I am a writer and a Mommy. I am a devout Jew. These are the most important books I have read: The Tao te Ching by Lao Tzu, Stephen Mitchell translation. Spiritual Divorce by Debbie Ford. Living Inspired by Akiva Tatz. My kitchen would suggest I'm a closet carny, as would my love of Branson.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

The Relief of Art

What hurt me - what crushed me as a young person was the ordinary - the regular world.  The needs of the human body and the ways of polite society.  I observed the willingness of people (and really the need) to understand and follow rules without questioning those rules.

This hurt me because so much of what we did seemed wrong in that it was unsustainable.  I’m sure it was pointed out to me in one of my classes that our world was becoming polluted and overpopulated and then one day, in another class I came to understand the inheritance of nuclear weapons, so I am probably not alone, in my generation, feeling a bit hopeless about humanity.

I was born with a contrary personality.  My natural instinct is to question everything and to wonder if the opposite is true - at all times.   So the more complicated and artificial the social construct, the more I have railed against it.  The rules of table manners, for example  confounded me.  I have come to see these rules as a kind of elegance.  To appreciate the rituals for the fun they can be.

But the waste of the food industry, the enormity of it, the cycle of effort in farming translated to real garbage by way of sugar cereal or hostess snack cakes - these are the things that hurt so much.  The cycle of garbage that a human produces.  How can a person live, understanding the amount of trash we put onto the earth?

The mountain of clothing that fashion demands has also irked me this whole life. I’d much rather be naked, at all times.  I don’t mind about clothes.  I wear them because it is required but humans aren’t meant to - every single place of work must explain in detail what kind of clothes they allow because humans continue to this day to be confounded by clothing.  All the while there is clearly little more important than what a person wears in terms of how others will see you and treat you.

But I’m not the type to become a naturalist - even though that would be the logical answer here.  And I’ve met them.  It should suit me.  Grow what you will eat.  Eat only what you can grow.  Live as simply as you can.  Clothing optional.  Don’t drive, don’t make trash.    

In this way I’m just like every other human, I want to follow the rules and live my life.  I want to play by the rules and win in my life.  I work, I spend my money carefully.  I keep my refrigerator stocked and my pantry full.  My clothes closet overflows.   I do what I can to maintain society and keep it moving forward in an orderly fashion.

While it pained me in my youth to feel so crushed by the enormity of the systems set up by humans and how wrong they mostly seemed, there was a saving grace.  There has continued to be something apart from the regular, the ordinary and horrifying.  

I found it in the books my parents had and they showed it to me in the museums we visited.  It hung on the walls and stood in the halls in my grandparents house.  Some people didn’t follow the rules at all, and their work was revered and held out for all to see.  

At 20 I spent a summer in Germany where things were humming along with incredible regularity.  The rules were very clear and everyone followed them very carefully.  I was learning about being an adult.  I had to shop for myself a little, cook for myself a little.  I had to manage my money and time and figure out what I would do with myself because no one was going to tell me or guide me.

I had classes and classes always made sense to me.  I was good at learning and studying so that was nothing new but an entire world was open to me there.  I could go anywhere I wanted after class and every weekend was free for me to explore.  So I went to see art.  There was a park with a Claes Oldenburg statue.  There were museums filled with Dali.  There was Bauhaus art everywhere.

Even now, years since I forgot about the crush of being normal, years since I decided to do my very best to be as normal as possible (not very), I feel the relief of art.  A painting, a sculpture, a drawing, a movie, a book, an artist - these are the things that let me breathe.  These are things that calm me deeply.   I have always wished for artistic talent because I have the mind for it.  If I could draw what I dream about, for example, I think people would want to see that.

If I could make art, that would satisfy me.  I am satisfied by the art of others.  In an extremely deep way, the irregularity of it - the way it is profoundly out of the ordinary gives me relief.   

There is a park.  It is a human place.   A place where humans decided to gather, safely.  A place for kids to play and for parents to watch.   A place where nature is not allowed to go freely.  But we also put a giant statue of a water hose there.  It doesn’t do anything but look ridiculous.  On a separate, curated lawn far from there lie giant shuttlecocks.  Elsewhere a giant spoon with a massive cherry on it rests on top of a pond.  These things crush me as well, but with gratitude.   This art is real nonsense and yet it is only this kind of thing that lets me feel connected to other humans.  That a human would make these things and that I am not alone in celebrating it - traveling around the world to catch glimpses of it - that is how I know there are other humans like me.  That is where my hope dwells.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

The Stupidity of All White Supremacists

I try to understand perspectives that are opposite of mine or different from mine.  To do this I engage in conversations with people who are different from me and I ask lots of questions and I follow people on Twitter who are really terrifying.

But people who want a white country and preach the protection of whiteness just seem extremely stupid to me.

I've said this before: there is no such thing as white people.

Race is an imaginary idea that is used to hurt people.  

I'm not suggesting that people don't have different color skin and I know that the color of your skin is of primary and persistent impact on your life experiences.

What I'm saying is that being hateful toward others is wrong and basing it on skin color is random.

The morons who gather together saying they have skin color in common do not.

They have hate in common.  

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Where did I go?

8 months ago a truly terrible thing happened.  I don't like to think about it or talk about it.  If you ever read this blog and you saw my last post you know that I did not post after this terrible event and there are several reasons why.

One of the main reasons is fear.  I don't know how people so openly express their feelings of horror about their own President.  This doesn't seem like something anyone should do.  While I understand there is freedom of speech, when it comes to this person, I don't believe that I have that freedom.

I am truly terrified of our President.  What woman could claim anything else when they have heard him say that he can just grab anyone he wants by the pussy.

I was and will forever be disappointed by the women I know who voted for this man, for whatever their reason, because he admits to sexual assault proudly.  I don't say that he admitted to it because his every move since saying those words has been in the same vein, the same tone.  Just this week he posted a video of himself assaulting someone.  He is predatory.  

As it is for most people, I have grown accustomed to who the current President of the United States is and I am learning to cope with the terror and anxiety of this reality.  I imagine a time when someone with dignity and respect will lead us again.  I try to focus on controlling myself and the way I behave.

I missed writing and felt too afraid to write.  How can I write about food with this hanging over us all?

But I'll try.  And maybe I'll write about other things and leave food behind.  This is my place and I can write about whatever I want.  Maybe I'll even tell a story.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Masala Potatoes

It has been challenging not to write all this time about the Presidential election.  I have learned more about American history and politics these past months than in the previous several decades of living in the U.S.  I have learned more about sexism, fear and the real problems that the people of the United States are facing.  I didn't realize how upsetting it is for rural America to have to cope with the changing population and the changing morality all around them.

I got to know the U.S. population a bit better and I see how much pain so many people are in and it has inspired me to give more.  I don't want my fellow Americans to be in pain.

I have often tried to engage Trump supporters to find out what he stands for that they stand for but I only get vitriol about Clinton.  I genuinely do not understand why people hate Clinton.  The items that are cited to me as reasons why people hate her are things I know to be false or, at worst, not a reason to hate such an experienced, dedicated and admirable person.  I have yet to find reason or logic in any conversation that I have had with Trump supporters about why they are voting for him.

The closest thing to reason I have heard was something about abortion.  But Trump has always been pro-choice.  One person said they believe him that he has changed his position on abortion but given the frequency with which he lies that is not reasonable. I'm forced to believe that every single Trump supporter is either sexist, racist or in some other way full of hate and therefore Trump is their guy.

The best thing happened this weekend though.  I was added to the secret group for people who support Clinton.  No debating.  No vitriol.  No anger or hate.  Just story after story after positive story about why we are delighted to be voting for Hillary Clinton.

If we make it through this election without turning into Idiocracy I vow to reach out to people who are struggling and do more for them.  I will do my part to build bridges in this country.  To forge bonds with people who are afraid so that they will instead find hope.  

I don't know how to help people who want to make America white or who want women back in their place behind men or who want to dictate sexuality or what others do with their bodies.  I want to know because we are all in this together.  I don't ever want an election like this to happen again and I want to do my part in bridging the divides.

But for now I made masala potato dosas.

The paper dosa is my latest food obsession and I was delighted to discover I could buy the mix in my local Indian grocery store.  It took me some time to master how to cook this so it would be paper-thin, crispy and delicious.  But you can't serve a paper dosa as anything other than a snack and it doesn't really work as a side dish to anything not Indian that I can think of.

Thus came the task of making a filling for it so I could serve this as dinner.
The problem I've always had trying to cook Indian food is that I don't have the spices in my kitchen. There are a lot of spices involved in cooking any Indian dish.  This one required things like mustard seeds, cumin seeds, curry leaves, urad dal and asafoetida.  Wait, what?

Yeah, I looked in a couple of grocery stores and they don't carry those things.  Of course the Indian grocery store carries all of it but it took courage to go in there with my shopping list and buy these things.  Especially asafoetida.  That is literally not even food.  But it has a really strong flavor.  It is the flavor of Indian food!  I loved the feedback I got while cooking this.  It smelled amazing!

I bought the spices a month ago and the potatoes and red onion a couple of weeks ago and today I finally decided to pull the trigger and get out all these different spices I've never used before and try a combination of recipes to come up with my masala potato filling.

It was damn good and completely easy to make.  Yay!  Score!  Adding this hardcore dinner to the rotation.  The kids loved it!

Thank you to the Chennai Club for introducing me to this deliciousness!

Friday, August 5, 2016

The Cruise

Often when I describe the 7 of us to people for the first time I say we are a Brady Bunch family. How young do you have to be to have never heard of the Brady Bunch?  I'll have to keep that in mind.  We are blended.  Two kids each from our first marriages and one from this one.  A boy on each end and three girls in the middle.  Kids either 1 or 2 years apart in age ... until Jacob.  He is 6 years younger than his youngest sister, 11 years younger than his brother.

Last summer was difficult to put it mildly.  Everyone seemed to be either at a difficult age or at least a difficult combination of ages so that time with all five kids was nearly unbearable.  We are not a family of 7 all the time or even half the time but we are together most of the summer and every winter break. Last year, as summer approached, I changed my work to part-time to help face this change.  We travel to Kansas to have extra adult support to cope with all the kids.  I am happy to say that, for now, we finally got the hang of it.  But last summer was different.

As we muddled through our time with all five kids, I imagined the next time we would have them all in December and I booked a cruise.

Carnival was the cheapest cruise line and the only one with childcare for kids under 3.  They have a fairly bad reputation, so with low expectations, I booked the Carnival Miracle for a 7 night cruise to Mexico from Los Angeles.  The thought of this cruise got me through every day for the four months leading up to it.

No matter what the cruise was like, I knew for certain that each one of the kids would love it beyond anything they had ever experienced.  

As an adult, I'd rather vacation in almost any other way than a cruise.  Even my son, who was 13 at the time, was able to identify the moral problems with taking a cruise.  Isn't this terrible for the oceans and the environment in multiple ways?  Isn't this just wasting an excess of money that we could have given to charity?  Isn't this just a waste of food and a series of incredible indulgences? What are we doing in Mexico where everyone is so poor compared to us?  Couldn't we come down here and use this much money to really help a lot of people?  He had a blast on the cruise but asked that we never do such a thing again because it's just so blatantly wrong.

I booked the cruise because I knew this would be the perfect thing to do with all our kids to avoid having 5 people asking me for something all at once all day long every day for a week.

I hope that most parents reading that are shaking their head and thinking, "um, why don't you just teach your kids not to do that?"  Yes, we finally figured that out.  It took us 4 1/2 years.

We finally figured out that we can make rules like:
You may not ask us a question a second time after we have been answered or you will get a consequence.
Don't ask us when a meal is or what a meal is.  We will feed you enough every day.
Don't ask the other parent what you have already asked one parent.
Don't interrupt a conversation to ask a question.
Help clean up after meals.
Get yourself a healthy breakfast every morning when you wake up.

Etc.  We have a list and there are consequences for not following the rules.  Yes, we finally figured out parenting (by the time our oldest was 14).

Anyway, back to the cruise.

No cooking for a week.  No cleaning for a week.  No asking the kids to do anything for a week.  Just the seven of us, on a boat where we could each eat what we wanted all day long, all night long and do anything we wanted on a little safe space.

Cruise basics: 24 hours a day you can eat something.  24 hours a day you can order free room service. On this cruise there was always pizza, burgers, fries, nachos and ice cream.  At meal times there was a lot of other food choices.  Another cruise basic: you can't get lost on a cruise.  The ship may be big but there are always one of 5 or 6 places that a person will likely be at any given time and that's if you have had zero communication.  There is always an activity happening on a cruise.  And there is always a movie playing on your tv.

By day 3, the pizza place knew our girls and exactly what they would order for breakfast, mid-morning snack and a few other times throughout the day.  I think they were sick of the pizza by day 4.

They could not actually grasp the fact that they didn't have to ask us before getting themselves as much ice cream as they wanted.  Or any other dessert.

I don't know if the kids ate any vegetables or fruits during that week.  I'm pretty sure they did because one day there was fondue.  There was a lot of fruit dipped in chocolate that day.

The plan for the cruise was for my husband and I to have time together.  No work, no work phone, no computer.  Just the two of us enjoying a lot of meals and entertainment and spending time with kids if they were being nice or letting them hang out in kids club if they were not.

We spent most of our time with the kids.

I think everyone's favorite activity was going to the fancy dinners, ordering whatever they wanted without fear that they wouldn't like it, knowing they could go to the buffet after if it didn't work out.

It was really just about the most fun we have ever had all together.

We had pretty good weather but didn't spend too much time in the pools.  We loved all the shows. The comedy club was fantastic.

One night after dinner we were so exhausted that we told the four big kids to go to the family show while we put Jacob to bed.  We told them we would meet them there shortly.  We lay down on our bed, fully dressed to have a short nap.  When we woke up it was 1 in the morning.  In a panic, we ran next door and found all four kids sound asleep.  The next day we discovered that they had waited a short while before heading to the front row where they watched the family show and stayed for two 18-and-up shows until our oldest made them go to bed because he didn't want to stay up anymore. I'm fairly sure that was their favorite night.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Black Lives Matter

I'll begin at the end.

We must stop identifying each other by the color of our skin.

This is the color white
This is the color black

People do not have white colored skin and people do not have black colored skin.  

So let's agree that these words are factually wrong and let's stop using them.

You can't have a thought without words.  Words create your thoughts and therefore the reality that you experience.

Since I was taught from birth to identify people as different races, I see people with a different shade of skin from mine as other.   

I can't stop this.  I can't erase the words that are in my vocabulary and that I think when I encounter people.  These words inform me about who is not like me, who is not in my group.

But I can change this for the future.  When I had children I decided never to use skin color or "race" to describe people.  They never heard people described by the color of their skin until they went to school.  I saw proof of how profoundly the absence of racist language impacted the way a child sees the world, time and again.  I saw my kids describe people by their clothes, hairstyle or actions but never by the color of their skin because this was never modeled for them and they had no language to do it.

Don't let people identify you by the tint of your flesh.  Don't answer people who ask you to identify yourself by race.  

No one wants to be identified by their physical characteristics.   I don't want to be talked about as the "short American."    I don't like blonde jokes.  I don't want to be labeled and categorized by the way I look.   I hear someone described on the radio as an "African-American" man and I think of someone describing me as frizzy-haired, Jewish-American woman.  No!  It's preposterous.  

Words have power.  Use your language carefully.    Do not perpetuate racism by speaking its language.  

The Black Lives Matter movement is waking people up because this phrase inadvertently conjures how wrong it is call people white or black.  And it reminds us all how wrong it is for people to feel afraid because of the way they look.  

If you don't like the idea that black lives matter please read Between the World and Me.     

Or, if you don't want to read a book, just think about this.  If you don't understand why there is a Black Lives Matter movement, then the answer is to try to understand.  Look into it.  Find out what is going on.  

Recognize that you have never needed to cry out to the world around you to proclaim that your life matters.  Unless someone has beat you and abused you.  And then maybe you had to find a voice to say that your life matters.  

There are people in the United States who have suffered here for hundreds of years and they still suffer because they are seen as "black."  This is what Black Lives Matter means.      

What I love most about the United States is the freedom we have.  We have innumerable diverse cultures and communities and we are tremendously different from one another.  Here we are free to be as we are.  We enjoy all the flavors of the cultures we have in this great nation.  We have freedom but we struggle to have equality.

The path to ending racism is quiet and subtle.  We change our thoughts by changing our words.

We have to listen to each other and hear when someone is hurting and be honest about why.  We have to hear people when they say black lives matter.  It isn't random or hateful or racist.  It's a pained cry for equality and for an end to abuse and each of us must answer this cry by seeking to understand it and then saying yes black lives do matter and we have to mean it.

We must also stop labeling ourselves by the shades of our hides and we must reject the idea that our body informs which group we belong to.

We can do this quietly with our own speech and our own individual commitment to end the use of language that creates racist thought.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Zombie Apocalypse Horse Cake

A few weeks ago I found an excellent book at the middle school book fair.  It's called Cake My Day.

I bought it because my son was going to turn 3 and I saw directions in this book on how to make a horse cake.  I also thought there were a lot of neat recipes in here so I got it.

Right from the start I knew I could have an entire years worth of blog entries showing my cake fails if I attempted the recipes in this book.  In fact, the first thing I did after picking out all my favorite recipes was to scour the Internet for cake fail pictures from attempts to recreate the impossible cakes in this book.

I figured the horse cake would be doable even though I planned to alter the horse.

I took this idea:
I thought I'd simply frost it and make a brown horse.

This was a great idea on my part.  There was no reason this would not work.  

But when I assembled my cake it looked so disturbing that I felt it more resembled a zombie horse than a regular one.
The side you can't see has a big chunk missing from the side of its face.

The best thing about my kids is that they are always totally impressed by my efforts to make them cakes.  This was my biggest cake fail yet but my son loves it so much.  He was so happy with it.

He thought it was odd that I let him take the front off and eat it along with an eye and an ear.  I don't think he even had a bite of the cake after that.

My husband went for one of the Oreo stack legs and nearly toppled the entire beast.

I don't know why but my favorite part of the specialty cake process is destroying it after it's done.  

In any case, I think I get what's happening in this book now with the shapes and whatnot and I'd like to try again.

Not with the horse cake though.  

Unless I decide to attempt every cake in this book.  It would provide a lot of laughs.  

More cakes to come in a month...