, but back then, the wonderful hours were much fewer and farther between than today. I don’t know that I would ever want to go back to that place.

This year’s birthday cake for my husband feels like a victory. Not because it will be perfect, but because it won’t be. It will just be a cake, and there is no such thing as bad cake. It will be sweet and a little messy but satisfying and made with love and good intentions, just like a cake and a life should be.

An April Fools Story and a Tale of Redemption

Hello, Hello and Happy Almost April!

I hope everyone had a lovely Easter, Passover and/or Spring Holiday of Choice and enjoyed feasting with loved ones as much as I did. I have been working a lot more, so my time in the kitchen has been less than innovative lately, and I’ve been sticking to my usual repertoire of take-out family favorites. However, I did try this so-easy-it’s-not-much-of-a-recipe recipe from the Huffington Post for matzo toffee, and it was a pretty big hit. On the plus side (?), I consumed such a shameful amount that I don’t want to look at it for another 365 days at least. Too much matzo toffee + Too many marshmallow Peeps = Too tight jeans.

On a somewhat related note, it’s time for me to bust out my annual April Fools story. Now, if you’re a friend or family member, please forgive me. I know you have to hear this story every single year. But for all the rest of you, please enjoy this lovely April Fools cautionary tale.

When Logan was about ten, I thought it would be HILARIOUS to tell him that he was going to have another baby brother or sister as an April Fools joke, and this is how it all went down:

Me: Guess what, Logan? You’re going to be a big brother again! Isn’t that exciting? What do you think of that?

Logan: Yeah, I kind of thought you looked pregnant.

And that, my friends, is how it’s done. May your attempts at tomfoolery be more successful than mine.

On a totally unrelated note, I wanted to share with you a recommendation for a short HBO documentary I really enjoyed. Fall to Grace is the story of former New Jersey governor Jim McGreevey, who resigned in 2004 and came out as a “gay American” after he was accused of having an inappropriate relationship with a staff member.

As a bit of a cynic, I was prepared to not be taken in by McGreevey’s reinvention as a wannabe Episcopal priest and mentor at a women’s prison. I may talk like a tough guy, but I fell in love with him in less than five minutes. (And I really fell in love with his house! If you are dying to know what my dream house looks like, see this documentary.) Jim McGreevey radiates happiness. Working with these inmates is truly his calling. You can see and feel the connection they have, and it’s clear that these women have helped him as much as he has helped them.

This is a really sweet little documentary about a person who had it all, lost it all, and then got it all back in spades. I love the idea of Act 2 and second chances. I love Jim McGreevey’s radiant glow which comes from living openly, honestly and with vulnerability. But mostly I love that even though we’re all a little broken, we still possess the capacity to heal each other.

Buffalo Hummus

After a long week, Ed and I usually enjoy unwinding with wine and hummus on Friday evenings. We’ll either watch a movie or one of our shows (currently we’re enjoying The Americans on FX). But at the end of March, that changes.

Our household is currently in the height of March Madness frenzy. For the unaware, this means NCAA college basketball. In general, I am neither a rabid sports fan nor a gambler, but for a few weeks in March, I become both of those things. College basketball and wine just don’t go together as well as college basketball and beer. And what does beer go with? Wings, of course.

Tonight I decided to shake things up a bit and try my hand at Buffalo Hummus. I went into this blindly, but we were both very pleased with how well it turned out. Zippy and rich, but not too heavy. I won’t say this is exactly healthy, but it is definitely more healthy than buffalo chicken wings or dip.

Buffalo Hummus

Ingredients
1 can chick peas, drained
2 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 clove garlic
1/4 cup hot wings sauce, such as Franks Red Hot Buffalo Wings Sauce
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil

Directions
Combine all ingredients in food processor until smooth.

buffalohummus

Dawn’s Wheat Berry Salad

There are few things I dislike more than salad bars and buffets. Public restrooms come to mind, but otherwise, I’m drawing a blank. So I’m not quite sure what came over me last week when I was drawn to the salad bar of my grocery store in an almost supernatural pull, equal parts hungry and lazy. Plastic clam shell container in hand, belly up to the Acme salad bar, I found myself evaluating my many rainbow colored options. It seems the middle-aged crisis manifests in many forms.

Obvious sanitation concerns aside, I become paralyzed by the selection process. Too many choices give me anxiety and harken me back to the days of toddler temper tantrums, where my children would melt down picking out what color cup to choose or a pack of gum at the checkout counter if I “rushed” them. Just. Pick. Something. Dammit.

I’m not saying I would have been happier in the days of Soviet Russia, but standing there contemplating the selection of egg salad and broccoli salad and beet salad and bacon — so much bacon in all of the “salads” — and some rather flaccid looking veggies and ten different dressings and six different crunchy toppings and none of it made sense when served together in one container all touching each other that I wondered if I wouldn’t have been better off going next door to Bravo and ordering a cheesesteak for probably less calories than my salad.

But oftentimes inspiration strikes in the most unlikely places. One of the many things I plopped in my container that day was a little sample of wheat berry salad, and this alone was worth my ordeal. Hearty and flavorful, I was immediately enchanted with the humble wheat berry, which is high in fiber and rich in nutrients. Score one for the Acme salad bar.

I picked up these wheat berries from Wegman’s (but certainly use any brand or variety you can find), and I set out to create something healthy, delicious and satisfying for lunch. Mission accomplished. If you’re gluten-free, quinoa or brown rice would work.

Dawn’s Wheat Berry Salad
4 servings

Ingredients
1 cup wheat berries (red winter wheat) cooked per package instructions
1/4 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 red onion, diced
1/2 – 1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1 carrot, shredded
1/4 pound good quality feta cheese, crumbled
1/2 cup black olives of choice, halved

Directions
Cook one cup of wheat berries per package instructions and remove from heat. In medium serving bowl, whisk together olive oil, apple cider vinegar and kosher salt. Add cooked wheat berries and mix well. Add all remaining ingredients, gently combine, and serve chilled or at room temperature. Refrigerate and use within three days.

Wheat berry salad

Countdown to Pi Day

Tomorrow Logan’s school is celebrating Pi Day (3.14, get it?) by serving lots and lots of pie. I signed up to make two pies, and our conversation went like this:

Me: Pi Day is almost here. I need to find a winning recipe because I’m bringing in two pies and I want them to be THE BEST!

Logan: Umm, Mom, you know it’s not a pie contest, right? No one will even know it’s your pie that they’re eating.

Me: Oh, honey, they will know, because they will say, “Who made this one? You have to try this one. It’s the BEST PIE I EVER ATE.”

Logan: Seriously, Mom, you can just buy two pies from Acme. No one really cares.

Me (blank stare): Huh? “No one cares?” Of course they care! They care and I care and I will win at Pi Day.

Unfortunately, pie is really not my thing. Talking smack, that’s my thing. Never one to let lack of skill or experience get in the way, I started pulling out cookbooks and magazines and Google searches, determined to create the best pie ever. There are over 61 million results on Google for apple pie alone. My head hurt. Analysis paralysis, as they say.

But then something happened. I stopped and asked why. Why am I doing this? Why does it matter? I certainly have enough things to do, so why am I making extra work for myself?

The answer, it turns out, is as infinite and transcendental as pi itself.

PeachPi