I’m 30! (30 things about a 30 year old on the 30th)

So, today’s my “golden” birthday, the birthday upon which you turn the same number as your birthdate. I remember when my best friend had her golden birthday–when she turned ten–and thinking, “gee, I’ll be ancient before my golden birthday ever rolls around!” Well, here it is, and I just got carded last week buying some cooking wine.

The store owner (female, attractive, with a thick Eastern European accent): “you old enough for that, honey?”
Me (pulling out ID): “I’m turning 30 next week!”
The store owner (with a touch of surprise): “you look veeerrry goot, honey.”

Yeah, people still regularly tell me that I don’t look old enough to be the mother of my kids. I’m fairly sure that’s not true, but if it is, it certainly has mostly to do with genetics and may be exaggerated by the fact that I’m very short. (Don’t make fun of me. I have a genetic disorder!) My grandma was something under 4’10” and looked very young indeed, and she smoked two packs of Benson & Hedges daily and subsisted on cottage cheese and melba toast. I don’t smoke and I eat heartily, but I never wear sunscreen and wash my face with plain ol’ soap.

To be honest, I’ve never worried about looking “old” partly because my obsession was always being thin. As in, I might visit a nursing home and be jealous of those little stick-limbs that some old ladies have. (Yeah, I know. Sick, right?)

But that right there–being able to see that as sick–is part of why I feel happy to be thirty. When I turned 20–right after the original 9/11–I was depressed, lonely, and thoroughly in the grip of my disorder. I counted the years of my obsession, realized they numbered nearly half my days, and felt like there was no end in sight. Today, by God’s grace and the help of many wise and good and loving people, I feel free.

And so without further ado, 30 (mostly silly) things about me on my 30th birthday on the 30th:

(or, My Life: A Series of Unfortunate Eyeglasses)


1. My first real pets (after some lame fish) were two finches named Sylvester and Tweety.

2. When Tweety died, I was sad and wrote a poem about her, but I also was kind of excited because I’d always wanted to take a good look at her tongue.

Ack! Mom, why did you let me wear corporate insignia? And look at the bangs on both me and Dad!

3. Once, when I lived in Brooklyn, our house was broken into and our VCR was stolen, with my Winnie-the-Pooh tape inside. This was extremely distressing.

4. Another time, when I lived in Middle Village, our apartment was broken into and I could hear our German landlord, who lived downstairs, screaming, “I have a knife! I’m going to kill you!” Even more distressing.
5. I listened to Psalty’s Sleepytime Helpers every. single. night.

6. Until I was maybe 15. #cringe

7. I read Josh Harris’s I Kissed Dating Goodbye over and over because I was trying to comfort myself that the boy I wanted to date didn’t want to date me.
8. Moralizing was once my favorite mechanism for convincing myself I didn’t want what I really wanted. I’ve come to realize it’s a popular one.

9. I’ve worn corrective lenses (glasses or contacts) since third grade.

10. I’ve had purple ones, red ones, pink ones, and various other shades of hideousness.

Oy, the frilly collar. The loud floral. The purple carbon-fiber glasses.

11. I could get 20 or more bites out of an M&M as a toddler.

12. I’ve always had a thing for goats.

13. Once, when I was 5, I opened the toilet to find a rat swimming in the bowl and staring at me. Everyone still says I was scared, but, actually, I was kind of amused.

14. Although I must’ve been traumatized on some level since I still can’t sit on a toilet without looking for fear that something will be lurking there, ready to bite my rear.

15. The first time I ever said a “bad word” was when I was 17 and had major surgery and the hospital’s elevator door started closing on me right around my HUGE INCISION site. I said the “sh” word slowly and dramatically and my mom, whom I’d thought would be horrified, couldn’t stop laughing.

16. Turns out I sound just like my grandma when I say bad words, even though I never once heard her say one. Genetics are funny like that.

17. I didn’t lose a tooth until 3rd grade, by which time it seemed like most people had lost many of their teeth and the glamour had worn off.

18. I really, really, look forward to my coffee in the morning. As in, glare at the machine until it’s done if it’s not done by the time I come downstairs.

19. Even though I’ve always loved to write, I’ve always hated to journal.

20. I slept with my rag doll, Susan, every night (ahem. UNTIL COLLEGE) even though she was dirty and tattered looking. She even came with me to Israel when I was 7.

21. At the airport, I screamed when the security guard tried to put Susan through the X-ray machine–I thought she was going to be checked with the baggage.

22. So they let me go through without X-raying her.

23. That would never happen today. I’m still kinda surprised El Al let that one slip then.

24. My mom is Jewish. Which means I’m Jewish, according to the Talmud.

25. While I’ve always been a Christian, I’m startled by how well I conform to some Jewish stereotypes.

26. Especially when my mom and I are together. You know the Gilmore Girls? They’re so not wealthy white New Englanders. They are really Jewish New Yorkers. And they are my mom and me. (Minus all the unziemlich. My dad is Luke, the diner owner.)

27. I knew I wanted to marry my husband as soon as I met him.

28. But it was nearly 3 years between then and our first date.

29. 8 and 1/2 years of marriage and 2 boisterous children later, he’s still the light of my life and the one to whom I owe the leaping delight that quickens my senses.

30. I am one very, very blessed girl. (Am I still allowed to call myself a ‘girl’?)
Happy Friday to you, Happy Friday to you, Happy Friday, dear readers!
Happy Friday to you.

Apples! And watermelon! And a distended belly! (and lots of adorable pictures)

This is such a weird time of year. It’s technically autumn, but the leaves haven’t yet turned and it’s warm and muggy most days. Our watermelons finally became ripe and ready, and yet it’s apple picking time. I find myself wanting to wear wool and hoodies, yet I’m still getting mosquito bites regularly. In fact, I can hardly focus on writing this post because of the brand new bite on my left arm. I find myself mentally drafting letters like these:

“Dear Mosquito: you’re welcome to drink a bit of my blood. But why, oh why, do you have to inject poison, too? I’m happy to share, but when you hurt me in return, I feel sad because I’m needing itch-free skin. Let’s work this out. Best, Rachel”

Yesterday, my boys and I enjoyed a couple of lazy hours in the orchards of Wickham’s Fruit Farm, courtesy of our friend Amy. (Thank you, Amy!) What fun! My only regret was that we did not make it back from the orchards in time to sample the homemade donuts and hot apple cider. (The boys and I mourned this the whole 15 minute drive back home.)

Here are some pictures of the happy time:

The first apple, picked by an overjoyed Aidan.


we spent some time contemplating how this apple had become an ant-home. very cool.

and no outing is complete without the obligatory chase-and-tackle of Mom.

Tasting was encouraged, but Graeme took things overboard.

He lifted up his shirt to demonstrate how full his tummy was.

And we asked, “Graeme! How many apples did you eat?!” His proud reply?


(“The toilet is going to be aching tomorrow,” he said.)

I swear, I cannot make this stuff up.

And then, our grief over the Dearth of Donuts was assuaged by our very own watermelon:

And there you have it! A perfectly mixed-up seasonal day.





The Death of a Great Woman

Have you ever heard of Wangari Maathai? She was a pretty awesome woman, and she died on Sunday night.

Wangari Maathai was born in a small village in Kenya and went on to become

“environmentalist, feminist, politician, professor, rabble-rouser, [!] human rights advocate and head of the Green Belt Movement, which she founded in 1977.”

(New York Times)

Dr. Maathai paid people--mostly women--a few pennies per tree that they planted and that lived.

She was educated in the US at Mount St. Scholastica and the University of Pittsburg, and she earned a doctorate in veterinary anatomy at the University of Nairobi–the first woman in East or Central Africa to earn a doctorate.

She was also the very first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for “her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace.” (She knew that ecological crises are often at the root of conflicts and wars.)

She was an elected member of Kenyan Parliament and served as Assistant Minister for Environment and Natural Resources between January 2003 and November 2005.

And she also had personal and political problems like crazy.

Her husband thought she was too headstrong for a woman–and too difficult to control–and divorced her. She stood up to the corrupt Kenyan president Daniel arap Moi, losing her university job in the process. She oversaw the planting of 30 million trees to fight creeping desertification. She was imprisoned and maligned for her activism. And yet she remained unbowed.

Wangari Maathai's memoir. Definitely worth reading.

She embodied a bold kind of beauty. She was brave and principled. She had a reverence for Creation:

“So these observations [of environmental degradation in her native Kenya] for me aroused an interest that there must be something that is happening that is bad, but it wasn’t the faith [that made me realize the ecological crisis.] And I wish it was, because it should have been. I should have been reading the book of Genesis a little more closely.

And she will be missed. Thank you, Wangari, for the inspiration!

{You can listen to an interview with Wangari Maathai here. In it she talks about how she’s encouraged that faith-based groups are beginning to take conservation seriously, and how her own faith was shaped. Definitely worth a listen!}

Grace and a Steak Dinner

Mr. S’s favorite food has always been steak. He’s a meat-and-potatoes kind of man. As in, pizza is, for him, “ethnic” food. His roots go down deep in New England-style cooking, and the rich influence of US immigration on American cuisine has done little to alter his palate.

He’s always been a great eater, Mr. S. And Mrs. S was, in her day, a great cook. After their retirement, they ate in restaurants a lot, because Mr. S wanted to give her a break from the endless multiple-course cooking that she did day in, day out for many decades.

When I was little, Mister and Misses (as we called them for short) used to have my family over for dinner, and, more commonly, would take us out for dinner. These dinners were, invariably, meat-and-potato affairs: steak and baked potato, hamburger platters, and the like. Mister always ate very slowly (“I don’t eat. I dine,” he would insist) but he ate quite a bit.

These days, though, Mister’s appetite isn’t very good. And although, these days, slabs of meat rarely feature in my cooking, I decided that I would suspend my own preferences and make an old-fashioned meat-and-potatoes dinner for Mister and Misses’ Saturday-night meal.

mushrooms dissolving in butter. um yum yum.

I consulted Fannie on the particulars, of course, and prepared, according to her wisdom, a broiled rib-eye with a mushroom cream sauce, roast potatoes, and green beans.

This here mushroom cream sauce? TOTALLY great on green beans.

And for dessert, a chocolate chiffon pie in a (gluten-free!) chocolate-coconut shell, all at Fannie’s direction.

what a mess! it actually turned into a good pie shell, though.

and the finished pie. yum! next time I want to make a mocha one.

(The first custard filling came out dreadfully. I washed it down the drain, and told Misses about it at dinner. “That happens sometimes, oh yes,” she said in her quiet, gracious way.)

curdled custard. gag me.

Mister still didn’t eat much, but he thanked me several times. “I don’t mean to belabor the point, but this is really special. The closest thing we get to steak here is a Salisbury steak that’s only 1/2″ thick.”

(Misses has never been much of a talker, but she cleaned her plates with relish.)

This meal got me thinking. On one hand, a meat-heavy diet is something I’ve got all kinds of concerns about. On the other, I see my friends, in their 90s, with very few comforts and pleasures in life. I might be happy with some vegetarian curry and brown rice–but a meal like that would do nothing for them. And so I can’t help but think that a steak dinner is the best I can do for them.

So I did it. And, oh, they may thank me, but honestly, for how glad I am to cook for them, and watch them enjoy some comfort food, I should be thanking them.

And maybe that joy is just a taste of the reward Jesus says we’ll get when we invite those who can’t repay to our banquet. (Or, you know, bring the banquet to them.) Maybe this meal is unsustainable on a global scale. Probably it is. (The veggies were from the garden, though.) Some people say old folks don’t even have sensitive taste buds any more. Maybe they don’t.

But maybe pouring expensive perfume on the feet of a man who’s about to die is an extravagant waste, too.

And then again, maybe not.

The Last Last Meal

Why abolishing the last meal is graceless.

Robert Dale Conklin's Bacon Wrapped Filet Mignon

Last week, following the execution of Lawrence Russell Brewer, Texas State Senator John Whitmire (D) contacted the head of the state prison agency to demand that the practice of allowing a prisoner to choose a last meal be ended immediately.

Ted Bundy's Steak and Eggs

Texas executes more people than any other state, and their death row process has been under scrutiny. For example, in 2004, Texas executed Cameron Todd Willingham for the murder by arson of his three daughters, which he almost certainly did not commit. Yet Governor Rick Perry, among others, have done their best to write off this wrongful execution as “business as usual” even though the Texas Fire Commission had ruled that the original evidence collected against Willingham was deeply flawed.

John Wayne Gacy had KFC

So why abolish the last meal? Well, part of the reason is that Brewer kind of made a mockery of the age-old tradition of the last meal–ordering

two chicken-fried steaks with gravy and sliced onions; a triple-patty bacon cheeseburger; a cheese omelet with ground beef, tomatoes, onions, bell peppers and jalapeños; a bowl of fried okra with ketchup; one pound of barbecued meat with half a loaf of white bread; three fajitas; a meat-lover’s pizza; one pint of Blue Bell Ice Cream; a slab of peanut-butter fudge with crushed peanuts; and three root beers.

and then not eating any of it, saying he wasn’t hungry. Plus, Brewer was totally unrepentant for his heinous crime, telling the local news: “as far as any regrets, no, I have no regrets. No, I’d do it all over again, to tell you the truth.” Perhaps his unrepentance was part of what irked Sen. Whitmire; perhaps, as Anne Emanuel says, it was a “diversionary” tactic to deflect attention from the sloppiness that seems to characterize Texas death row process.

Timothy McVeigh's Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream

But why abolish the last meal altogether? Florida, for example, grants its condemned a last meal of their choice, but ingredients must be purchased locally and cost no more than $40. Abolishing the last meal, to me, seems graceless.

I should come out and say that I think the death penalty itself needs to be abolished. The execution of Troy Davis on the same night as Brewer was a case in which an enormous amount of evidence pointed to Davis’ innocence, not unlike the Willingham case. But the truth is, I don’t think that Brewer–though unrepentant and guilty–should’ve been put to death either. There are a lot of reasons why I deplore execution, which I won’t go into here, but the simplest are these: I don’t believe anyone has the right to take what only God can give, and I believe that putting people to death–even guilty people–destroys the souls of those who do it. (It must be noted that the family of Brewer’s victim held a vigil for Brewer and opposed his execution to the end.)

So, obviously, for me, the last meal is a small issue beside the huge one of a consistent life ethic. But I find myself really bothered by the fact that Texas has chosen to end this ancient tradition because it strikes me as needlessly graceless. The last meal is, traditionally, an act of grace–often given along with the Sacraments, in fact. It’s an act of grace because, obviously, the last meal is gratuitous–the condemned having no “need” of nutrition in his or her final hours. And it is an act of grace because accepting food is a sign of trust and peace. (In Louisiana, the prison warden traditionally eats the last meal with the condemned. I can’t seem to contemplate this without tears in my eyes.)

Philip Workman declined a last meal for himself, asking instead for a vegetarian pizza to be given on his behalf to a homeless person. Prison officials denied his request, but it was carried out by others across the country.

The last meals that prisoners choose seem to say so much about them. A number of artists have even made projects of artfully portraying last meals. It seems to me that after years on death row with no dignity or chance to choose anything, the offer of a final meal of one’s choice is a glimmer of grace.

I wouldn’t have thought it possible that the Texas death row process could seem any more callous and graceless than it already does. But they’ve done it.

{For more about the death penalty, or to join the effort to end it, visit the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty website. For a moving account of a man sentenced to die for a crime he did not commit, I highly recommend The Thin Blue Linethe Errol Morris film that led to Randall Dale Adams’ exoneration. The book that convinced me that the death penalty needs to die is Dead Man Walking.}