February 17th, 2017
Ab Fab? Try Ab Flab
The world is in turmoil. It’s the perfect time to write an open letter to my tummy.
Why, hello, Belly Fat.
I haven’t seen you ‘round these parts lately. My, you’re soft and jiggly. Where ever did you come from?
Hold on. I do remember you. You hung around for a good long time after I gave birth, especially the second time. Eventually, though, you kind of disappeared. In fact, I was confident I’d seen just about the last of you. I was pretty determined to keep you at bay, so I was diligent about doing crunches and lifts at the gym.
But now you’re back, and how. I suppose I haven’t been particularly focused on you lately. Aside from raising kids and meeting deadlines and walking the dog in the rain, the election really knocked me for a loop. Since chocolate has been clinically approved as an antidote for depression (No? Well, it should be), and since my gym has the TV permanently tuned to breaking political news, you can’t blame me for hunkering down on my couch instead of building my wall (abdominally speaking) against you. Things have gotten a bit loose (literally) in that department. I guess oversight just isn’t what it used to be.
Plus, I’m married. Hubby and I are closing in on 18 years of matrimony. What do you mean, so what? After nearly two decades together, he doesn’t care much about you, Belly Fat. As far as he’s concerned, you can come and go as you please. (In case you’re listening, I prefer you go.) Frankly, he and I both know that in the scheme of things, you’re extremely unimportant.
Still, I can’t help but notice you’ve become awfully, well, intrusive. Seems you can’t help but remind me – smugly, I dare say – my favorite jeans may feel a tad too snug, a hair too tight after sitting down for more than, say, six minutes.
Fine. I’ll wear a tunic.
Belly Fat, I can’t help but think there’s something deliberate in the timing of your reappearance. We both know it’s no coincidence you’ve settled in for a good long stay – if I was a betting woman, I’d say you’ve taken up permanent residence – just a few weeks shy of my next birthday.
(Which one, you ask? My 40th. Yes, again.)
It must be a sign of maturity that I’m starting to accept that whatever I do, wherever I go, from now on you’ll be along for the ride. We pick our battles, right? (Did you really just mutter something about Battle of the Bulge? Please.)
One thing’s for certain. I’m going to celebrate my next birthday in style. I’ll be with the friends and family I love, and I’m certain they won’t mind (or even notice) if I want – okay, if I need – to let it all hang out. In fact, only one thing is really bothering me: Belly Fat, your invitation to my party does not include a plus one. What’s your insufferable friend Saggy Butt doing here?
Meyer Lemon Limonana
I am obsessed with Meyer lemons, as my generous neighbors with mature citrus trees can attest. While I wait for my little trees to grow, I’ll rely on other people’s sweet lemons to flavor my black tea, salad dressings and marinades. Right now I’m excited to try this new recipe for limonana, a mint lemonade that happens to be the national drink of Israel. This version of the refreshing drink comes from Mad About Meyer Lemons.
Meyer Lemon Limonana
1 cup Meyer lemon juice
½ cup fresh mint, leaves torn
1 cup water
¼ cup sugar
2 cups ice cubes
Add all ingredients in a blender and whizz until ice is well crushed. Pour into tall glasses and top with mint sprigs.
The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman
I don’t know how my incredibly well-read friend Leigh Ann manages to find to time to read and review so many books for Newsy!, but I’m sure glad she does. Thanks for this week’s recommendation!
I was hesitant to read The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman for two reasons: First, I hadn’t read Hoffman since her Practical Magic days, and I still can’t get the movie version with Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock out of my head. Second, I wasn’t very excited to read about island life in the 19th century because not much ended well for women back then, especially for those with the audacity to think for themselves.
But I did read it, and I was carried away by turquoise water and lime-green birds, by the rustle of a rich man’s stiff coat and the freedom of a woman’s simple white shift. And finally, by a tiny island’s stifling vulnerability to pirates and hurricanes, to colonialism and the whims of cultures 2,000 miles away. How could any woman stand tall amid that, especially in the face of daily violence on her own street?
Rachael grows up on St. Thomas, the daughter of a respected Jewish merchant, who, rather radically, educates his daughter in business. It helps that Rachael is headstrong (if she were a teenager, she would be the one stealing her parents’ car) and brilliant. She is clear-eyed about her small world and sees her future in France, with her best friend Jestine. Rachael and Jestine are spiritual sisters, but Jestine is more pragmatic about her lot in life (her backstory is slavery). As Rachael grows older, the island is tested by pounding weather, new governments and changing business interests. Rachael marries, then marries again. This second marriage sets off a chain of events that ripples across the ocean. As a result, Rachael leaves her mark on the world without leaving the main street of St. Thomas for close to 40 years.
I suppose these historical fiction books are a lazy person’s way of learning history, kind of like stumbling through a back door and discovering a cool party inside. I’m ok with that. Hoffman weaves in fascinating factual tidbits about, for instance, the Danish government’s changes to the islands and the Jewish population there. She frames her story well.
But it’s not all about Rachael and her struggles. Rachael and her second husband have many children but their son makes a true impact, for himself and for his family, by bringing the vivid St. Thomas palate to the international art world. His name? Camille Pissarro. His story, beginning with his tumultuous relationship with his mother, is absorbing and will have you reaching for the nearest art coffee table book. Now when was the last time you were inspired to do that?
February 9th, 2017
In Troubled And Troubling Times, I Turn To A Dear Old Friend: NPR
I’ve listened to National Public Radio for so long it has become a part of me on a cellular level. When I hear the theme music for “All Things Considered,” my reaction is multisensory. At once, I’m transported back to 1979, one of several years my family and I spent on sabbatical from New Zealand, living in a little red cottage we rented from my grandmother in rural, northern Vermont. I hear the jazzy notes announcing ATC, and instantly I smell onions sautéing with zucchini and green peppers, sprinkled with a pinch of oregano. I see my dad standing at the old electric stove, and I hear a gentle sizzle as he moves the veggies around the pan until they’re fragrant and translucent. The rich voice of Noah Adams fills the kitchen. I’m nine years old, tugging open the always-sticking pantry door to pull out four mismatched plates for the table. I reach past the stockpile of Fluffernutter, Oreos, Cheerios and Smuckers’ Goober Grape, all delights that, like NPR itself, simply don’t exist in the Southern Hemisphere.
On cold, dark winter mornings, I remember being in the kitchen again, spreading Goober Grape on sliced white bread and grabbing Oreos for my school lunch. From the clock radio in my parents’ room, I hear the soothing chirps and whistles of bird song, the opening music for “Mornings Pro Musica” hosted by Robert J. Lurtsema. Back then I thought Lurtsema’s deep, lugubrious murmurings were all wrong for a radio host. But since I still vividly recall him reading out the school lunch menu and quoting from the Farmer’s Almanac, now I understand his slow, sonorous broadcast was just right.
February 1st, 2017
Sharing Sound Advice From A Teenage Activist
Every summer, my family and I visit relatives in Rutland, Vermont. Located near the center of the Green Mountain State, Rutland has roughly the same population as my home town of Mill Valley, with about the same number of public schools. Now Rutland has something Mill Valley doesn’t: Syrian refugees. Nine, to be precise; five children and four adults.
Maybe you’ve heard of Rutland. The town has received national media attention due to its hotly debated effort to welcome a total of 100 Syrian refugees. My own interest in this story shifted from political to personal last summer, thanks to a teenager: my cousin’s daughter, Victoria. That August, we had a family gathering on a hot, humid day around a cool, inviting pool. Despite the promise of sweet watermelon and cold ice cream, then-16-year-old Victoria left the party to attend a municipal meeting where townspeople were voicing opinions and casting votes on the contentious topic.
I was moved and heartened by Victoria’s teenage compassion, commitment and activism. When I heard about the executive order banning refugees from Syria and other countries, my thoughts went immediately to Rutland – and to Victoria. I emailed her: Can we chat? An hour later, we were on the phone. She sounded heartbroken by the turn of events.
January 25th, 2017
The Girls and I want to share a few thoughts about mammograms
The friendly reminder from my doctor’s office came by email: Time to schedule your mammogram!
You know the belief that women are biologically programmed to forget the pain of childbirth so they’ll reproduce again? I think the same rule applies to mammograms. Thanks to this week’s appointment, the memories all came rushing back.
First, there’s the gown. For obvious reasons, it has to open in the front. My faded green smock had multiple pairs of strings, all of which I diligently tied in order to get from the changing room to the mammography room without flashing anyone. I succeeded, but barely. Let us pause to acknowledge the feat of engineering behind a thigh-length gown with numerous ties that covers, essentially, nothing.
Once in the room, a friendly technologist I’ll call Tina pointed to the chair where I could stash my purse and my clothes. Naturally, as I leaned over to put down my things, the gown opened wide. Hello, world!, announced my friendly girls. We’re here!
January 19th, 2017
Buyer’s Remorse (A Strange But True Tale)
A while back, feeling indulgent, I bought a Groupon for a facial at a nearby salon I’ll call Sheila’s Skin Care. I envisioned 90-minutes of bliss: massage, moisturizer, steam, the works. I arrived a few minutes early and found the salon empty, except for one woman sitting in the chilly, dark room, peering at a magazine. From the back, through a closed door, I could hear a loud phone conversation taking place. Sheila’s voice was rough, like shredded wood, the voice of a hard-living woman who didn’t put up with any nonsense. From the sound of things, there was nonsense afoot.
“I don’t know who’s using my f***ing dryer. All I know is that someone is using my f***ing dryer! What are you going to do about it?”
I glanced at my watch. Appointment time.
“You should knock,” said the woman with the magazine, nodding at the closed door. “Let her know you’re here.”
I knocked. I admit I did not tap out a cute little ditty: da-da-da-da-da … da-da! I just, you know, knocked. The hollow-core door shook slightly under my knuckles.
“Hold on,” said the sandpapery voice. “There’s someone here.”
January 11th, 2017
Dear, Dear Diary
I started keeping a diary when I was nine years old. It was bright yellow and came with a gold lock and a tiny key. Believe it or not, I’m looking at that very diary right now. The key is long gone, and the cover has faded to the color of wheat, but it’s still decorated with carefully selected stickers. On the front is a striped kitten, a tiny chipmunk in green shorts and a little dog wearing a red winter coat. On the back are ladybirds and bunnies, plus this declaration in dark blue ink: “Harriette waz here, ’83.”
I started this five-year diary when I was a child of nine and kept it, with complete dedication, until I was officially a teenager. In 1979, I rode a short, fat Shetland pony named Ginger through verdant fields in Vermont and played The Dukes of Hazzard with the boys next door. By 1984, I was in Dunedin, New Zealand, longing for a boyfriend, occasionally fighting with girlfriends and constantly lamenting the dullness of my adolescent life.
This diary is bursting with words and mementos. For five years, I had a mere four lines to capture my daily thoughts, feelings, ideas, dreams and fears. Four lines! To compensate, I made paper pockets for the inside of each cover, obliquely labeled “Memories” and “ETC.” Today, I can carefully reach inside each miniature treasure trove and find relics of my past. Here’s an excerpt from a typed letter from a 13-year-old pal: “Today was the most boring day of my life. We’ll have to do something really hilarious to cheer evry body up, ‘cause we’re all so DEPRESSED!!!!!!!!!”
Newsy! Pondering Politics and Punctuation + White Bean, Kale & Parmesan Soup + The Book Of Eli (v.30)
January 5th, 2017
Pondering Politics, Punctuation and @realDonaldTrump!
Anyone else finding the 45th president’s punctuation utterly exhausting?
I’m not a millionaire, a businessperson or a politician, but as a professional writer, I’ve got some advice for you! Since you’re super busy these days on Twitter, I hope you won’t mind if I offer a friendly reminder about one of the cardinal rules of writing! Here goes!
An exclamation point is a punctuation mark that a) denotes the end of a sentence and b) expresses excitement or emotion.
Sounds simple, I know!
But hold on, @realDonaldTrump! Your favorite punctuation mark is a little more complicated than that definition suggests! Perhaps more than any other writing device, this one comes with a warning!
December 22nd, 2016
My Vest Is Revolting And Other Thoughts About Sartorial Resistance
How do you solve a problem like Ivanka?
In October 2015, a friend and I were browsing at T.J. Maxx. A black velvet-and-faux-fur vest caught my eye. I tried it on and decided to buy it.
It wasn’t until after I’d made my purchase that I checked the label. “It’s an Ivanka!” I told my friend, oddly delighted to be in possession of a brand I associated with strands of fake gold (clearly, I was thinking about a different Trump).
I wore my new vest to a dinner party. In response to compliments, I unabashedly shared the designer’s name. It’s an Ivanka, I said. Of course, no last name was required. Friends smiled as if I’d told the world’s shortest joke: one word, just three little syllables that perfectly delivered both a set-up and a punch line.
Remember, this was the fall of 2015. It was months and months before anyone had given Donald Trump a second thought as a presidential candidate, let alone the Republican nominee, let alone … yeah, I know. It was a lifetime ago.
Today, my Ivanka hangs alone at the far end of my closet, a sad sartorial outcast. I just can’t bring myself to wear it.
December 15th, 2016
Hamilton, Schmamilton: Five Reasons I Hate This Show
The fact that I’ve never seen it is completely irrelevant.
Well, folks, it’s finally happening: Hamilton, the musical, is coming to San Francisco.
Am I excited? No, I am not.
Do I loathe musical theater?
No, I do not.
In fact, I love it. I’ve loved it all my life.
I discovered musicals when I was eight years old. Seated in the front row of my local high school’s auditorium, I watched a student production of The Pajama Game. From the moment the curtains rose, I was enthralled. As I watched, my muscles twitched. I wanted to be on stage, singing and dancing my way through two acts of forbidden love, deep passion and union negotiations. I longed to visit that mysterious den of iniquity known as Fernando’s Hideaway.
The Pajama Game opened the door to my love affairs with a Fiddler, a Joseph, a Superstar, a Picture Show and a Little Shop filled with horrors, not to mention a certain state where waving wheat sure tastes sweet. As a teenager, I performed in all my high school productions. As an adult in search of a soul mate, I wrote a list of qualities I wanted in a life partner. “Loves musicals” featured very near the top. A couple years ago, my musical-loving husband (found him!) and I lived out one of our shared dreams when, somewhat randomly, we performed in a local synagogue’s Purim Schpiel. That night, in our minds, at least, two stars were born.
So, yes, I love musicals, possibly more than most. Truth be told, I’d probably love Hamilton just as much as the shows that are now part of my DNA.
But right now, I hate Hamilton. It’s not my fault. I really don’t have a choice. Here’s why.
December 8th, 2016
Out on the trail with my dog a few weeks back, I crossed paths with a pal who I haven’t seen in much too long. She commutes daily to her 9-5 job, so I was surprised to find her out and about during work hours. She was taking advantage of a rare day working from home by gulping deep breaths of crisp fresh air.
“It feels so good to be out here,” my friend said as we huffed our way up a steep grade. “I’ve been stuck in a rut as deep as the Grand Canyon.”
That image – a Grand-Canyon-deep rut – has stayed with me. I’ve been trapped in such trenches myself. Whether it’s a rut or simply routine, I know it can suck the creative, energizing, invigorating life force out of the best of us. With that in mind, here are a few ideas that have helped me crawl out of more than one deep crevasse. If you’re feeling stuck, maybe one of these eight suggestions will serve as the toehold you need to clamber out of the dark trough and back into the warm, bright light.
Make art in public. Schedule a hot date with yourself at a local gallery or museum. Wander through the rooms and get lost in the myriad colors, shapes and images. When a piece of art catches your eye, grab a seat nearby. Pull out the pencil and notebook you brought along for the occasion and start drawing what you see. Rut-busters challenge: try sketching with your non-dominant hand.