A Bestie Came to Town

besties

Please excuse the quality of the photo. It was taken at night, in the garage (after a glass, or 3 ,of wine), as we listened to The Boss on E Street radio on XM Sirius radio sing “Glory Days.” It takes us back. By at least 35 years. Officially, we met the first day of freshman orientation at Ursuline High School. She was dressed like a female version of Jeff Spicoli, complete with a hip top, cool shorts, and most importantly – checkered Vans. She was the very epitome of cool. I was dressed like a 14 year old D-O-R-K. My family had traveled to Europe the previous Summer, and my mom had bought me a hot pink pin striped dress with a Peter Pan color. Coupled with some nude open toed ‘heels,’ this 5’9″ schlumpy freshmen wasn’t fitting in anywhere but maybe a Junior League meeting. She said ‘hi,’ and we’ve never looked back.

To say that I feel that the gods smiled on me, hard, when we met, is an understatement. We’ve been through it all. Bad hair, bad days, births, deaths, divorces… great sorrows and greater loves. We’ve watched our children be born, grow up, and leave the nest. We most recently embarked on grad school together (separate programs, but similar timing) and I’ve watched her grow in a way I didn’t know she was capable, and I’m sure she feels the same. We’ve been each others mirrors, and greatest cheerleaders. To say she is the wind beneath my wings, would be inadequate. She has been the tornado beneath my wings, keeping me buoyed when I did not think I could remain afloat. She is fun and faith, light and love, and I adore her.

And she came to visit this weekend! We did nothing but watch the first two seasons of  BBC’s ‘Catastrophe’ on Amazon, sip chardonnay, and cook. We over analyzed our children, our parents, and ourselves. And although it’s never enough time,  when she did leave, all was right with my world again and I could go on until our next rendezvous. I may not have been blessed with the best mate, but I have been beyond blessed in the friend department. It’s as close to ‘cradle to grave’ as I can get, I am so grateful.

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From the Food Rejection Files

fajitas

My youngest houligan is 16. And he is a jackass, a DELIGHT (!) when it comes to cooking for him. The meal dictatorship I was running when my older three were at home is now clearly defunct. They all knew early on that no matter how much I loved to cook, I would only be making one meal for dinner. ONE MEAL. No options for a picky eater. If they chose not to eat what I was cooking, their other choice was cereal. And since all of them were so…so….compliant, this was rarely an issue. The only time a food battle attempted to rear its ugly head were two separate forays into veganism by both daughters, who assumed I was going to start prepping separate meals for them. Nope.

This brings me to the Final Fourth. He can be a tyrant. I mean I love him, but he’s like an only child, and since I have no one to wait on but him, AND I love to cook, we have gone down a dark, dark rabbit hole. This rabbit hole is one where I repeatedly ask him, “what would you like for dinner?” to which he replies “whatever,” and then THE GAME IS ON. Like Donkey Kong. I start suggesting things, and he starts swatting them down. His favorite phrase is…”you know, I’ve really lost my taste for that.” ‘That’ in question has included anything from shrimp, to bacon, to pepperoni on his homemade pizza. One of our more epic throw downs (and not a fun one like with Bobby Flay) occurred when he told me his breakfast sandwich would taste sooooo much better if it had a piece of bacon on it. Really? Because four years ago, you told me you’d lost your taste for bacon. TOTAL B.S. I really went ’round the bend that morning. He found his own ride to school…

But truly, It’s gotten to be ridiculous. We hit ground zero last week when I prepared  marinated skirt steak fajitas with roasted onions and bell peppers served with not ONE, but TWO homemade salsas and he told me that didn’t “sound very good.” He then, on his own dime, ordered Panda Express. PANDA. EXPRESS. If I told you I didn’t take this as a personal affront, I’d be lying. I understand, cooking is my hobby. I love to meal plan, especially when I go to school three nights a week. It makes me happy that I am leaving him something yummy to eat after a long day at school. But honestly, I feel like I’m force feeding someone against their will. Growing up, I would have given my eye teeth to come home to a dinner like that. Again, my mother was the anti-Julia Child. Three nights out of seven we could count on chicken she had roasted at 400 degrees for an hour, some over-cooked broccoli, and dry rice. If we were lucky, there was a small pat of butter on that rice. I ate that first.

Anywhoosy, I totally realize this is about me. I have been a strong proponent of kids eating to their appetite. I didn’t force feed them, make them clean their plate, or follow them around with a yogurt stick trying to shove it down their throats. I knew that they would eventually eat what was put in front of them and they wouldn’t perish for lack of food. The kids just ate what we ate (I knew I was being semi-successful when my oldest child asked what time we were having champagne and hors d’ouerves? She was 4). He, on the other hand is just a different kid, at a different place in our lives. He is also a magnificent little chef, so he’s not afraid to whip something up himself. The way I’ve gotten around his food issues lately is doing a lot of meal prep on Sundays and then he is free to cook what he likes, for me, on the nights I go to school. Just trying not to take this whole thing personally. Which, on occasion, I LOVE to do.

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On Saturday, We Marched

12,689 steps of marching to be exact. But who’s counting?

On Saturday, I marched with 2 of the houligans and some of their friends in the the Los Angeles Women’s March. We marched to support every Human Rights issue known to (wo)man. Nothing in my mind was excluded:

  • Civil Rights
  • Reproductive Rights
  • Immigration Rights
  • LGBTQ Rights
  • Health Care Rights
  • Gender Equality
  • Racial Equality

Just to name a few. The list could go on and on. My favorite slogan/sign of the day that encompassed everything I was feeling was this:

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Because equality doesn’t hurt anyone. It doesn’t. The people I know personally who have remained untouched by any of the aforementioned issues are far and few between. Many of my closest friends and family belong to these so called ‘special interest’ groups. I’ve been touched by many of these issues, like being paid less than my male counterparts for equal work, to my nearest and dearest who belong to the LGBT community. Dear friends have been subjected to civil rights violations the likes of which turn my stomach. And there were YEARS that our family was uninsured because we couldn’t afford basic healthcare ( Side note: If I had any idea how expensive it was to have a baby without adequate health insurance, I would have had some deep second thoughts prior to having that 3rd Sea Breeze cocktail all those years ago, and that was for an uncomplicated vaginal birth with no drugs!). I’ve heard nightmare stories about families being bankrupted by medical expenses.  Affordable healthcare should be a basic right that has been excluded for many. This is just one small issue that’s touched my family. It’s just not right.

I’ve spent a lot of time examining the so called ‘bubble’ I was living in prior to the election. I get it. I understand that I see what I want to see. To be candid, the last 8 years of Obama’s administration have been no cakewalk for my family. We suffered under the economic conditions during that time period. I was laid off, repeatedly. I was on Unemployment. I was uninsured or underinsured. However, I would happily do it all over again in order to make the social advancements the Obama administration promoted. The idea of going backwards is more than I can bear.

So I marched. I was heartened to see the Los Angeles turn out, and then was completely blown away by the world wide support. I’ve looked at the pictures of all those peaceful protesters over and over again, and each time it gives me hope for the future. But as happy as I was to show up and demonstrate, I’ve struggled with ‘what now’? Anyone else struggling to move forward in a positive way might want to check out the Women’s March website outlining 10 Actions in 100 Days. They do a great job outlining simple grass roots level things one can do to continue to ensure our voices are heard. The first suggested action was to send a postcard to your state senator. I downloaded the link on the website for the ink cards app and was able to send a postcard (complete with a personal photo I uploaded) directly to my State Senator, Kamala Harris. The postcard provides space to list 3 things most important to you. Again, a small step, but it is something. So go forth and do something, if not for yourself, in the name of someone you care about.

And I GIGANTIC THANK YOU TO THE L.A. POLICE DEPARTMENT, SHERIFFS DEPARTMENT AND FIRE DEPARTMENT, who helped provide an environment to engage in this type of activity, while keeping everyone safe. You all did an amazing job and seemed upbeat while doing it! Thank you!

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After the march we needed to debrief and process what we’d just experienced, so we walked to Mohawk Bend in Echo Park, and the had the most lovely drinks and food, cozied up to the outside fire. As we talked about what we’d done, my youngest houligan, who took the election very, very hard, commented that he was happy to see how many people cared about the things he cared about and it gave him hope. This is what I’d hoped would happen and certainly made me glad that we’d made the trip to participate in such an important movement. I LOVE L.A.!

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Comfort Food: Pasta 101

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Who is need of comfort food right now??? I am. That’s who! I’m in a fight with myself. I’m trying to drop lbs., and working my butt off (hopefully, literally) doing pilates and walking. However, the winter weather and current state of political affairs has me intermittently crying and craving carbs. I’m losing it, I know.

After sobbing through the Ellen Degeneres Show yesterday ( I have a flare for the melodramatic), and her retrospective of the Obamas, I really lost the plot. It was particularly jarring as my son kept clicking between the inaugural ‘concert,’ and images of Obama over the last 8 years just being the coolest guy in the world. It was too much to take, I tell ya!

What to do? What to do? Make Marcella Hazan’s iconic tomato sauce, that’s what! If you have not heard of this, MAKE IT IMMEDIATELY. This sauce is one of those staples that I turn to over and over again. It would also make a perfect 1st recipe to teach your child. It only has 3 ingredients, of which I can almost guarantee you will have on hand at most times: Canned tomatoes, an onion, and butter. You read that right, that’s it!

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After discovering this sauce, I made it exactly as written. But then, as usual, I thought I knew better and tried to mess with it by adding garlic, basil, red pepper and the like. Not only did it NOT improve the sauce, it detracted from it. By just following the simple recipe you are left with a silky, tomato-y (?) sauce that is rivaled by no other. I no longer buy pasta sauce as this is better, not to mention cheaper, that anything else on the market. I can not oversell this recipe enough!

The only thing I did to the recipe after I made it was give it a quick whirl in the blender with some of the pasta water from the noodles. Most times I skip this step, but for some reason I wanted a smoother sauce than this usually creates. Usually, I leave it chunkier, just breaking up the tomatoes with the back of my wooden spoon as it cooks. After that, it was a quick sprinkling of parmesan and Italian parsley, served with a bright winter green salad and that was dinner. This simple dish provided just the level of comfort I was looking for. With so much uncertainty facing our country over the next 4 years, it was lovely to fall back on this tried and true stand-by. Comfort food, indeed.

I’m looking to fortify myself, for tomorrow we march in the Women’s March, Los Angeles. If you’d like to join, just click the link and you can register. See you in DTLA!

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When Sometimes You are Left Out of the Family You Created(Sad Emoji)

As I’ve stated before, due to special circumstances (read: substances) associated with my divorce, I was granted full custody of my 4 children when my marriage crashed and burned dissolved many years ago. Due to the nature of why I was able to gain full custody, I was able to pack up, move far away, and start over. More than a few years have transpired since that time, thank God, and the houligans continue to thrive. Their dad is intermittently involved in their lives, with periodic visits. Most visits occur with his new-ish wife in tow, and he seemingly makes a point never to be alone with them as a unit. It is unclear whether he’s afraid of the questions they’ll pose regarding how he chooses to live his life, and whom he chooses to surround himself with, but it has been pretty much a policy that he’s never alone with them. Clearly I think this is weird, or I wouldn’t be writing about it, LOL.

At any rate, this last weekend, he made one of his Kamikaze trips to L.A. bringing down their gifts they’d left up there when they fled Nor Cal after Christmas. Naturally, as it was a 3 day weekend, he chose to drive down on Sunday and return Monday. I mean, why spend as many nights as you can when you come see your kids, rather than the bare minimum? But I’m going to the dark place, so I will stop.

I will stop because this post is really about me and how I handle a situation that I’m not usually faced with: Sharing my kids with the other parent. Since their dad is, and has been, largely absent, we didn’t share a traditional custody arrangement. I have rarely had to factor in custodial visits where I turned over my kids for any period of time. There were no Tuesday night dinners, every other weekends, alternating holidays, or a month long visits during Summer. If that’s even how that works??? For many reasons, distance not withstanding, their father chose to secede from our children after the divorce, making any allusion of the idea you divorce the spouse, not the children a moot point. Emma Johnson, in her wonderful blog, Wealthy Single Mommy does a beautiful job explaining the phenomena of the absent father in this blog post.

So this last weekend they all went to dinner with him and had a nice time. I think they’ve long passed wanting any real answers about his life and situation. They are just happy to have some uninterrupted time alone with him. All of which is great, except I had some real touch and go moments that night of being pissed off all over again. At times I really feel like the Little Red Hen, which ironically was one of my favorite books as a child. I feel like I put in all the hard work (gladly), and raised some remarkable people  in the process. He just gets to blow into town, after some really bad behavior at the holidays, and all is swept under the carpet. Those people (lol) hold my feet to the fire over everything, and there is simply no accountability when it comes to him. However, the difference is I want a deep relationship with my adult children based on transparency and shared viewpoints, not shallow interactions where nothing real is discussed.

But as I went to my bad place on Sunday night while they were being wined and dined by the master of insanity, it was a giant reminder that I need to continue to stay in my lane. As long as I have integrity with my relationships with them, I must completely ignore how he manages his relationships with them. It simply is none of my business. Obviously, if they come to me with a concern I will address it and help them. But largely, I am reminded that I stand outside that unit of 5 and they get to interact with him as they see fit. He is theirs to navigate. Not mine.

 

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One Kid at a Time

 

laurens-harrods-cup

Harrods Cup: I’m obsessed

Sitting here, reflecting on my weekend over a cup of coffee in the Harrods cup my daughter brought back from her holiday sojourn to the continent. I’m not a huge collector, but the girls have gotten into a cute habit of bringing me one home after their travels. I’m obsessed with those cups. And her.

It is a rare thing when I get to have her mostly to myself. With 4 houligans children, 3 of them ‘grown’, the opportunity to spend quality time with them one-on-one gets a bit hard to arrange. Usually, if I’m with one, I’m with all four, and chaos can ensue, jeopardizing a harmonious visit. I’d like to say it’s all kitty cats and rainbows when we are all together, but with a lot of strong personalities, tensions can flare. Which I find ironic, at times, as they all live within 3 miles of each other, and voluntarily choose to spend lots and lots of time together. Having said that, they can reserve some really bad behavior when I’m the audience. This last Thanksgiving, I was privileged to hear 2 of them tell each other to ‘eff off,’ right in front of a new house guest, and just minutes before we were to sit down to a meal based upon giving thanks. Music to a mother’s ears!

Since I’ve been hyper aware of these dynamics, I’ve really tried to cull time together with each one. Nothing makes me happier than having them all with me, but I’ve learned this is not always best for them, or me. Having alone time with each kid gives me time to concentrate solely on them, hearing about their lives, and not what bugged the shizz out of them regarding the most recent incident with their sibling. Especially since I have a VERY strict ‘No Tattling Policy’ still in place after nearly 28 years of parenting. Ha.

Anyways, this lovely girl, closing in on her late 20s, recently spent the holidays in Europe, and I suffered through my first Christmas with out her. Prior to leaving, she promised to come spend a weekend with me upon her return. It was lovely. I got to cook for her, and just be with her. I often like to joke, that despite spending tons of time with them when they were younger, I would never have left them with a babysitter AT ALL, had I known I would miss them so much after they left home. Lol.

As my friends kids, and my kids are aging into this adult children bracket, we’ve all been discovering that it can be dicey deciding how you are going to move from being the parent in charge, to the parent that can finally be the friend. It truly is the converse of how I raised them with the philosophy of ‘I’m not your friend, I’m your parent,’ to something more akin to, ‘Friend first, parent second.’ It’s just odd. A lot of times, this includes me biting my tongue in freaking half in order to honor the adult they’ve become. I realize that to have issue with how they are living their lives, is to have issue with how I raised them. And to be honest, I raised really good kids with good heads on their shoulders. To treat them as anything less than capable at this stage, is to question how I parented them when it truly mattered. On a few occasions, I have waded into the muck of offering an opinion, only to be reminded they were not asking for my permission, but were merely telling me what they had planned. Point taken.

So, these are the days I dreamt about during those hard years of parenting, particularly the single parenting years. I revel in the just being together. I keep discovering it’s the simple things I enjoy doing with her: Going to a Pilates class, taking a walk, or just watching a movie or tv show (Check out Netflix’s Lovesick!). Chatting about her life and what her next goals are is as exciting as it can get for me. I also enjoy stuffing her like a veal before she goes home!

Also, as I’ve discovered, it continues to be my job to figure out what my adult life beyond raising kids is going to look like. I can not send them the message that I am laying in wait for them to come home and entertain me. I think this concept of living one’s own full life once the kids are gone can be particularly important when one is divorced. It is not, nor will not, be their job to create a life for me through their own lives. Any nervousness about what a post empty nest life will look like, is replaced by the excitement of what life after day to day parenting will entail. But, in the meantime, I still have a few years left to exercise my parenting skills!

 

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Vinegar Chicken Thighs

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Chicken Thighs with Spinach, Shallots, White and Blue New Potatoes and Oranges

It’s been ‘chilly’ and ‘rainy’ down here in our usually sunny So Cal. Again, I won’t share the temps or rainfall totals* for fear of retaliation from my more weather challenged friends, but dang it, I’ve been cold. Cold and hangry. Most days the weather in Southern California does not warrant the hearty meals I used to make when I lived in Nor Cal. Being house bound during the stormy winter months I lived for making yummy one pot meals: Stews, chilis, roasts, and soups. Having one of those simmering on the stove, or roasting in the oven, was bliss to me. However, since moving 562 miles to the southern part of the state, the way I cook has undergone a certain transformation over the last 10+ years. I’ve definitely had to lighten up, making fare that suited a warmer climate. When I used to love having something cooking on the stove all day, down here I will still start my cooking early, but it’s mostly to avoid the temps as they rise throughout the day.

Well, today I got my wish. It was rainy and cool (ok, I will go with cool, and not cold!) and I got to make a gently adapted version of one of my favorites, Hugh Acheson’s Cane Vinegar Chicken Thighs. Years ago, apparently 2011 to be exact (how’d that happen?), he made this on The Today Show , and I was sold. Even though the recipe calls for a specialty vinegar called Cane Vinegar, which I originally had used, it can be hard to find,  and you can substitute other vinegars. Usually, I will sub cider vinegar, if I don’t have cane on hand. It is worth it to make the extra effort to seek out the cane vinegar. It adds a subtlety of flavor that is delicious. I usually serve this dish over Israeli couscous, but since I’m still trying to make a concerted effort to ‘shop my pantry,’ I roasted the white and blue new potatoes I  already had on hand. It wouldn’t be my first choice again. You need something to soak up the delicious sauce this dish creates. I would definitely opt for couscous, mashed potatoes, or, playing off the southern roots of this dish, biscuits. As you can see from the photo, there is lots of juice that shouldn’t go to waste!

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Chicken Thighs with All the Juices!

This dish also calls for fresh spinach, pearl onions, and orange segments that help brighten the meal. Since my local grocery store does not carry frozen pearl onions and the peeling of fresh pearl onions are the bane of my existence, I opted for the shallots I had on hand. The shallots were equally flavorful. I just added them to the chicken as the thighs were browning so they could caramelize a bit. Best part about this whole dish? It can be made in just about 30 minutes. Winner, winner, chicken dinner!

Side Note: While I am eternally grateful to live in the land of eternal sunshine, I do miss the seasons up North. More specifically, cooking based on those seasons. However, anytime I get too melancholy for it, I just remember the last year I spent in Northern California. I had recently been dumped by my husband, and I cried every day. It also happened to be one of the wettest winters on record. It rained every day for the entire month of February, and 3 days into March. I’d had it. We moved to the OC and never looked back. But every once in awhile, it is nice to make a more substantial dish and pretend there is a fire roaring in the fireplace, and the rain is coming down sideways.

What are your go to winter one pot dishes that make you feel cozy?

*rainfall .14, temp, 52. LOL.

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