Sunday, July 24, 2011

From the Other Room

It's Sunday afternoon at 4. A giant enchilada casserole is in the neighbor's oven for the park tonight (our rental-house-oven-from-the-olden-days is too small to fit most everything standard, much less a giant aluminum pan -- a little ironic for this time of life -- so I cook down the street nearly every weekend. Thank you, neighbors). A breeze is drifting through the front door and from the playroom I hear Silas's little voice singing "cream colored ponies and crisp apple strudel" against the sound of blocks going up.
In the two minutes I've been sitting here trying to capture this sweet pause, a battle has erupted in the playroom and Eden, in a deep scratchy voice is screaming NOOOOOO!! NOOOOOO!! NOOOOOOOO!! And Silas, who from the sound of it is still slapping up blocks (and probably pushing her away at the same time) just said, "Eden, laughter is gift."

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Dentist and the Sneaky Girl

Last week while the kids sang and acted the Sound of Music at camp, I sat in the dentist chair and got fillings. A few days later I had to bring the kids with me for a final visit to have one of the filling checked.

As we were walking out of the exam room, I caught Eden quickly rubbing her lips -- I looked at the tray, elbow-height beside her, the pink glossy glob of numbing gel at the edge, and realized this was, indeed, the "lip glass" she'd been sneaking.

Our initial stern talk about putting random substances on one's lips without asking must have been effective because I didn't hear much about how tingly those little lips felt.


A few weeks ago in the library, Eden walked over to me with a glossy pink craft book and said, with her hip cocked, "mom? I want to make some cute things." Where she comes from, I often ask myself, but there she was with her big bright book and I couldn't say no.

I am not a big crafter. Though cooking with recipes satisfies my urge to create with my hands, following step-by-step instructions to paint/sew/decorate feels more vapid. And so the book sat. On Monday, the email notification arrived that the book was due in three days. My goal had been to make ONE thing and time was nearly up. So that morning, Eden and I sat down to pick the craft and decided on the doll.

The first doll (yes, there were a few) we made was for Eden and Silas's cousin. It's a slightly scary duck-man with a felt beak that's a little cute -- it's the thought that counts (right?), and Silas loved it so much that he wanted one just like it. So we made a second duck-man dolly. Eden's doll was more involved, not the doll, herself, but the dress (dress!), which was simple enough in the book. But Eden, who has had strong clothing preferences since she was tiny, predictably had strong opinions. Four alterations later, the dress was done and Nonnie was complete with checkered tights:

We then left for the beach, and as every beloved new toy does, Nonnie came with us. Long story short, Eden left Nonnie on a patch of sand and before we knew it, Nonnie was gone, only her dress remained on the sand. I was ready to throw myself down on the sand in wild defeat. Eden was upset, too, but not heart-wrenchingly so. We retraced and retraced our steps, but, indeed, Nonnie was gone. On the drive home, I waffled between teaching the lesson -- don't leave your beloved toy abandoned on the sand -- and wanting to make her a new one. Since we still had the dress, I plunged into the world of sewing one more time and recreated Nonnie, who inexplicably is now named Nutie (pronounced Nudie, yes).

Saturday, July 16, 2011

20 books

One of our family goals this summer is to read 100 books. When we hit 100, we will celebrate with milkshakes and backyard camping.

100, it turns out, is a large number. So I decided that to keep morale high, we need to have small goals every 20 books. We hit our first 20 this week (doesn't that make 100 seem far off??) and as a reward, Silas and I threw whipped cream pies in each other's faces:

Friday, July 15, 2011

to know

I've been thinking lately about what it means to know someone.

I have always thought of "knowing" in a narrative way -- I meet someone, I learn her story, we develop trust, I learn more of her story, and in a rare friendship, know so much of her story that I could nearly tell it myself.

But these days, with friends at the park, knowing has taken on a different look. I realize that most of the people I spend time with there know virtually nothing about me: they don't know about my family, about where I grew up, or events that catapulted me into a new dimension of myself. They don't know where I've traveled or what I love to do. They don't know the darkness I plunge into from time to time or the ways I try to climb the muddy walls out of those holes. They don't know what I'm like as a mother, what makes me furious, or how I spend my days. From the way I've always thought about it, they don't know me at all. And of course, the reverse is true, too -- I know very little about most of their stories, and even the people whom I've spent a good deal of time talking to, even we have only just begun to scratch the surface of who we've been.

But the surprise is that we do know each other. Which is exactly what's caused me to rethink this whole business of knowing people. I have always thought knowing people means knowing who they've been, that intimacy is dependent upon this storyline.

We value pasts, and they certainly shape us, but I'm finding that even when the past is invisible, we still stand before each other in each bright moment as we are. Present. Caring. Angry. Teary. Silly. Us. We stand in our momentary choices and our character stands with us.

It's kind of liberating, existing in each moment that emerges.

Monday, July 11, 2011

July 11th

A year ago today, Ben's mom Cindy died. These kinds of anniversaries seem to arrive both riddled with emotions of their own and loaded with quiet wonderings about how the day ought to feel.

For weeks we've talked about what we want to do to celebrate her -- a venti americano, extra hot seems a natural choice. The sunset at the beach. Maybe blueberry pancakes at the iHop in Huntington beach. These were things she loved.

This morning under a low cloudy sky, the children started Sound of Music camp (more about that later in the week), and Ben and I drove to LA to see the Street Art exhibit at the Geffen. As we drove, we talked to his dad, brothers and sister, each call a sinker on the line to steady the day. Before the museum opened, we walked around Santee alley, which felt like being in a different country all together, and, as Cindy would have, we walked with our Starbucks cups in hand. I bargained for a couple of bags, which Cindy would have been proud of, and then we walked back to the car.

We had a ticket.
One of Ben's LEAST favorite things ever is a ticket of any sort. No one likes them, but for Ben they seem -- despite their cause -- to defile his very sense of justice and freedom.
He hates tickets.
The worst part about this ticket is that it was a picky ticket -- his front tire was just beyond the red curb -- and was his fault.
I watched his whole body slump and his demeanor edge from deflation to anger as we pushed through downtown toward the museum.
No one said much as he navigated on his blackberry.
When we arrived, we couldn't figure out where to park -- an $18 lot? a $7 garage -- but where is the museum from here? a 1 hour meter -- not enough time? a $4/hr meter? We circled and circled and finally parked a few blocks from the museum but somehow were under it and still needed to find our way to the door.
As soon as we walked up to the ticket booth, we knew we were in the wrong place.
I felt Ben sink a little deeper.
We said less.
Rather than winding our way back to the car and fighting for another spot, we left the car and walked the mile or so. The day had grown sunny and a breeze swept up the street into our faces as we walked. And walked. And walked in shoes not really made for walking. I, wearing a linen dress and sandals, began to sweat and knew Ben must be dripping in his work clothes. He didn't complain. But though our hands brushed as we walked, we were walking alone.

Finally, Little Tokyo and the museum. The space was expansive and told the long story of street art. Glass cases held graffiti artists' sketch books -- page after page of intricate marker drawings, enormous murals covered entire warehouse walls, and a whole room was dedicated to Banksy, my favorite commentator.

Somehow stepping into the streets, into art that was too big even to read, that spilled onto the floor and redefined buses and buildings, tipped the morning.

When we climbed back into the car, Ben made his necessary transition into work mode, typing away on his blackberry. But his eyes weren't defeated. Just before I dropped him off, we stopped at Chik-fil-a and he looked at my eyes and filled his whole body again.

A day like this is a hard day.
Tonight we'll take the kids down to the sand and remember Iah together. Ben might even surf, which his mom would have loved to see.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Each Peach Pear Plum

The last line of one of my favorite children's books, Each Peach Pear Plum, is about a plum pie sitting in the sun, and each time I read it and see the plump pie on a table in the yard and then Robin Hood feeding baby bunting a heaping spoonful of plum pie, I wish I had a plate of pie, too. (This happens to me -- I'm very swayed by images of food. More than once, Ben and I have been watching a show at night during which there's a commercial for ihop and have stopped everything to make a batch of pancakes...).

At the beginning of the summer, the kids and I made a huge list on butcher paper of all the things we wanted to do together this summer, one of which included Pie-Day-Friday-Movie-Night each week (pie day friday inspired by my brother and sister-in-law Eli and Hollie), which we have kept up pretty well so far.

week one:
-a so-so strawberry-nectarine pie and Mr. Rogers crayon factory and Eric Carle episodes highlight reel

week two:
-blackberry cake-crumble and a birthday party out (no movie)

week three:
-plum pie and the Sound of Music with BB!

This past week my mom came to town. Though she is in a boot from ankle surgery, she walked up to the park, strolled through the farmers' market sampling nectarines and plums, stood in a hot kitchen making huge batches of scrambled eggs, walked down to the ocean, picnicked in the park, visited the library for summer reading prizes, met some of our new friends, asked Ben and me hard life questions, read to Silas early in the mornings, and kept us company. And on Friday joined us for Pie Day Friday Movie Night, the first double crust pie I've made:

plum pie in the sun

We used an America's Test Kitchen recipe for a pie crust that calls for vodka -- a supposed secret to a tender crust, which it was, and for the filling, Carrie P's plum pie recipe. The end result was a beauty. Silas has been eating two slices a day for days now.

Carrie P's Plum Pie
*my pie was a tiny bit tart, which surprised me since the pluots were so sweet. Were I to
make it again, I'd try 1 c sugar

3/4 C Sugar
2 T tapioca
1 T cornstarch
1/4t cinnamon
1/4 t ginger
3 lbs plums
1 T butter
Double pie crust

Mix ingredients and pour into pie crust. Dot with butter. Put 2nd crust on top. Bake on cookie sheet at 450 for 20 minutes then 375 for 20 minutes. Let cool 2 hours or more.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Talking to Girls

I have to say that after reading this article, I felt a little panicky. I wish that everyone would read it. I wish it had the power to curb the comments I hear strangers and friends (and myself!) make every single day to Eden and other little girls about how beautiful they or their dresses or shoes are. Bloom is right; it is hard not to comment on the deliciousness of little girls' appearances. SO difficult. But watching Eden, I can see how it affects her -- how she doesn't know what to say back, how attentive she is to her own clothing, how she now expects comments like this and has learned to nod back, how it fills some little well of measurement that swells slowly, even now, when her sense of self is so simple. We adults communicate much in our flippant passing comments. Oh help us as we raise these girls whom we desperately want to love themselves and know their worth. See what you think:

isa Bloom --

How to Talk to Little Girls

Posted: 06/22/11 06:08 PM ET --

I went to a dinner party at a friend's home last weekend, and met her five-year-old daughter for the first time.

Little Maya was all curly brown hair, doe-like dark eyes, and adorable in her shiny pink nightgown. I wanted to squeal, "Maya, you're so cute! Look at you! Turn around and model that pretty ruffled gown, you gorgeous thing!"

But I didn't. I squelched myself. As I always bite my tongue when I meet little girls, restraining myself from my first impulse, which is to tell them how darn cute/ pretty/ beautiful/ well-dressed/ well-manicured/ well-coiffed they are.

What's wrong with that? It's our culture's standard talking-to-little-girls icebreaker, isn't it? And why not give them a sincere compliment to boost their self-esteem? Because they are so darling I just want to burst when I meet them, honestly.

Hold that thought for just a moment.

This week ABC News reported that nearly half of all three- to six-year-old girls worry about being fat. In my book, Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed-Down World, I reveal that 15 to 18 percent of girls under 12 now wear mascara, eyeliner and lipstick regularly; eating disorders are up and self-esteem is down; and 25 percent of young American women would rather win America's Next Top Model than the Nobel Peace Prize. Even bright, successful college women say they'd rather be hot than smart. A Miami mom just died from cosmetic surgery, leaving behind two teenagers. This keeps happening, and it breaks my heart.

Teaching girls that their appearance is the first thing you notice tells them that looks are more important than anything. It sets them up for dieting at age 5 and foundation at age 11 and boob jobs at 17 and Botox at 23. As our cultural imperative for girls to be hot 24/7 has become the new normal, American women have become increasingly unhappy. What's missing? A life of meaning, a life of ideas and reading books and being valued for our thoughts and accomplishments.

That's why I force myself to talk to little girls as follows.

"Maya," I said, crouching down at her level, looking into her eyes, "very nice to meet you."

"Nice to meet you too," she said, in that trained, polite, talking-to-adults good girl voice.

"Hey, what are you reading?" I asked, a twinkle in my eyes. I love books. I'm nuts for them. I let that show.

Her eyes got bigger, and the practiced, polite facial expression gave way to genuine excitement over this topic. She paused, though, a little shy of me, a stranger.

"I LOVE books," I said. "Do you?"

Most kids do.

"YES," she said. "And I can read them all by myself now!"

"Wow, amazing!" I said. And it is, for a five-year-old. You go on with your bad self, Maya.

"What's your favorite book?" I asked.

"I'll go get it! Can I read it to you?"

Purplicious was Maya's pick and a new one to me, as Maya snuggled next to me on the sofa and proudly read aloud every word, about our heroine who loves pink but is tormented by a group of girls at school who only wear black. Alas, it was about girls and what they wore, and how their wardrobe choices defined their identities. But after Maya closed the final page, I steered the conversation to the deeper issues in the book: mean girls and peer pressure and not going along with the group. I told her my favorite color in the world is green, because I love nature, and she was down with that.

Not once did we discuss clothes or hair or bodies or who was pretty. It's surprising how hard it is to stay away from those topics with little girls, but I'm stubborn.

I told her that I'd just written a book, and that I hoped she'd write one too one day. She was fairly psyched about that idea. We were both sad when Maya had to go to bed, but I told her next time to choose another book and we'd read it and talk about it. Oops. That got her too amped up to sleep, and she came down from her bedroom a few times, all jazzed up.

So, one tiny bit of opposition to a culture that sends all the wrong messages to our girls. One tiny nudge towards valuing female brains. One brief moment of intentional role modeling. Will my few minutes with Maya change our multibillion dollar beauty industry, reality shows that demean women, our celebrity-manic culture? No. But I did change Maya's perspective for at least that evening.

Try this the next time you meet a little girl. She may be surprised and unsure at first, because few ask her about her mind, but be patient and stick with it. Ask her what she's reading. What does she like and dislike, and why? There are no wrong answers. You're just generating an intelligent conversation that respects her brain. For older girls, ask her about current events issues: pollution, wars, school budgets slashed. What bothers her out there in the world? How would she fix it if she had a magic wand? You may get some intriguing answers. Tell her about your ideas and accomplishments and your favorite books. Model for her what a thinking woman says and does.

And let me know the response you get at and Facebook.

Here's to changing the world, one little girl at a time.

For many more tips on how keep yourself and your daughter smart, check out my new book, Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed-Down World,

Perfect for the 4th

My dear friend Ali sent me these words of Walt Whitman's yesterday morning, and they seemed all together fitting:

"This is what you shall do; Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body."

"This is what you shall do..." by Walt Whitman, from the preface of Leaves of Grass, first published on July 4, 1855. Public domain.

Sunday, July 03, 2011


Yesterday morning, I woke up in sludge, as if someone had poured sludge into my body and filled up my skin (I looked up "sludge" to verify -- sludge, (n) thick, soft, wet mud or a similar viscous mixture -- yes, that was it), and all I could do was drag myself from place to place. It's always striking, and seems to exacerbate the mood, to feel this way in bright glaring sun -- that was the morning. Ben, who seemed to bounce around with a springy step, organized us all onto bikes and headed up a ride. I slothed the pedals around and around, tugging Eden in the trailer behind me. Even when Eden took my hand at the park, chattering away about the "riverbed" and leading me to the bushes, I couldn't shake it. Even when Ben made me climb to the top of the jungle gym and let me lean against him with his hands on my head, the sludge stayed. Even when I watched Silas try to pop wheelies on every dip in the sidewalk and veer off into the grass and dirt along the street, bumping and jostling as he "off roaded" -- nothing. I couldn't get out. There are days like this. And this day draaaaaaaaaged on.

In the middle of the day, our old friend came by without his wife, so I slipped out to clear my head. I had a list of errands to run, but instead drove to the park where I sat in the grass for a couple of hours talking with people and petting Sissy La La (officially my favorite little fluffy dog name ever). But I was still muddled when I climbed into the car. I thought a little clothes shopping might help (because despite myself, I have to admit it often does) and for the first time in months, I tried on a bunch of clothes. But then I dumped them all and left only to end up in the grocery store buying proper flour and boysenberries...

It wasn't really until the evening, when Silas, Ben, Eden and I were sitting in the living room, that the grey film over the day began to lift. Ben was playing with garage band and recorded Silas singing about stingrays in the sand in which sweet Si riffed a little and adjusted his lyrics to fit the rhythm as he went (it's my favorite song now). Since Eden refused to sing, Ben and I recorded an improvised song to inspire her. I am not a singer nor do I have a very melodic voice, but I can sing on key and keep time. At least I thought I could. I was finally laughing til tears streamed down my face as I listened to our recording, and the more we listened, the harder we laughed. And somehow that laughter was strong than the sludge and, finally, the spell broke.

Blackberry Bramble

A summer dessert!! Hooray!!!!

I LOVE cake. And I love crumbles, slumps, buckles, crisps, and cobblers. And I LOVE it when these fine foods collide.

The other night we celebrated our friend Mark's birthday. Though we took him to the Gypsy Den for dinner, I brought along a cake and plates that I hid under the table with a single candle that had no hope of being lit -- lit or unlit, I believe the appearance of a candle is important on a birthday cake.

I found this recipe on felt and honey. I have cut and pasted it below along with her lovely photograph. Enjoy!

Blackberry Cobbler (aka Cake)
Adapted from The Pioneer Woman
A few tips and comments before you read on (this is Bronwen again): I didn't have self-rising flour and decided it couldn't be very different from regular flour (but it is, of course, has baking soda and salt in it), so the result was a heavier, gummier cake. Even so, it was divine, which should give you a clue about the recipe. I also didn't read well and put the entire 1 1/8 c sugar in the batter instead of reserving some for the top, and then sprinkled a couple additional tablespoons on top. My berries were tart and the cake was none too sweet. Lastly, I made mine in an 8" cake pan (so it could look like a birthday cake), which *nearly* overflowed. With the proper flour, it would have. But all of that said, the five of us devoured this cake, and Mark, after seconds, took thirds home. Tonight I will quadruple the recipe, use self-rising flour, divided sugar, and boysenberries, and report back. I have high hopes.
From looking at the pictures on The Pioneer Woman, I think Ree used a larger baking dish than I did, although she doesn’t specify size. Using an 8×8 dish and putting the fruit on the bottom gave the dessert a thicker top layer of cake that I loved. I cut down the amount of sugar sprinkled on top to 1/8 cup because of the smaller baking dish.
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 1/8 cup sugar
  • 1 cup self-rising flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 cups fresh blackberries
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 8×8 baking dish.
Melt the butter. In a mixing bowl, combine 1 cup of sugar and the flour. Add the milk whisking ingredients together. Pour in melted butter and continue to whisk until well combined.
Wash and dry the blackberries and layer in the bottom of your 8×8 baking dish. Pour the batter over the berries and sprinkle 1/8 cup sugar on top.
Bake in the oven at 350 degrees for 1 hour. Devour it.
SERVES 8 (or in our case 2)