Friday, July 23, 2010

And It Felt So Good... a "Peaches & Herb" kind of way.

I headed home to Michigan this month for my twentieth high school reunion. Yep, do that quick math: I graduated when I was 13.

Reunions are awash in various emotions: excitement, fear, nervousness, nostalgia, and a desire to make a good impression. Let's be honest: most people, including me, try to put on their game face for a reunion; July was not the month for "Doughnut Fest 2010."

The reunion was comprised of two events: Friday night was a family event at the local "A" level professional baseball diamond. My kids are too young to be reliably bribable trophy children, so they stayed home with my folks; I saw no need to take the whole "family" theme literally, especially when I had smiling, perfectly behaved facsimiles of my kids in my wallet. The second night was a formal event for classmates and spouses.

The reunion was surprisingly fun.
After twenty years, the nonsense falls away. Everyone was kind and happy to reminisce. I had interesting, enjoyable conversations with people I thought I didn't like, or who I thought didn't like me.

In thinking about high school, I usually remember the best of times and the worst of times, and I tend to forget that the "middle" was pretty good too. At the reunion I caught up with fantastic people that I had somehow been missing without realizing it. (Is that the beauty of Facebook? We keep in touch with our closest friends via phone, email, and visits, but Facebook helps us keep up with people just out of arms' reach.)

It was great to talk to the people who are actually in the stories I tell from high school, and to hear them color in my hazy memories. ("Do you remember that whopper we told?" "Of course; I was standing right next to you, and it was my brother we blamed it on!") These people know exactly what it was like to grow up in the eighties in a small town in Michigan, with Guns & Roses on the tape deck and an eleven o'clock curfew.

Not that it was all rosy; twenty years have gone by. Friends have divorced, and lost loved ones. Some friends were absent and some are painfully, cruelly, permanently gone.

Old rivalries bubbled up. but they seemed to have lost their venom. Doug joked with Marvin about a tenth grade sucker punch. Paul proposed a rematch of an epic 100 yard dash. A father of five once again brought up his rage at my kindergarten reading prowess.

"You!" he accused with a pointed (and hammered) finger. "Erin H., the 'great reader.' Always going up to second grade from kindergarten for reading class. But I was just as good a reader as you were!!!"

At least this time -- unlike at our last reunion -- my accuser was half joking. He also declared his sloppy approval for SJ, who shares his name. "I love this guy," he said, kissing SJ on the cheek and thus initiating the only documented reunion hook-up. I'm so proud that my husband could be a part of it.

High comfort levels and the open bar also left time to create new and embarrassing stories to be retold at our next reunion. As a friend said the day after, "It's not a reunion until the drunk girl gets her boobs out. And then vomits." And no, that was not me.

We were all in good form. After the group picture, I heard a familiar voice yell, "Here's the first guy who ever felt me up!"

I turned around to see two friends, Kimber and Brian. I joined their circle.

The woman, Kimber, was telling the story of their first fumble, long years ago. I laughed along, mentioning that my absent BFF Jane had warned me, "don't get drunk like I did at the tenth reunion and confess to Brian that you had a crush on him like I did!"

Maybe I shouldn't have brought it up, but Jane made her confession ten years ago, and I'm sure she wouldn't mind.

They all laughed and Brian said "Oh, yeah. I remember when you did that."

Tires screeched in my mind.

ME? That was Jane? I didn't say that!

Too late; it was already out there. Realizing that to deny my "crush" now might hurt his feelings, I joined Jane under the bus.

"Yep. We all had a crush on Brian."

"Too bad," I continued. "We could have had little redheaded babies. At this point I'm pretty sure this thing with Steve will last for at least another few years, and by then" -- I circled a hand over my abdominal area -- "all of this will be all dried up."

In retrospect, I think this was my first sign that the wine that I swore I "couldn't feel at all" that night may have had an effect on me.

Then again, Brian knew I was kidding. Really.


My second sign may have been that I got more than one "stare...pause...blink" responses from people as I said something I intended as a joke. Like referring repeatedly to SJ as my "Man Candy" and "Trophy Husband" to people that I barely knew. It seemed funny at the time...

The reunion provided redemption as well as embarrassment. I introduced to SJ to my sixth grade boyfriend, Brad. Brad and I "dated" over the summer but literally never met up or spoke one word to each other during the three months of our relationship. Nonetheless it was true love until the day that Brad had his best friend dump me the first week of seventh grade. My heart was broken and my pride was deeply bruised.

25 years later, it turns out that Brad has grown into an extremely nice man who lives in my hometown with his lovely wife. As Brad, SJ, and I joked about our romance, having what might be the longest conversation (five minutes) that Brad and I ever shared, Brad exclaimed, "and you don't even know!" It was true, I didn't know, so Brad went on.

"I rode my bike by your house every day for a month and a half that summer, and I even gave up a family vacation because I couldn't miss a day. I stayed with my aunt for a week so I wouldn't miss a day." He had also paid his friend fifty cents to let me down easily and had no idea that my heart had been broken with the phrase "Hey Erin - you're dumped!" yelled across the room in Mr. Winter's Geography class.

That story was now about two kids not much older than my own, but also vaguely about me.
My adult self was touched and the 12-year old somewhere deep inside me was comforted by that sweet revelation.

That's the wonderful and peculiar thing about a reunion. You're at once a self-assured, content, Spanx-wrapped grown-up and an awkward adolescent.

Both of us were happy to be home again.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Sunscreen Found

The Environmental Working Group recently released its 2010 Sunscreen Guide. Being of the Boo Radley persuasion myself -- extremely fair-skinned and prone to sunburn -- I paid close attention.

I now have two new additions to my "Things I Never Knew Were Carcinogenic" list. Apparently two popular sunscreen ingredients, vitamin A (retinyl palmitate) and oxybenzone, are considered by some people to be hazardous. They are FDA-approved, but since I'm not a fan of cancer I'd like to be on the safe side.

The EWG has a
database where you can look up various sunscreen brands and types. I entered mine and found that they were rated as a "7," which is in the "Avoid" category, so I resolved to find a better brand.

Turns out that this was easier said than done.

As my father, the chemist (really) and former farmer (also really), will tell you, they put those chemicals in your food and beauty products for a reason. Parabens, for example, make creams creamier. Sunscreens without parabens are often chalky and hard to rub in (looking at you, Burt's Bees!). Mineral-based sunscreens, the safest, may not disappear at all. Other chemicals help block UV and UB rays, and without them sunscreens can be less effective. Also, "natural" products can be incredibly expensive and oddly stinky.

With this in mind, I am thrilled to share with you the happy ending of my search: Beyond Coastal Active Sunscreen - SPF 30. It spreads well, blends in easily, and smells good. Most importantly, it works; when used in combination with face stick, none of my family has burned. For me, especially, that's saying something. With a "3" EWG rating, it's at the low end of the "Caution" category, and it's fragrance, oil, and paraben free. At $12/tube from Amazon.

Here are some other tips.

1. Don't make sunscreen your first line of defense. Whenever possible, use sunglasses, hats, swim shirts, etc.
2. Sprays are wonderfully convenient, but
do not provide the same level of protection. If you disagree, then you must not be pigmentally challenged.
3. Face sticks are great. They provide excellent protection and don't contain many of the red-flag chemicals so they are easy and cheap to obtain.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Speed "Angel"

Our vicar (priest) search committee went on a road trip last weekend to interview a potential candidate. The five of us piled into my minivan and headed south.

Around hour three, I was chatting with my co-pilot (my teammate Peter, not God; that particular bumper sticker never did much for me) and not paying too much attention to my speed. I was following the speed of traffic and figured I was safe as the last of three cars in the right hand lane.

Sadly, I was mistaken. Too late, I saw the state trooper in the median and quickly glanced down to read the incriminating number on my speedometer. He saw the same thing on his radar and pulled out to follow me and then pull me over.

I decided that the best course of action was a combination of truth, fact, and an emotional appeal. It turns out that (literally) nothing is sacred when it comes to getting out of a ticket.

One of Virginia's finest walked up and requested my license and registration.

"Certainly, officer," I replied, handing him my registration paper. "I'd also like to make sure you have all the necessary information to make your decision."

I put on my most honest face and prepared to go deep.

"We are a church committee on our way to interview a priest, so really, we are on our way to do God's work."

"Take a look," I said, waving my hand at my passengers.

The trooper peeked in. The nervous passengers sat up straight, with wide eyes and frozen smiles. One teammate stood stock still as he held up his Search binder with a prayer on the cover.

"That's it, Joe!" I said, "Show him the prayer book!"

The trooper appraised the group and the prayer book, then raised his eyebrow at me with a quizzical look. I sensed what could have been a glimpse of amusement underneath the gruff exterior, so I kept on.

"Here's my driver's license," I said, pulling out my wallet. "Also, here are photos of my kids. Here's my sweet little girl. Boy, I would hate to go home to her and have to explain that mommy is an outlaw."

"Right," the trooper replied. "And how would you afford their school uniforms?"

"Exactly!" I agreed, like he had just read
my mind. "I can't do that if I need to pay for a ticket."

I thought things were looking up, only to have my hopes quickly dashed.

"Unfortunately, we have a zero tolerance rule in effect in the state of Virginia," he said sternly. "Last week ten people were killed in Virginia due to driving like this."

"Also," he went on, "you should know that twenty over the speed limit qualifies as reckless driving."

"I wasn't doing eighty, was I???" I asked, clearly affronted and appalled.

"No," he said, but the guy in front of you was doing 76 and you were going faster than he was."


I decided that my only hope was to apologize and promise to mend my evil ways.

"I'm sorry about that, officer. I wasn't really paying attention to my speed and my consience was clear since I was dring the speed of traffic in the right-hand lane. I'm normally a very safe driver. I haven't had a ticket since 1995."

"You are doing the right thing by writing tickets," I continued, "and it's important work, but if you could give me a warning just this time, I promise I won't speed the rest of the way.

He sized me up, and I sensed that my fate could go either way.

"And did I mention that that 1995 ticket was the only one I've ever gotten?"

He had heard enough, and turned to walk back to his car. Before he walked away he paused and asked whether in my spare time I was a used car salesman. As he ran my plates I hoped desperately that he meant that as a complement.

When he returned he said he was letting me off with a warning, just because a pleaded a good case. He made me promise to slow down for the rest of the trip.

"Yes, sir," I vowed. "I absolutly will!"

"And remember," he said sternly, pointing skyward. "You're not just promising me." With that, and just a shadow of a smile, he walked away.

Thank God!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Fannie Mae and the Vicar

First, apologies for this post. The title "Fannie Mae and the Vicar" deserves better than this middling effort.

Second, apologies for my absence. Apparently, I'm slowly and cautiously returning from an unplanned three-month-long blog sabbatical. I'll ultimately take responsibility for my lapse, but I'd like to start off by blaming others.

My sabbatical started in March. It turns out that Fannie Mae, she's no lady. In fact, she's a multi-billion dollar company you may have read about in the news. It's not easy to go a less publicly popular company than AOL, but some credible data says that I did. People get really judgmental about about billion-dollar bailouts.

I'm enjoying this part-time job -- the people are great and the work is interesting -- but it's consuming a lot of my time and almost all of my creative energy. It's just like the song says, "Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to promote liquidity in the secondary mortgage market."

So first, I blame my blog dearth on Fannie.

Secondly, I'd like to blame God.

OK, that was just for dramatic effect (let's hold off on the lightning strike for now.) To be more precise, I am on a church committee to select our new priest, or "vicar."

[As a side note, one of the best parts of being Episcopalian is the terminology. Does your church have a "vicar?" How about "verger?" "Acolyte?" As a convert, I quickly learned to play it cool and ask, for example, "Where is the narthex," rather than "What the deuce IS a narthex" so I appear to be simply lost, rather than ignorant.]

But I digress. I'm happy to be part of what SJ calls the "That's the Spot, Vicar" Committee, but being a Vicar Picker has turned out to be a significant time commitment, requiring up to three meetings a week. Tomorrow I'll be driving seven hours with the committee to check out a candidate. (I'm hoping that the candidate will ride in my van so that I can finally use the phrase "vicar picker upper;" fingers crossed!) Luckily we are close to a decision, and my work there will soon be done.

Now I should step up and admit that part of the reason for my absence was my own fault; I was feeling uninspired. I felt bloggishly spent, and wasn't sure that I had anything interesting to say. I even tried to write a few posts and decided that they weren't worth publishing.

Recently, though, things have been looking up. I've collected several ideas that I'd like to discuss (Sarah Ferguson, my trip to France, my triathlon, and of course, Al and Tipper: RIP/WTF?!!). Also, I've remembered that my quality bar was never that high, so I might as well jump back in.

So I'm back. And especially to those who have been annoyingly increasingly on my back to write something -- you know who you are! -- thanks for noticing that I was gone and encouraging me to write again. You guys are why a blog beats the heck out of a diary. :)

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Surprise, Surprise

The other night SJ and I were dead tired as we got ready for bed. He brushed his teeth as I used the adjacent commode. As I flushed and prepared to exit, I reasoned that I was about to put on my nightgown, so why bother pulling up my blue jeans at this point? I sleepily waddled to the closet with my pants around my ankles, and didn't give it a second thought until I noticed SJ staring at me, open-mouthed.

He blinked hard, shook his head and slowly said "w-o-w." His expression was a melange of astonishment, disappointment, and tired resignation.

Obviously, we have been married a long time.

We know each other very well and are almost always very happy, but we're past the era of smoke and mirrors. We've seen each other at our best and our worst and are well beyond any hope of pretense. We have boundaries -- which I appear to have crossed with my ankle jeans -- but we are very comfortable together. Still we manage to surprise each other, for better and for worse.

SJ surprised me when he phoned me last night.

"Where are you?!!" he demanded.

"I'm almost home," I said.

"Where were you?" he asked, still confused.

"The outlets," I replied. "Like I told you."

"I didn't know you'd gone."

"What do you mean?" I asked, surprised. "I told you I was going, and that I would be back to put the kids to bed. I came upstairs to kiss you goodbye. I kissed Serena on her head and said 'Be a good girl for Daddy.' Then I kissed you on your head and said 'Be a good girl for Serena.' We all laughed about it and then I left.'

"Oh. I thought you were just leaving the room," he said.

REALLY? Leaving the room??? I have not kissed that man goodbye when I left a room since 1997.

Granted, SJ was exhausted last night, and he has had a hard week. Nevertheless I am continually gobsmacked by the communication problems that can persist between us -- two seemingly rational, articulate people.

I'll admit that some of our misunderstandings are my fault (not often, but I'm attempting to appear fair and balanced.) I occasionally forget to tell him about an appointment or event, or I may leave out an important detail or request.

Sometimes he will tell you it's a terminology problem on my part. It's my fault that the new songs aren't on my iPod, because I asked him to "load the CD onto the computer," not "input or rip the songs into iTunes." (I can make the hairs on the back of his neck stand up by asking him to "Google" something for me [it's a BRAND, Sweetie, not just a search engine!])

In the case of the outlet shopping trip, though, I'm pointing the finger straight at him. I told him where, when, and why I was leaving, and kissed him goodbye. With the possible exception of tatooing a map on his forehead or carrying a GPS tracking device, I think I did the best I could to explain my whereabouts.

Perhaps the misunderstandings are part of our secret sauce; the reason God made us residents of Mars and Venus. Maybe unpredictability keeps the mystery alive as familiarity tries to breed contempt. So what if our resulting arguments seem more Dumb and Dumber than Hepburn and Tracy?

He surprised me again this morning. He played Will Smith's "Just the Two of Us" for Bennett and proceeded to get a little misty during one of the world's schmaltziest hip hop songs. The unexpected combination of absurdity and sweetness was irresistible.

Ironically, that's the kind of man that's worth pulling up my pants. Maybe I'll even kiss him once in a while when I leave the room.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

BFG Meetup Tonight at BWW!

Come enjoy the beautiful weather with some buffalo wings!

Hope to see you there! The meet-up is from 5-7 at Buffalo Wild Wings, located at 21980 Colorado Drive, Dulles, VA 20166-2509. Phone: 703-444-3048.

Mention Bloggers for Good or the Loudoun Museum ALL DAY and BWW will donate a portion of sales.

Check out for more info.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Fixing Our Kenmore HE Front Load Washer

or, Part 327 in a continuing series, "Really Annoying [stuff] that Happens to Me When My Husband Is Out of Town."

Our washer has always been somewhat problematic. Like most front-loaders, it has a persistent musty odor that seeps into the clothes if you leave them in for more than a couple of hours. (If you don't ever leave clothes in for more than a couple of hours, you're reading the wrong blog.)

Unfortunately an errant Pull-Up left in my youngest child's laundry put my washer over the edge last week. When I opened the washer door, I was assailed by the smell of sewer water. Even after I ran the load again, the clothes were stinky and soppy. I tried to run a "Drain and Rinse" load, and generated an "F" warning with two minutes to go.

Something was horribly wrong.

I searched the internet and learned that my "F" warning at two minutes was actually an "F2" warning that my washer wasn't draining properly. Another search yielded brilliant directions on how to clean out the filter, which is apparently a common problem.

These directions were clear, concise, and incredibly effective. I'll include them in a separate post with my photos and rough but hopefully helpful video.

Huge thanks to BigChiefM1 (really) for helping me out. I've probably saved $200 on a repair man, and I've spared myself the mortification of anyone seeing my messy laundry room.


Monday, February 22, 2010

Eat and Meet - March 10

Bloggers for Good is sponsoring its next meetup and benefit Wednesday, March 10 at the new Buffalo Wild Wings in Ashburn near Wegmans.

Our event will benefit the Loudoun Museum, a great local resource that has suffered lately due to budget cuts and a mold issue. They will be reopening this spring in their repaired historic Leesburg location.

Buffalo Wild Wings will generously donate a percentage of all food sales to the Loudoun Museum all day March 10. Just mention Bloggers for Good or the Loudoun Museum.

If you haven't been to a BFG event before, you should come! They are a non-intimidating forum for meeting other bloggers. If you're a writer, a reader, or merely put up with those of us who are, it would be great to meet you in person. These bloggers are a friendly and interesting group!

Please spread the word and join us on March 10! See you there!

Friday, February 19, 2010

More Butter, More Better

I made good on my resolution to try some Julia Child recipes. My first endeavor: page 210 -- Filets de Poisson Bercy aux Champignons, or "Fish Filets Poached in White Wine with Mushrooms." I must say that Julia and I outdid ourselves.

Or was it just all that butter? Mmm...

I was very strategic about my fish dish for several reasons. First of all, I didn't know what the deuce I was doing, so I was treading lightly. Julia, though knowledgable and conscientious, mistakenly assumes that her readers have a clue. To my consternation she had left out a few key directions, such as what temperature to cook the fish. I read the fish chapter introduction and my recipe several times, then consulted guides from Wegmans and Google (one poaches fish in a 180 degree oven - thanks ComfyCook154!).

The friendly folks at Wegmans instructed me on the correct cheese, fish and wine to use. Some ingredients suffered from passing years and availability. As Julia warned me, it's hard to find true sole in the US, so we (Julia, the Wegmans fish lady, and I) agreed to use flounder. The Wegmans wine specialist made an excellent recommendation to use White Bordeaux Mouton Cadet, which was great in the sauce and with the meal.

Another reason for my careful strategery was the cost of the meal. The fish alone was $14. When you factor in the cost of wine, cheese, pounds of butter and other ingredients, the meal added up to a larger than usual culinary investment.

I warned SJ that I was going to be making kitchen miracles happen, so he fed the kids and stayed out of my way. By 7:00 the electric babysitter was entertaining the kids and we sat down to a delightful meal, if I do say so myself: well-cooked fish with a white sauce that butter, lemon, and wine flavors. Per Julia's instructions, the fish was paired simply with whole wheat couscous and the wine, so as not to distract from the main attraction. We skipped the planned salad course and finished with delicious Trader Joe's Lava Cakes topped with leftover whipped cream.

I'm daydreaming about the butter like a new lover (like on my honeymoon, Mom.) Like most health-conscious cooks, I try to avoid copious amounts of fats and sugar, but let's consider the facts. Butter tastes good. Really good. Butter scratches a primal itch like nothing else. A couple of bites of that sauce and I was channeling Tracey Morgan rather than Julia Child; I wanted to take it behind the middle school and get it pregnant.

And let's don't forget that Julia Child lived to be a buttery 91 years old. How could something so right possibly be wrong?

After this French food experience, I'm thinking like an ancient Greek: the key is moderation in all things. Part of Julia Child's cultural significance was to encourage Americans to embrace food, not fear it. Nutritionists today are coming back to this idea, and a lot of them blame the American obesity epidemic on the low-fat diet trend of the past thirty years. You're going to scratch your itch somewhere, they say. Better a little fat now and then than the processed crap we eat.

I'm no expert (I thought agave was a good idea only to find out yesterday that it's secretly poisoning my liver,) but I can say that having a rich French meal was a rare treat. After my first essay into Mastering the Art of French Cooking, I think I might start taking the road more buttered.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Manifest Destiny

Guy Ritchie gave a lovely -- if obvious -- compliment to his ex-wife, Madonna, in a recent issue of Esquire.
"She's a manifester, if there ever was one...First-rate manifester. Madonna makes things happen."
I like this idea of being a manifester. A manifester identifies a goal, states it, and then makes it happen. The process has to happen in this order; you won't reach your goal by accident.

I would like to be a manifester too. The problem is that I can occasionally be a bit flighty about my goals. I am easily caught up in the latest trend, which is usually introduced to me by Oprah. While this might make me an interesting blogger, dinner companion, or focus group member, it's not great for manifesting.

My husband describes this phenomenon with terms like "gnat-like," "ADD," and "look, something shiny!" I prefer to use the more clinical term of "Itinerant Enthusiasm Syndrome."

Despite SJ's occasionally insensitive terminology, he is actually quite adept in dealing with my IES. Much like dealing with a sleepwalker, a red wine spill, or an angry bear, there are best practices involved when dealing with an IES sufferer. Most importantly, one must never remind a itinerant enthusiast of her past interests; mentioning hot yoga, Dr. Oz's diet, or her partially-finished education degree (or her completely finished history degree, for that matter), will only provoke her.

I believe that through diet and medication I have my IES under control. That's why I am confident that my latest interest represents true love, rather than mere infatuation, and I am ready to start manifesting this goal: I am going to attend the Cordon Bleu school in Paris and pursue its Pâtisserie Diploma. While there, I will blog about my experience and ultimately publish my reflections in a popular and amusing memoir (thus both documenting the experience and enabling a tax write-off.)

Yes, there are obstacles in my way. The first is that I do not currently live in Paris, nor do I have any reasonable way of paying the pricy tuition for both my program and for the private international schools that my three children will require. We have nowhere to live in Paris, a mortgage to maintain in Virginia, and my husband has no Parisian job prospects.

Luckily I am only in step one of my manifestation process, so I will work on solving these problems at a later date.

As usual, SJ sagely agreed that this seems like a perfectly reasonable plan and that this was in no way linked to the fact that I just watched Julie and Julia and am somehow gripped by a blogging/French food/Julia Child frenzy. Or that I am influenced by cabin fever caused by two weeks of canceled school and forty inches of snow.

I love that man.

Pardon the mixed metaphor, but I know that if I manifest this, it will come. After all, nobody thought coupons and I would make it, and look at us now.

Paris, here I come.

Older, Wiser, Better

ie and Julia is an enjoyable, light-hearted movie with several things going for it. There are strong performances, compelling characters, and a talented writer/director - Nora Ephron who, despite some missteps along the way, has held my allegiance since I saw When Harry Met Sally in 1989. The secret sauce, though, is the life of Julia Child, luminously portrayed by Meryl Streep.

Before this movie (and the press surrounding it) I knew of Julia Child merely as a very tall, yodel-voiced, easily mockable PBS chef, whose recipes would clog your arteries simply by reading them. I didn't know about her fascinating life that started in Pasadena, California and took her all over the world as an OSS agent before marrying her devoted husband, Paul. I knew nothing about her passionate marriage, her influence on American cooking, or her role as a cultural icon.

I am struck by the way Julia found her professional calling by combining her interests, her talents, and her hard work without sacrificing her family life. With her husband's support -- and apparently a lot of nooners -- she was able to pursue both a happy home and a fulfilling career -- a career that transforming her passion for food into a vocation.

The hardest step is probably the first one: finding one's passion.

Julia Child didn't find her calling until she was lucky and wise enough to recognize it; she was a late bloomer. She arrived in France at age 37 following her marriage and foreign service. Searching for a pastime, she tried several hobbies before enrolling in a cooking class at Le Cordon Bleu academy in Paris. An ardent admirer of French cuisine and a natural teacher, she sought to bring French cooking to "servantless American cooks," and with two friends wrote her masterpiece, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Ten years in the making, it was published in 1961, and her American television show premiered the following year, when she was 49 years old.

A few fortunate people know what they want to be when they grow up at an early age. I am the roughly the same age that Julia was when she arrived in France, and I'm only just getting a vague sense of it. Being this age provides the perspective, financial comfort (it's hard to wax philosophical when you're working three jobs to pay the rent), and self awareness needed to steer (nudge?) our lives in the right direction. After this long I know what makes me tick and what I never get tired of. Over time, infatuations fall away (whither thou, worm composting?) and the list narrows itself: I love to teach, perform, (try to) be funny, communicate, eat, and solve problems.

With any luck I'll soon solidify my list and move on to step two, Implementation -- I'll figure out how to get my career more in synch with these passions. Shouldn't take more than another forty years or so...

Julia Child's inspiring life represents the alchemical potential of combining passion with profession. Her life points out that when we combine our wisdom, experience, talents, and hard work, we may be just getting started.
Despite what you read in magazines and see in most movies, opportunity doesn't end at age twenty-five anymore. It never really did.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Julia, Betsy, and Moi

I finally watched Julie and Julia this weekend. It was, literally, great food for thought; the Julia sections, which focus on Julia Child, were inspiring. Meryl Streep's depiction of her is completely endearing; I didn't know before that Julia was such a lover of food and of life, with an infectious enthusiasm and positive attitude. It was easy for me to identify with parts of her story; like Julia, I loved living in France and tried hard to soak up what was good about French life.

I am also now the same age as Julia when she arrived in France. It was a turning point in her life, when she turned her love for food into a calling. She had been an accomplished foreign service agent and a loving wife, but it only when she applied herself professionally to her passion that she found her greatest success and fulfillment. It is fitting that her awakening happened in a country where cake can symbolize a revolution and a cookie can inspire classic literature.

I am also a fan of French cuisine, although my dietary restrictions (no red meat), slight squeamishness (I will not be deboning any ducks), and sweet tooth have focused my interest on desserts, and to pastries in particular. There is nothing like French pastry. Other countries may try, others don't bother (looking at you, Hungary), but nothing beats la pâtisserie française.

Watching Julie and Julia, I was inspired to try one of Julia's pastry recipes. I grabbed my laptop and was searching for her classic Mastering the Art of French Cooking on Amazon when I remembered the stack of cookbooks we inherited from my late mother-in-law. I ran to the cupboard and returned with a worn 1967 edition just as Julia/Meryl Streep was excitedly unwrapping her first edition on screen. It brought tears to my eyes as I held the same book in my hands, and thought of the three women involved in this moment.

For Julia, the book was the culmination of years of hard work, as well as the embodiment of her love of France, her talent, and the support of her adoring husband.

I wondered about my mother-in-law, Betsy, whom I never met. I assume that Betsy bought the book (the $10 price tag from Dayton's is still affixed to the cover) in an effort to please herself and her young family. Just like me, she optimistically reached out for this cookbook to experience something new and wonderful. The book is only slightly worn, so I'm guessing that practicality usually won over culinary ambition -- raising four children doesn't leave much time for gourmet cooking -- though the only handwritten notes I've found so far are modifications for Lobster Thermidor in her neat, penciled script. Her lobster effort underscores what I already knew -- Betsy was not intimidated by a challenge.

For my part, I had arrived at this book thanks to both of these predecessors, inspired by one and enabled by the other. How striking to hold a double legacy in my hands - evidence of their hope, work, and determination.

It is profoundly sad to have to get to know someone by the clues they left behind, yet I count myself lucky to be held up and pushed forward by these two amazing women, even after they are gone.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Lightening Up

SJ just read my last post and said, "Jeez, Sweetie. A little cynical."

Conan, I guess I failed you. In order to lighten the mood, let me add a postscript. This one's courtesy of the girl who got out of bed yesterday to tell us that she loves carrots.

I just caught my daughter up way too late. I went in and caught an extra snuggle. She read me a book and we chatted for a couple of minutes. As I got up to leave, she said, "Oh, Mama, I forgot to tell you. I love you one hundred."

Thanks, I said. Why one hundred?

"Oh," she replied. "It's 'tell your parents how much you love them day.' I love you one hundred. You tell Daddy I love him one hundred too."

Life is good. Sweet dreams. :)

Monday, January 25, 2010

Pants on Fire

Charles Phillips is handsome, successful, and a good singer - not great on harmony, but his voice is well trained and pleasant. I know this because I just listened to a recording of him singing karaoke with his mistress on her revenge website. Apparently Charles decided to reconcile with his wife, and the mistress is pissed. The kind of pissed that makes you spend $250,000 on some really awesome billboards.

The billboards show Charles and YaVaughnie in happier times. At the top is the heading, "You are my soulmate forever - cep." I'm sure that YaVaughnie created those billboards for many reasons - she felt hurt, abandoned, angry, jealous. She was also protesting the lies -- the lies that Charles told her, his wife, and the world -- and she wanted to tell her side of the story. On some level she was standing up for the truth.

The truth needs all the help it can get. Granted, the "truth" needs context to tell a complete story. I have no idea if YaVaughnie is the hero or the villain in this scenario. Also, the truth isn't always the best choice; sometimes there are good reasons to lie -- Lord knows I do from time to time, despite best efforts to the contrary. Still, I get weary from trudging through the steady stream of bullshit that I see in the news, at work, and even in my plain old life.

I'm extra fired up about this after having dinner with a dear friend who was dating someone living abroad. In October he asked her on an exotic vacation. In December he said they'd have to postpone the vacation since he was probably returning home in early 2010 - yeah! She asked him last week if he wanted to see a show later this month, and he fessed up that he'd decided on his own to extend his tour until September. No vacation, no reunion. Just a schmuck.

Unfortunately, this behavior -- call it a lack of integrity, misrepresentation, or just liar, liar, pants on fire -- feels like the rule, rather than the exception.

I've already spent enough time on the subject of John Edwards, but his story brings dishonesty to dizzying new heights. Apparently (read this fascinating article in New York Magazine,) John Edwards' image was so well-spun that he began to believe it himself, and his staffers put their professional and personal lives at risk in order to conceal his philandering. Elizabeth Edwards' public persona was also fiction. Even accounting for the horrific tragedies she has lived through, she sounds like a mean-spirited, imperious piece of work.

As with all political families, image and spin were part of their job. Elizabeth Edwards admits that she knew about her husband's affair even while she was campaigning for him, and John has recently admitted paternity of his lover's child, bringing his known total of daughters with crippling daddy issues to three.

Admittedly, I'm setting aside other questions of morality to make a point, but as I watched an interview with one of Tiger Woods' mistresses, I was surprised to feel sorry for her. A single mom, she admitted to making a mistake, and said although she had ended the affair years ago Tiger had continued to pursue her with sob stories about how trapped he felt in his marriage. She had no idea she was one of a baker's dozen of women consoling the golf legend. Now she's got a seven-year old son who has to answer for her mistakes.

Businesses lie all the time. Sometimes it's part of the job. They might lie to save their employees undue stress, or to keep trade secrets or to protect confidentiality. Sometimes they need to change their minds or break contracts for the greater good - just ask Conan and Jay. Sometimes they lie for what seems to be no good reason.

Conan O'Brien signed off the Tonight Show last Friday, and couldn't have been classier. He was hurt and angry that NBC had reneged on their promise to keep his show on the air. He took some potshots, but at the end of the show he thanked NBC for all they had done for him over the past twenty years. His last words were an earnest request - that despite all the pain and betrayal that he had felt over the past few months, he asked that people not use his experience as a reason to be cynical.

All I ask of you is one thing: please don't be cynical. I hate cynicism -- it's my least favorite quality and it doesn't lead anywhere.

Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you're kind, amazing things will happen.

So I'll follow Conan's lead. Now that I've vented my irritation, I'll let it go. And wait for amazing things to happen (after all, he promised.)

And I'll keep that billboard idea in my back pocket. You never know when you'll need to speak the truth, and maybe even post it on the side of a building.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Fixing a Kenmore HE Elite Front Load Washer

Tips* on Fixing a Kenmore HE Elite Front Load Washer
Original text from BigChiefM1 on Epinions

Foul Odor
F2 Error
Washer Not Draining

9/32 socket or T-20 torx head bit.
Bunch of rags you don't want when you're all finished.


Lay on the floor in front of the washer and look under the lower panel. You will see three silver colored torx head screws, one on the left, right and center. Loosen these up with your socket or torx head wrench.

[Erin's note: apparently this is a torx wrench, and apparently we had one - who knew?]

Remove the lower front cover and set it aside.
See all the wires? Did you make sure to UN-PLUG the washer?
Now look at the center of the bottom of the washer. You will notice a white cylindrical contraption.

This is a drain trap where all of the junk from your washer gets hung up so it won't clog up the water pump that discharges the water from your washer. On the front of this drain trap is an access cap. BEFORE you open this place the rags under the trap, along the sides and under the washer. Trust me, you'll thank me later. Now open the drain trap access cap by turning it counter clockwise. Be prepared for some smelly water to come out, probably 1-2 cups worth.

Once the water is drained, pull the trap completely out. [Erin's note: this is when I picked up the video camera, since photos didn't do it justice. Check out the rough video.] You'll find the reason your washer stinks in the trap. We had a blob of black goo and a security label from an article of clothing we bought. That was the culprit. The drain trap was "trapping" all of this junk and getting real funky.

Now clean the drain trap out with hot soapy water and a little bleach. Clean out the cylinder where the drain was. Wipe it out with a rag soaked in bleach and soap. Once everything is clean, replace the drain trap and tighten it down. Do not over tighten this or the seal may leak.

Replace the front cover and the three torx head screws.
Plug the washer back in.
Run the washer through the SANITARY CYCLE with bleach.
Your problem is solved

* This post is not guaranteed to help. These steps helped me, so I wanted to share the 411.