I Hide My Chocolate

Midlife observations

Don’t Guzzle Your Beer

And Other Thoughts 

My son was born thirsty. He would nurse voraciously, gulping, urgently, as if he could not fill up fast enough. He brought this habit to his bottle, to his sippy cup, to his big-boy cup, and ultimately to the gallon of juice in the refrigerator at all times. I felt compelled to tell him, at the age of 7, that he will need to learn to sip alcohol, sloooowly, to savor the taste. I was terrified of the horror stories of 18-year-olds going off to college and guzzling their beer or throwing back shots until they die of alcohol poisoning. Okay, so it was more than 10 years away, but I figured it was never too soon to discuss.

Here we are.

We’ve made the checklists. We’ve got the stuff from Bed, Bath, and Beyond. You know, the shower caddy and shower shoes, new bedding (Extra Long Twin for those weirdly long and narrow dorm beds), hangers, a surge protector, a desk lamp, an umbrella, and myriad other supplies for living away from home. We’ve gone through his old toys and games and art projects. Keeping what has sentimental value (some of the sweet Lego figures he played with in the bath) and giving away the games he never opened. (They seemed like a good idea at the time.) And laundry. We’ve done a ton of laundry. He doesn’t mind doing laundry, so I think he’ll have clean clothes in college. Wrinkled but clean. We’ll see.

Now we wait.

Some of his friends have left already. Some don’t leave for a while. He leaves later this week. We’re sort of ready. (Can you ever be ready?) Kind of eager to get the emotion behind us. Kind of dreading it. Will he like his roommate? Will he like his classes? Will he be homesick? Will he be okay? Will he be happy?

He’s a loyal friend. He’s had a few close friends his whole life. It took him a while to develop and nurture these friendships. He is sad to leave them. He wonders how these friendships will evolve when they are far flung across the country. I try to reassure him that his closest friends will remain close. I am still connected with several of my friends from high school. They were crucially important people to me at a time when we were becoming ourselves. I love them deeply.

I think of all the things I want to say to him. Usually in the middle of the night. I try to nag less and be present more. I try to be near by in case he wants me. I try to tell him my middle-of-the-night ruminations during the few moments when he will allow me into his room, into his space. Stuff like:

  • You don’t have to have it all figured out. Try new things. You can change your mind.
  • Rent your textbooks. Don’t buy them.
  • When I look at you, it’s because I love you, not because I am judging you.
  • Take your vitamins.
  • You can tell me anything. I know you think you can’t, but you can.
  • Go to all the extra help sessions and office hours with your professors.
  • You will make new friends.
  • Take advantage of the city. Explore!
  • You have a deep and loving heart. It is my favorite thing about you. You are a good human being.
  • Choose your professors carefully. The teacher is more important than the class topic.
  • Use the credit card for necessities. Use your own money for entertainment.
  • I am sorry for all the times I disappointed you. Like that Friday night when I was the one who had a tantrum because you didn’t do what I wanted you to do.
  • Be you.

I am proud of you. I will miss you. (More than you know.) I love you.

Oh, and don’t guzzle your beer.

Conversations with my Father

Remembering

We wait until the last hour to let the emotion crack through. It’s always my mom that breaks open our hearts. “I miss her so much,” my father sobs. I was taking photographs of old photographs. Photos of her I had never seen. The photos were in the front hallway in an envelope carefully labeled with instructions to himself in my father’s unmistakable handwriting: “Take to get copies.”

I search her face for a trace of my face. I don’t see any resemblance. Maybe, just maybe, there is a hint of my daughter in her face. My mother didn’t like photographs of herself and tended to avoid eye contact with the camera. She didn’t think she was pretty. To me she was beautiful. On that, my dad and I agree.

I hug him awkwardly, neither one of us very good at it. He resumes cataloging his assets for me, verbally, so that when he dies I will be able to deal appropriately with all the stuff accumulated in the house. If nothing else, he has always been meticulously careful about my financial wellbeing. But it’s not just a catalog. Each item has a story. I only half listen because he’s been pontificating at me for 54 years and I have always dealt with it by only half listening. I will myself to pay attention.

There are 3 violins and 5 bows. The Nicolas Lupot violin has some value. It’s an early Lupot – not one of the later, better ones. Nicolas Lupot was an 18th century French violin-maker in the style of Stradivarius. The Lupot is not the violin he is playing right now. I’m not sure why. It needs to be repaired perhaps? I try to remember the name of the place where I should take the violins when he dies, should I want to sell them. Weaver’s? Potter’s? I think one of the violins might have been my mother’s. I’m not sure. I really should get clarification on that.

They met playing string quartets, but my mom stopped playing after they got married. Relieved of what was mostly a chore for her. My dad, on the other hand, whispered to me at dinner the night before, “I don’t know what I’ll do if I can’t play any more.” Playing the violin is his lifelong passion. Even though his short-term memory is fading in an alarming way, (“Did we do anything yesterday?” he asked me this morning), and he has trouble adding the tip to the dinner bill, he practices the violin every day and plays string quartets once a week. It keeps him alive and in the house. I hope he lives as long as he can and then drops dead of a heart attack. The lingering withering away that my mother experienced is the worst…for all concerned.

Every year when I visit, I take inventory of how he’s doing. Pretty well by all accounts. Not much worse than a year ago. Maybe better. He has his routines, and he has mostly mastered his grief. The house is clean, (cluttered but clean), thanks to Pauline, the woman who has been cleaning the house since 1964. But he now holds on to things for support, acknowledging that a cane may soon be in order. I harangue him about doing his balancing exercises. And really Dad, cut out the sugar! His nutrition information is from 30 years ago and frankly he doesn’t really care. Why should he. Even though his post lunch stupor prevented us from our annual outing to the National Gallery. I could not get him out of his chair. Out of his house. Out of his routine. Inertia.

I am ambitious for him. For me. For us and our visits. This time, I will ask the meaningful questions. This time, we will have a special outing. This time, I will tell him more about me. Do children who live close to their aging parents and see them frequently feel as urgent with their visits? But, we fall into our habits. Overly protective of our private selves. It is not until the last hour that we really connect.

Each year, I ratchet down my ambition. There is more patience and love in our quiet togetherness. I watered his plants, nurturing the living beings in the household. I read. I practiced yoga. I listened to the birds. Waiting for him.

I walked around the house. Remembering. I looked at old photographs. The ones of me when I was growing up. The ones of my mom when she was younger than I am now. We walked around the neighborhood, remembering, and tut-tutting with mutual disgust and judgment at the hideous Mcmansions that have cropped up in our middle class mid-century suburban development. We went out for dinner. We watched tv. We remembered. Maybe it’s enough to just be together.

Today’s Postcard

Say NO to Eliminating Federal Funding for Public Education and Nutritious School Lunches

Are you tired and annoyed by everyone posting political rants? Yeah, that’s what I was afraid of. So, I hesitate to post. You know me, I’m very non-confrontational. God forbid I should post something provocative or polarizing. Here’s the thing. I’m just a fair-minded, run-of-the-mill feminist and democrat who has never been politically active.

Until now.

Not a day goes by without some news item causing me to exclaim WTF in anger or disgust or cry in despair. I mean, really, what kind of world is it going to be in 10 years for our children and grandchildren?

Let’s be real, I work full time, I have a husband and children, I teach yoga. I am busy. I am not saving the world. What can I do? Does it even make a difference? After the initial shock, where we all shared outraged articles and felt overwhelmed, I took a bit of a deep breath and a bit of a break. I am not someone who jumps into the fray. No no. I need to research every issue and understand all points of view. Then pause and reflect. Then articulate my point of view, in writing. Then assess how I want to move forward. It’s exhausting and overwhelming, especially when every day presents you with a dozen new outrageous items to consider.

I’ve joined my local Indivisible group. I participate in some closed facebook groups. I read a lot and listen to a lot of political podcasts. I didn’t need a new activity, but there you have it. Our country is too important. Our democracy is too important. Our children are too important. Hell, the Earth is too important. I think we have no choice. To put your head in the sand and pretend that everything is going to be okay is immoral. There. I said it. I.M.M.O.R.A.L.

So, I’ve been sending postcards to my congresspeople. I try for one a day, but have not been successful. I get nervous on the phone, so the postcard thing works better for me. I am skeptical of petitions, so I tend not to sign them. So as not to annoy my friends, (I told you I was non-confrontational), I limit myself to no more than one post a day. I imagine that when I post a political pov, a contingent of my friends rolls their eyes and moves on. But, I don’t know, maybe not. Maybe there’s a quiet group out there that appreciates that I put myself out there.

Yesterday, one of those quiet friends quietly asked me what I knew about HR 610. Nothing. I knew nothing. So, I researched it. Yowza. Here goes my limited interpretation of this brief, but devastating bill:

HR 610, the “Choices in Education Act of 2017,” is a bill under consideration in the House of Representatives that proposes “to distribute Federal funds for elementary and secondary education in the form of vouchers for eligible students and to repeal a certain rule relating to nutrition standards in schools.”

  • HR 610 will repeal the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, which is the most far-reaching piece of federal legislation affecting education. It is responsible for ensuring that our public school system is fair, providing funding for low-income students, special education, English as a second language, and much more.
  • HR 610 limits the authority of the Department of Education, such that federal funding would be in the form of block grants to qualifying states. In other words, federal funding of public schools will now be transferred to the states. So, if you’re lucky to live in a progressive and affluent state, all good, probably. But if not, your education system will suffer. So will your children. So will your property value.
  • States, theoretically, will use these funds to create a voucher system for eligible families and schools. In other words, a family could use the voucher to buy a place in a private school.
  • But, more likely, the effect of vouchers could result in a middle class student migrating from a public school to a private school. It does not typically benefit a low-income student.
  • HR 610 repeals the No Kids Hungry Act, the requirement that school lunches meet specific nutrition standards.
  • Say what?! Let that sink in a moment. This bill says school lunches don’t need to be healthy. Um, that might be the most ridiculous thing I’ve heard, at least today. What does anyone have against nutrition for children? For some kids, school lunch is the most healthy food they eat all day. A well-fed child is better able to learn. A well-fed child is healthier and less likely to need medical care, which low-income families will be less able to afford under the new American Health Care Act, if approved.

See what I mean? It’s exhausting. Just a tiny little bill is fraught with complexity. But this one…well, it seems awful to me. So I am sending my congressman a postcard. I hope it helps.

Food Matters

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A Leader Is What A Leader Eats

You know, I think it DOES matter what the president eats.

You’ve probably heard by now about his preference for over-priced well-done steak smothered with ketchup. It’s been all over the news and twitter. And the reaction has been intense and varied, ranging from “What a classless rube!” to “Let him eat steak. We have more important things to worry about!”

Indeed we do.

But…

Imagine, for a moment, how much leadership he could provide – just by what he eats. Imagine the week of dinners he could choose, if he were inviting, authentic, adventurous, a role model, a proper host, humble, inspirational, a leader.

Sunday

Tonight I’m having a supper club dinner with a group of immigrants who have invited me to try their traditional dishes. I can’t wait to welcome these families who are new to our country and to taste new foods!

Monday

Meatless Monday! Scott Pruitt and I have decided to set a good example and go meatless one day a week. Eating less meat has a significant impact on reducing greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.

Tuesday

Working late. Exhausted. I know I’m in a food rut, but the meatloaf here is wonderful. I wouldn’t want to force it on you, but I highly recommend it. Comfort food at its best. Reminds me of my mom.

Wednesday

Dinner with Ivanka. She’s been on me to lose some weight and eat more healthy. Damn it’s hard. All those dinners out! But, I need to eat more healthy for my kids and my grandkids, not to mention my country! I don’t want to die of a heart attack. Ivanka tells me the Mediterranean diet is healthiest and the Sardinians live to be 100. I’m going to have some grilled fish with a little pasta and vegetables. No dessert! Sugar is evil. But I am going to have one glass of red wine and an espresso so I can send some late night tweets.

Thursday

I’m having a bi-partisan dinner for all the new members of congress from both sides. You know, reaching across the aisle so we can get some legislation passed! I’ve been trying out new chefs for the White House. Tonight’s chef will be preparing an all-American meal made with all-American ingredients from our all-American farmers. American food is great!

Friday

New restaurant night! I like to try new restaurants instead of the same old same old. There are so many wonderful restaurants with creative and adventurous menus. I find it inspiring to try something new at least once a week. Plus, I get to support small businesses and help create jobs.

Saturday

Ah, happy to be in Mar-A-Lago, my favorite retreat. I am so lucky and grateful to be able to travel back and forth every weekend and catch up with Melania. A long-distance relationship can be tough! We’ll have dinner here and I’ll have the well-done steak smothered with ketchup. I know it’s not the healthiest nor the most gourmet, but it’s my favorite. I’ve cut way back – haven’t we all? My dad and I used to eat steak together and this is how we ate it. Thanks Dad for giving me my start.

Imagine! What leadership he could provide, just by what he eats.

Image Source: The USDA’s http://www.foodpyramid.com/myplate/

How Many of Us?

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All of Us

Dear Republicans.

You have been warned. Women speak!

Sisters persist. Resist.

How many of us women have been ignored, dismissed, silenced, repressed, suppressed, censored, banished, exiled, sacrificed, raped, stabbed, killed?

How many of us women have felt it too dangerous to speak? To ask, to question, to complain, to expose, to change, to object, to confront, to agitate, to resist, to fight. To be angry. To stand out.

We hang on to our good girl ways. Afraid of being scolded. Smiling, quiet, obedient, following the rules, excelling at the rules, working within the system. Little flickers of resistance emerging in safe outlets. A poem here. A prayer there. A whispered secret message to a daughter.

We all are brave. Just living takes guts. But some have that extra bit of courage to be bold. Heroines. Each generation gets bolder, with more support, and more examples of different women being different.

When our soul can’t stay quiet. When safety is worse than the battle. When we have nothing to lose. When fairness is compromised.

When our children’s future is jeopardized.

Then we speak. Now. We must speak. All of us.

We will persist. Resist.

I am with her. And her. And her. And her.

Tart Cranberry Marmalade

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No Sugar-Coating Allowed

Did you resolve to quit sugar? Has your resolve devolved into stress eating? Do you worry that it doesn’t matter what you eat anymore because the end of the world is nigh?

Sigh.

As I was taking this photo this morning, my husband asked what I was doing. I told him that the only topic I could imagine writing about was food. I am overwhelmed with the politics of the day, of the week, so I am reverting to my comfort/discomfort zone.

Food.

Maybe if I control what I eat, I will feel some semblance of control over my world. This myth fueling my disordered eating still lingers.

The World Health Organization now recommends that we limit our intake of sugar to no more than 5% of calories. That works out to about 100 calories, or about 6 teaspoons. Yup. That’s it. That is not very much.

Sugar is in tomato sauce, breakfast cereal, bread, salad dressing, yogurt, granola, nutrition bars, low fat snacks. Oh, and soda. It is easier to limit sugar if you cook for yourself instead of buying prepared foods. I  find that you can get used to less and less sugar over time. As you phase out sugar, you will discover that foods you used to like now taste too sweet and that the flavor is diluted with sweetness, not pure.

This month, I have craved bitter and intense foods to match my mood, eliminating more and more sugar. I have replaced my granola with walnuts. I have started eating more eggs instead of cereal for breakfast. And I have replaced my strawberry jam and orange marmalade with homemade cranberry sauce. It’s not for the faint of heart. But then, neither is living.

Tart Cranberry Marmalade

Austere. Sharp. Perfect for these bitter bitter times.

  • ½ 12 oz bag of cranberries (freeze the other half)
  • ¼ cup of orange juice (or pomegranate juice)

Heat cranberries and juice in a saucepan until gently boiling. Reduce heat and simmer (covered) for 10 minutes. Stir occasionally. Let cool. Refrigerate.

Makes about 1 cup and lasts for 2 weeks in the refrigerator.

Use as you would jam or marmalade. I like it with whole wheat toast/bagel and goat cheese. I make peanut butter or almond butter or walnut butter sandwiches with it.

You’ve been warned. It is not sweet.

Not A Normal Day

Today, I am:

Working. Almost always an absorbing activity.

Noon-1:00. Pilates class.

Calling my senators to vote NO on Betsy DeVos.

Dinner and a show with my husband and friends to support the arts, now under fire.

Preparing to lead Circle of Peace meditation tomorrow.

#notanormalday

What Is A Leader?

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“Everybody can be great … because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”

– Martin Luther King, Jr.

Many years ago, a new boss of mine insisted that we read Jim Collins’ From Good To Great. It was a collective exercise to encourage us all to think about leadership and to develop our own “Level 5” leadership qualities, as we worked to transform our organization from good to great. The main take-away that I remember from that book is that leaders are humble and put their own self-interest behind what is good for the company.

On this day – honoring Martin Luther King Jr and anticipating the inauguration of someone I think is the antithesis of a leader (let alone a Level 5 leader!) – I am reminded of this book and the path it set me on towards clarifying for me what makes a good leader.

As a yoga teacher, an executive, a mother, a human – I have thought long and hard about what makes people successful and how I can embody the qualities that I value. I marvel at the teachers and bosses and friends who elicit the best from all the people they touch.

These are the qualities of a good leader that inspire me and motivate me.

  • They are teachers. They are patient and explain things well and have no judgment that you should already know something. They are learners, always curious.
  • They are listeners, willing to consider opposing points of view and to grapple with reconciling opposing points of view.
  • They have struggled and are not embarrassed by their struggles – because their hardships make them more approachable and more compassionate. More grateful.
  • They care, passionately, about something. They work hard and will sacrifice at great cost for what they care about. They approach their passion with joy.
  • They make mistakes and can laugh at themselves. They let you make mistakes and don’t make fun of your mistakes. Well, if they laugh at you, it is with affection and understanding.
  • They make other people feel special. Asking questions, listening, and honoring each person as they are, right there right then.
  • They are honest. They do the right thing. They tell the truth and say what needs to be said. Even if it is hard.
  • They are optimistic, confident in their purpose. They foster a team environment and celebrate the holistic gestalt of the team. They are cheerleaders, inspiring and motivating you to be your best.
  • They are inclusive. Every person counts and has a voice. Every one is invited.
  • They are generous. They are kind.

Image Credit: Used with permission from Dave Bowman at Design Turnpike. Thank you!

Choosing Peace

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Uttanasana

I am at peace with my not being at peace. This sums up how I feel this New Year’s.

Gradually, year over year over year, I have moved away from setting ambitious goals and resolutions and moved toward setting intentions – to choose to be more happy and open to love, to listen to my heart more than to my ego, to see what is good – not what is lacking.

Of course, I still want to have more money, achieve more success, eliminate meat and sugar, be a better citizen of the world, read more books, stop picking my cuticles, throw away stuff, get organized already, be a better mother, and so on. And on. And on.

I am familiar with these goals and make mild progress on them from time to time. Really though, it is exhausting. Bordering on boring.

But when you really stop and ask: what do we want from life? Isn’t it: To feel joy, experience love, reduce suffering.

Peace. Inner peace, if not world peace.

B.K.S. Iyengar says that Uttanasana is “a boon to people who get excited quickly, as it soothes the brain cells. After finishing the pose, one feels calm and cool, the eyes start to glow and the mind feels at peace.” Indeed.

When, at the height of my mid-life anxiety, I would do forward folds in yoga class, I would weep. Turning inward, calming down from my busy busy busy pursuit of not feeling, I would feel. My hamstrings. My breath. My sadness. Of time passing. Of rejections. Of goals not achieved. Yoga class was the only place I would let myself be still, still enough to feel.

Folding forward is private. You can be with your self. Feeling your body, your breath. Just feeling. Just being.

Now, on the other side of my mid-life anxiety, Uttanasana is a pause. A transition. A comforting place to breathe and reflect. Kind of like New Year’s. When I look back on the last year (or years), I see a woman who is happier, more open, more grateful, more able to laugh, more loving.

Instead of focusing on what we don’t have, can we focus on what we do have? What is good, not what is bad.

As this year has ended with great uncertainty about what our world will be like under President-elect Trump, I have to fight against anxiety, anger, panic, despair. It is easy to succumb to the swirl of anxiety.

I will not contribute to negative energy. I resolve to be a force for love, compassion, and positive change.

I will choose peace.

More Meatless This Year

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Eggplant, Tomato and Chickpea Casserole

Every year, I eat less meat. I find it increasingly difficult to stomach the thought of eating animals. Moreover, the positive impact of eating less meat on the environment is staggering.

My vegan daughter inspires me. When she is home, it is fun to find new recipes that we will enjoy and the meat-eaters will tolerate.

For our extended family dinner on Christmas, I made this dish from Martha Rose Shulman. It doubles easily. Make it one day ahead as it improves with time.

Eggplant, Tomato and Chickpea Casserole (by Martha Rose Shulman)

  • 1 Eggplant (1 ½ pounds), peeled, sliced length-wise, then in ¼” slices
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt
  • 1 red onion, sliced thin across the grain
  • 2-4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
  • 2 Tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 15 oz can chickpeas
  • Fresh Basil and Fresh Parsley

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil, and drizzle the foil with olive oil. Place the eggplant slices on the foil, sprinkle with salt and drizzle lightly with oil. Place in the oven for 15 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from the heat, and carefully fold the foil in half over the eggplant. Crimp the edges together, so that the eggplant is sealed inside the foil and will continue to steam and soften. Leave for at least 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the tomato sauce. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the onion. Cook, stirring often, until tender and golden brown, about 5-10 minutes, and add the garlic and a generous pinch of salt. Cook, stirring, until the garlic is fragrant, about a minute. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, and cinnamon, to taste. Bring to a simmer, and simmer uncovered, until the sauce is thick and fragrant. Stir in the drained chickpeas. Mix in the eggplant slices.

Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees. Oil a 2-quart baking dish or gratin. Spoon eggplant, tomato and chickpea mixture into the prepared baking dish.

Bake 30 minutes, until bubbling. Remove from the heat, and allow to cool for at least 10 to 15 minutes. Or for a full day ahead. Sprinkle on the basil and parsley before serving.

Serves 6-8. Delicious with bread, naan, rice, or even over pasta.

Image: Very bad photo taken by me at the Christmas buffet table. I was rushing because of the hungry and impatient people behind me – it doesn’t do the dish justice!

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