Balance

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“Balance isn’t something you just get,” said my favorite yoga instructor. She’s forever coming up with these isms that sound so obvious rolling off her tongue I feel silly for never having thought of them myself. “It’s something that comes and goes.” We’re crouched in eagle pose, one of flow yoga’s hallmark awkward balances, where the arms are completely intertwined at shoulder height and the standing leg gets all tied up by the free leg. There’s nothing elegant or agile or birdlike about it for most of us, but as our wobbles get smaller and the grunters stop grunting, we relax into relative calm. We are not eagles, we are warped, panting humans. But we are finally still. The teacher continues. “Balance is what comes when we let go of needing balance. When we normalize the fear of falling.” My mind reels. How can I not need balance when I’ve morphed into a human twist-tie? “Remember, falling is okay,” she promises. Good thing, I think.

To be honest, I didn’t really like that class on Saturday. There’s something about walking into a darkish yoga studio when it’s 75 degrees and sunny that feels inauthentic for me. But I did really like that toward the end of the class, Leisha focused on balance. Because her words, spoken and digested when I was really supposed to be not thinking at all, helped me process the fears and worries of my previous weeks.

See, we just started kindergarten. (I know: I’m not in kindergarten, my son is. But the process is certainly family-wide. Ask any new kindergarten mom; we’re all crying or screaming at our husbands or getting hit by our normally gentle children.) I wasn’t worried about Graham when he settled in for his first day. Sure, there were details–where he could put his new walking sticks, and how he’d get to the playground, and whether he’d need help in the bathroom, and why he seemed for forget, so suddenly, how to write his name–but ultimately, on the first day, I didn’t worry a bit about his safety or happiness. He stumbled off excitedly after his classmates, falling occasionally, oblivious to how the school’s well-intentioned mind–and heart-balancing slogan, Got Balance?, mocked him from the back of his school t-shirt as he tottered town the hallway.

The start of kindergarten was much more of a personal crisis for me. On the second day, the assistant head of school called us into her office. “This is going to be more difficult than we expected,” she admitted, eyes grave. She wanted to strategize about how to be patient with Graham’s slower pace without sacrificing the academic time the other kids deserve. My husband and I nodded, smiling, trying to strike the right chord between We told you so and Oh God, what happened? On the fourth day, she called us in again. They’d paired Graham with an intern every day that first week. We think it would probably be best to hire a movement aide for Graham. He’s a trooper, but traversing this school is just too exhausting for him and too time-consuming for the class.

Ultimately, it was the obvious choice. Having someone sweet and strong and kind and interested in Graham’s success dedicated to helping him would make kindergarten work not just for Graham, but for the whole class. But when we heard those words–the ones telling us that despite making huge leaps after a summer of huge efforts he still wasn’t going to hack functioning in a classroom full of typical kids without some serious help–we sagged. How could we tell them that we were thrilled with how fast he was moving? That Graham’s physical therapist said he’d never seen a kiddo adapt to forearm crutches so quickly and easily? That given what we’ve seen from Graham, we were sure the weeks to come would bring big improvements? We were pushed off balance. It felt like we were falling down, all of us together.

My friends didn’t seem to understand. “He’ll be fine,” they assured me. Of course he’ll be fine. Graham is nothing if not a trooper. We’ve found the best aide I could imagine, and Graham seems to understand that he now has permanent support. But he’s also clearly old enough to begin grasping that he needs extra help where other kids don’t, and that hurts a mom’s heart. It hurts like falling.

The question, for me, is whether (and when) I’ll be fine. Whether I’ll find the balance that now, in hindsight, we seemed to find so gracefully and easily within Graham’s preschool. Whether the aide will gain his own instinct with Graham, the way so many other parents and teachers have in the past. Whether every single one of the new kindergarten parents will eventually be able to look me in the eye (and when it will stop mattering to me what they think). Whether I’ll fall every time Graham does, and whether I’ll be able to stand back up as quickly–and with as much courage and as big a smile–as he does so many times every day.

These are the twist-tie days, when I feel like I’m falling almost all the time. Every morning now, I do a little yoga. It’s not the physical kind. (There’s not even any sweating, which is nice.) I just repeat my little mantra: It’s okay to fall.

Then I start a new day, hoping I can let go of needing balance at all. Knowing that someday, I’ll find it again.

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Enough

It’s been a very delicious year in my house. I worked with Renee Erickson on A Boat, a Whale, and a Walrus: Menus and Stories, due out in September, which has been, hands down, the most rewarding, most thrilling work experience I’ve had in my career. (I’ll take spot prawning and crabbing as a day’s work over fact-checking any day. Same for traveling to Normandy to learn about oysters. Ditto for working with and writing about a chef who is as devoted to beauty, writ large, as she is about where she sources her ingredients.) In cookbook terms, we worked hard and fast–at least, it seemed fast to me, until I started Passionate Nutrition, which was the writer’s equivalent of running a marathon with no training. The overall effect feels like swimming to the ocean’s surface after being released by a submarine far, far below.

Now, though. I’m back at the surface, after a year under water. Boat comes out in September, and Passionate Nutrition comes out in December. I’m intensely proud of and excited for both books, and feel so lucky to have been chosen as the writer for each. And now, theoretically, I have time to pick my head up and look around for what’s next. (I’ve had time to read, which in and of itself is cause for celebration.) Only, reading The Map of Enough made me wonder what I’m really trying to see.

The Map of Enough, by Molly May, a woman three or four silky threads over on the web of life that seems to connect us all, is a lovely memoir about the significance of place and self-exploration. The book sees life through the eyes of a woman who spent her childhood and young adulthood identifying as a happy nomad—a person whose soul craved travel and adventure—who decides to build a yurt by hand with her now husband. After growing up in a constantly mobile family, she’d always needed to move. In fact, for the first part of the book, I didn’t think I’d be able to identify with her at all. I was born all settled down. I can’t take a two-hour car trip without unpacking myself properly into the front half of the car. To me, the concept of building a house you could just pick up and move anywhere seemed antithetical to the concept of having one in the first place. If you build a home, it means you want to stay right where it is, right? Building a yurt is pretty close to the bottom of my lifelong to-do list, right down there with visiting the Arctic (where my husband is now) and riding a bicycle across the country (which is where you’ll find my sister soon). I’m the girl who always had all her school supplies lined up and labeled a week before school started. If I’m going somewhere, I want to know when, why, where, and for how long. I make reservations. People who build yurts by hand aren’t reservations people.

Reading is funny, though. The more I read about Molly’s need (or lack thereof) to pick that yurt up and move it someplace new, the more I associated her Montana life with my own work habits. Every time she flashed back to childhood memories, living in Spain or in Mexico, I saw myself–but my in my working life, instead of my personal life. I saw myself jumping from project to project the way she’d jumped from country to country, sometimes, like Molly, self-defining more by the jumping (Higher! Faster! Over a new stream!) than by the projects themselves. It threw me into a tizzy over the definition of one word: enough.

I don’t want to go anywhere, like Molly did. (We also remodeled our basement in the last year, so we’re not moving anywhere.) But I have been wondering, the way she did, how to know when I’ve had enough of something. And what’s the difference between getting enough, in the sense of being full, like when you eat, and having enough, as in being sick of something? It’s a fine line.

For me, clearly, enough relates to cooking and writing and writing about cooking. Of course it does. We all want to do well in our work, and as a freelancer, there’s no annual review. There’s the wave of self-satisfaction and pride that washes over when the mailman brings a big blue cookbook to your doorstep, but there’s no promotion. There’s no real benchmark. There’s no paperwork that says, Well, Jess, that’s enough for this year, well done. I guess I’d like an owl to fly through the window with a letter that reads: There, now you’ve got three more until Success. Walk down Greenwood Avenue. Take your third left, then the first right. Your next idea will be hiding in a small box in front of the red house. Books bring me pleasure, but these two offer no more of a path forward–and no more real sign of enough–than the first did. Is it enough to write someone else’s story, rather than my own? Is it enough to work during the school year, but not much over the summer this year? Is it enough that I’m writing recipes for this blog every week or so, but that they never seem to make it onto the screen? Is it enough to make money writing for a corporate magazine no one reads?

Enough seeps across the cracks to the rest of life, too. I’ve declared this The Summer of Graham, because before our kiddo starts kindergarten, we’re doing an intense amount of various therapies with him. There were three weeks in leg casts designed to increase his ankle flexibility, then a week in California for an alternative therapy, and now, where I sit writing and pretending not to watch at all, he’s working with his favorite physical therapist, learning how to use the crutches he’ll have inside his kindergarten classroom. Is it enough? Right now it’s three hours of therapy every weekday. Is it too much? Where’s the line? The kid clearly has the capacity to learn, physically, and in that sense the therapy is “working.” He can make sideways steps now while hanging onto something, which means he’ll be more successful going to the bathroom by himself. (Huzzah!) But he also needs to be a kid. It’s summer. He needs to run through the sprinkler and eat sand and fall down the stairs. (Check. Check. Check.) He needs to play Candy Land until he drives his parents crazy. (Check.) But are we summering enough?

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You have issues with enough, too, I’m sure. They’re different issues. But they’re there.

There’s a habit Molly has, explained in the book, of getting in the car and just driving when she’s feeling the need to move. Ultimately, to me, the habit was helpful; it signified that while we’re always looking to define enough, the definition changes when we step away. Last spring, I thought for a bit that I’d had enough of food writing. (Well, that, or I thought I’d never find a project as great as A Boat, a Whale, and a Walrus again, and I got depressed.) In the cracks, I wrote a story about skiing, and a story about noise, and a story about cycling, and now, food seems pretty lovable again. I got in the car and drove away–metaphorically, anyway. I came back, and now food seems like enough.

Now, I think, I need to explore–not just how to define enough, and how have enough, but how to not have enough, too. The other day, sitting on the couch while a random batch of fig jam bubbled away on the stove and Graham played happily, I got a little bored. I had a moment of (dare I say it?) summer. It felt so, so good. And in that small moment–hanging out with my kid, with the windows open, and only vague plans on the horizon but all Graham’s school years in front of me to work on whatever comes next–I felt like I’d found the recipe for enough.

Now, if I could just get that small moment of enough to last longer.

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The Uncle Josh Haggadah Project, v. 5.0

Uncle Josh uncling

The family I was raised in is not, by any stretch of the imagination, one based on coddles and cheerleading. We give gruff pats and solemn nods instead of hugs and high fives. We send each other photos of our gruesome cycling injuries. We make fun of each other and throw each other in the snow. But every year, no matter how close together or far away we find ourselves, we are silently united by Passover–or, more specifically, by the knowledge that we are all reading from the same proverbial book, laughing at the same jokes, stumbling over the same Hebrew words.

Each year, for now five years running, my brother Josh puts together a politically-inflected Haggadah that both shortens the Seder–because who are we kidding?–and makes it interesting and relevant. This year’s version tackles Obamacare and gay marriage (but, I noticed, avoids addressing the Super Bowl, which was hard for the family’s Bronco fans).

Enjoy, however you see fit. This year, my parents will be in Idaho, and my sister will be in Montana, and my brother will be in Oregon. We will introduce an uninitiated family to Passover here in Seattle, as we often do, and they won’t know how much we bastardize the blessings and possibly won’t care. We’ll drink plenty of wine (no way will it be Kosher), and enjoy a menu I’ve yet to plan, and children will run screaming, and we’ll remember, as we do every year, to simply be thankful for what we have–namely, for our families, and for those that step in as family when family can’t be around.

Click on the link below for the full Haggadah, 2014-style.

The Uncle Josh Haggadah Project, 2014 (PDF)

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Dear Ms. Jones: Twenty Kindergarten Admissions Questions You Should Have Known to Answer

Dear Ms. Jones,

 

Thank you for submitting your child’s kindergarten application. Unfortunately, it appears you failed to understand the nuances of our admissions procedure. For parents like you, we have a special set of questions aimed more specifically at obtaining the information we really wanted, which you should have inferred when we said “Tell us about your child.”

 

Please complete the following questions and return the form to us by yesterday.

 

1. What is your child’s preferred second language?

2. Which code(s) does (do) your child use to write iPhone apps and new games (besides HTML)?

3. Is your hopscotch court mosaic made of hand-painted stones or seashells you gathered while volunteering in Thailand?

4. Can your child operate a 3D printer unassisted?

5. How many wells has your child built in Uganda?

6. Has your child recorded an album? If not, why not? And what is his/her instrument of choice?

7. What are you planning for your child’s next birthday party?

8. How does your child manifest his/her Chinese zodiac sign?

9. Is your anchor tattoo ironic or honest?

10. Describe your home’s most cherished artwork.

11. What is your child’s yogic mantra?

12. List all past and planned (future) Halloween costumes. If applicable, include notes on how you built/sewed/sourced/traded the materials.

13. If we send your child home with a live animal, how long will it survive in your home?

14. What is your child’s favorite ethnic food to cook at home?

15. Was your child raised in cloth or disposable diapers?

16. Has your child ever eaten an Oreo? (We value diversity.)  

17. What methods of renewable energy does your family depend on to offset your existence on the planet, and how does your child participate?

 

ADDENDUM 

18. Please attach your family crest or logo, and explain how and why it represents your family’s core values.

19. What did your child name your chickens, and why? Please attach photos; we would like to see their grooming habits.

20. Please attach your child’s educational mission statement.

 

Thank you for your time.

 

The Admissions Department

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Beat.

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It hardly seems appropriate to say Happy New Year, but here it is, 2014. Thinking retroactively, here’s what was on my winter to-do list:

• Finish edits on a cookbook
• Take a time-out
• Gather every preschool germ Graham brings home and filter it through my system
• Pitch stories to magazines I’ve never worked with before (some Not! About! Food!)
• Do my taxes
• Finish details of our basement remodel
• Take a writing class
• See a kid through two surgeries
• Apply to private and public kindergartens for said kid

In my mind, two months in, the last thing is the only thing that really happened.

“It’s not the school that’s bad,” soothed my husband one wintry morning. “It’s the system that’s bad.” I sniffed over the phone, and tried to compose myself on the damp bench outside my gym, where an impromptu conversation with the principal of our local elementary school had reduced me to tears and snot and hiccups. My purse sagged open into the dirt of a giant potted plant. But Jim was right. The principal had never met Graham. And he hadn’t, as I’d insinuated, actually told me that my son didn’t belong in his halls. He’d just said he wasn’t sure, and refused to speak with me further, because I hadn’t followed the (totally top secret) prescribed order of operations.

In Seattle, where public schools are arguably better than those in many spots across the country, the process of enrolling a child with special needs in a typical kindergarten classroom requires patience, time, and emotional stamina. In the past week, I have been told to enroll, not to enroll, to fill out the special education form, not to fill out the special education form, that the special education form doesn’t exist, to fill out the school choice form, not to fill out the school choice form, that I need to appear in person to enroll because of the choice form, that I shouldn’t have appeared in person to enroll, that my special ed form will be shredded, that I’m already enrolled, and that RIGHT NOW I’ll be enrolled anyway even though I shouldn’t be standing where I’m standing and don’t need to enroll.

Now, Graham is officially enrolled in our local public elementary school. Will we end up there? Time will tell. At least we have a back up plan. Does that mean the system beat me? Or did I beat the system? This parenting thing is not for the weak.

Out of the blue this morning, when I was getting whiny over all this school nonsense, Graham decided to take the stairs to into his current classroom for the first time. A friend put him up to it and offered to take his walker to the top, and he just agreed. Like it was the most normal thing in the world. Like in his little way, he was saying Mom, I got this thing beat. See?

(Thanks, kid. You sure do.)

Graham on the steps

Grilled Beets with Herbs and Preserved Lemon (PDF)
In my house, beets make excellent decorations, but they’re rarely the main event—mostly because I tend to chop them up and shove them into salads more quickly than they can stand up for themselves. Here, they shine between layers of crème fraîche and fresh herbs, punched up a bit with preserved lemon.

If I haven’t made my own, I buy preserved lemons at Picnic in Seattle, because the owners, Jenny and Anson Klock, do a consistently excellent job. To use them here, cut them into quarters. Push the lemon’s meat out of the fruit and discard it, then use a small knife to trim the thin white layer of pith away from the peel. Once you have just the yellow peel, it’s ready to chop and use.

Serves 4

3 fist-sized red beets, roasted, peeled, and cut into 3/4-inch rounds
2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons crème fraîche
1/4 cup lightly packed fresh herbs (leaves only)
Peel of 1/4 preserved lemon, pith trimmed, very thinly sliced
Chunky sea salt, for serving

In a large bowl, mix the beet slices together with the olive oil and salt until well blended.

Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat. (You can use a regular heavy-duty pan instead, if you prefer.) When hot, add the beets, and cook, undisturbed, until well marked on both sides, 6 to 8 minutes total, turning the beets once during cooking.

Meanwhile, smear the crème fraîche onto a serving plate. Pile the beets on top, then scatter the herbs and preserved lemon on top. Drizzle the beets with additional olive oil, sprinkle with chunky sea salt, and serve.

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Sunny Side Out

Golden Winter Breakfast Hash 2

It might surprise you to learn that I’m not a very voracious reader. I’m an airport fiction kind of girl, and the titles I’ve read aren’t Titles, in the classic sense, except where food is concerned. Like my taste in music, my taste in reading veers to the trashy, unless the topic is short enough to fit between the covers of The New Yorker magazine. Did you have higher expectations? I’m sorry.

Actually, I’m not. Because here’s the thing about expectations: they’re bunk. (I’m sure I’m missing a huge point here from Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, but I didn’t read that book either, and late at night in my faded pink bathrobe, when I do what little reading I do, I don’t care.)

A dear friend recently wrote a sagging email of sorrow. It was a real whopper—the kind of thing that reeks of tears and ice cream, at the very least. She said a lot of the things happening in her life weren’t what she envisioned or hoped for. Her life isn’t meeting her expectations. I nearly exploded with frustration. It still astounds me when people hew to their childhood expectations—not because childhood dreams are bad, but because I think being an adult requires taking the time to dream up something new. It requires forks in the road, even if they’re sometimes dangerously pointy forks. It requires flexibility. It requires adjustment.

No one expects to have a child born with cerebral palsy, or to develop lupus, or to break her collarbone on the 4th of July. No one expects two speeding tickets in the same week.

Then again, no one expects to land her dream job at 25, or feel totally satisfied with her shoe collection. (My mother just sent me this pair.) I didn’t expect to spend the bulk of 2013 working with an incredible chef whose fingerprints will forever be found on my cooking and on the way I approach food. And clearly, I didn’t expect to suddenly have thicker hair at 35.

I guess what killed me about that email—I should probably admit that it was sent months ago, but it’s been tailing me since—was that there are so many things this person also didn’t expect of her life that are positive. She has a thriving career. She has a gorgeous, happy child and a supportive family. Somehow, though, none of those things seemed to matter.

So here’s your holiday assignment, if you’re an expecter: if you find yourself turning into Eeyore while you’re doing your Christmas shopping, or ruffling through your cookie recipes, or digging through the files that have been stored in the garage for five months (which is what we’re doing this weekend), make a list. Make a real list, on real lined paper, the way we did when we used the pads of our digits to communicate instead of just their tips.

On one side of the page, you can whine. I didn’t expect my dog would become such a pain in the ass. Let it out, sister. Why did the contractors forget to put heat in the bathroom? Bitch and moan. I hate that my husband has started to snore. But really give it your best, okay?

Then, when you’ve wrung out the bad stuff, turn the paper over. On the fresh side, jot down the good things. I didn’t expect to write a cookbook using recipes from this website that could theoretically raise money for lupus research. Dig deep. I didn’t expect to be able to do a chin-up at all, even if my husband was holding enough of my body weight to make him sweat. And include the small stuff. The glue is holding on the teapot that shattered on the way back from France!

Are you done yet?

There. Read both sides again. Now, put the paper up somewhere where you’ll see it fairly often, sunny side out. This is how I live; the hard things are there, but I only look at them when I need to.

On the harder days, I turn the paper over, and scribble the most recent offense down with a dull pencil, so the lead smears into the cracks of my left hand. Then I get out the cast-iron pan and make a bacon-studded hash that looks like just potatoes and eggs, but is really made with golden beets and celery root. It’s a sneaky sort of breakfast, and it looks a bit homely, but the flavor always beats my greatest expectations. And it reminds me, like I wanted to remind my friend that day, that there is always, always a bright side.

You just have to get good at finding it.

Golden Winter Breakfast Hash 1

Golden Winter Breakfast Hash (PDF)
Simmered until almost tender and seared in bacon fat, golden beets and sweet celery root make a delicious, golden-hued alternative to the traditional potatoes in breakfast hash. Add a bit of goat cheese and a poached egg, and you’ve got a breakfast that will turn any dull day around before it even starts.

To peel celery root, use a heavy-duty peeler to get every bit of skin and dirt off, or simply use a small, sharp knife.

If you’re concerned about timing, cook the hash completely and let it sit in the pan, covered, while the eggs poach. The hash won’t mind.

Serves 2
Active time: 20 minutes

1/2 pound good bacon, cut into 2” pieces
3 medium yellow beets, peeled and cut into 1” pieces
1 baseball-sized celery root, peeled and cut into 1/2” pieces
1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus more, to taste
1 large shallot, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
Freshly ground pepper
2 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
1/4 cup fresh parsley leaves (no stems)
2 large eggs, poached

In a large cast-iron pan, cook the bacon over medium heat, turning and rearranging occasionally, until crisp, about 15 minutes. Transfer the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate, eating about half of it casually as you cook. (Seriously. Who can wait?)

Meanwhile, combine the chopped beets and celery root in a saucepan big enough to hold them comfortably and add about a tablespoon of salt. Add cold water to cover, then bring to a simmer over high heat. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until the celery root is almost tender but not ready to fall apart, about 8 minutes. Drain the vegetables and set aside.

Drain about half the fat off the bacon pan and discard. Reheat the pan over medium heat. When the fat begins to sizzle, add the shallot and cook, stirring, until it begins to soften, about 1 minute. Add the thyme, season with pepper, and stir to combine. Scoot the shallots to the edges of the pan and add the cooked vegetables. Cook, undisturbed, for about 5 minutes, or until the beets and celery root have formed a nice brown crust. Stir the vegetables and cook again for 3 to 5 minutes, undisturbed, or until the mixture is nicely browned all over and the celery root is soft.

Crumble the remaining bacon and add it to the vegetables, along with the goat cheese and parsley. Season to taste, if needed, and serve in two heaping bowls, each topped with a poached egg.

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Chemin St. Martin

Clock Tower

I cut my toenails twice while we were in France. I did it slowly and carefully, always before it was too late, which is the opposite of what I do at home. And that’s how our three weeks in France went—slowly, carefully. The days unfurled. We found our route before starting the engine of our little Citroen rally car. We watched the ivy on our stone house turn from emeralds to fire as October progressed. We wandered. Time passed at a thick liquid pace, each day surrendering into the next not with the violent crash of fatigue we know at home, but with a shrug and a lazy turn of the covers. I relearned how to live.

Over those three weeks, I realized how many things I’d plum forgotten how to do, like listen for birds and make paper airplanes and walk down stairs softly and eat just cheese for dinner. Now, as my last day here dawns at the airport and I break out my husband’s computer to type for the first time in three weeks—not to actually work, but because the words just seem unavoidable—I wonder what I’ll take home.

First, there will be memories of the house in Provence, including the crumbly mortar between the stones that formed one wall of our little bedroom there. The house was old, clearly—although in France, 1904 is practically infantile for a residence—and it since the wall used to be the outside of one building, before the home we rented was tacked on, it clearly wasn’t meant as a morning headrest for an American coffee drinker. When the wind blew, the mortar sometimes loosened a bit and I had to pick it out of my hair.

Chemin St. Martin

The houses, which look like Siamese twins from tiny, narrow Chemin Saint Martin but don’t have any awareness of one another from anywhere inside, are collectively called Mas de la Laiterie. They sit on land that was once the town diary, and until the 70’s, when modernity stomped in for real, folks picked up their milk in what’s now our living room. Then the whole place was purchased by an old French Resistance fighter who had retired and, with 3 buddies, apparently started a little travel business called Club Med. The owner lived in our house, and the offices were in the original house next door until the firm outgrew the space and sold the older house to the current owner, our landlord. The resistant lived to a ripe old age before passing, at which point our landlord bought the house we’re in as a rental property. In typical French fashion, the two houses technically have the same address, and save the entrances, which are on different streets and are a good 500 yards apart, it’s difficult to describe the difference between the two if the landlord’s dog, aptly named Caffeine, isn’t home.

Anyway. That’s all to say that we came to France with one plan, which was to rent a fantastic place and spend time with friends and family. It worked. We lived just outside the medieval walls of Pernes-les-Fontaines, a town known for its 36 working fountains. It has an old-school boulangerie with a giant indoor cast iron oven—the kind Bob Cratchit must have bought his bread from—and a single popular café, called Café de la Place, where we spent lunches drinking cheap, delicious local rosé and feeding our child his abominable but dependable French diet of frites and ice cream.

Cafe de la Place

Some days, we’d wander the town, hitting one of the two local aire de jeux with Graham, but more frequently, we’d start the morning with a map, tracing our fingers over the towns we’d seen and the towns we still wanted to explore. We consulted the market calendar and scouted parking and packed the car and left, mostly in quest of a view and something to eat for dinner. It was an ideal existence. We had time to talk, the three of us. We all read books, including one on raising kids with special needs that will, we think, lead to a sea change in the way we’re approaching cerebral palsy. We slept enough to make up for the last decade.

Paris was busier. We had a tiny hotel room and a short list of things to do and friends to see and places to eat. We walked and walked and walked, and rode enough escalators to satisfy Graham for at least a month. We taught Graham to drink out of a teacup. When Jim and Graham pulled away in a taxi, leaving me to go to Normandy for a few days to finish the last photographs for the book I’m working on with Renee Erickson and Jim Henkens, I burst into tears. We had fun, our little family.

Today, honestly, as I see the pink tinge on the puffy clouds outside, it’s all run together a bit. My muscles are sore today—more from drinking wine, I think, than from actual athletic use—but my brain isn’t tired. And that was the other goal, if I remember. We wanted to stop thinking so much.

I wonder how I’ve changed, flying back. I have a bit more luggage. My French is certainly better than it was when I arrived. And in my back pocket, stuffed between the list of antiques markets I found in an old Gourmet magazine and the receipt for my carrot and duck mousse sandwich, I’ll carry the memory of the three weeks we spent as a family in Provence, paying attention to where we were going, and what we ate, and to each other.

I hope I don’t lose it.

Family

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