The Truth About Mousse

My friend Ami posted this link to an article in Huffington Post about how social media can seriously stress you out. Things we pin on Pinterest and things we choose to Facebook and Tweet can easily blur the line between what is real and what is perceived as real. Someone's picture or post that captures a seemingly perfect little moment of life can either genuinely move you, or leave you with the feeling that no matter what you do, someone else is doing it cooler. Someone is more organized, more creative with their solutions, more environmentally responsible. They make more nutritious meals, they have more patience, less anxiety. They just do it better.

They don't.

Life on social media is a cleverly crafted illusion. A web of avatars. What is put forth is chosen to be put forth and what is kept behind is sacrosanct and a mystery. But the truth does exist amongst the pins, posts and pictures. What you put aside with "someday I'll do that," can be done today. I'm here to help.

Who hasn't seen this little meme circulating around:

Homemade fruit pops. Good, and good for you. You pin it. You say you'll do it someday. But is it real? Do they actually work?

They do. I did it. You don't need a recipe, you just need common sense. If you have fruit, pop molds and a food processor or blender, you can do it. If I can do it, you can do it.

They work. These are truth. If you want to sub greek yogurt for the pureed watermelon, they will also work and be truthful.

Now. Has anyone seen this going around? Coconut and raspberry mousse. Doesn't that look amazing?  Can't you just taste it? I mean seriously, you only have to look at that mass of fuschia goodness and your mouth just waters. In the article, the author describes how she barely got a spoonful out of the blender before the entire family fought over it on the kitchen floor! And you can totally believe that this is something worth fighting for. You'll whip yourself up an entire blender after the kids are asleep and eat it all yourself, right?




I am here to tell you the truth.

The recipe seems innocent enough: 1 avocado, 1 frozen banana, 1 cup of frozen raspberries, and 1 heaping tablespoon of coconut milk. Blend and serve. That's it. Simple. Brilliant. And beautiful and pink and yum. Right?


Now I do admit I used strawberries here but I didn't think it was going to be a game-changer. I wondered what "heaping tablespoon" of coconut milk actually meant but I figured it meant you pour over the food processor and let it spill over the sides of the tablespoon for like two seconds. How scientific does this need to be?

Ah, but science will get you in the end. An avocado is green. A frozen banana is tan. You're already two strikes down and no amount of red berries will overcome the natural free-flowing tendency of these two already dun-colored fruits to turn brown when exposed to air.


Let's see those two shots side-by-side, shall we?

As for taste? It was thoroughly okay. Texture was nice. The coconut was totally lost.  I certainly wouldn't fight for it on the kitchen floor. I poured some of it into pop molds and the rest went onto the compost.

In life there is no right or wrong, no winners and losers. Nobody's cooler than you, nobody's better than you, everyone is making it up. All you have is the truth about who you are and what you feel. Live the truth. 

And then strain some of that watermelon puree into a glass, add a shot of vodka, and just be.

It's Just a Mission Statement

Jeeps isn't a reader, and when he does pick up a book it's usually non-fiction about business or branding or the like. But a little while ago he asked me to read something for him. Literally. Not read a book together, but read it for him and report back with a synopsis, because "you read faster than I do, you could get through this in one night."

Normally I'd ignore that kind of thing but this particular book happened to be about something we'd been struggling with. Namely: we're raising a family, but really, what the fuck are we doing?

Patrick Lencioni, founder and president of The Table Group, has authored several books about strategies for business health and success. But in The Three Big Questions for a Frantic Family, he turns those strategies and principles around to the one of the most important organizations in life: the family. He observes that even successful people who apply strategies and long-term thinking at work do not implement plans and goals for their own household. We accept family chaos as status quo, and put up with levels of confusion and disorganization and craziness at home that would not be tolerated at work.

So I read it. I didn't care for the fictionalized account of the imaginary family's journey to find its core principles, rather I preferred Lencioni's own voice in the last 30 pages or so, which was when I found myself taking notes.

As Jeeps left for the train station, I tucked my notes into his jacket pocket. "Do your homework on the train," I cooed, "there'll be a meeting after dinner tonight."

So after we were done eating, we opened a bottle of wine, ignored the dishes, ignored the kids, and compared answers to the Three Big Questions.  Basically what these do is help you find some context for your family life, something to address that nagging, larger question of "What the fuck are we doing?" Which, admittedly, most of us don't do.

"Even the leaders of most mediocre companies sit down and try to figure out what their priorities are, how they differ from their competition, and what their unique advantages or disadvantages might be.  They don't just wing it...And yet most of us go about leading and managing our families with almost no formal context.  We don't take time to explicitly decide who we are, what we stand for, what we want, and how we're going to go about succeeding and thriving as a family.  Why don't we?  We go on living context-free lives, taking on every decision and issue in a relatively isolated way, as though it weren't part of a larger situation.  And then we wonder why each day feels like a disconnected, reactive game of survival, a grind without the purposeful progress we all crave."

The three questions are:

1) What makes your family unique? The answer to this question is going to be largely shaped by your core values, things that drew you to your life partner in the first place, fundamental and positive qualities about your family, things you could not stop or suppress even if you wanted to. 

2) What is your family's top priority, or rallying cry, right now? This is not your family credo forever and ever amen. This is a project or priority to rally around and address in the next 2-6 months, after which time, you come up with another one. 

3) How do you talk about and use the answers to questions #1 and 2? In other words, how do you keep the context alive?

Jeeps and I compared our lists of core values and unique attributes and right off the bat, we noticed that "humor" was at the top of both our lists. We laugh a lot around here. And not dry, witty humor although that's my preferred kind. No, it's strictly Mel Brooks style, farts and butts and bathroom humor to get us through the unpleasant things in life. And at this point in the pow-wow, Redman wandered over, wanting to know what we were doing.

"We're having a meeting," Jeeps said.

"Hey, Red, what makes our family special?" I asked, curious as to what he would say.

He thought for exactly three seconds and answered, "We make a lot of fart jokes."

Jeeps and I exchanged impressed glances. Then Panda walked by. "What makes our family unique?" Jeeps called over to her.

No hesitation or thought. "Oh, we're hilarious," she said.

Feeling extremely validated, we went on with our list of things we held dear, being careful to not confuse core values with "permission to play" ones. I mean, things like honesty, kindness and fairness sound like they should be core values, when really they are bare-minimum expectations of civilized behavior.

In the end, our mission statement of uniqueness looked like this:

"We value humor, knowledge, self-sufficiency, a strong family narrative, and hospitality. We feel opening our home and our experiences to others creates greater understanding."

That's it. Pencils down. Not very elegant, not very profound, not very long, but it's just a mission statement. It's us. It's ours. It's context.

We went on to put together our rallying cry du jour, and our strategy to achieve it, which I won't go into because already this is getting long.  But honestly just sitting down and putting together this kind of statement was an eye-opening experience. There was something very gratifying about it. And right when we were done our friend Cheryl came by to pick up her daughter. We showed her what we were doing, she sat down at the table, and we ended up having a really good conversation about family life and parenting and other things.

Opening our home and our experience to others creates greater understanding.

Weird. Right?

What's your mission statement?

Stories from a Jewelry Box

It's all about stories. More and more, Jeeps and I are finding this out. Him in his business and me with this blog. "I like to cook, here's what I made for dinner." But so what? Any fool can google a recipe, I'm not inventing anything new here. 

"I really don't even try many of your recipes because I'm vegan," said my friend Rachel. "So I tend to like your personal posts more than your foodie ones." 

She's right: it's not the food, it's the story. Life is a series of moments, a collection of stories. I have been reading Adam Gopnik's The Table Come First and was struck by this paragraph, penned in an imaginary email to the food author Elizabeth Pennell:

"In your beautiful book, though, you offered both the method and the object.  The method, which you invented, of turning every recipe into a little story, a bit of narrative, shows that recipes need not be neat tables of chemical interactions but short stories of mixed emotions: what I did that day, and why I did it."

What I did that day, and why I did it.

Yesterday was Panda's birthday.  My baby is twelve. Her big present was one of those bead/charm bracelets that are all the rage these days. I went with the poor-girl's Pandora from Kohl's but still a very nice jewelry investment for a young lady and one she can keep adding to. My mother sighed at it.  "Just like the charm bracelet that I had. My parents would buy me new ones for my birthday or Christmas."

May I show you my mother's charm bracelet?

Isn't it wonderful? This lived in the bottom drawer of her jewelry case, and I would go visit it regularly. It was, and is, just the most awesomest thing ever. All the charms work, that is to say, the Hope Chest opens, the spinning wheel spins, you can turn the handle on the coffee grinder, and raise the lid of the piano. This bracelet is a little girls' dream. When I became the mother of a daughter, it was bequeathed to me, to live in my own jewelry box, and be visited.

This got me thinking of a conversation I had with someone recently, about the things a woman keeps in her jewelry box. Jewelry, obviously, each piece of which can carry with it a story of acquisition or occasion or symbolism. But in addition to the baubles, most women have, in the bottom drawer or the secret compartment or a velvet drawstring bag, other treasured swag. Silly things. Sentimental things. Private things. Bittersweet things.

So I thought I'd invite you into my jewelry box. It's three stackable levels, and it's the bottom compartment that has the stories. Or the insanity, depending on how you look at it.

(Opens it up) OK. Whoa. I'm vulnerable. OK. Here we go:

OK, so let's start out easy at 9:00.  Those are the earrings I wore on my wedding day, and clipped to the cardboard thingie is a Blessed Mary medallion Frank gave me for "something blue." I wore it pinned inside my bra. Because that's what you do.

Peeking out from under the earrings are my father's dog tags. I went through a phase in college when I wore them all the time. Now I just keep them in here. Jeeps has his dad's tags and always wears them when he flies. On business trips or when we're flying to Florida, the kids always ask, "Dad, do you have Grandpa's tag?"

At high noon... Well that needs no explanation does it? The ol' EPT sticks. Who doesn't keep and treasure that bit of pee? And yes there are three, and yes I have two children.  If you're a woman who knows, then you know, and if you know, then reach out and hold my hand.

(Holds your hand)

OK, now, we have 2 of the 65 bobby pins that were stuck in my hair on my wedding day. We have a paper clip that I took from the desk of a very dear co-worker when he left Verizon, because we'd worked together for 8 years, we were tight, we were partners and I felt like I just needed to have something out of his desk to keep. This is the bottom drawer, OK? It gets weird!

Then, in a little clear bag, we have a gold pendant with a pearl that my very first boyfriend in high school gave me. Then there's a man's collar stay. I'm gonna skip over that. Long story.  And then there's that little drawstring bag, which contains a very sweet, slightly sad, but ultimately triumphant story: 

Once upon a time in my early twenties, there was a boy I loved. And he gave me a ring. A little gold ring with two entwined hearts. Our hearts were entwined, and probably always will be on a certain level, but ultimately, it all fell apart. Quite badly. We left each other, but I kept the ring, because that's what you do, and I put it away in the bottom drawer of my jewelry box.

Time went on, and new jewelry boxes were bought, and the ring just transferred along with the other souvenirs of my life. I got married, and one day I had a young daughter who would go "visit" the treasures in my jewelry box. She'd play with my mother's charm bracelet, try on the necklaces. And this little girl took a shine to that little gold ring. One day, she tried it on, walked out of my bedroom, and, as these things happen, the ring was lost, somewhere in the expanse of the living room floor, unbeknownst to the mother.

The unknowing mother came along with her evil vacuum cleaner and heard a terrible noise. The ring was retrieved from the depths of the machinery, but it had been defeated. Squashed. The mother was sad, and tried to bend the ring back into shape, and the squashed ring broke into pieces. The mother was very sad then, but she put the pieces into a little bag, and put the bag back in her jewelry box, because that's what you do. Things fall apart, but some pieces are worth keeping.

Fairly recently, the boy, who is now a man (and a lovely one), got back in touch with me. I told him what became of his ring, the ring he gave that girl. 

"First of all," he said when I was finished, "that's the greatest story ever.  Second of all, you kept it? All these years? You...kept me?"

"Of course," I said. "That's what a jewelry box is for."

"What do you mean?"

"Every woman has a secret treasure or two in her jewelry box.  It's where she keeps her swag. Her stories. Funny, I keep meaning to write a blog post about that."

"You should write it now," he said. 

So I did. 

Love isn't perfect. Sometimes treasures are lost, squashed, or they break in pieces, but you keep the pieces because they belong to your life. The boy and girl had fallen apart badly, but twenty years later, the man and woman discovered that each had kept the pieces worth keeping, and from those pieces, something new could be built.

This is what I did today, and why I did it.

Crawling to the Ruins: a Love Story

It’s my wedding anniversary week. I tend to treat it as a week-long event because we had a destination wedding to Sedona, Arizona, that took up the better part of a week. Family and friends arrived anywhere from 1-2 days prior to the actual day, September 26th (also my dad's birthday, so we joked that it was a destination birthday party with a complimentary wedding thrown in) and some stayed in Sedona a couple days after as well. 

It sounds odd to have friends around on your honeymoon but I liked it very much. I don’t do well with sudden disconnection after intense connection. It would have been a jolt to the emotional system if everyone had left all at once. It was a gradual tapering off, an extended good-bye, and by the time we were alone at the end, we were ready to be alone.

So we tied the knot on Saturday, and by Tuesday it was me, Jeeps and my girlfriends K and E (two of the Famous Five). We were staying at the Enchantment resort, they were at their bed & breakfast, and we just met up whenever and wherever (without cell phones!). 

We had a blast. We went to Flagstaff Observatory one night, and then spent another day hiking one of our favorite trails in Sedona—a rugged canyon rim loop to some amazing Anasazi ruins and cliff dwellings. We really didn't give K and E much of a choice in the matter, insisting that this hike was something not to be missed, they were going to have their minds blown. And they were game: lead on newlyweds, we follow, blow our minds.

We saddled up with water and provisions (and possibly some other stuff but more about that later) and through the scrub we went, into more heavily wooded trails...

And we finally emerged onto the trail that wound around the canyon rim. You can see in the picture below that there are some dwellings down in the canyon, but the ones up above the rim are more easily accessible and so they were our destination.

Getting up to those dwellings is not death-defying, but it’s something of a vertical scramble and honestly, it’s hairy. The first time Jeeps and I climbed up we were properly freaked out. But once up there, the view is breathtaking, and the notion that you are sitting in what was essentially someone's house, and you feel all that history, and all that magnificence, and, subsequently, all that loss, it's humbling.

So we set out. Or up, rather. Jeeps had made it up to the top, I was nearly there, and K and E were about midway. And while negotiating my hands-and-knees route up the rocks, I looked back down to my right and saw that E had frozen.


“I can’t do this,” she said shakily. The sun was high overhead and I could see my fair-skinned friend growing redder in the heat. “I gotta get down. I can’t get down.  I…” She was stuck there, afraid to ascend further, not sure how to get down. And about to panic.

“It’s OK,” I called to her.

“It’s OK,” echoed K, “Just stay still, take a breather.”

“Jeeps!” I called but he was already scrabbling down, moving past me like a sure-footed crab.

“You're OK,” he said, "It's all right." He reached into his hip pack and got his water bottle. “Take a drink. Here, put my hat on, get some shade on your face.  It’s gonna be OK.” 

E drank, took a couple of breaths. I could see she was tearing up, keeping one white-knuckled grip on the rock ledge and clutching the water with the other.

A few minutes of hydrating, cooling and calming-down passed. “You can do this,” Jeeps said.  “Take my hand.  Ready?  You can do this.” And holding her hand, he started her up the incline again. Coaching where to put her hands and feet. Coaxing. Encouraging. Giving a leg up. Getting her to laugh at the fear.  Getting her to laugh at herself.  K and I brought up the rear, cheering her on, and finally we were all safely in the niche in the cliff wall.

We stood around gasping, passing the water, looking down the ledge and laughing with the slightly hysteric euphoria of overcoming a physical and mental challenge. Jeeps gave E a big hug.  “You did great!” he cried.

“Wow,” she exclaimed, “I didn’t think I was gonna make it…” She was red in the face again, but her eyes burned with accomplishment.

“Of course you were,” Jeeps said, his arm around her. “You were awesome.”

My own eyes were burning with a possessive pride. That's my husband, I thought to myself, and as if reading my mind, K jostled my side and grinned at me. "You made a good match, dear."

"He gets me through shit like this all the time," I said to E.

And it's true: up every canyon wall I've had to climb, Jeeps has been there. He's a good coach if I need him to be; he can help me map out a safe route. But more importantly, he knows that I usually need to figure out my own way, and he really just needs to tell me to take a deep breath, give me a drink of water, and tell me it's going to be all right, and tell me: you can do this.

Anasazi hike 2
Anasazi hike 2

We stayed up in the cave niche for an hour, enjoying the view and company, and...OK, maybe there was something else going on that may have led to an improvisational jam session on some native American instruments we just happened to have in our backpacks. I'm vague on the details now and anyway it's wandering off topic...

Yeah, I know. Anyway!! We stayed up there a while and then we helped each other down, went swimming and then probably went out to dinner.

This was our honeymoon.

This is my husband.

The husband of my days...

The friend of my life...

The father of my children...

and the partner on my path.

Something Out of Nothing

Sometimes it works.

You remember to set up the coffee the night before, so in the morning all you have to do is press a button.

You bought frozen hash browns during the weekend food shop, and feel smugly virtuous as you serve your children something other than cereal on a school morning.

You remember what day it is and who is going where. You remembered to write the check, sign the permission slip, sew on the button, buy rinse aid, re-stock toilet paper.

You find a moment to write, to weed, to walk through your gardens.

The laundry is not only folded, but put away.

Things are where they are supposed to be.

You have time.

Your family is relaxed. Your stomach is calm.

You have game.

It all works.

And from two potatoes, two onions and a bag of frozen corn, you make soup. You whip up a box of Trader Joe's Birds' Nests. For kicks, you assemble a salsa of halved cherry tomatoes, black beans, cilantro, red onion and more corn.

And everyone eats it.

I love days like these.

Is the toast burning...or is your house burning?

I have a whole bunch of blogs bookmarked that I take in with my morning coffee, and Free Range Kids is the top of the list. Today her blog featured an article that should have been a story of a little girl's resourcefulness and a community's strength. Instead it was made sensational news under the headline "A Parent's Worst Nightmare!"

Now make no mistake, if your kid is not where he or she is supposed to be, your heart goes into your throat. You can't help it. And I'm not saying it's not a scary thing. But let's step back and look two independent facts:

1) FBI Statistics reveal there has been no increase in crime against children. Your child is more likely to get struck by lightning than be abducted. Furthermore, the majority of abductions are committed by people the child knows, not strangers.

2) The world is an imperfect place. Mistakes are known to occur. People are human. Shit happens.

Yes, it is frightening when your child isn't where they are supposed to be.

Yes, the school, on its second day of the session, in the chaos of sorting out who goes on what bus, missed that this little girl boarded the bus for daycare instead of the bus for home.

Yes, the little girl arrived at an empty house and was upset, but through her tears she had the wherewithal to go to a neighbor's house. Calls were made. The grandmother was sent for. Cookies were served. Everything worked out fine.

And the mother went to the newspapers.

What. The. Fuck.

Look, maybe I'm in the minority here, but this is overreacting. If she had to seek out fame for her "ordeal", then it should have been spun as a positive story. Because it was one!

The child regrouped and went to a neighbor! Great job, honey, that was smart thinking!

The neighbor took her in and gave her a snack and called the mother. Mrs. So-and-So, I am so grateful to have you as a neighbor, thank you so much.

A mistake was made but it worked out fine. Yes, Ms. Principal, it was a little scary for a few minutes, but all is well. Under the circumstances, I can forgive the mix-up, I'm sure it won't happen again. And hey, I'm glad she knows what to do when things like this happen, that's really the greater lesson, isn't it?

No. A parent's worst nightmare! This is unacceptable! The school shall pay, heads will roll, my child is damaged forever!!

Actually, honey, your kid is fine. It's you who's acting like a lunatic. One of the commentators on the blog post said something great, I think she was quoting her grandmother: "If you behave like this when the toast is burning, what will you do when the house is on fire?"

Think about it. If there is a break in the routine of any magnitude, would you want your child to be the one who keeps calm and goes with the flow, or the one who is hysterical? Most of us want the former, but there lies the break in parenting style: some parents don't want ANYTHING to EVER happen to their child. As a result, they have children who can't do anything when something happens. Other parents teach their kids to deal efficiently with every day glitches, with confidence that doing so will render them able to keep a cool head when faced with a real emergency. And face it, which is more likely to happen in a lifetime: burned toast or a house fire?

We tend to run what-if scenarios with our kids that involve dire circumstances: fire, severe injury, abduction. Yes, your child needs to know how to get out of the house, how to dial 911, and to not take rides from people he doesn't know, and when in doubt, scream loud and run away.

BUT! Do you also prepare your child for the every-day, mundane shit that invariably happens because life is chaotic and messy and people are human and make mistakes? What are the things that are so much more likely to happen, and could your kids deal?

So let's brainstorm and play a game of "What if?" Try running a few of these past your children, or come up with your own to share. The only rules are 1) no life-threatening emergencies and 2) try to steer their first reaction away from, "Call for Mom and Dad."

—Here's one that I always toss at Redman when he's playing outside: "What if your ball rolls into the street?" That's a good one, right? It happens. Balls are round, the driveway is smooth, kids throw wild. The ball rolls into the street. What do you do? (Or rather, what do you NOT do?)

—You're playing in the yard and you see a raccoon. In the daytime. Lumbering along looking kind of dopey and weird. What do you do? (Depending on where you live, you could extend this to bobcats, coyotes or bears)

—A dog wanders into your yard. Nice dog, friendly dog, looks a little lonely. Maybe he's lost. Suppose it's a really hot day and he's panting like crazy. What do you do? (No you may not keep him)

—Let's take one right from the source: You go to an after-school program on Mondays, which involves going on a different bus. However, we just had a long holiday weekend with Monday off so even though today is Tuesday, your brain thinks it's Monday, so you get on the after-school program bus. Oops. It's Tuesday. You were supposed to go on the home bus. What do you do?

—Now let's up the ante a little. Suppose Mom and/or Dad (whatever the case may be) is in bed with a horrible flu, broken leg, any scenario where all the usually responsible adults cannot get up on a school morning. Could you get yourself ready, get yourself breakfast, and get yourself to school? (This last part of course depends on how that normally happens—does your child walk to school, walk to a bus stop, or get taken to a bus stop? In any case, anyone can be felled by stomach flu at any time, so what is the Plan?)

—Same situation, but in the evening. Mom and Dad are down for the count. Can you make yourself some dinner? (NOTE: a PB & J, or a bowl of cereal is a perfectly acceptable dinner. This is a test of resourcefulness, not cooking technique.)

—From somewhere in the house, you hear your Mom or Dad bellow, “OH MY GOD, TURN OFF THE WATER MAIN!” Do you know what that is, where that is, and how to turn it off?

—You drop a glass and it shatters. Mom and Dad are outside doing yardwork, and you are not wearing shoes. What do you do? (No screaming. Extra credit for knowing where the vacuum cleaner is)

—While outside playing you fall in the muddy creek, swamp, whatever wet and muddy place there is to fall into. Your pants, shoes, and socks are soaked and muddy. What do you do? (Obviously changing clothes is the answer, but the REAL point here is that they know to a) not walk into the house with muddy shoes and b) that they leave the soaked and muddy clothes in an appropriate place, like the laundry room, mudroom, the garage or back steps, etc.)

—You shart. (Come on!!! Life is messy and it happens!!)

Play along with me. Leave a comment with some non-life threatening situations you'd want your kid to be able to handle. Let's not worry about everything that might happen, and worry about what is likely to happen.