Monday, May 25, 2015

May 25

Last Monday morning, early, I boarded an airplane to Los Angeles. I began reading as soon as I got settled in my seat. The next thing I knew, we had landed, and my book was precariously wedged between my legs. It was a muggy, gray morning in LA, and I took some comfort in that, because I was going to be indoors the entirety of my visit. After spending an hour driving twelve miles, I arrived at Pink Lotus, the practice of an old friend, to do some research for my book. By the end of the day, when I began the drive back to the airport, the skies had cleared, and as I stood waiting for the shuttle between the rental car facility and the airport, I closed my eyes and lifted my face to the warmth of the setting sun. After spending the day with a surgeon-triathlete-mother of triplet six-year-old boys, I needed another nap on the way home.

Speaking of humidity, I felt a trace of it all weekend, here, with a promising touch of warmth. And last night, there was this sunset that came out of nowhere, after we had gone to the beach and come home under heavy gray skies. The boys went upstairs to brush their teeth, and as I took Nelly on one last, short walk, fiery light filtered through the trees and onto the street and illuminated the water beside the road.

And speaking of great things, Abbott played his violin at a friend’s bar mitzvah over the weekend, with that friend and several others. They chose the song Tradition, from Fiddler on the Roof, and had been rehearsing, garage-band style, for weeks before the boy’s mom found out their plans. I love those guys.

As I type this, I’ve got a crisp in the oven partially made with the first tender stalks of rhubarb from our yard. I can’t ever grow enough to keep up with our demand, but still. It’s something.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

a comforting repetitiveness

Abbott will text me any minute now with a question, or information he wants to pass on, as he does every day during his lunch period. I’ll respond, and then snap a picture of Nelly and send that on to him, too, as I do. I am especially thankful for the Internet when I get his texts. He acts with the same constancy whenever we’re together. Both boys do. They hover around me with a predictable physicality, lightly bump up against me to verify I’m here, pull away, and then return, again, like the tide.

While the boys are at school and I’m at home, relatively free of distractions, I write. Nelly settles in somewhere near my desk and guards the house, ears pricked. This time of year, I keep a window ajar a few inches, letting in the damp, salty air and the steady chirping sounds from the nest in the snag next to the window. The occasional motorboat and distant lawnmower interrupt the relative stillness; the soundtrack of late spring.

There is a comforting repetitiveness to our days. I get up and make coffee; feed Nelly her breakfast and let her out; respond to emails and read the news while I drink my coffee; begin writing. I make breakfast; wake and feed the boys; take them to school. I write until noon; make lunch; write for another hour; take a long walk; pick up the boys from school.

But yesterday morning, after dropping off the boys at their respective schools, I detoured on my way to my desk. I was outside sweeping the front porch when a neighbor’s elderly husky, Ready, walked by. Despite being mostly blind and deaf, Ready is a Houdini about getting out of the house when left to his own devices. I summoned him; his large, white, fluffy frame trotted over, tail wagging. I put him in our garage with some water and a towel to lie on, and then called someone in his family to let them know he was here. Nelly growled threateningly at the garage door until I forced her upstairs.

I worked at the dining room table, instead of my desk, so I could listen for Ready. Nelly stationed herself at the top of the stairs, a low growl rumbling in her throat. I texted Abbott a picture of her in her sentry pose as I got up to make myself something to eat. I’ve been subsisting on kale; I love its sweet, earthy flavor, and the salad I’ve been making pretty much defines my ideal lunch. Ready went home before it was time for our walk. Nelly seemed disappointed.

Evenings, after sports and activities and homework I let Nelly out one last time, and then read aloud to the boys. Then we all read on our own before going to sleep.

Last night, after taking Cal to lacrosse and helping with homework and reading aloud I got under the covers and started An American Childhood. Memoirs are my current favorite genre. The light was fading, but there was plenty to read by. As it became darker, it was quiet enough to hear the sound of a light breeze on the water through the open window. When Nelly began snoring, from her bed, I went downstairs and told the boys it was time to stop reading, and switched on a light. Alexi and I watched an episode of The Sopranos, and then pulled up the blankets, and fell into a deep sleep.

Blanched Kale Salad

1 pound kale or other greens, such as Swiss chard or collard greens, thick stems discarded, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
large pinch red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 to 3 ounces feta cheese, preferably French feta, crumbled (about 1/2 cup)
1/4 cup pitted kalamata or nicoise olives
optional: 1/2 cup grape or other small tomatoes, sliced in half
bread, or pita, for serving

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the greens, and cook until just tender, about two minutes. Rinse immediately under cold water. Drain well, pressing out the excess liquid.

In a large bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, red pepper flakes, and salt. Whisk in the oil. Add the kale, toss well, and then top with the feta and olives (and tomatoes, if you are using them). Serve with a slice of good bread or pita.

Yield: 2 servings

Wednesday, April 29, 2015


As I followed my boys around the heart-stopping, rail-free vistas at the Grand Canyon a few weeks ago, I kept thinking about the summer I spent in Taiwan twenty years ago. Something about being at the edge of a precipice reminded me of being a young college student in Asia. I could practically taste the cold, frothy bubble tea I drank with its chewy pearls of tapioca, hear the flurry of unintelligible language around me.

Sometime later in the week I remembered that feeling I’d had at the Canyon, and in the languidity of a desert afternoon I told stories about my time in Taipei, at the northern tip of Taiwan. The images have faded, but I felt that summer’s heavy humidity against my skin as I pulled the memories forward. Taipei is a modern, clean, bright, boisterous, highly cosmopolitan city with Chinese, Japanese and Western influences in its food, culture, and architecture. It was there I ate my first kimchi; I frequented tea houses and watched tai chi practiced early in the morning. I didn’t go anywhere without wandering past a temple; they were, literally, everywhere. I heard that Taipei has something like 15,000 of them. Buddhist, Taoist and Confucian temples share the same architectural features, and I couldn’t tell them apart by looking. Some had more action and noise than others, the area outside packed with vendors selling sticks of incense, food stalls, people everywhere. Worshipers came to make offerings of food and clothes and to light incense and pray. Early in the morning, priests recited scripture. I liked stepping inside to see the traditional Chinese paintings.

Weekends, my classmates and I toured the rest of the country, or visited the iconic night markets and tourist destinations in the city such as the National Palace Museum and the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall.

In the cafeteria of the hospital where we spent our days we ate staples such as braised beef noodle broths and pork dumplings. Out in the city, we ate high-quality, inexpensive food from around the world.

I spent most of my time in a labor and delivery ward.

I learned about yuezi, a postpartum tradition. The Chinese believe that the first month after childbirth affects a woman’s long-term health, so the recovery period is critical. There are criteria for confinement, rest, food, herbs, hygiene and the assistance of others during the first month of motherhood.

I shared a room in a nurses’ dormitory with my friend and classmate, Anne. She’s tall, and beautiful, with long, blond hair; pretty much everyone notices her, wherever she goes. Particularly so in Asia. She taught me how to swim laps for exercise in the mornings, as running didn’t seem to be an option, and did my nails every weekend, and kept me laughing with her constant stream of wise-cracks. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone more generous. She received a letter from her boyfriend almost every day, and at regular intervals he sent care packages filled with Jolly Ranchers and Sweet Tarts, to satisfy her craving for candy. American sweets were hard to come by.

Shortly after we returned home, she married him. Wise woman. Lucky man.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

it would take a while

images from the Grand Canyon; Scottsdale and environs; Taliesin

We got home from the Southwest this past Sunday afternoon. My sister and I and our families, and sometimes my brother and his family, converge from opposite coasts to spend our kids’ spring breaks together, and we’ve gotten good at it. We always manage to strike a balance between exploring the area we’ve traveled to and having stretches of time with nothing to do but read; this trip, as we sat in the shade of the bougainvillea and late into the night accompanied by the haunting notes of the mourning dove. I could go anywhere with this group, and hope I see a lot more of the world with them.

Although eventually I expect I’d start to feel like Phil Connors in his endless repetition of a snowstorm if I lived in a place where the sun always shines, it would take a while. Probably a long while. I love the desert.