July 22, 2008
photo by lilxerica on Flickr
Summers seemed to last so much longer when I was a child. There were books to read, bikes to ride, creeks to explore, and pools to swim in. I didn’t watch television (yes silly, television was invented when I was a child); in fact, I rarely was ever home during the day in the summertime (I am sure the lack of central air conditioning was a contributing factor). I was on my bike playing bike tag on carless streets, at the playground sliding down scorching hot metal slides or at the pool.
The pool was a unusually large community pool, or it just seems large in my memory. Nothing can take me back to age ten faster than a whiff of coconut suntan oil and the vision of leathery septuagenarians (or at least appeared to be septuagenarians) smoking cigarettes on woven plastic chaises sunning themselves well before the term sunscreen was even part of the lexicon. It was always a happy day when my mother would give my sister and I each a quarter to buy an ice cream or, oh the joy!, a dollar bill to buy french fries and a fountain drink.
Since I spent so much time there as a child, there are certain foods and candies I will always associate with the pool. Airheads, Fun Dip (formerly known as Lik-M-Aid), Swedish Fish – they might as well be time machines. And eating fries in that red checked paper bucket drizzled with ketchup from the red plastic squeeze bottle? Pull up a pair of striped athletic socks and play Foreigner’s “Hot Blooded” on a crackly transistor radio – it’s 1979 all over again.
What is it about sitting in a wet swim suit that makes the fries tastier and the hot dogs juicier? Is it the chlorine that sharpens your palette? Or is it simply the increased physical activity that whets the appetite to appreciate any sustenance? Or perhaps it’s the freedom of going to the snack bar with money clutched in your hand and ordering food like a grown up? Maybe it’s a combination of all of those things, but I do know that the smell of cooking oil and chlorine makes my stomach growl no matter what age I am.
We decided to celebrate my son’s fifth birthday at our swim club and naturally, the menu selection was of great importance to me. If you have not been a member of the 5 year old birthday party circuit, it consists of three things- pizza, pizza and more pizza (and a little cake thrown in). Now we love pizza every now and again, but frankly, the pool and pizza … it just doesn’t go together like a burger and fries do. At any rate, we settled on burgers, dogs and fries as the main fare catered by the pool snack bar. And yes, the little red and white gingham paper baskets are included.
June 4, 2008
The girls are back and better dressed than ever.
Not one to disappoint marketing directors at New Line Cinema, I went to see Sex and the City this past weekend. We all filed in to the theater - suburban women age 18 to 65, physically close to Manhattan yet a million miles away from the life of the fab four. I had watched the series on HBO and naturally loved it in the way so many young (and not so young) women fantasized about how their lives would have turned out. I stayed away from reading the reviews since I knew I wanted to see it no matter what the New York Times had to say. But I did get a sense of people questioning the relevance of overprivileged shopaholics waxing poetic about $525 a pop shoes, especially in light of recent economic trends.
Nonetheless, I predict Sex and the City will be quite successful and perhaps the first of many movies and TV shows about the lifestyles of the rich and richer. Depressed about the prospect of $5 a gallon gas? Well then, let’s ogle Louis Vuitton’s limited edition summer collection handbags that sell out at $2,000+. Frightened by rice rationing at Costco? There’s no limit on how many Manolos you can (watch Carrie) buy. It seems antithetical, an unapologetic movie about fabulous excess connecting with people at a time when most are feeling the squeeze.
There is, however, a precedent for this. These two iconic images date within 5 months of each other:
“Migrant mother” has become perhaps the most recognized photograph from the Great Depression, capturing the uncertainty, pain and poverty of the era. Interestingly, the same time period spawned the so-called Golden Age of American cinema, movies resplendent in sumptuous settings, glamorous clothing and beautiful movie stars.
Fred and Ginger in Top Hat
People didn’t need or want gritty reality – they simply needed to look in the mirror or empty cupboards to get that. They wanted escapist fantasy, pure and simple. And Sex and the City is just that. Now, does that mean Paris Hilton will be making a comeback?
Why not send this ecard to your girlfriends?
May 11, 2008
We’ve been watching a robin family in one of our bushes for the past few weeks gathering twigs for a nest in preparation for their soon-to-be hatchlings. The children love getting a peak at the nest and the lovely blue eggs.
Mama robin keeps her eggs warm. She looks like she’s smiling, no?
The newest addition to the flora and fauna of our yard, hatched just yesterday.
Is that mama I hear?
Happy mother’s day to all mothers, great and small.
May 10, 2008
Drool-worthy: not my kitchen.
I recently picked my daughter up at a birthday party and I was taken aback to see she was crying. My attempts to get to the bottom of it was met with complete resistance. Her entire vocabulary seemed to have been whittled down to “I don’t know” and “I can’t explain.” But as it often happens, bedtime hugs and snuggles were the pick to the lock of the secrets of the day.
“I was … *sniff* … jealous, “ she wailed. Not of the fact that it was someone else’s birthday (she’s a veteran of at least 50 birthday parties with nary a glisten in her eye), but of its fabulousness. The party was held at her home, you know, one of those typical suburban McMansions (the irony that people who use the term McMansion are those who cannot afford to live in a McMansion is not lost on the writer), with 34 of her closest friends. I couldn’t physically have 35 seven year olds in my house (well, I suppose I could, but only with the aid of a Xanax). And the party favors - well, let’s just say the hostess spent more of the favor than I did on the gift.
It was such a raw, open statement, breath-taking in its simplicity and honesty. It was the kind of statement that most people spend the rest of their lives diligently avoiding saying unless lying on a couch and paying someone to listen to them. I kissed her for her bravery and told her it’s natural to feel jealous, but you can’t burst into tears every time someone has something better than you (otherwise I’d have mascara running down my face every time I walked past Williams-Sonoma or Neiman Marcus). We talked about how blessed we are and how there will always be people who have better, faster, more expensive things than us. And of the many, many more who have much less than us.
In that funny way the stars can align, I read this article after I put my daughter to bed (still slightly weepy – she is nothing if not dramatic). But we all need to acknowledge the seven-year-old in all of us whenever the green-eyed monster bubbles up. For me, it’s when I walk into the take-out queens’ gourmet kitchens the size of the entire first floor of my house. I just say hello to it and then beat it down with my Le Creuset Dutch oven. That sucker’s heavy.
May 5, 2008
My father was someone who ate to live. He was appreciative of any food, from the humblest meal to a gourmet feast. This gratitude, I am sure, was formed from experiencing a devastating war, loss of family, and near-starvation. When I was a little girl, he once plucked a broad-leaf plantain, a common weed, from our lawn and informed me he survived on plants like that for three months while evading the Communists. Naturally, he had little patience for picky eaters – we all learned to eat whatever was placed before us.
My mother, on the other hand, did not view food in such black and white terms. Yes, food is sustenance, which she learned in the same way my father did. As a young teenager during the Korean War, she and her sister decided to sell strawberries to augment their modest and inconsistent income. Unfortunately, their entrepreneurial skills could not withstand their grumbling tummies and their goods quickly disappeared, thus ending their very short-lived career as fruit sellers. I wish I could have seen my mother and my aunt, sitting in a gray crumbling city as they sat giggling and licking their sticky red-stained fingers. The strawberries’ sweetness, while lingering on their tongues for a fleeting moment, meant more to them at that moment than making a few won to buy a necessary staple like rice.
Eventually, my mother become a very good cook, learning as many do not by reading cookbooks or using measuring spoons. She was taught in that universal old world method – using a knuckle, a pinch, a fistful, all while tasting frequently until it’s just right. I remember the first time my mother taught me how to cook rice, eschewing measuring cups for an imaginary line on the back of my hand when placed flat in the water on the uncooked rice. And in a couple of years, I will teach my children the same way my antecedents have been making rice for time eternal.
The most important thing she taught me, however, was not methods or recipes. It was never spoken, but it was seared into my person more permanently than if it had been. It was something I gathered from years of observing my mother getting up at dawn meal to prepare a meal for a special guest. I learned it from watching her take over the kitchen with bowls larger than some small cars to make kim chi. I understood it from the countless hours she spent chopping, grinding, mixing, frying, boiling, and grilling.
It was that food mattered. Food was more than something that just powered you to get through the day or a thankless chore than simply needed to get done. More specifically, it was that you mattered and that you were worth the time and effort to make something delicious and worthwhile. Cooking is giving a piece of yourself, making yourself vulnerable, hoping that others will recognize that tiny particle of you in that meal. And hopefully, they’ll love you for it.
This photo was taken soon after my mother immigrated from South Korea to the United States. She sent this picture to her sisters back in Korea to show how richly she was living. Apparently, bananas were exorbitantly expensive in South Korea in the early 70s. I guess no one told her bananas brown in the fridge.
April 7, 2008
1. a really good moisturizer (with SPF)
One of the unpleasant rites of passage for any 30+ year old is looking closely at your skin one sunny morning and having the epiphany that you need to invest some serious moisturizer. It’s not the fine lines and wrinkles that you keep hearing about in advertisements that you need to look for first. It’s the insidious change in texture of your skin (which then leads to said fine lines and wrinkles). I’ve tried many different kinds of moisturizers, from drug store brands like Neutrogena and Olay, to department store brands like Philosophy’s Hope in a Jar and Clarins, and sadly, I have not found the one perfect moisturizer (although I have found many very good ones). I have not, however, tried La Prarie’s $550 a jar face cream, which I did contemplate buying for about three minutes. And frankly, if it’s going to take me $550 to stop the aging process, I’d rather be carrying a new Speedy bag while looking every one of my 37 years (see #6 on the list).
2. life insurance
One of the first things my husband and I did after I got pregnant with my daughter was to get term life insurance. If you don’t have it – here, get a quote. (and don’t let anyone talk you into buying whole life insurance either).
3. red nail polish
I am not a nail person – I only get a manicure if I have a function to attend, which inevitably gets chipped as I take out my keys to go from the nail place to my car. I do, however, love to have pretty painted toenails all summer long. So even if you don’t have the time, money or inclination to get a pedicure, you can buy a $5 bottle of nail polish and do your own toes. Even if your hand is about as steady as Seurat’s, the good news is that no one is ever at toe level. I’ve had OPI’s “I’m Not Really a Waitress” in my medicine cabinet for the past 12 years (not the same bottle, silly). It’s a classic.
4. real stationery
Nothing makes you feel like Kate Spade faster than writing a note on engraved personalized stationery. And in the era of Evites and pre-printed thank you cards, taking the time to write a note of thanks, sympathy or anything in between has become so uncommon that receiving one is downright exciting. I don’t break out my fountain pen and Crane stationery for any occasion, but I always have a box waiting at the ready. If you don’t want to spend several hundred dollars on engraved stationery, I love these initial notecards from Crane for $17.
5. annual Pap smears
I know, not nearly as glamorous as Crane stationery, designer handbags and beauty products, but a necessity nonetheless. And you get to wear those fashionable paper gowns – fun!
6. a good purse
Not everyone is a purse person (although I don’t happen to know anyone personally … wondering if these people are actually an urban myth), but every woman should have one really nice purse. It doesn’t have to be a “designer purse,” just well-made. I love the experience of purse shopping – touching the supple leather, smelling the interior of well-crafted leather goods, the gleam of the hardware.
Be queen for more than a day – Gucci’s “Queen” handbag
7. regular exercise
I went most of my life without sweating. I didn’t really participate in sports in school, and never voluntarily exercised until I reached my mid-twenties. I dreaded going to the gym and could go months without stepping foot on a treadmill. It was only after I had my children in my thirties that I got serious about getting healthy and working out regularly. Now, I love the time I spend in the gym – it’s “me” time that I guard jealously. But it doesn’t have to be spinning in a darkened room – you can easily get the health benefits from regular walks around your neighborhood.
8. Shu Uemura eyelash curler
I know this curler shows up on every beauty must have list since 1979, but I somehow managed to get through most of my adulthood without it. I just trudged through life with my generic drugstore eyelash curler, ripping out my already sad-looking lashes with resigned regularity. It was only after I got over my fear of shopping on the internet in 2000 that I took the plunge and ordered one from Sephora. Yeah, it’s worth it.
9. retirement fund
I’ve read that a shocking half of all women do not have retirement savings (in a 401K, IRA or pension). The fact that women statistically live longer then men, work less years (many taking time off for child-rearing), and make less money than their male counterparts are all compelling reasons why women need to save early and regularly. There’s a zillion websites about retirement planning – it’s time to take a serious look.
10. one amazing recipe that you’re known for
Even if you’re more Campbell soup cook than Bon Appétit, everyone should have at least one great recipe that people love and request often. For me, it’s a couple of things – my biscotti and my Korean dumplings (man doo). Recipes will be coming in the next few weeks.