Monday, March 12, 2018

Happy 50th birthday, Nick

Dear Nick,

Today is your 50th birthday.

When we met, you were approaching 40. You’d been dating for a long time, and had begun considering the idea that you might be too difficult a person to be married. (Some days I think this is probably true, and I imagine you’d say the same about me.)

But in any case, with this thought in mind, you'd decided to fulfill a lifelong dream and bought an old sailboat that you were excited to fix up.

We talked about it in emails and on our first date. I’d only really been sailing in exotic locales, and certainly never had to be the one to steer the boat, so I thought they were fun, and sailing with you sounded like a grand adventure.

My dad loved boats, and he was so excited to help you get your boat across the Chesapeake. It was such a big event for all of us, I talked about it at his memorial service.

I feel lucky, honestly, that my dad got to know you and have truly meaningful experiences with you before he died. He knew from the start what a fine person you were, and I know he felt like I was in good hands. I don’t know if he thought about the fact that he’d be leaving my mom in your capable hands as well, but I suspect so.

Anyway, you got your boat fixed enough to sail and brought it across the bay, and then we got married and I got pregnant. And then we bought a house that needed so much work that it would suck the life out of a normal person. Lucky for us, you’re not a normal person.

You approached your boat in the same way you approach our house and our family, and really anything you love. You always pour your whole heart in, and work so hard to make everything perfect. Of course, nothing is perfect; it's real life.

But you do your best, and you get more done in a day than most people I’ve ever met.

I know you loved your boat a great deal. You refinished the wood yourself, and you put so much energy and love into the project. Eventually, a demanding job, a needy house, two delightful kids, and a gem of a wife took precedence over your boat.

There just wasn’t time in the day/week/month for everything. It got to a point where you looked at your limited time and decided to spend it on your family.

I know letting go of your boat meant letting go of a dream, and so in retrospect it was terribly unkind of me to wish your dream would sink in a hurricane so we could have the insurance money. I didn’t think I’d said it out loud but at some point I apparently did, because you mentioned it.

But you promised it didn’t factor into your decision. Your family came first.

The fact is, you work, and you spend time with us. And fix toilets, wiring, plumbing, and refinish banisters and fireplaces, and so on. The list is long. You don’t golf or go to happy hour or go on fishing trips.

When you have free time, you want to spend it with the people you love most, and that is us.

You don’t get a lot of time with the kids during the week, and always spend weekends creating grand adventures I know our kids will cherish when they are grown.

Months ago, I asked you if you wanted a party. I wanted you to celebrate this big birthday in some big way. You didn’t want a party. You wanted a small family dinner, so we went out to eat at your new favorite Mexican restaurant.

We had cake at home. India was super excited to blow out the candles.

You did, however, want to do something big to commemorate this birthday. I was so glad when you told me this, because I think commemorating milestones and using your birthday magic is important.

This morning you told the kids they were playing hooky, and you took them on a helicopter ride over the Chesapeake. (I of course had major anxiety about my entire family going down at once. But you’re back on land and I am so glad you had a spectacular time.)

I think what strikes me most is that for your birthday, for you the most joyful choice was to do something incredible with your children. I love this about you.

You are extraordinary, and I love you more than sunshine.

Happy birthday.



Friday, March 09, 2018

Let them eat (vanilla) cake! Or cupcakes.

Oh, hey! This is a really good cake. I found it on King Arthur Flour's site last year. This is also their photo.

When I made it I followed the instructions exactly, and it was delicious.

I made cream cheese frosting for it, and discovered that cream cheese frosting is just cream cheese, butter, and sugar. I don't know what I thought was in it but I was super sad to know that the ingredients didn't include something more redeeming like spinach.

 It's Nick's birthday on Monday, so I asked him what kind of cake he'd like (and suggested this).

He said vanilla.

India said "I'd like vanilla, but cupcakes, and not that frosting you made last time. Actually, no frosting. Just vanilla cupcakes."

I told her it wasn't her birthday and we should try to make Daddy happy. And she said, "OK. Just vanilla cupcakes."

 Personally, I view cake as a vehicle for frosting, but I'm also picky about frosting. I have two I like. One is my grandmother's huge, fluffy beaten egg white frosting, and the other is cream cheese.

 But again, it's Nick's birthday, so he gets to pick. Or maybe India does.

Or maybe I make this cake with whatever icing Nick wants. And what's the difference between icing and frosting? I use these words interchangeably. Like car-mul or cara-mel, in my mind. And perhaps I will also make cupcakes with no frosting.

And then I will be very tired and sit in the corner eating a bowl of cream cheese frosting with a spoon.

Except that I basically gave up sugar in January so maybe I won't.

Anyway, I hate the endless anecdotes on food blogs when all you want is the damn recipe. But then again, I'm not a food blogger.

But if you're here for cake, here's the cake.

2 cups sugar
3 1/4 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon
12 tablespoons (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, soft enough to leave an indentation when pressed
1 1/2 cups milk, at room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
4 large eggs Instructions

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease (but don't flour) the bottom only of your choice of pan(s): one 9" x 13" pan, two 9" round cake pans, three 8" round pans, or the wells of two muffin tins (24 muffin cups). You can also line the muffin tins with papers, and spray the insides of the papers.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the sugar, flour, baking powder, and salt.

Add the butter and beat with an electric mixer at low speed, until the mixture looks sandy.
Combine the milk and vanilla and add, all at once. Mix at low speed for 30 seconds, then increase the speed to medium and beat for 30 seconds.

Scrape the bottom and sides of the mixing bowl.

With the mixer running at low speed, add 1 egg. Increase the speed to medium and beat for 30 seconds.

Repeat this procedure with the second egg. Continue adding the eggs, scraping after each addition, until all 4 are added. After the last egg is added, scrape the bowl once more, then beat at medium-high speed for 30 more seconds.

Transfer the batter to the pans of your choice.

For layers, divide the batter among the pans. The batter weighs 48 ounces; if you're using a scale to measure out your layers, each 9" layer should weigh 24 ounces; each 8" layer needs 16 ounces of batter. Smooth out the tops with an offset spatula or the back of a tablespoon.

For cupcakes, scoop by heaping 1/4-cupfuls into the prepared muffin tins. Bake for 35-40 minutes for a 9" x 13" pan; 30-35 minutes for 9" layers; 24-27 minutes for 8" layers, or 23 to 25 minutes for cupcakes.

The cake is done when it's golden brown around the edges and just beginning to pull away from the edge of the pan. A toothpick inserted in the center will come out clean.

Remove the cake from the oven and allow it to cool for 5 minutes, then turn it out onto a rack to cool completely.

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Elephant leg boots and other footwear

I recently took my daughter to a doctor's appointment, and because it was toward the end of the school day, I picked Jordan up at the same time. And because it was in Friendship Heights, which has Bloomingdale's, my mother wanted to join.

Which is how all four of us found ourselves, post-appointment, in the shoe department at Nordstrom Rack. This is, without sarcasm, my idea of fun.

So I spotted these shoes that looked like sneakers, but endless sneakers! They had big white bottoms! They were grey and soft, oh, so soft! And stretchy!

You pulled them on, and you just kept pulling them up and up and up, nearly up to your coochie-coo! (Yes, I know it's called a vulva, and we incorrectly continue to call it a vagina with our kids, except India still says GAGINA and I am OK with that as I know full well what she's talking about.)

Anyway, you pull those sneaker boots up really high.

I thought they were amazing. But they might be horrible. Amazing? Horrible? I couldn't tell.

So I asked Facebook.

My friend Tracy--and I love my friends forever for their honesty--said, "They make you look like you have elephant leg."

Wendy agreed. Then another person did. And another.

And actually, I'd be fine having elephant leg boots. I would happily refer to them as my "elephant leg boots."

Except that they didn't look good with a single outfit.

I was thinking, "Oh, great! These are sneakers that are also boots that are warm and I can just pull them on with everything and walk for miles and they'll keep my legs cozy!"


They looked terrible with jeans. And leggings. I didn't try them on with a skirt because I am not going to have a pair of high-maintenance elephant boots that I can only wear with like one outfit that I own. I'm just not.

So I took them back and stumbled across a black pair of over-the-knee real boots that have an actual heel. India totally approves. So far I haven't worn them, because I can't quite decide.

Maybe I'll put them on with some outfits and show you.

And finally, this is my India modeling Leigh Shoes.

As in, "Mama! These are so cute! Leigh would love these shoes. Look at me in the Leigh Shoes!"
She is absolutely right. Leigh would rock those shoes. I commended India on her choice.

However. I'm willing to bet Leigh would wear them on the correct feet. 

Friday, February 02, 2018

New news

Hello, friends!

Yesterday I got my hair cut and colored (see new hair above, not much different from old hair but also completely different). I asked my stylist if she could put fewer highlights so I can grow out more of my own hair color. I've decided I should see what color it actually is after all this time.

Also: selfies are hard. I always feel like a dork.

I'm always so amused by the foils that I have to take a picture.
Incidentally, and really only related to foil, I recently read Lizard Music by Daniel Pinkwater, a book that delighted me in 6th grade. It was a quick, fun book, and one I hope my children might be interested in.


In the top photo, the painting in the background is of me, on the shores of Lake Superior. My Aunt Jo, who was a painter, painted it after we'd been to visit her one summer. She had a houseboat, and she once took us out to the island I'm looking towards. In our parlance, that was Aunt Jo's island.

There I'm sifting through rocks, finding agates. We collected heaps and heaps of agates. Aunt Jo loved puns (I'm suspecting this is genetic), and once when my brother found a regular rock and asked her what it was, she said, "Oh, that's a snot agate!"

"What's a snot agate?"

"Snot an agate."

I've recently been in close touch with her daughter, Patti Jo, who has been sharing her memories. For a time I've been thinking I need to go back to where my dad grew up, and now, the pull to see family and familiar places is very strong.

Aunt Jo painted scenes of Duluth. I wish I had one of her scenes. She had these block puzzles called City Blocks. Why didn't I ever get one back then? They were wonderful.

Anyway. Experiences are more important than stuff.


On Wednesday, I start a full-time job that will last until my kids get out of school in June. A friend was leaving my old workplace, and they needed someone to fill in for a few months, until the organization gets a new president and that person can hire the new employee.

So I'm stepping back into the full time, office workforce. But I'm returning to a familiar place, where I already like my boss and am friends with many of my colleagues.

I'm both nervous and excited. It's going to be a big change for my family, as I've now been home over four years. India hasn't gone and Jordan doesn't remember going to aftercare.

This will be a big shift, but not a permanent one, and I think shaking things up will be good for all of us. And a paycheck is helpful.

All in all, I consider this a lucky turn of events.


We have gone back to India screaming, threatening, raging and all around shooting our nights to hell because she does not want to go to bed. That's fun.


Speaking of, it is currently cold as hell frozen over or whatever the expression is. I'm not best pleased with this situation.

Wishing you all a great weekend! Big hugs!


Monday, January 29, 2018

That time we drove to Canada and learned how to cross the street

Last night I suggested driving Betty and the kids to Duluth, MN this summer to visit my cousins. It couldn't be a whole lot farther than Toronto, could it?

You may recall that I occasionally decide it would be really fun to drive somewhere. Like Texas. Or Denver. And then Nick points out the distance and difficultly.

When I pulled it up on Google Maps it said it would take me 378 hours. Then I realized it had defaulted to the walk option. (Also, I'm a fast walker, and am confident I could do it in like 350 hours.)

Even so, it is almost 1,200 miles far, and I'm not sure how we will go. We have time to decide.

But. I still haven't told you about last summer when we drove to Canada!

We drove to Canada. My car was in park when I took this picture.
Last August, Betty, the kids, and I set off in the direction of Toronto. We had Waze, passports, Kindles for the kids, a giant bag of snacks, and the Hamilton CDs.

We figured we'd get as far as we could--hopefully Buffalo--sleep the night, and then drive to Toronto the next day. I was going to call Nick when we knew where we'd stop for the night so he could get a deal on reservations online.

About an hour out of Buffalo I got the kids to get out of the car and use the bathroom at a very clean convenience store by saying, "Nana will buy you candy if you try to pee pee."

I'm not proud of this, but it worked, and let me just be totally honest and say I am not above blatant bribery.

Nick asked if we could make it to the Canadian side of Niagara. I polled my passengers, who said, "Sure!" So I said, "Sure!"

We were super bummed that they didn't stamp our passports at the border. We also didn't jokingly ask for asylum. Best not to push the humor with border police.

I mean, I it's all fun and games until you're in isolation getting a cavity search.

So I just said we're here to visit old friends and we'll be staying for five days and then heading straight back home and thank you very much for letting us in.

The next thing I did was get stuck in the E-ZPass lane for the toll. I was all, "Look, they have E-ZPass! I have E-ZPass!"

But! I don't have Canadian E-ZPass! I...couldn't pass. And then a van pulled up behind me. And I got all panicky. Then the van driver signaled for me to back up, and I was trying, but I am a sucky backer-upper and there wasn't much room.

And then a lovely man opened the gate for me and we drove forth into Canada. EZ!

Nick had booked a room with a spectacular view.
Right? We were astounded and delighted.
Our room had a better view than we managed anywhere else. Also, they light the falls different colors at night.

And then! Then Toronto! Oh my gosh, Toronto is incredible!

We headed straight for Sophie and Sean's house. Sophie had organized for us to stay the house of one of her friends who was away for the week. So we were super comfortable in a truly lovely nearby  house.

Sophie, one of my dear Delhi high school friends, immediately poured us wine in cups from her childhood days in Pakistan. Sean grilled. Our children began playing with each other.
It is as I have long believed: Canada is a magical land.

They taught us how to ride the streetcar. Toronto has amazing public transportation.
We went out for dim sum. The kids tried everything. Everything!

We went downtown. We hung out at the Toronto sign. We shopped.
We took the kids to the local park, which has a wonderful playground with a splash park, a skating rink, and a pool. And a farmer's market on Wednesdays!

We went to the Don Valley, which houses an old brick factory. It's a gorgeous, giant park right in the middle of a huge city.
One night our high school friend Jon and his lovely wife Christine invited us over for a cookout. They built their house to back up to their best friends' house. Between them they have two yards, a trampoline, and a heated pool.

Also! We had ice cream with maple sugar. Which is what I imagine pixie dust tastes like.
My kids never wanted to leave. According to my children, Oakville, suburb of Toronto, is the best place in Canada.
This is how you cross the street in Toronto. You push the crossing button and you point. All the way across. I am not kidding.
Taught me how to walk this way...
Sophie's neighborhood has everything. My friend Rob, who you may remember from my NYC Overnight walk, came down and joined us for a delicious dosa dinner.

One night we walked over to a local brewery. While we were there a new brewery opened up across the alley from Sophie and Sean. Our last night, we tried poutine.Yum!

Sophie and her family were the most extraordinary hosts. Toronto is an incredible city. We all loved it. I could spend so much more time there. And now I know how to drive there and back.

So maybe we will.