Archive for September, 2015

The pumpkin spice of life

Sunday, September 27th, 2015

Back in the dark ages when I was growing up, if you heard the word “pumpkin, ” you could be quite certain that the next word would be “pie.” Everyone bought a can of pumpkin once a year for their Thanksgiving pumpkin pie. Or if you liked experimenting and wanted to make something “healthful,” you could make pumpkin bread and amaze your friends that pumpkin – a vegetable! – could be incorporated into a quick bread recipe.

But these days, the amount of pumpkin flavored products available is overwhelming.  And they start appearing on grocery store shelves as early as the end of August – even before Costco has their Halloween costumes in stock.

Especially at Trader Joes, the applications of the ubiquitous fall squash are very imaginative…even if they are a little questionable. There’s Pumpkin Salsa, Pumpkin Mochi, Pumpkin-spice tea, coffee and beer, Pumpkin Tortilla Chips, Pumpkin Spice Pumpkin Seeds (talk about redundant) and Pumpkin Body Butter, just to name a few. Slather on the Pumpkin Body Butter on a warm day and you might have your coworkers sniffing the air and asking where’s the turkey and mashed potatoes.

My favorite pumpkin product is one that has no reason for existing except to be the Nutella of the pumpkin-palooza at Trade Joes:  Pumpkin Pie Spice Cookie Butter.  Spread it on toast and consume three days worth of calories in one snack.

Then there are the truly horrible orange colored candies, cookies and chemicals such as Oreos, M&Ms, Pop-Tarts, coffee creamer, granola bars and marshmallows that were grown in a food science laboratory and not a pumpkin patch.

What prompted the plethora of pumpkin products to be produced? I blame Starbucks pumpkin spice latte for the trend.

Despite having its own Twitter account with more than 104,000 followers, a pumpkin spice latte is actually a pretty nasty drink – but it sounds so darn good. It brings to mind an association with something naturally authentic – a pumpkin – combined with the images of what Thanksgiving should be but in reality, rarely is – cozy times with family sharing warm memories and delicious food that smells wonderful while it’s being prepared. As I think about it, it’s actually amazing how on many levels Pumpkin Spice Latte speaks to us.

To tap into the sense of comfort that pumpkin spice generates, I’m going to get into the spirit of the season…starting with our cat. Instead of looking at him and seeing a lazy, annoyingly bossy orange cat, I’m going to think of him as a pumpkin spice cat. I feel better already.

I’m sorry, I’m an American

Sunday, September 20th, 2015

Our youngest daughter Jennifer Lynn has been in Shanghai for about 10 days now; she will be there until next May for her year-long study abroad program. She hasn’t Skyped with us yet because it’s a little awkward to carry on a video call when your roommate is trying to sleep. So instead, she finds a hallway in the Jia where she can get Internet and calls us. Jia means “home” and when I Googled it, it said that the Chinese character for Jia shows a pig under a roof.  I hope that the college students living there don’t take that personally.

It’s amazing to me, that she can text and call from China and it’s free using one of the apps like WeChat or WhatsApp. I come from the generation when making an out-of-state call – let alone an international call – could could rack up lots of expensive long distance minutes. I learned the hard way when I had to reimburse my mother for the hours I spent on the phone with my boyfriend who lived three states away.

But now, the reception is better when Jennifer calls from China than when our other daughter calls from Southern California. And so far, there haven’t been any ugly surprises on our AT&T bill.

Jennifer’s most recent communication with us was a text message with a photo showing how good she looked in the jacket she had just bought. Last week, I was getting text messages filled with exclamation points about missing paperwork, blocked Internet connections and inaccessible emails. The photo of the blazer is a good indication that the glitches have been worked out and that she is tackling other important aspects of life…like shopping.

But I’ll let you read it in her own words. The title of her  is the most useful phrase that she learned in Chinese:

Keep calm and carry on

Sunday, September 13th, 2015

So the first text message I got from Jennifer after she arrived in Shanghai on Thursday for her year-long study abroad program was “I finally have Internet” and “I’m not dead” – always reassuring information for a parent. The second text message was “Do you have a copy of my Fudan University application? Why didn’t I bring it! Aaargh! Please get back to me as soon as possible.”

Yes, I did have a copy of her application for the Chinese university where she will be studying while she’s in China so I immediately scanned and emailed it. If that wasn’t sufficient documentation, I texted her than we could FedEx to her (for a surprisingly low cost of about $50) and she would have it in two days.

So the mechanics of not having packed the application weren’t the issue because we quickly figured out a solution. The real problem is that I’ve never learned how to not have my children’s anxiety become my anxiety. All it took was receiving a text message with a few exclamation points conveying my daughter’s panicked state and my stomach started to knot up.

Because Jennifer knows that it doesn’t take much for me to go into a Code Blue – hair on fire – sound the air raid siren – kind of overreaction, she oftentimes takes care to soften a situation that she knows is likely to stress me out. For instance, a day later, when I got a text message from her at 11pm saying that her Wells Fargo ATM card wasn’t working at the Shanghai bank and she couldn’t withdraw money, she started the text message with, “When you have a chance, please call Wells Fargo….”

My chance to do that was RIGHT AWAY. Jennifer is in on the other side of the world and she can’t get to her money…this calls for immediate action! Wells Fargo says their customer service is open 24/7 and I’m not going to be able to sleep until it’s solved so I’m out of bed and changing into SuperMom mode.

BTW, you really can speak to a Wells Fargo customer service representative at midnight if you’re willing to hold for a half hour. I got the information I needed from the bank and passed it onto Jennifer.

So why did I rush to instantly solve the problem? It wasn’t an emergency; I could have waited to call the bank until Sunday or even Monday. I knew Jennifer had plenty of cash with her; the reason she wanted to withdraw more is because she is still figuring out the exchange rate and wanted to be sure she had enough for the coming week. We exchanged some more texts and it turned out that everything was fine with her ATM card. She was just trying to withdraw more than her $300 limit.

And that’s really the point – even when things – both big and little – haven’t gone exactly as planned, everything turned has still turned out fine.  It has for Steve and me and for our other two children every step of the way.

This is a lesson I best remember particularly as I celebrate another birthday today. Getting older can’t be changed but the furrowed brow that comes from stressing? That I can do without.

Summer makeover

Monday, September 7th, 2015

One of the wonderful things about being a college student is being able to reinvent yourself over the summer.  During the three months that you’re separated from your college friends, the opportunity for transformation exists – to return to school in the fall as a new and improved version of you.

We certainly saw this happen with Jennifer Lynn this summer as she did a “makeover” on herself during the three months she was home. Even though she and her friends Skyped regularly so any changes in appearance weren’t going to be a total surprise, I know she was looking forward to being greeted with shrieks of “You look amazing!!!” from her buddies.

It’s why makeover scenes are such a staple of rom-com movies. Who doesn’t love the confidence boost that comes from feeling…and being told by people whose opinion you value…that you look really, really good.

Thinking back on how the summer started, I don’t think Jennifer consciously set a goal of changing her appearance – it just evolved.

First, she began exercising. And I give her a lot of credit for her discipline to stick to with it. Though Jennifer grew up with a mother and an older sister who could fairly be described at gym-rats and in high school, she did stints in wrestling and cheerleading, she was never into ritual sweating. She would rather stay flopped on the couch, scrolling through Netflix.

But she didn’t. Instead, she faithfully squeezed in a run between her shifts at the Gap Outlet and her other part-time job as a social media videographer. Once she started seeing results – I would glance over to see her inspecting her new found abs in the mirror – motivation was a lot easier to come by.

As the summer progressed it became clear that Jennifer was intent on reshaping not just her physique but her whole “package.” A trip to a trendy eyeglass store in a hipster enclave in San Francisco yielded a pair of retro-chic spectacles and a visit to Kim, who’s been cutting the family hair for more than a decade, produced an adorable asymmetrical do. She knew she had found her look because strangers would spontaneously compliment her on her haircut.

While the young woman that Steve and I deposited at Pepperdine last Sunday was still our daughter, she was very much a creation of her own imagination – ready for her next adventure.

Watch out Shanghai.