Rain = soup

During my trip to Mexico, I read a great book called The Kitchen Counter Cooking School. The author (a food writer and graduate of the famous Le Cordon Bleu school in Paris) was inspired to teach people the basics of cooking to empower them to ditch boxed, processed foods in favor of fresh, healthier choices.

I am completely onboard with that program. I think that processed foods are the bane of modern health and I have been anxious to prepare more homemade meals for my kids, in fact, it was one of my NY resolutions (stand by for a future post on the progress made – or not – on those resolutions).

With all the cold rainy weather we’ve been experiencing lately, the first choice unequivocally was soup. I used the Creamed Tomato soup recipe from the outstanding How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman. Here it is simmering before I pureed it and added half-and-half:

Tomato Soup

The little bits of sauteed carrots and onions added a nice flavor, along with some thyme and kosher salt.

But le pièce de résistance was a loaf of freshly-baked bread…that I BAKED MYSELF. Yes, you read that correctly. I used the No-knead Artisan Bread recipe from the Kitchen Counter book and cranked out this lovely loaf:

For realz...I baked this.

 

Today when I met a couple of gal pals for lunch, I was so enthusiastic about my cooking adventure that I forced them to look at photos of this loaf of bread on my iPhone. I was super proud when one of them said it looked like it could be from Mayfield Bakery (our local hi-end, artisan bakery). And even better, my kids *loved* the taste of it.

I was pleasantly surprised that cooking the soup and making the bread was not all that time-consuming… it just took a little planning to ensure I had enough time prior to baking for the dough to rise. The soup took less than 30 minutes! I am really excited about branching out more and trying some new recipes. Plus, I want to start comparing my grocery bills to see if cooking meals from scratch lowers my monthly expenditure. For example, I roasted some chicken thighs the other night, with goat cheese and prosciutto, and I calculated the total cost was about $9 and it provided me with 3 meals.

Cooking from scratch is also forcing me to buy less food but more often, so the ingredients are fresh. I hate thinking about how much food I’ve thrown out because it wasted away in my refrigerator. By planning only a day or two ahead, I hope I can maximize the usage of the food I buy.

 

 

 

A Day in the Life

I love music.

I listen to it throughout the day, sing it in the shower, dance to it while cooking in the kitchen. I love when a favorite song comes on the radio that I haven’t heard in a while and I get to relish whatever it is about that particular song that pleases me…the bass line, the rhythm, the harmonies, cowbell, etc.

Tonight, I arrived home after my Zumba class (dancing somehow doesn’t feel like a workout to me, but my drenched shirt tells otherwise) and just as I pulled into the driveway of my home, “A Day in the Life” by the Beatles began on the radio. I put the car in park, turned off the engine and sat in the dark, listening to it. It brings back memories of when I was in grade school, listening to the Beatles and the Moody Blues and the Rolling Stones because my mom liked those bands. I loved the album covers of the Beatles Red 1962-1966 and Blue 1967-1970 albums. It was so cool to me how they had changed in their photos in that short time span (probably why I am enamored with Dear Photograph and Shawn Clover’s 1906 Mashup Photos).

I put aside nostalgia and really listened to the music…the insistent piano, the mounting, chaotic strings, the simple lyrics that convey the violence and ordinariness of our daily lives, and of course, when John Lennon went into his dream, I sang along with him on the best part: ahhhhhhhh, ah, ah, ahhhhh… ahhh ah ahhhhh….ahhh ah ahhhhhhh….

Right before I had pulled into the driveway, I was thinking about what I’d make for dinner, and which bath bomb from Lush I was going to plop into my bath tonight, but when that song came on, I completely surrendered myself to that moment of singing in the car, in the dark, by myself… a lovely moment of serendipity.

I am a surfer

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As part of my sabbatical, I decided to learn how to surf. A practical person would have signed up for lessons in Santa Cruz (about an hour from where I live), donned a wetsuit and taken lessons over a weekend.

I don’t like cold water.

Instead, I signed up for a 6-day, all-women surf “safari” in Sayulita, Mexico (about 40 minutes north of Puerto Vallarta). I was delighted to leave 55 degree weather in San Francisco and step off the plane in Mexico into welcoming sunshine and highs in the upper 80s.

Here is the view from the awesome villa that I’m sharing with a long-time friend and two new friends:

So, today…we started with a nice relaxing yoga class for an hour…mostly stretching and loosening up. We enjoyed a yummy breakfast at our villa and then walked about 10 minutes to the surf safari’s casita in town, where we learned surfing safety and some basics. We lathered on water-resistant sunscreen, pulled on our rash guards, chose a surfboard and carried it out to the beach. I felt very cool carrying an 11′ board on my head, even though it was really the only way I could cart it out, as my arms aren’t long enough to carry it under an arm.

At the edge of the water, we attached our leashes to our rear ankles (I’m “goofy-footed,”so that means the leash went on my left ankle) and strode out to the waves, two at a time. From the shore, the waves looked big, but in the water, they looked HUGE, even though they apparently were only “waist-high.” I got pummeled by the incoming surf as I tried to paddle out to the “deep water,” beyond where the waves were breaking. It was almost like I was facing an initiation by the ocean … “How badly do you want to go surfing today?” Wave after wave knocked me over and I tumbled a lot. The slight cold I was battling was quickly remedied by the 1000psi neti pot that the waves were inflicting on my sinuses.

By the time I joined the others, my lat muscles and triceps were burning and I was breathing heavily. We practiced braking and the sit and spin. We did a lot more paddling, as the current was pulling us to the left. Finally, it was time to ride a wave in.

I was excited to ride my first wave, and managed to pop up to my feet but then I lost my balance and fell over to the right almost immediately. Hmmm…pretty cool, but that didn’t quite count! I rode another wave in through the whitewash on my knees. I was feeling tired but still enthusiastic as our instructors showed us how to surf only the white wash (go in with the tail of the surfboard first, so it’s easier to hop on and catch a wave). I finally caught my first wave and got my legs straightened past 90 degrees for a few seconds, reveling in the energy underneath me….and then I tried to exit successfully…into about 6 inches of water. More water up the nose.

I rode a few more waves and took a break for lunch. When I came back for “free surf time” the instructors were in the water, offering advice and encouragement. With a little rest under my belt, I was able to stand up several times and on one wave, I felt it drop out a little underneath me…omg, I was surfing! I let out a scream of delight and continued in the whitewash until the energy of the wave had bled off and I could step off onto the sand. I had a several really nice rides but after about an hour, my lower back started to bug me so I decided to call it a day.

Learnings from today:
1 – Embrace the wipeout. A wise surfer friend told me that one of the keys to learning how to surf is to not avoid wipeouts, but rather, to embrace them. Well, let me tell you, I made passionate love to the wipeout. It even sent me flowers.
2 – There’s always another wave, so don’t feel rushed. A few times, I saw a really nice wave forming, but I was too close to it and I would rush to align myself, and curl my toes onto the sweet spot, but I’d be rushing and not quite aligned and then the wave would rush up and catch me and most times, I’d get tumbled in the surf. I realized, I need to set myself up for success…those were my best waves.
3 – Rinse all the sand out of my bikini bottom before using the restroom…I’ll just leave it at that.

 

I’ve been writing…I promise

Wow, I just realized that I haven’t posted for a month. Yikes.

I have been writing for a screenplay class I’m taking at Stanford. I was really motivated after the first class last week, and I’m finalizing which idea I’m going to move forward with.

I also spent a week in Hawaii on vacation, which was wonderful. I did some research for my book while I was there, but now I feel like it’s time to get to work…with “work” being: writing more, learning to code, exploring my ideas for my own business, and deciding what to do next year.

My painting retreat

The week before last I spent 5 days at Wax Works West in Corralitos, painting and doing Bikram Yoga. I decided to take this break and paint because I felt like I needed to be pulled away from the distractions of daily life in order to really tap my creativity. While it was a delight to devote that much time to painting, I’m learning I have to find small chunks of time throughout my day to engage in creative work, rather than depending on or waiting for long, immersive periods. For example, I’m typing this as I wait for some sweet potato fries to bake. Yum. (a quick side-story…one of my dad’s favorite stories is of the time he posted educational articles on the insides of the bathroom stalls at his USMC regiment. He likes to chuckle about his “education through defecation” program, and “taking advantage of the craps of time” when you can. Sorry, that was a bit inappropriate, but I completely need to get onboard with stealing moments of productivity).

So, the first day of painting was horrible. I absolutely HATED what I made and I found myself starting to panic that I was wasting time and money and my painting sucks and who am I kidding, I am not a good artist, and all the other bullshit that goes through my mind when things don’t go according to my plan of producing perfect art, exactly how I envision it. Toward the end of the day, I started experimenting a little bit with some black paint and decided I’d work with that more the next day. I went to use the bathroom, and as I was sitting there doing my business, I looked up and saw this:

Ah…the craps of time came through for me (my dad would be so proud) and provided me with some wisdom during my bio break: I needed to relax my grand plans and enjoy the process. So true of much of life. The next day, I made this, which is probably my favorite painting of the retreat:

The third day and fourth day, I experimented with silk fabric and also painted a Japanese rice paper print that I’m planning on giving to my parents for Christmas.

      

I also finished up an octopus diptych:

On my last day, I enjoyed experimenting with 4 colors of batik fabric which I adhered to the board with medium, then covered in varnish and pearlized pigment, then lit on fire (outside, of course). I call it “Dear Watson” after Sherlock Holmes’ famous exclamation “it’s elementary,” as the 4 colors remind me of the elements of earth, water, sky and fire:

I finished the last day feeling like I had been productive and able to stir up some new ideas for things I want to do with encaustic paint. I’m excited to get my garage studio up and running so I can paint more regularly.

I’m not as brave as I’d like to be

I am very fortunate to live in a nice neighborhood in a district with good schools, but the house I rent is probably in the bottom 10% of houses in this extremely affluent community. Maybe even bottom 1%.  “The land of expensive cars” is what I like to call it, because it feels like every other car I see in our neighborhood is a BMW, Mercedes or Lexus, and it’s parked in the driveway of a multi-million dollar home. (I want to be clear that I am NOT complaining about my house! I am super grateful to be in our home, but I need to put this in perspective. Most of the other people in our neighborhood are very wealthy).

With all the wealth in our community, it was really surprising to me to see homeless people in our town. There is one in particular who roams the neighborhood near where I live. I first saw him about two months ago, at the end of the school year, when my daughter’s class had a picnic at a local park. “Look!” one of the children said, pointing toward the telltale barge of a shopping cart, overloaded with tied-up grocery bags and tarps. “It’s a hobo!” We couldn’t see a human being, just a pile of stuff on wheels. But I looked closely, and underneath the mound of plastic I saw two shoes on the ground, and in the shoes I saw ankles. The rest was covered up, perhaps as protection from the late morning June sun. I was embarrassed for the person (I had no idea if there was a man or woman under all those bags) and hustled the kids along, deciding that moment would not be appropriate to explain the difference between a hobo (which brings to mind images of scrappy, knapsacked men that stowaway in train cars and sing songs about the Big Rock Candy Mountain) and a homeless person.

The kids quickly moved on to their field games at the park, and we didn’t pay any more attention to the homeless person, until it was time to eat. The barge of bags was right next to the door of the tennis courts, and we needed the large trash can that was inside the court. One of the other moms grabbed the trash can, and when she returned, whispered to us, “I think there’s someone underneath all that stuff!”

The kids ate their lunches and took turns at the “dessert table,” piled high with lots of fruit, muffins and cookies. When it was time to leave, there was still quite a bit of food left, so I put a bunch of grapes, watermelon and cookies on a paper plate and walked over to the shopping cart. Upon closer inspection, there were probably fifty plastic shopping bags tied all over the cart. I couldn’t tell what was in the bags. I walked around to the other side and saw that the ankles led up to pant legs and there was a man, sitting on a plastic fold-up lawn chair. His face was covered by a homemade canopy, so I bent down and saw he was sitting with his eyes closed, hands on his lap, as if he were meditating. He had a long, white beard and long, matted hair, sort of like a grungy Santa Claus. I said, “Excuse me,” and he quietly opened his eyes and looked at me quite calmly. “Would you like some food?” He didn’t smile, but said, “Yes, thank you.” I handed him the plate and wished him a good day. He again thanked me.

I wish I had talked with him more. I am curious about how he got to this point in time and want to ask him why he is on the street. Is he someone who is homeless by choice or is that a myth we’ve perpetuated to make us feel better when we see someone like this man? Many people have complimented me on how brave I am to quit my job and yet I couldn’t stir up the courage to talk with him, perhaps because I was afraid of his answer. What if he’s not homeless by choice? Then what do I say or do? How could I help him? Could I approach this like the story of the woman throwing the starfish back into the ocean…that every little bit we can do to help someone in need makes a difference, no matter how small it seems? I hope I can find the courage to speak with him next time.

First Day of School

Today was the first day of school for my kids…third grade for my daughter and fifth for my son. After the flag-raising ceremony, I walked over to the multi-purpose room for today’s purpose: reconnecting with other parents! There was a “coffee and volunteer sign-up” in the MP room and I was delighted to see how many parents stayed to volunteer for the various school activities throughout the year.

This year marked the first time that I brought a baked good for the welcome-back coffee that I myself baked. During previous years, I was in a job or looking for my next job, so if I even managed to sign up to bring something it was normally pre-made from Trader Joe’s (every working mom’s best friend) or Whole Foods (if I felt like I needed to impress people). This year, however, I baked. I BAKED. Yes, it was from a mix from Trader Joe’s, but I had to turn on an oven, dammit, so I want my awesome-mom-points. And bonus points because I hacked the crumbcake recipe and made delicious crumb-cake muffins.

Thus, it was delightful to saunter in – fresh from my arrival on my Townie cruiser bike – and deposit a tupperware container of home-madebaked muffins on the breakfast table. I didn’t need to rush through signups, or hurry my conversations with other moms (and one dad!)…there were no work meetings for me to get to and I had nothing scheduled until pick-up time! I enjoyed the time catching up with the other parents.

One of my amazing mom friends – who is a lawyer, working part-time, and a mom of two great daughters – knew that I had stopped working for a few months and had hinted in an email that she would love my help with fundraising. When I arrived at the volunteer coffee, I saw her standing by the table with signup sheets for the fundraising events and I went over to say hello. She was in side-show barker mode and doing a phenomenal job of signing up parents to help with the fund-raising events for the school, and when she saw me, she immediately sidled up next to me and started the recruiting process.  She reminded me that this was my son’s last year at the school (sniffle!) and wouldn’t it be great to be involved in making it an awesome year! It was an easy sell…I really like her and I am grateful to be able to help out, so I signed up to help reconcile the payments after the fall auction. With my commitment sealed in ink on the signup sheet, we moved on to catching up on our summers, and I realized that this was the year her younger daughter started kindergarten. She told me how she started tearing up when she took a photo of her two girls this morning, and when the girls asked her why she had tears in her eyes…she replied “Allergies!” Ah yes, the allergies that seem to only strike us on the first and last day of the school year….

 

Mommy, Can We Please Get a Puppy?

I used to be a dog owner. I like to say that my first children were of the four-legged variety, before I became a mom.  I had a black lab for almost 15 years…I take great pride that he lived for so long (most labs live 10-12 years). He eventually got so old that he couldn’t control his back hips or his bowels (common for larger dogs like labs) and after a year of cleaning up poop in my house, I finally called a special vet who makes the dreaded final house calls and she put him to sleep in our living room. It was one of the most painful days of my life.

My kids are of the age where many of their friends’ families are getting puppies. My daughter has been begging me to get a puppy, but fortunately, I’ve been able to avoid dog ownership, as our landlord doesn’t allow pets (she made a special exception for the tortoise). Plus, when they’re at their dad’s I don’t want to be stuck with taking care of a dog on my own, and they wouldn’t be able to bring the dog to his apartment because his landlord doesn’t allow pets either (although they made a special exception for their cat). For the past 6 months, I don’t think a day has gone by when my daughter hasn’t sweetly mentioned what wonderful pets dogs are or said “Mom, tell me more about what you like about puppies” (she’s an amazing negotiator for her 8 years).

This past weekend, I agreed to help watch my friend’s 6-month old lab puppy (we’ll call him Rusty, to protect his identity. In case, you know, he reads this). I thought it would be a great opportunity to test the kids out with a dog, and I only had to walk him twice, so I happily agreed to be part of Team Rusty (my friend smartly divided up the 2 days of dog-watching among 4 different friends to lessen the impact). I helped out on Saturday evening with the dinnertime walk/wear-out-the-puppy meetup at a local park. It brought back memories of taking my lab to a park to get him the exercise labs so desperately need so they don’t turn into house-destroying tornadoes.

We got to the park and the kids immediately ran to the playground. I was left holding the ChuckIt while Rusty barked and pleaded with me to please throw the goddamn ball already! So, I heaved the ball into the air and enjoyed watching him fetch. He hurled himself at it and proudly ran back, chomping on the tennis ball and salivating all over it. He came over and dropped the ball (good boy!) but when I reached over to pick it up he bit at the ChuckIt (bad dog!). Ooh! My dog-training instincts re-awakened as I recognized an opportunity to do some canine development. “WAIT!” I said sharply to Rusty and started leaning down to pick up the ball. He charged the ball again, so I grabbed his collar and jerked him back, saying “WAIT!” His eyes never left the ball. We tried it again. He charged it again. I yanked him back and yelled “BAH!” We tried it again. This time he watched. I slowly reached down and scooped up the ball and then yelled “Good Wait, Rusty!” and hurled the ball for him to chase. We worked on this for about 30 minutes. I was thrilled that toward the end, he seemed to be getting it (he’s a pure-bred lab, so I’m counting on some intelligence there). By this time, my children were climbing the backstop of the baseball field at the park and Rusty was seeking out shade and lying down whenever he brought the ball back, so we called it a day and walked Rusty home. I lucked out in that he never pooped the whole time, so I didn’t have to break out the pastic baggie for clean-up duty (I always really hated that part about dogs).

It was a good reminder that puppies are a buttload of work. On the walk back to Rusty’s house, my daughter talked about all the reasons we should get a dog (they’re comforting, they protect the house, they encourage us to get exercise when we walk them, etc.) until I pointed out that she and her brother had not helped at all with Rusty at the park. She looked at me funny and then gently explained that she didn’t want a lab because they are too much work and too physical. She wants us to get a cute little terrier puppy, which she assured me would be much, much easier than taking care of Rusty.

Ah, yeah right. 😉

Monterey Bay Aquarium Visit

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Yesterday I took the kids to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. The last time we were there was for an overnight six months ago (which I *highly* recommend. It is super cool to fall asleep next to a huge tank full of fish slowly swimming by). The kids always love going, and I find it amazing that we always seem to notice something new or unique each time we go.

We have our favorites. My son loves the “Open Sea” exhibit, which is essentially a ginormous tank with lots of big fish and a couple of turtles. But there’s something about the glow from the tank in the darkness of the room, accompanied by the soothing soundtrack piped over the exhibit’s speakers that creates a very relaxing, calm experience. I like that the turtles appear to be flying:

My daughter’s favorite was the new Jellies Experience, which is a fun and groovy look at jellyfish. The aquarium already has a jelly exhibit, but they added a wonderful layer of fun by pulling together an additional exhibit that is done with black lights and funky colors, to the sounds of groovy, 60’s pipe organ music. Plus, they created some quirky lighting in the style of jellyfish that she now wants to create for her own room:

I have two favorites: the Giant Pacific Octopus and the Seahorses. I have had a long fascination with octopuses and have incorporated that into my artwork. The octopus at the aquarium is kept in a smaller tank that unfortunately is almost covered by people, likewise curious about these amazing animals. My daughter is great at creeping in to small spaces and found a spot right up front to take a picture. It’s not the best photo (it’s in a very dark corner), but you can get a sense of its majesty:

(btw, I always thought octopuses were cool, but after seeing this video, now I know they are the BADASSES of the ocean)

Then, there are the seahorses. Seahorses “court” each other for days and then dance while having sex and the male carries the babies…how awesome is that? Plus, they’re so cute how they propel themselves through the water using little fins rapidly like a hummingbird’s wings. Not surprisingly, my daughter and I loved the seahorse exhibit while my son made his way quickly to the gift shop.

We watched a couple of films at the aquarium theater, but the one that really made an impression on me was a short film about the TOPP project. Tagging of Pacific Predators (TOPP) is one of several projects that make up the Census of Marine Life, a 10-year, international effort to understand more about the ocean and the marine life that calls it home. I was really excited to learn about this. Just a few days ago, the United States landed a rover on Mars, millions of miles away (which is a phenomenal and necessary accomplishment for humankind), and yet we really don’t know much about the vast, ocean-covered portions of our own planet. It’s heartening to hear that there are scientists devoted to discovering more about our oceanic world.

We had such a wonderful time that I forked over $195 for a family membership. It’s tax deductible, the kids were thrilled that they got their own membership cards with their names on them, and the money goes towards a great cause. It really is a wonderful day trip for families with kids of any ages…and adults, too. Last summer, when I spent a few days in Pacific Grove for a mini-vacation, I went to the Aquarium on my own so I could experience it without the ever-nagging feeling of “where are my children?” I enjoyed that time of non-interrupted exhibit viewing and look forward to another solo visit, since I’m now a card-carrying member.

Making Something Ugly

[This was originally a draft post from the 15 Habits of Great Writers series that I never posted. I’ve added to it in order to check off my “write 500 words every day” goal. (I needed a little assistance because I am limited on time and inspiration this morning…I’m taking the kids to Monterey Bay Aquarium) ]

Day 7: Start something that you know will be difficult and thus have been avoiding. Doesn’t matter if it’s ugly, as all art starts out ugly before the artist finds the beauty in it.

I’ve always liked to think about what the world would be like if gender roles were reversed. What if long ago, there had been some event that established a maternalistic society? How differently would society have evolved? Or would it be more interesting from a creative writing perspective to just take the current world and flip gender roles in order to highlight the inequalities? I thought about this idea again while watching the movie Magic Mike last week. It was an odd blend of male stripping/dancing and character drama (thank you, Steven Soderbergh). I can’t help but think that if this had been a movie about a woman stripping and dancing in order to make money so she can pursue her real dream of “respectable” artistic work…oh, wait, that was Flashdance.  Anyway, this (ugly) piece of creative writing comes from that idea of a world ruled by woman:

I am tired of living this boring life, he thought, as he lifted the dining room chair and deftly manuevered the vacuum cleaner, sucking up the leftover flakes of the croissants he had baked for Jacinda. He found some fulfillment in managing their home and in his daily trips to the local Manifestival arena (Just last week he defeated Artemisas in wrestling. Jacinda seemed proud and pleased that her husband had established himself as the one of the strongest men in their town) but he felt something was missing. Why should the women be allowed to work outside the home and travel for business and earn their own paychecks, but not men? He had always loved doing the crossword puzzles in the newspaper and enjoyed writing letters for correspondence…he had once written a short story in school that had earned him high marks and he had been elated until the teacher remarked that it’s too bad that men don’t work in the arts., he would likely have been a good writer. Best to stick to mens’ work, using his natural strength. History had shown that women were smarter and better able to manage complex projects and large groups of people. Leave the easier work, like domestic engineering, to the men. He set the vacuum cleaner down and thought of the essay he had submitted to their city newspaper’s non-fiction contest, using his initials so the editor might assume it was a woman writing. The deadline was last week and he constantly checked his mailbox for some sort of notification. His daydream was interrupted by the sharp shrill ring of their kitchen phone.