vendredi, septembre 12, 2014


The real world can be hard. Dazzling and disturbed. Flashy and reckless. Messy and jaded.

 Life can be complicated, but words don’t have to be.

 The world may flash in color, but at night I dream in ink. - Sierra Vandervort -


Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young. ~Henry Ford

mardi, août 05, 2014

mercredi, juillet 30, 2014

lundi, juillet 28, 2014


"If I were to choose between the power of writing a poem and the ecstasy of a poem unwritten, I would choose the ecstasy. It is better poetry. But you and all my neighbors agree that I always choose badly." Khalil Gibran, Sand and Foam

dimanche, juin 22, 2014


Choice, not chance, determines your destiny. - Aristotle


“Fiction gives us empathy: it puts us inside the minds of other people, gives us the gifts of seeing the world through their eyes. Fiction is a lie that tells us true things, over and over.” — Neil Gaiman- Fahrenheit 451 Introduction

vendredi, mars 14, 2014

love, the second time around

A gorgeous piece from the New York Times' Modern Love essay series.

Modern Love: A Second Embrace, With Hearts and Eyes Open
 I looked across the restaurant table at my date, an attractive brown-eyed man with two young children and a broken marriage, as he recounted his romantic history.

“I used to think the relationship part of my life was settled and I never had to worry about it,” he told me. “Now I think, if you love someone, you have to take it one day at a time. And you have to work at it one day at a time.” There was a hopeful gleam in his eye.

I smiled and thought, “I could be in a relationship with a man like this.” In fact, I knew I could. Reader, I had married him. On this night, long after we had thrown in the towel on us, here we were again, crawling back into the ring. This time, though, it would be different. We just never imagined how different it would become, or how quickly.

Our unraveling had not been a swift, decisive catastrophe but a smaller series of no less destructive forces. We came apart the way many couples do: via the gradual realization that we were unhappy, and the inescapable conclusion that our relationship was not a refuge from our unhappiness but a cause of it. We were two nice people who had been deeply in love but who found themselves, nearly 20 years later, in love no more.

Neither of us wanted to spend the next 40 years going on as we had, seemingly safe within an institution but deprived of its most essential nutrient. If we had not had children, it would have been simple. We no doubt would have disappeared amicably but entirely from each other’s lives. But we did have children.

As my friend Linda, whose husband left her while she was pregnant, once told me: “No matter what, it’s a lifetime relationship. I’ll be at my son’s wedding and my ex will be there.”

Likewise for us, there was never any question that the good will we had once shared, combined with our love for our daughters, was stronger than any current disappointment we could harbor toward each other. We sat together at school plays and parent-teacher conferences. We shared holidays and birthdays. We even took another apartment in the same building, to make the situation easier for the children. After a while, the wounds of the breakup healed, and a new friendship was formed, a bonding unique to the front lines of parenthood.

The end of a long marriage, especially a marriage with children, will shake your world to its foundation. If you’re lucky, you’ll eventually come out of it a little braver and wiser. It wasn’t long after the split that I realized I liked the new person inside of me that this heartbreak was forging.

What I hadn’t expected was that I’d like the person he was becoming, too. Then one day he said something funny and I laughed, and then he looked at me with a directness I had never seen before and said, “In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m flirting with you.”

I’ve always been a sucker for a man with a smooth line. So I flirted back. And when he asked me to dinner, I said yes.

A short time later I strolled through a museum with my friend Lily, a woman who had recently reconciled with her husband after a yearlong separation. “How did you know?” I asked her. “How did you believe again, after everything you’d been through?”

“He said what I needed to hear,” she said, “even though I didn’t know what I needed to hear until he said it. You’ll see.”

Soon after that I went on a date with the father of my children, and over a plate of plantains, I did see.

Our reunion, low key and unmarked by flying rice though it was, prompted a variety of responses among our friends and family. There were enthusiastic cheers from the romantics, and there was skepticism and concern from others, who remembered all the miserable details of our unraveling. But falling in love again after a breakup is no simple matter of retreat. We are not the people we were when we met two decades before, and we had no desire to relive a marriage that had, to the best of both our recent memories, failed unequivocally.

Yet if we had taken the leap of faith it takes to end a long-term relationship, surely, we figured, we could muster the even greater trust it would take to open our hearts again. Besides, it was nice being with a man whose emotional baggage from his crazy ex I could really understand. And my children were happy about Mom’s new man.

What ensued that summer we began again was a blissful period of lazy days and tender nights. Then it took a severe swerve. On Aug. 10, I had updated my Facebook status to read, “Best summer ever.” On Aug. 11, I learned I had malignant melanoma.

As I lay in a hospital a few nights later, doped to the gills, bleeding from three surgical sites and hoping I was clear of cancer, he and I held hands and watched “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” on TV.

“I’m sorry about all this,” I said groggily, “because now you have to stick with me. Otherwise all our friends will think you’re Newt Gingrich.”

“I see you had this planned all along,” he said. “Well played.” But later, when I told him I knew this wasn’t the reunion he’d had in mind, he just chuckled and said, “You’re not getting rid of me that easily this time.”

As I recovered through the bleak period that followed, through a grim rediagnosis that left me with a prognosis of mere months to live and then into a clinical trial that shocked us by eradicating my disease entirely, he cooked dinners and did laundry. He arranged playdates for the children and read them stories. He picked up prescriptions and cleaned up enough blood to make Eli Roth shudder. He left me awed at a strength in him I had never seen before. I had never had to.

Our relationship already had attained a bittersweet edge by virtue of its status as a second go-round, but there’s nothing like journeying through the wringer together to take that whole skipping-through-the-daisies aspect out of your dates. Although our experience has been far from sexy, it has been peculiarly romantic.

Nobody writes songs about sitting on the edge of the tub while a man applies topical antibiotics to your oozing skin graft. There are no poetic odes to women with gaping scars, no sonnets to men who may be wearing the same shirt for the third day in a row.

But maybe there should be, because everything I thought I knew about love at 24 seems pretty absurd now. I didn’t know then that a wonderful relationship would one day become unsustainable. I couldn’t have imagined that later on, strangely enough, it would become a new kind of wonderful.

The wedding ring I so optimistically slipped onto my finger long ago, the same one I despondently removed many years later, is now permanently retired. But I wear a small moonstone on my hand, the symbol of hope. Hope for healing in all its forms.

Neither of us sees the world in guarantees anymore. We recognize them as the comforting fictions they are. We accept that you can’t always keep the promises you made when you were barely above drinking age. You can’t know how you will change, or what life will throw at you.

Having our marriage fall apart and having disease come in and try very hard to kill me did away with our cozy assumptions that the future looks just like the past, but with more laugh lines. But he and I have learned, because we have had to, the difference between the illusion of security and the liberating joy of the present, between obligation and choice.

And choice, terrifying as it can be, is so much better. We had to leave each other to discover that: to understand what it really means to decide to be with a person, one day at a time, however many days there may be. Love isn’t a fortress. It isn’t a locked room. It’s full of doors and windows and escape hatches, and they’re not scary. They’re how, to paraphrase Leonard Cohen, the light gets in.

A few weeks ago, after an exhausting round of tests and doctor appointments, we flopped together into bed, almost too tired to speak. We watched the ceiling fan spin, lulled by its hypnotic rhythm, until at last he spoke just six words: “I’m glad I didn’t lose you.”

I looked into semidarkness at the man I love, the man I once left, and said, “I’m glad I didn’t lose you, too.”

Mary Elizabeth Williams, a senior writer for Salon, is working on a book about her cancer experience.

mardi, mars 04, 2014


My candle burns at both ends; It will not last the night; But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends-- It gives a lovely light. - Edna St. Vincent Millay

on beauty

Over the years, I've spent plenty of time thinking about what to 'fix' or alter about my appearance to make me more attractive.  I've never been very into my looks, and after becoming a mother, I would sometimes be startled that I hadn't looked in the mirror in days because I was either looking at my deliciously gorgeous children or just too tired to contemplate putting on something nicer than yoga pants, much less makeup.   I've never been a fashionista and have always put more stock into my brains than my brawn or my beauty.

Still, as a young girl (indeed, until I was in my 20s), it was about trying to tame my uncooperative, naturally curly hair. In college and later, it was about the unbearable weight I literally and figuratively carried.  Seven years ago, one friend whom I'd met in a divorce support group commented on how well-adjusted I was (despite a crazy mother and a dysfunctional marriage and the subsequent divorce). But the compliment came out wrong when she said "the only thing wrong with you is that you're overweight".  And that was when I weighed 30 lbs less than I do today.

My point is that it is the human condition to be somewhat unsatisfied.  Progress is made by those who channel their dissatisfaction into new inventions, new art, and new ways of approaching the world.  But things go sideways when we focus that dissatisfaction on ourselves and our physical appearance. Women don't have exclusive rights to this obsession, but I would wager that we spend much more time focused on our complexion or our 'imperfect' eyes or thighs or teeth or fill-in-the-name-of-your-'problem-area'-body-part here.   I'm always startled to learn that the women whom society deem the most gorgeous seem to be the most insecure about their looks --even the ones who are brilliant and have other talents.  (And don't even get me started on how hard it must be to be a gay man in what I see as even more youth- and body-obsessed subcultures...)

Despite my annoyance with my weight and vanity as I watch a mole on my face continue to grow larger as I grow older, I don't see the surgeon's knife as the solution.  I will admit to being horrified when I was on a flight last week and saw a sitcom.  I didn't bother to put on the headphones and perhaps the absence of sound was what made me focus on the visuals.  The men in the all-ages cast of "Parenthood" looked mostly 'natural.'  I say that because they had laugh lines, were able to scrunch up their foreheads, curl their lips, and use their faces to communicate meaning.  The women were another story.

Bonnie Bedelia has had what to my untrained eyes looks like a facelift.  Her skin is stretched taut over her skull and she has what one person called 'duck lips'. It might have been the resolution on the plane's monitors, but she looked less human than the lovely face I was used to seeing in her previous acting.  Monica Potter (I guessed she's in her 30s, but imdb says she's in her early 40s) had an expressionless face throughout the show -- no matter what the situation. I'm guessing botox is why.  I found it distracting to see how the rest of her body language was so emphatic that it appeared she was overacting because it was out of sync with a face devoid of expressions and any sort of lines.

Today, I saw a photo of Goldie Hawn at the Oscars and was shocked by how her lovely face has been altered by plastic surgeons, presumably to look more 'youthful'.  Nasty things were said by Donald Trump and the Twitterverse about Goldie, Kim Novak, and Matthew McConaughey's mother, all women who are older and had either had plastic surgery or were wearing dresses that the pundits deemed 'too young' for their bodies. My point in citing this example isn't to tear down Goldie, Kim, Bonnie, or Monica.  It's to think about the double standards for men and women and why we are so youth- and beauty-obsessed as a culture.  While I have my theories, I don't expect that my voice will be heard by the masses above the din of mean girls, internet trolls, and snarky comments about appearance that even nicer-than-nice people like Ellen DeGeneres make.

My solace and focus is on my children (especially my daughter) and giving them positive messages about their self-worth that have nothing to do with how they look and everything to do with how they act.  For now, at least, my voice is a strong one for them and I plan to use it.   I especially love Lupita Nyong'o's beautifully penned words on the topic of how she hated -- but eventually came to love her incredible skin -- by finding beauty inside.  Her mother's voice resonates with me and gives me the right example and talking points for my children (and for my inner critic).

 "My mother again would say to me 'you can’t eat beauty, it doesn't feed you' and these words plagued and bothered me; I didn't really understand them until finally I realized that beauty was not a thing that I could acquire or consume, it was something that I just had to be. 
And what my mother meant when she said you can’t eat beauty was that you can’t rely on how you look to sustain you. What is fundamentally beautiful is compassion for yourself and for those around you. That kind of beauty enflames the heart and enchants the soul. 
 It is what got Patsey in so much trouble with her master, but it is also what has kept her story alive to this day. We remember the beauty of her spirit even after the beauty of her body has faded away. And so I hope that my presence on your screens and in the magazines may lead you, young girl, on a similar journey. That you will feel the validation of your external beauty but also get to the deeper business of being beautiful inside. 
There is no shade to that beauty." 

Here is the entire speech:
 Read Lupita Nyong’o’s Moving ESSENCE Speech By Lindsey Weber 2/28/2014 at 9:20 AM
 Lupita Nyong'o was awarded Best Breakthrough Performance for her work in 12 Years a Slave at yesterday's ESSENCE Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon. Just like at the Critics Choice Awards, her acceptance speech was sad and inspiring and beautiful — all at the same time. Here it is, in full:
I wrote down this speech that I had no time to practice so this will be the practicing session. Thank you Alfre, for such an amazing, amazing introduction and celebration of my work. And thank you very much for inviting me to be a part of such an extraordinary community. I am surrounded by people who have inspired me, women in particular whose presence on screen made me feel a little more seen and heard and understood. That it is ESSENCE that holds this event celebrating our professional gains of the year is significant, a beauty magazine that recognizes the beauty that we not just possess but also produce.
I want to take this opportunity to talk about beauty, black beauty, dark beauty. I received a letter from a girl and I’d like to share just a small part of it with you: "Dear Lupita," it reads, "I think you’re really lucky to be this black but yet this successful in Hollywood overnight. I was just about to buy Dencia’s Whitenicious cream to lighten my skin when you appeared on the world map and saved me." 
My heart bled a little when I read those words, I could never have guessed that my first job out of school would be so powerful in and of itself and that it would propel me to be such an image of hope in the same way that the women of The Color Purple were to me.
I remember a time when I too felt unbeautiful. I put on the TV and only saw pale skin, I got teased and taunted about my night-shaded skin. And my one prayer to God, the miracle worker, was that I would wake up lighter-skinned. The morning would come and I would be so excited about seeing my new skin that I would refuse to look down at myself until I was in front of a mirror because I wanted to see my fair face first. And every day I experienced the same disappointment of being just as dark as I was the day before. I tried to negotiate with God, I told him I would stop stealing sugar cubes at night if he gave me what I wanted, I would listen to my mother's every word and never lose my school sweater again if he just made me a little lighter. But I guess God was unimpressed with my bargaining chips because He never listened. 

And when I was a teenager my self-hate grew worse, as you can imagine happens with adolescence. My mother reminded me often that she thought that I was beautiful but that was no conservation, she’s my mother, of course she’s supposed to think I am beautiful. And then … Alek Wek. A celebrated model, she was dark as night, she was on all of the runways and in every magazine and everyone was talking about how beautiful she was. Even Oprah called her beautiful and that made it a fact. I couldn’t believe that people were embracing a woman who looked so much like me, as beautiful. My complexion had always been an obstacle to overcome and all of a sudden Oprah was telling me it wasn’t. It was perplexing and I wanted to reject it because I had begun to enjoy the seduction of inadequacy. But a flower couldn’t help but bloom inside of me, when I saw Alek I inadvertently saw a reflection of myself that I could not deny. Now, I had a spring in my step because I felt more seen, more appreciated by the far away gatekeepers of beauty. But around me, the preference for my skin prevailed, to the courters that I thought mattered I was still unbeautiful. And my mother again would say to me you can’t eat beauty, it doesn’t feed you and these words plagued and bothered me; I didn’t really understand them until finally I realized that beauty was not a thing that I could acquire or consume, it was something that I just had to be. 

And what my mother meant when she said you can’t eat beauty was that you can’t rely on how you look to sustain you. What is fundamentally beautiful is compassion for yourself and for those around you. That kind of beauty enflames the heart and enchants the soul. It is what got Patsey in so much trouble with her master, but it is also what has kept her story alive to this day. We remember the beauty of her spirit even after the beauty of her body has faded away. And so I hope that my presence on your screens and in the magazines may lead you, young girl, on a similar journey. That you will feel the validation of your external beauty but also get to the deeper business of being beautiful inside. 

There is no shade to that beauty.

jeudi, janvier 23, 2014


“What is grief?” I recently asked psychologist Steven Stosny, posing the obvious question I’d avoided for so long.

 “It’s an expression of love,” he told me. “When you grieve, you allow yourself to love again.”

 “How do you grieve?” I asked him.

 “You celebrate a person’s life by living your life fully.”

Asra Q. Nomani, in This is Danny Pearl's Last Story.

vendredi, décembre 06, 2013

thanking bernd koschland

Some days, I really love the internet. Today is one of those days.

A few years ago, I wrote about how the internet can be a wonderful source multiplier, and a way to connect the unconnectable after a photograph I posted provided answers for a daughter about what had become of her father.

Earlier this week, I heard a riveting story on the BBC world service while driving to work. It was the 75th anniversary of the day Bernd Koschland arrived in England. He was recounting his experience as one of 10,000 Jewish children sent to the UK during the Kindertransport for safekeeping on the eve of WWII.
Newshour: Remembering Kindertransport, a rescue mission for Jewish children before World War II

Just before the outbreak of the second world war in 1938, Britain opened its borders to approximately 10,000 Jewish children who were fleeing the Nazi regime in Austria and Germany, and later Poland and Czechoslovakia. Seventy five years ago, the first of those children arrived in what became known as Kindertransport. Newshour's Razia Iqbal spoke to Bernd Koschland, who aged 7, was put on the Kindertransport from Germany by his parents after Kristallnacht, the outbreak of mass violence against Jews and their businesses which led later to the Holocaust. He told her how he remembered that night ...
I was curious to learn more about the man, and to share the interview with friends via social media, so I set about finding him online. The BBC's web site didn't list his name or have a link to just the 10-minute interview. It took a few minutes of googling-- and getting the spelling of his full name (thanks, Twitter #Kindertransport)-- to find a video interview with Bernd and his sister Ruth. I then found his LinkedIn profile, which listed the schools he had attended. From there, it was easy to figure out which Facebook profile was the right Bernd Koschland.

I sent him the following message on Facebook, hoping to thank him for sharing his story, but never expected a response.
I heard your story on the BBC world service this morning and wanted to thank you for sharing it with the world. I'm a mother of 2 living in Connecticut and it touched me deeply to think about the choice your parents made and how you now live your life. Thank you!
This morning, I awoke to a gracious, humble, and thoughtful response.  The world needs more people like Bernd.  It also needs more people to do the right thing when we encounter injustice.

vendredi, septembre 13, 2013


"Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist. Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind." Ralph Waldo Emerson

mercredi, septembre 04, 2013

ten years clean

"Go confidently in the direction of your dreams — live the life you've imagined."
-Henry David Thoreau (July 12, 1817 – May 6, 1862; born David Henry Thoreau), American author, development critic, naturalist, transcendentalist, pacifist, tax resister and philosopher.

Ten years ago, surgeons carved my malignant right kidney out of my body. Having cancer was the Krakatoa of my life. It led to my then-husband and I getting divorced, and set me on a path of change that forced me to evaluate what else I wanted out of (and in) my life. Since then, I've lived in Paris, gotten a Master's degree, changed careers, met the love of my life, had two beautiful children with him, and started a new adventure on the East Coast.  Each change has built a life better than what I knew before and reminded me that no matter what I endure, nothing will be as terrifying -- or as amazing -- as beating cancer.

Thank you to my partner Leo, my friends, my family, and my doctors for helping me live the life I've imagined. I'm hoping the next ten are as meaningful, passionate, and joyful as these have been.

mercredi, août 14, 2013

summoning the floating head of death

Our two children awakened Leo and I five times last night. Perhaps it's time to consider a page out of the Gary Larson book of parenting...

mercredi, août 07, 2013

a first-person obituary

A gorgeous read, made all the more poignant by the fact that it is written in first person.
August 7, 2013
Obituary: Jane Catherine Lotter

One of the few advantages of dying from Grade 3, Stage IIIC endometrial cancer, recurrent and metastasized to the liver and abdomen, is that you have time to write your own obituary. (The other advantages are no longer bothering with sunscreen and no longer worrying about your cholesterol.) To wit:

I was born in Seattle on August 10, 1952, at Northgate Hospital (since torn down) at Northgate Mall. Grew up in Shoreline, attended Shorecrest High, graduated from the University of Washington in 1975 with a Bachelor of Arts in History. Aside from eight memorable months lived in New York City when I was nineteen (and where I worked happily and insouciantly on the telephone order board for B. Altman & Co.), I was a lifelong Seattle resident.

In my professional life, I was a freelance writer, editor, and proofreader. Among career honors, I received a First Place Society of Professional Journalists award for Humorous Writing for my column Jane Explains, which ran from 1999-2005 in the Jet City Maven, later called The Seattle Sun. Also won First Place in the Mainstream Novel category of the 2009 Pacific Northwest Writers Association Literary Contest for my comic novel, The Bette Davis Club (available at I would demonstrate my keen sense of humor by telling a few jokes here, but the Times charges for these listings by the column inch and we must move on.

Many thanks to Sylvia Farias, MSW, at Swedish Cancer Institute for encouraging me to be part of an incredibly wise gynecological cancer support group. Thanks as well to the kind-hearted nurses and doctors at Group Health Capitol Hill oncology. And thanks to my sister Barbara who left no stone unturned in helping me get life-extending treatment in my final months.

I also want to thank Mrs. Senour, my first grade teacher, for teaching me to read. I loved witty conversation, long walks, and good books. Among my favorite authors were Iris Murdoch (particularly The Sea, The Sea) and Charles Dickens.

I was preceded in death by my generous and loving parents, Michael Gallagher Lotter and Margaret Anne Lotter (nee Robertson), and by my dear younger sister, Julie Marie Lotter. I am survived by my beloved husband, Robert ("Bob") Lee Marts, and our two adult children: daughter, Tessa Jane Marts, and son, Riley William Marts. Also my dear sisters Barbara Lotter Azzato, Kathleen Nora Lahti, and Patricia Anne Crisp (husband Adrian). And many much-loved nieces and nephews, in-laws, and friends.

I met Bob Marts at the Central Tavern in Pioneer Square on November 22, 1975, which was the luckiest night of my life. We were married on April 7, 1984. Bobby M, I love you up to the sky. Thank you for all the laughter and the love, and for standing by me at the end. Tessa and Riley, I love you so much, and I'm so proud of you. I wish you such good things. May you, every day, connect with the brilliancy of your own spirit. And may you always remember that obstacles in the path are not obstacles, they ARE the path.

I believe we are each of us connected to every person and everything on this Earth, that we are in fact one divine organism having an infinite spiritual existence. Of course, we may not always comprehend that. And really, that's a discussion for another time. So let's cut to the chase:

I was given the gift of life, and now I have to give it back. This is hard. But I was a lucky woman, who led a lucky existence, and for this I am grateful. I first got sick in January 2010. When the cancer recurred last year and was terminal, I decided to be joyful about having had a full life, rather than sad about having to die. Amazingly, this outlook worked for me. (Well, you know, most of the time.) Meditation and the study of Buddhist philosophy also helped me accept what I could not change. At any rate, I am at peace. And on that upbeat note, I take my mortal leave of this rollicking, revolving world-this sun, that moon, that walk around Green Lake, that stroll through the Pike Place Market, the memory of a child's hand in mine.

My beloved Bob, Tessa, and Riley. My beloved friends and family. How precious you all have been to me. Knowing and loving each one of you was the success story of my life. Metaphorically speaking, we will meet again, joyfully, on the other side.

Beautiful day, happy to have been here.

XOXO, Jane/Mom

samedi, juillet 27, 2013

mercredi, juin 12, 2013

jeudi, juin 06, 2013

le sacrifice

le sacrifice by comment dit-on
le sacrifice, a photo by comment dit-on on Flickr.
Today was the 69th anniversary of D-Day. I was lucky enough to spend some time in Normandy in 2004 and to visit several of the WWII battlefields and memorials.

I looked at my journal from the trip and came across this posting. I shot this image in the American Cemetery in Normandy, where nearly 9,500 soldiers (including 4 women) are buried.  The headstone struck me because of the soldier's name, his rank, the day he died, and because of the stone on the Star of David.  (A stone on a Jewish grave is a sign that the grave is tended and visited.)  After adding a small pebble of my own, I took the shot and moved on.
Sent: Thu, 22 Jul 2004 03:58:12 -0700 (PDT)Subject: France dispatch #3: The beautiful and the horrible 
Chèrs amis, 
This is probably my last note, since I'll be flying home in a few days.
I spent the past three days in Normandy and Brittany, because I wanted to visit for the 60th anniversary of D-Day and because I REALLY wanted to see Mont St-Michel. The trip was a transformative experience, but I can't imagine that anyone can come away from Normandy unchanged.
The people in Normandy disprove every American stereotype about the French. I found them to be warm and friendly, and enjoyed their hospitality. I spoke French pretty exclusively those three days, and feel confident in my ability to communicate my basic needs. My waiter even tried to set me up with the young man at the table next to me. : ) 
Monday -- Caen calls itself a martyred city, since bombs pretty much leveled it in WWII. I visited St. Peter's church in the morning and saw photographs of the church in ruins, before it was re-built in the aftermath of the war. There was an exhibition of children's drawings responding to the question "what does peace mean to you?" The images were startling and I'll share them once I'm home and have put them online.
The Peace Memorial was amazing. It is the best war museum I've ever seen. The most impactful moment was reading the handwritten letters of G.I.'s who never made it home. I ended up missing my train by minutes, but considered it to be serendipity, because I wanted to stay and see the D-Day beaches the next day. That evening, I wandered the city and found myself in a Monoprix (the French equivalent of Target plus a grocery store) before heading to a small restaurant for an inexpensive but excellent meal and some Norman cider. 
Tuesday--At 9 a.m., I took a bus to Arromanches, where British engineers built an artificial harbor that supplied Western Europe until Berlin fell. The remains of the huge concrete floaters are still there, and it was ironic to see children storming the beaches and swimming around the concrete. I also watched a film in the 360° cinema that combined archival footage with present-day shots. I got goosebumps when I saw a firefight in a square that morphed into the Monoprix where I'd been the night before. We got back on the bus and saw various sites, including the gun turrets that the Army rangers destroyed after climbing a cliff the Nazis had thought invulnerable. When we arrived at the American Cemetery, I saw miles of crosses and Stars of David. Nearly 9,500 soldiers (including 4 women) are buried there. It was overwhelming and after spending two days in Normandy, I feel that I finally understand the horrible sacrifice made by the Greatest Generation.

vendredi, avril 26, 2013


"I beg young people to travel. If you don’t have a passport, get one. Take a summer, get a backpack go to Delhi, go to Saigon, go to Bangkok, go to Kenya. Have your mind blown, eat interesting food, dig some interesting people, have an adventure, be careful. Come back and you’re going to see your country differently, you’re going to see your president differently, no matter who it is.

Music, culture, food, water. Your showers will become shorter. You’re going to get a sense of what globalization looks like. It’s not what Tom Friedman writes about, I’m sorry. You’re going to see that global climate change is very real. And that for some people, their day consists of walking 12 miles for four buckets of water. And so there are lessons that you can’t get out of a book that are waiting for you at the other end of that flight. A lot of people - Americans and Europeans - come back and go, ‘Ohhhhh.’ And the lightbulb goes on." - Henry Rollins

samedi, avril 20, 2013

lundi, avril 08, 2013

let's talk about sex...

So, yeah.  The Mister and I have added new lines to our resumes -- we're now also professional bloggers. (I say 'also' because we haven't quit our day jobs.  We're just also writing about parenting and other things, too.) 

Here is a piece I wrote that was originally published at Kidville's Voices From the Ville.

Let’s Talk About Sex

Like most parents, I spend plenty of time thinking about my children and how much faster they are growing up than I did.  I’m sure my parents and grandparents had the same thoughts as they stared at their babies, but when I think about the seismic shifts in culture and technology that have happened in my lifetime, I’m positive my kids face significantly more complex situations than I did at their age.
Yes — sex, drugs, and rock and roll have been in the picture for eons.  But we’re in a brave new world when it comes to sex. Porn has sexualized our culture and upped the ante.  Sexual attitudes, self-image, and what’s normal/expected for men – and women – are very different today than they were in the 1970s.  And today’s technology is magnifying our sexualized culture – especially for tweens and teens.

I recently came across a trailer for “Sexy Baby,” a documentary that follows a 12-year old girl, a porn star hoping to become a mom, and a kindergarten teacher as each attempts to find her way in a world where all of us are told who to be, how to act, and what to look like.  The filmmakers have this to say:
… we had intimate and candid conversations with kids in middle school classrooms, suburban shopping malls, nightclubs, college dorms, and even conducted an informal roundtable during a high school house party. While chronicling trends among small town and big city kids, we discovered this: Having pubic hair is considered unattractive and gross. Most youngsters know someone who has emailed or texted a naked photo of themselves. Many kids have accidentally or intentionally had their first introduction to sex be via hardcore online porn.
While it makes my head hurt, I have to wrap my brain around how I can help my kids navigate a sexual landscape that didn’t exist when I was a kid. Unfortunately, I can’t look to my own upbringing on this topic because  my own parent’s silence was deafening.

Girl in chair

A friend recently reminded me that “we still have control and responsibility at home. No worries… you will have way more positive and negative influence than anything else.”  While that’s a bit daunting, it’s also encouraging. 

My take-away is this: my husband and I will need to work even harder to instill strong self-esteem, help create a positive body image, and get comfortable speaking candidly (and frequently) to our kids about sex.  I hope that as our children grow, we’ll be able to have a relationship with them such that questions are asked and answered, information is shared, and emotions are discussed. But I also want to share with them the timeless truths about sex: it’s a very big deal with major consequences attached to a physical act (emotional ones just as much as STDs).  It is also a wonderful thing. Over time, they’ll probably get much better at understanding and communicating about sex.

And then it will be their turn to worry about their kids growing up too quickly.

Images Source//  Main Image // Body Images

vendredi, avril 05, 2013


"In the sheltered simplicity of the first days after a baby is born, one sees again the magical closed circle, the miraculous sense of two people existing only for each other, the tranquil sky reflected on the face of the mother nursing her child." -- Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea, Chapter IV: Double-Sunrise

samedi, mars 23, 2013

spaghetti al limone

Leo and I love this bright, creamy sauce. We've served it with panko-breaded chicken and also with sauteed shrimp. It is a new favorite in our home.  

I've modified the original portions, because I found the Cook's Illustrated one a bit oily for my liking.  I've used unsalted butter and little more cream in the recipe and been pleased with the results.  Because it is winter here and there is no decent affordable fresh basil, I've omitted it so far.  I plan to add it in the summer when I've got Italian basil growing in my herb garden.

Spaghetti with Lemon and Olive Oil (Al limone) 
Note: Let the dish rest briefly before serving so the flavors develop and the sauce thickens.

Table salt
1 lb spaghetti
1 TSBP extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
1 medium shallot, minced (about 3 TBSP)
1/3 cup heavy cream (the original recipe called for 1/4 cup)
3 TBSP unsalted butter (the original recipe used extra virgin olive oil and no butter)
2 tsp finely grated lemon zest and 1/4 cup juice from 3 lemons
1 oz finely grated Parmesan cheese (about 1/2 cup), plus more for serving
Ground black pepper
2 TBSP shredded basil leaves
  1.  Bring 4 quarts water to boil in large Dutch oven over high heat. Add 1 TBSP salt and pasta to boiling water; cook, stirring frequently, until al dente. Reserve 1 3/4 cups cooking water, drain pasta into colander, and set aside. 
  2. Heat 1 TBSP oil in now-empty Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering.  Add shallot and 1/2 tsp salt; cook until shallot is softened, about 2 minutes.  Whisk 1 1/2 cups of reserved pasta cooking water and cream into pot; bring to simmer and cook for 2 minutes. Remove pot from heat, return pasta, and stir until coated.  Stir in remaining 3 TBSP butter, lemon zest, lemon juice, cheese, and 1/2 tsp pepper.
  3. Cover and let stand 2 minutes, tossing frequently and adjusting consistency with remaining 1/4 cup reserved pasta water, if necessary.  Stir in basil and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Serve, drizzling individual portions with oil and sprinkling with cheese.
Adapted from Cooks Illustrated, January and February 2011

vendredi, mars 22, 2013

the healthy sex talk: teaching kids consent, ages 1-21

I think this is a very useful framework for teaching kids about consent and their bodies.
The Healthy Sex Talk: Teaching Kids Consent, Ages 1-21
March 20, 2013 By Julie Gills, Jamie Utt, Alyssa Royse and Joanna Schroeder

A list of parenting action items, created in the hope that we can raise a generation of children who have less rape and sexual assault in their lives.

The ongoing horror of rape in the news, from Penn State to the young women raped and killed in India to Steubenville, has proven to be a wake-up call for many parents. We always knew that rape was a problem, but never before have we been so mobilized to create change.

As writers, educators, and advocates of sex-positivity and healthy consent, the four of us have been inundated with requests from parents for advice on how to help create a future with less rape and sexual assault.

We believe parents can start educating children about consent and empowerment as early as 1 year old and continuing into the college years. It is our sincere hope that this education can help us raise empowered young adults who have empathy for others and a clear understanding of healthy consent.

We hope parents and educators find this list of action items and teaching tools helpful, and that together we can help create a generation of children who have less rape and sexual assault in their lives.

There are three sections, based upon children’s ages, preschool, grade school, and teens and young adults.

For Very Young Children (ages 1-5):
  1. Teach children to ask permission before touching or embracing a playmate. Use language such as, “Sarah, let’s ask Joe if he would like to hug bye-bye.” If Joe says “no” to this request, cheerfully tell your child, “That’s okay, Sarah! Let’s wave bye-bye to Joe and blow him a kiss.”
  2. Help create empathy within your child by explaining how something they have done may have hurt someone. Use language like, “I know you wanted that toy, but when you hit Mikey, it hurt him and he felt very sad. And we don’t want Mikey to feel sad because we hurt him.” Encourage your child to imagine how he or she might feel if Mikey had hit them, instead. This can be done with a loving tone and a big hug, so the child doesn’t feel ashamed or embarrassed.
  3. Teach kids to help others who may be in trouble. Ask your child to watch interactions and notice what is happening. Get them used to observing behavior and checking in on what they see. Use the family pet as an example, “Oh, it looks like the kitty’s tail is stuck! We have to help her!!” Praise your child for assisting others who need help.
  4. Teach your kids that “no” and “stop” are important words and should be honored. One way to explain this may be, “Sarah said ‘no’, and when we hear ‘no’ we always stop what we’re doing immediately. No matter what.” Also teach your child that his or her “no’s” are to be honored. Explain that just like we always stop doing something when someone says “no”, that our friends need to always stop when we say “no”, too. If a friend doesn’t stop when we say “no,” then we need to think about whether or not we feel good, and safe, playing with them. If not, it’s okay to choose other friends. If you feel you must intervene, do so. Be kind, and explain to the other child how important “no” is. Your child will internalize how important it is both for himself and others.
  5. Encourage children to read facial expressions and other body language: Scared, happy, sad, frustrated, angry and more. Charade-style guessing games with expressions are a great way to teach children how to read body language.
  6. Never force a child to hug, touch or kiss anybody, for any reason. If Grandma is demanding a kiss, and your child is resistant, offer alternatives by saying something like, “Would you rather give Grandma a high-five or blow her a kiss, maybe?” You can always explain to Grandma, later, what you’re doing and why. But don’t make a big deal out of it in front of your kid. If it’s a problem for Grandma, so be it, your job now is doing what’s best for your child and giving them the tools to be safe and happy, and help others do the same.
  7. Encourage children to wash their own genitals during bath time. Of course parents have to help sometimes, but explaining to little Joe that his penis is important and that he needs to take care of it is a great way to help encourage body pride and a sense of ownership of his or her own body. Also, model consent by asking for permission to help wash your child’s body. Keep it upbeat and always honor the child’s request to not be touched. “Can I wash your back now? How about your feet? How about your bottom?” If the child says “no” then hand them the washcloth and say, “Cool! Your booty needs a wash. Go for it.”
  8. Give children the opportunity to say yes or no in everyday choices, too. Let them choose clothing and have a say in what they wear, what they play, or how they do their hair. Obviously, there are times when you have to step in (dead of winter when your child wants to wear a sundress would be one of those times!), but help them understand that you heard his or her voice and that it mattered to you, but that you want to keep them safe and healthy.
  9. Allow children to talk about their body in any way they want, without shame. Teach them the correct words for their genitals, and make yourself a safe place for talking about bodies and sex. Say, “I’m so glad you asked me that!” If you don’t know how to answer their questions the right way just then, say, “I’m glad you’re asking me about this, but I want to look into it. Can we talk about it after dinner?” and make sure you follow up with them when you say you will. If your first instinct is to shush them or act ashamed, then practice it alone or with a partner. The more you practice, the easier it will be.
  10. Talk about “gut feelings” or instincts. Sometimes things make us feel weird, or scared, or yucky and we don’t know why. Ask your child if that has ever happened with them and listen quietly as they explain. Teach them that this “belly voice” is sometimes correct, and that if they ever have a gut feeling that is confusing, they can always come to you for help in sorting through their feelings and making decisions. And remind them that no one has the right to touch them if they don’t want it.
  11. “Use your words.” Don’t answer and respond to temper tantrums. Ask your child to use words, even just simple words, to tell you what’s going on.
Guidelines For Older Children (Ages 5-12)
  1.  Teach kids that the way their bodies are changing is great, but can sometimes be confusing. The way you talk about these changes—whether it’s loose teeth or pimples and pubic hair—will show your willingness to talk about other sensitive subjects. Be scientific, direct, and answer any questions your child may have, without shame or embarrassment. Again, if your first instinct is to shush them because you are embarrassed, practice until you can act like it’s no big deal with your kid.
  2. Encourage them to talk about what feels good and what doesn’t. Do you like to be tickled? Do you like to be dizzy? What else? What doesn’t feel good? Being sick, maybe? Or when another kid hurts you? Leave space for your child to talk about anything else that comes to mind.
  3. Remind your child that everything they’re going through is natural, growing up happens to all of us.
  4. Teach kids how to use safewords during play, and help them negotiate a safeword to use with their friends. This is necessary because many kids like to disappear deep into their pretend worlds together, such as playing war games where someone gets captured, or putting on a stage play where characters may be arguing. At this age, saying “no” may be part of the play, so they need to have one word that will stop all activity. Maybe it’s a silly one like “Peanut Butter” or a serious one like, “I really mean it!” Whatever works for all of them is good.
  5. Teach kids to stop their play every once in a while to check in with one another. Teach them to take a T.O. (time out) every so often, to make sure everyone’s feeling okay.
  6. Encourage kids to watch each others’ facial expressions during play to be sure everyone’s happy and on the same page.
  7. Help kids interpret what they see on the playground and with friends. Ask what they could do or could have done differently to help. Play a “rewind” game, if they come home and tell you about seeing bullying. “You told me a really hard story about your friend being hit. I know you were scared to step in. If we were to rewind the tape, what do you think you could do to help next time if you see it happen?” Improvise everything from turning into a superhero to getting a teacher. Give them big props for talking to you about tough subjects.
  8. Don’t tease kids for their boy-girl friendships, or for having crushes. Whatever they feel is okay. If their friendship with someone else seems like a crush, don’t mention it. You can ask them open questions like, “How is your friendship with Sarah going?” and be prepared to talk—or not talk—about it.
  9. Teach children that their behaviors affect others. You can do this in simple ways, anywhere. Ask them to observe how people respond when other people make noise or litter. Ask them what they think will happen as a result. Will someone else have to clean up the litter? Will someone be scared? Explain to kids how the choices they make affect others and talk about when are good times to be loud, and what are good spaces to be messy.
  10. Teach kids to look for opportunities to help. Can they pick up the litter? Can they be more quiet so as not to interrupt someone’s reading on the bus? Can they offer to help carry something or hold a door open? All of this teaches kids that they have a role to play in helping ease both proverbial and literal loads.
Guidelines for Teens and Young Adults
  1. Education about “good touch/bad touch” remains crucial, particularly in middle school. This is an age where various “touch games” emerge: butt-slapping, boys hitting one another in the genitals and pinching each other’s nipples to cause pain. When kids talk about these games, a trend emerges where boys explain that they think the girls like it, but the girls explain that they do not. We must get kids talking about the ways in which these games impact other people. They will try to write it off, but it’s important to encourage them to talk it through, and ask them how they would feel if someone hit them in that way, or did something that made them feel uncomfortable or violated. When you see it happen, nip it in the bud. This isn’t “boys being boys”, this is harassment, and sometimes assault.
  2. Build teens’ self esteem. In middle school, bullying shifts to specifically target identity, and self-esteem starts to plummet around age 13. By age 17, 78% of girls report hating their bodies. We tend to build up our smaller kids by telling them how great they are. For some reason, we stop telling kids all the wonderful aspects of who they are when they reach middle school. But this actually a very crucial time to be building up our kids’ self-esteem, and not just about beauty. Remark to them regularly about their talents, their skills, their kindness, as well as their appearance. Even if they shrug you off with a, “Dad! I know!” it’s always good to hear the things that make you great.
  3. Continue having “sex talks” with middle schoolers, but start incorporating information about consent. We’re often good at talking about waiting until marriage to have sex, or about sexually-transmitted infections, or about practicing safer sex. But we don’t usually talk about consent. By middle school, it’s time to start. Ask questions like, “How do you know whether your partner is ready to kiss you?” and “How do you think you can tell if a girl (or boy) is interested in you?” This is a great time to explain enthusiastic consent. About asking permission to kiss or touch a partner. Explain that only “yes” means “yes”. Don’t wait for your partner to say “no” to look for consent. Educating our middle schoolers about consent means we don’t have to re-educate them later and break bad habits, perhaps after somebody’s been hurt.
  4. Nip “locker room talk” in the bud. Middle school is the age where sex-talk begins in gender-segregated environments, like locker rooms and sleep overs. Their crushes and desire are normal and healthy. But as parents and educators, we need to do more than just stop kids from talking about other kids like they’re objects. We also need to model how to talk about our crushes as whole people. If you overhear a kid say, “She’s a hot piece of ass” you could say, “Hey, I think she’s more than just an ass!” You can keep it jokey, and they’ll roll their eyes at you, but it sinks in. They need a model for grown-ups who are doing things right. Even saying something like, “It’s also cool that she (or he) is so awesome at tennis, isn’t it?”
  5. Explain that part of growing up is having changing hormones, and that hormones sometimes make it hard to think clearly. Sometimes that means our desire feels overwhelming, or that we’re angry, confused or sad. It’s common, and perfectly okay, to be overwhelmed or confused by these new feelings. Tell your kids that no matter what they’re feeling, they can talk to you about it. But their feelings, desires and needs are no one’s responsibility but their own. They still need to practice kindness and respect for everyone around them.
  6. Mentor teenage and college-aged boys and young men about what masculinity is. Men need to talk to boys about what’s good about masculinity. Ask what hasn’t been so good about our culture of masculinity in the past. How can we build a more inclusive form of masculinity that embraces all types of guys: from jocks to theater kids to queer folks to everyday you-and-me? These conversations can encourage a non-violent form of masculinity for the future. Boys need to start talking about building a healthy masculinity starting in middle school and continue through college, because transforming masculinity is vital to transforming rape culture.
  7. Talk honestly with kids about partying. Make it clear that you don’t want them drinking or using drugs, but that you know kids party and you want your kids to be informed. Ask them questions about how they are going to keep themselves and others safe when they’re drinking. Questions such as:
    • - How will you know when you’ve had too much to drink?
    • - How will you handle it if your driver has had too much to drink? (Make clear that your child can always call you to come get him or her if needed).
    • - How will you know if your drinking or drug use has reached a dangerous level, or crossed into addiction?
    • - How does your behavior change when you’ve had too much to drink? How can you protect others from yourself in that situation if, perhaps, you become an angry drunk or start violating people’s space or safety?
    • - How will you know whether it’s okay to kiss someone, touch someone, or have sex with someone when you’ve had a lot to drink? Explain that decisions sometimes become cloudy, and signals become unclear when we are impaired. How will you be sure that you are reading the other person’s signals accurately? Suggest that they always ask for permission to touch or kiss another person, especially when there’s drinking involved.
    • - Although it should be obvious, explain that a person who is drunk, high or otherwise impaired should not be touched, harassed or sexually assaulted. Teach your children to stand up for, and seek help for, a fellow partygoer who has had to much too drink.
    • - Be careful about the language you use with your kids about partying. The responsibility is never on the victim to have prevented his or her assault. It is always on the perpetrator to make the right decision and not harm anyone.
  8. Keep talking about sex and consent with teens as they start having serious relationships. Yeah, they’ll tell you they know it all, but continuing the conversation about healthy consent, respecting our partners, and healthy sexuality shows them how important these themes are to you. It also normalizes talking about consent, so talking openly and respectfully with partners becomes second nature to teens.
  9. Finally, teens are thirsty for more information about sexual assault, consent, and healthy sexuality. They want to learn, and they will find a way to get information about sex. If you are the one providing that information—lovingly, honestly and consistently—they will carry that information out into the world with them.
Having good information encourages kids to be UPstanders, not BYstanders. Not only does the world need more Upstanders, but kids really want to be a force for good. And we can give them the tools to do so.