Monday, July 27, 2009

Hi. I'm Cheri, and I'm Vitamin D Deficient

Here’s a poorly-concealed fact about me: I like to get things right.

Part of it is because I’m the oldest of three kids. A lot was expected of me and I’m here to tell you – I was eager to deliver.

When I say a lot was expected consider this: Mom began potty-training me at … don't even try to guess … three months. This, despite the fact that, according to my baby book, I couldn’t even sit up until a month later. That didn’t hold me back, of course. I was dry through the night before my first birthday. (Sure, other people might be reticent to boast about something they did 45 years ago, but not me. You know why? You betcha. 'Cause I got it right.)

No shock, then, that in school, I was that annoying kid who wanted to be an achiever. Don’t pretend you don’t know who that kid was in your class. Every grade had one, and if you can’t provide that kid’s first and last name and an embarrassing example of their unabashed, smarmy apple-polishing -- well then, I feel sorry for you. Take a gander in the mirror. Looks like you were that kid.

I haven’t been in a classroom for about 25 years now, but my need to succeed never faded. It’s a nasty trait, but it’s there when I’m cooking, when I’m driving, when I’m writing, when I’m training the dog and even when I’m folding laundry. I want to get things right. It even oozes over into areas of my life over which I have virtually no control.

I beam when a nurse reports that my blood pressure is “perfect.” Of course it is. Why wouldn’t it be? My weight? Just fine. My temperature? A cool 98.4. Urinalysis? No problems whatsoever. My vision? Surprisingly (to everyone except me, of course) good.

So when my doctor recently told me it was time for a routine Vitamin D test, I was practically eager to hear the results.

To be sure, even during routine tests, it does occur to me that something could go wrong. What if -- for example -- my vision isn’t perfect:? And I have to get glasses? And because my new prescription glasses are delayed, I mistakenly deliver the kids to the wrong summer camp? And instead of sailing, they're taught to juggle and swing on a flying trapeze? And then, instead of returning home and running into my welcoming arms, they run away with the circus? Without their phone chargers? So they can’t even call me? And since I didn’t give them pre-addressed envelopes, they can’t write to me, either? Then what? Is it now my job to clean the cat litter boxes -- just because my eyesight faltered?

I digress.

Back to Vitamin D. Really. Are you kidding me?

Imagine my surprise when, a week later, my doctor mailed a letter telling me that my blood sugar is fine, my thyroid is 1.76 (apparently okey dokey), my CBC (sorry, I have no idea) is normal, my cholesterol is chockfull of the good, life-extending cholesterol, but I am Vitamin D deficient.

Deficient? Ouch. That hurts.

C’mon! Vitamin D? OK. It is true that I never drink milk except in the form of a venti, non-fat, no-foam chai from Starbucks. But as a baseball mom, I spend ample time in outdoors in the bleachers and get gracious plenty sun. Doesn't that help my body make its own D?

Panicked, I turned to my Mac keyboard and Googled “Vitamin D deficiency.”

Wheeeewwww. OK. I can breathe a little easier now. Looks like there’s no relationship between wine consumption and D deficiency. So plainly, it’s not my fault.

However, as it turns out, researchers are realizing that many, if not most, women are Vitamin D deficient. I also learn that Vitamin D deficiency can be a factor in many serious diseases, including cancer, heart disease, and most obviously, osteoporosis. And listen to these symptoms of deficiency: weak bones, low energy, symptoms of depression, mood swings and sleep irregularities.

I know, right? We all thought that was all just part and parcel of being me!

Treating a D deficiency is easy. I take a prescription supplement once a week for 12 weeks and will be re-tested in a year. Tah. Dah.

I’m also trying to eat more D-rich foods, including fortified orange juice and eggs. Embarrassingly, I still can’t force myself to choke down a glass of milk. However, my "deficiency" (which I now choose to embrace as a “quirk”) made it easy to render a quick “yes,” when Darling Daughter requested (D-rich) tuna sandwiches this weekend.

As I may have mentioned, I do like to get things right.

(To learn more about Vitamin D deficiencies, which may affect as many as 85% of American women, check this website,

Tuna Salad Sandwiches
When I was a kid, we stretched this recipe to make five sandwiches. I'm an adult now, and Chez Wiles, the same recipe makes two hearty sandwiches. On whole wheat bread, of course.
One can tuna, packed in olive oil, drained
1/4 onion, minced
1/2 large kosher pickle, cubed
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Generous grinding black pepper

In a medium mixing bowl, stir together drained tuna, celery, onion and pickle. Don't mash. Stir in lemon juice and mayonnaise. Season with salt and pepper and adjust seasoning as needed.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

When Life Makes You Happy, Make Blueberry Lemonade.

Last time I clicked, the so-called viral video, JK Wedding Entrance had racked up an astounding five million hits. Not bad, considering that, basically, it's a wedding video -- covering one of the 2.3 million U.S. weddings to be celebrated this year.

This one's special, though. JK Wedding Entrance (and really, you've got to see it -- features the atypically exuberant wedding processional of Minnesota couple Jill and Kevin, who, along with their attendants, boogied, strutted, hip-hopped, hustled, jived and, in one instance hand-walked, down the aisle to the infectious “Forever,” as recorded by Chris Brown.

I’ll be honest. Here at home, Darling Daughter (DD) and I can’t stop watching it.

Neither, apparently, can the rest of America. The darling -- and daring -- newlyweds appeared on The Today Show and Good Morning America yesterday, and then, the entire dance -- complete with attendants -- was recreated this morning on The Today Show (you've got to see this one, too -- There is some disagreement between DD and me as to which is more watchable.) Not surprisingly, the compulsively danceable, but year-old recording of “Forever” catapulted into the iTunes Top 10 today.

Within the very first few seconds, this simple home video brings a smile to the face, a tear to the eye, and then, an extra beat or two to the heart.

It didn’t take long, of course, for cynics to voice their critical opinions. In their minds, the video is self-indulgent, disrespectful, unoriginal, overwrought and destined to be imitated (not in a good way).

To them, I’ve got four words: Don’t be a hater.

C’mon. Really – how can you not be inspired and uplifted watching these folks?

And here's what I love -- the joy and the willingness of all the participants, regardless of ability. I can't see any evidence that anyone evoked the "I can't dance" mantra. They all dance. They dance as if no one is watching. They dance as if everyone is watching. What a generous wedding gift.
Just look at the unabashed joy and uninhibited spirit of the ushers, groomsmen and bridesmaids. Look at the cool confidence of the groom. Try to peel your eyes off the bride, nearly overcome with giddiness and delight.

How can you feel anything other than happy for them?

Indeed, maybe more of life’s celebrations should veer from the expected path. Imagine what would happen if more of us departed from the pre-ordained, what-we're-supposed-to-do scripts and etiquette books.

Why not cha-cha to Pomp and Circumstance? Why not accept a job offer with a salsa?

Why not do The Cupid Shuffle across the threshold of that first apartment? Why not do The Electric Slide after the birth of a child? (I don’t dare suggest a “conception” dance. I suspect it’s already been done. More than once.)

Why should we be afraid to show – and share – our joy?

Yesterday, DD was inspired to make strawberry lemonade – a recipe she perfected last summer, despite my ongoing complaints about sticky countertops and stained hardwoods. This time, though, there were no strawberries in the fridge. Just blueberries.

Since DD's 12, though, and not entirely tainted by the cynicism of teen and adult years, the solution was simple: blueberries we had, and blueberries would work.

So she came up with something new. And unexpected. And joyful.

Kind of like JK Wedding Entrance -- a lesson to all of us.


DD’s Blueberry Lemonade
(serves two)

2 large lemons, juiced
1/ 1/2 cups water
1/3 cup sugar
a dozen blueberries, pressed through a fine sieve
additional blueberries for garnish

Pour the lemon juice, water and sugar into a pitcher. Stir, vigorously, until sugar is dissolved. Stir in strained blueberries. Pour over ice. Garnish with whole blueberries. Drink while dancing.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Measure Of A Successful Summer. (Among Other Things, A Second Artichoke Salad)

I’m counting my blessings.

It’s Day One of Everyone’s-Back-Home, and after fewer than 24 hours, the kids are already well-immersed in friends and visiting and storytelling and outings.

After the five hour ride home from camp Friday, Darling Daughter (DD), didn’t even make it into the house before loudly reuniting with a darling friend whose mom, upon hearing the shrieks from nearly a block away, rushed over, anticipating a bike accident or at the very least, an attempted abduction, but instead, found two 12-year-olds greeting each other in the fashion fitting a four-week separation.

(Snarky Son, a.k.a. SS,  wryly observed, “I don’t get girls.” Out of context, these may be words he’ll live to regret.)

So the kids are home, and my number one activity is now: Laundry. Lots. Loads. Lurid. A few items of my own needed to be laundered as well, but there’s no way I’d subject my clothes to that mosh pit. I wouldn't even put the dog blanket in.

By the numbers, I’ve done eight super-sized loads already. The volume of dingy, dirty, soggy, sandy items expelled from the kids' footlockers was so massive, I got to micro-sort. Three loads of whites, and then, one each of navy blue, black, khaki/gray, red/pink and light green/light blue. The whites were first to be done. Sadly, despite generous dousings of Clorox, they're still dingy. But done.

Each load plainly tilts toward one child or the other. Setting aside the five sets of towels and three sets of sheets, SS took the “whites” loads in a landslide. His victory included, among other things, a baker’s dozen T-shirts (10 with printing, three without) and four and half pairs of socks. The missing sock doesn’t give me a moment’s pause. Its very absence indicates it was not the better half.

Another pair of his socks appear to have been tie-dyed at camp – mysteriously, only from the heel up. Can he explain this? Do I even want to know?

From the navy blue load, DD could claim five pairs of shorts and three tops, but still couldn’t be declared the winner. SS took the title with four shirts plus 10 pairs of shorts. Better still (from a story-telling standpoint), two of those pairs of shorts didn't originally belong to him. One pair belonged to a cabinmate, and the other to a girl he met at a dance. Don’t ask. I didn't.

When it comes to bringing home other people's goods, however, SS only takes the red ribbon. DD, our blue-ribbon-winner, brought home an expensive Vineyard Vines belt from her “Johnny” (camp code for “boyfriend”). Again, I’m not asking. I am, however, cringing every time the phone rings, anticipating calls from irate parents.

Back on the laundry front (because really, I can no longer wrap my mind around the casualness of the camp clothes-swap), SS also took the prize for the light green/light blue load, which should’ve been an easy win for DD, since these are two of her favorite clothing colors. However, 15 pairs of boxers in the load put SS over the top. In truth, though, only 10 pairs made it to the finish line – the dresser drawer. The other road-weary, limp and threadbare pairs went directly into the trash.

There's ample space for all these clean clothes in their rooms, though, because after weeding out their closets while they were gone, I carted three lawn-and-leaf-sized plastic yard bags of old clothes to the Salvation Army. So far, neither kid has detected nary a missing item.
In the midst of all this sorting, washing, drying and folding, SS was brazen enough to ask how much money I owed him for writing to me from camp.

Now, this isn’t entirely out of line. He's only 14 years old, which means his brain development is, ahem, incomplete. And yes, I had agreed to pay one dollar for each well-written letter home. However, given that four of his last four letters included the phrase they’re forcing me to write, it's safe to assume that he’s not going to rake in the big bucks.

The four-week tally? At this point, it looks like SS: 9, DD: 12. But wait. Three of the SS letters were only one sentence, which means they didn’t nearly meet the well-written criteria. Final payout: $6.00 to SS, $12.00 to DD. That's right. The kid who already has more cash than she can count (or even locate) earned double.

Add it all up, and it’s already been a fairly successful summer Chez Wiles. I even came up with not one, but two, artichoke salad recipes this past week, which means that while the kids gorge on waffles, bacon and berries for supper (for the best waffle recipe ever, from my first blog post ever, click here), I get to polish off the last of the artichokes.

That, you can count on.

Double Artichoke Salad
1 box frozen artichoke hearts, thawed
1 well-cleaned fresh artichoke heart, shaved or sliced thinly
1 tablespoon capers, drained
4-5 long, thin strips of parmiggiano-reggiano (use a vegetable peeler)
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
Boston lettuce leaves, well-cleaned and dried

For dressing
1 ½ tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
1 ½ tablespoons fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon kosher salt (or more to taste)
generous grinding of black pepper
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

In a large bowl (a lidded bowl helps), combine salad ingredients – except lettuce. In a separate small bowl, whisk vinegar, lemon juice, salt and pepper together. Gradually whisk in oil, to form an emulsion. Pour over artichokes mixture and toss well (or better still, seal with lid and shake). Spoon dressed ingredients over lettuce leaves, arranged to form a cup. Season with additional salt and pepper as needed.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Living Life To The Fullest -- At Camp And At Home.

Nearly impossible to believe, but mere hours from now, I’ll be en route to Arapahoe, North Carolina to retrieve my two happy campers, Snarky Son (SS) and Darling Daughter (DD).

A friend warns that the kids will have changed. Hair length and skintone are obvious, of course. Four weeks without a barber, and sunscreen left in the hands of disinterested teenagers will do that. But I’ve also been advised to be alert for changes in height and shoe size, posture and confidence, attitude and – for lack of a better word – vocabulary. (This last is true. SS returned with some real eye-wideners last summer. And a couple of eyebrow-lifters, too.)

When I was little, I believed our house was rigged with cameras – all of them, naturally, focused on me. I’d perform, ahem, behave, accordingly. I’d sing, I’d dance, I’d pose for hours on end. I’d tuck myself into bed, hands folded preciously across my skinny little chest, waist-length hair arranged just so on my pillow. A little narcissistic? Yes. A tad creepy? No kidding. The thing is, I felt that people, namely my parents, noticed my every little gesture.

I have no doubt I'll see differences in the kids on Friday. I can't help but wonder whether they'll see me differently, too?

In DD’s most recent letter, she declared her intention to “live life to the fullest” (LLTTF) her last week at camp. This from a girl I constantly attempt to harangue and badger into optimism! (Truly. We have glasses here at home with the words “Ottimista” and “Pessimista” printed at the half-full/empty line. Suffice to say that DD cringes when I chant these dreaded Italian words. BTW, harassment doesn't necessarily evoke cheerfulness.)

I simply adore DD's enthusiasm and it occurs to me that I, too, have been LLTTF this summer. For the first time since the divorce, I had the luxury of relaxing, even slightly, the mantle of parenthood. So albeit unexpectedly, I’ve indulged myself these past few weeks. Visits to the spa and salon. Trips to Boston and Charleston. Potato salad for breakfast. Popcorn and wine for dinner. (Fine. Wine for dessert, too.) Not to mention the sheer ease of laundry and dishes and shopping and housecleaning for one. (Hey! Has everybody brought their dirty clothes to the laundry room? Why yes, I have!)

Make no mistake. I missed my kids. Terribly. There were days when I scarcely knew what to do – how to breathe – without them. I scanned the camp website every morning, checking for photos of them. I wrote them daily -- and sometimes, even more often. I tackled their rooms, cleaning out closets and adding a level of organization which they'll surely appreciate -- but only when they are parents themselves. OK. Maybe not even then. But truly, I’ll be thrilled to see them Friday.

Because whether they realize it or not, LLTTF these past few weeks has been good for all of us.

Yes, I'll eagerly tackle the laundry and attitudes and even the language they'll bring home with them. But for dinner tonight, I indulged myself one last time with a dish the kids would eat no way, no how -- artichoke salad. In fact, I was feeling so hedonistic, I made up with two artichoke salad recipes – and ate both! Here’s the first, along with a reminder from DD -- to LLTTF.

Artichoke, Olive, Fennel and Spinach Salad

1 box frozen artichoke hearts, thawed
½ bulb fennel, shaved or sliced thinly
12 kalamata olives, sliced
1 teaspoon fresh grated lemon zest
1 rib celery, sliced thinly, on the diagonal
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
fresh baby spinach
For dressing
1 ½ tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
1 ½ tablespoons fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon kosher salt (or more to taste)
generous grinding of black pepper
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

In a large bowl (a lidded bowl helps), combine salad ingredients – except spinach. In a separate small bowl, whisk vinegar, lemon juice, salt and pepper together. Gradually whisk in oil, to form an emulsion. Pour over artichokes mixture and toss well (or better still, seal with lid and shake). Spoon dressed ingredients over a bed of raw baby spinach. Season with additional salt and pepper as needed.

I Know My Place. So I'm Making Brownies.

Parenting is a humbling gig. 

No matter how much prenatal prep you force on yourself, no matter how much you pore over What To Expect When You’re Expecting, no matter how much advice is offered by more experienced friends, nothing truly prepares you for that first night home from the hospital.

Is that a “tired” cry or a “hungry” cry? Or is it a “saturated Pampers” cry? Even if you’re blessed with a few hours of blissful silence, you think, “Something's wrong! The baby isn't crying!”

Right. All that studying was for naught. Get used to on-the-job-training, baby. You may flaunt advanced degrees and successfully manage more than 35 people at work, but you’re a parent now, which is an exercise in simple humility – if not downright humiliation.

Even after those baby and toddler years, kids continue to keep a parent’s ego in check. Just look at recent letters from my happy campers. When it comes to Darling Daughter and Snarky Son, humility “r” me.

DD’s letter, I’ll grant you, does pass the “well-written” test (as defined by me, click here). Among other things, she enthusiastically thanks me for a ring I sent, she praises my decision to send candy, and declares her intention to live life to the fullest while I’m spending my last days at camp. Huzzah!

But in the opening sentence, she keeps me in my place: I can’t wait to see you and kitty!
There it is. I send letters. I send e-mails. I send gifts. But I’m still on par with the cat, Lionel, who will likely draw blood from DD within minutes of her return home. (He didn’t mean to! He was just playing!)

SS, at 14, the more experienced of my two kids, isn’t nearly so subtle. In the past week or so, Mike the Mailman has now delivered three – count ‘em, three – notes from my son. (You can’t call a lone sentence of correspondence a “letter.” You can scarcely call it a “note.” And you certainly can’t say it passes the “well-written” test.)

Three, of course, wouldn’t be so bad, except that in each one he manages to incorporate the same phrase: Um, they’re forcing me to write home …

Smackdown. Back in my place.

And happily so.

Because the truth is, I’m thrilled their experience at camp this summer has been so “awesome” (a word used in nearly every letter or note). And I’ll be thrilled to have them back home at the end of this week.

To celebrate their return, I’ll serve – what else? – the beloved sausage pasta (click here for the recipe) and these sweet brownies for dessert.

I got the recipe from a friend in Charleston a few weeks back. The recipe is actually her mom’s, and she says people often tell her that they are the best brownies ever. I’d have to agree. And on their homecoming this Friday, I bet DD and SS will, as well.

Blanche’s Brownies
This recipe makes a very moist, thin, frosted brownie. My friend said to use a “big” pan, but since I didn’t have one large enough, I used a 9x12 and an 8x8.

For brownies
2 cups sugar
2 sticks butter
3 (1oz.) squares semi-sweet chocolate
4 eggs
1 1/2 cups plain flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350, and prepare both pans well with Pam. Melt butter and chocolate in saucepan (or in microwave). Pour over sugar in a mixing bowl and combine well. With a fork, combine flour and baking powder in a measuring cup. Add flour and eggs alternately to chocolate mixture. Beat well, stir in walnuts and divide into prepared pans. Now, here’s the best line I’ve ever seen in a recipe: Brownies are done when you smell them cooking. In my oven, it was less than 20 minutes.

For icing
1/2 box confectioners’ sugar
5 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 squares semi-sweet chocolate
1 tsp vanilla

Melt butter and chocolate together. Stir in sugar and vanilla. Add enough milk to make spread evenly. Use to frost brownies once cooled.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Kids At Camp. Mom Not. All Is Well.

Day 18 of the Kids-At-Camp-Mom-Not program. At this point, though, I suppose the program could be renamed the Eight-Days-Remain program. As in, Eight Days Remain until I drive five and half hours to retrieve two exhausted, over-sunned, iPod- and mobile-phone-deprived campers for what will surely be some top quality car time with me. Hoo boy. Yep. Best to strap on those seat belts. That re-entry could be a little rocky.

Unexpectedly, I’ve been rather enjoying myself in their absence. I’d anticipated, after dropping them at camp 18 days ago, that I’d make the lonely return trip awash in tears, wracked by sobs so debilitating that I'd have to pull over to the shoulder and get myself together.

Um. Didn’t happen. I did get to listen to whatever I wanted on the car CD player, though, all the way home. And I got to sing. My songs. Loudly. Repeatedly. And off-key.

Originally, I’d thought it possible that I’d get a call from Kleenex manufacturer Kimberly Clark, thanking me for my singular increased tissue usage, which had prompted spiking stock prices. Hmm. Well. Looks like there are still plenty of tissues here, so I’m not worried about missing that call.

I had even boldly predicted that, for the four weeks they were at camp, I wouldn’t be able to stop myself from getting up in the night to check on the kids, only to be reminded, sadly, that they’re not here. Right. Turns out, I got re-trained pretty darn quickly. I don't have to check. They’re not here. I'm OK with that.

I know I should feel guilty about how easy this has been for me. ‘Cause I really do love my kids and bask in their company. And they both know that. But it's only four weeks, and I've been making the most of it. And the fact is, the kids are doing everything they can to make sure I don't miss them.

Just look at an excerpt from the letter Mike The Mailman delivered today from Snarky Son (SS) – Not much to say, um, they’re forcing me to write. I’m having loads of fun … send candy!

Um, I love you, too?

And this, from Darling Daughter (DD), There are 10 days left of camp. I can’t believe it’s almost over. I don’t want to leave!

That's all right. Anyone could read between the lines on that one. She's desperate for me, right?

Let’s just say that I'm not counting on a Disney-type moment when I retrieve them next weekend. I well remember last summer, when SS made his return trip from camp to reality – and chores, rules, veggies, required-footwear and poop-scooping. He wasn't home 24 hours before he asked, in all seriousness, whether he could return to camp for another four weeks. What a lovable kid.

Lucky for me, I’ve still got another eight days to relish ... um, mourn ... their absence. And there's no better way to do it than with one of my favorite – and their least favorite – dishes. Potato salad.

I really do believe that this recipe (based on my mom’s) is the best ever. It's very old-fashioned and very simple – no boiled eggs, no bell peppers, no ornamental paprika and none of that yellow food coloring my grandmother occasionally called upon to give her salad just the right appearance.

And the way I eat it -- starting the day with breakfast and ending the day as bedtime snack -- it’ll be long gone before the kids return to reality. Lucky for them -- and me.

Old Fashioned Potato Salad
2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes (about 5)
3 ribs celery, sliced
1 large kosher dill pickle, cubed
1/2 large sweet onion (Vidalia or Maui), diced
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 1/2 tablespoons yellow mustard (or slightly more, to taste)
generous grind of black pepper

Put whole, unpeeled potatoes in a large pot of salted water. Bring water to a boil, reduce heat somewhat and simmer until fork tender. Drain, let cool slightly, peel and cut in rough 1/2 inch dice. Stir in celery, pickle and onions. Stir in about half of the mayonnaise and all of the mustard. Continue stirring in remaining mayonnaise as needed until moistened. Stir in pepper and additional salt if needed. Chill well and serve!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

A Girl Needs Girls. And Chocolate.

I am one lucky girl.

It’s Day Eleven of Kids-At-Camp-Mom-Not, and two more well-written letters from Darling Daughter have arrived at my door.

I absolutely adore when Mike the Mailman delivers “real” mail – even though the envelopes bear my own handwriting because I had pre-addressed and stamped them myself. I'm not even bothered to know that I owe DD one dollar for each of these letters. (Yep. That's the going price for a well-written letter. Don't judge me. It works.)

To me, DD is compulsively “readable.” I read and re-read each of her notes, scavenging for details I may have missed the first time through, seeking additional clues to her mood by trying to read between the lines and analyze her handwriting and choice of ink color. However, I am considering tucking a thesaurus in her next care package. The word “awesome” is beginning to show some wear.

Her most recent letter is from Day Seven, just before her first dance. She wrote, “I am so excited! Each Saturday, they bring dinner to you on the porch while you have a shaving party! After you shave, you take showers. Then comes the dance.”

My own heart did a little two-step as I read those words: shaving party. (Yes. I did briefly consider the potential health and safety issues. But only for an instant.)

We don’t get to choose our memories. We don't get to decide which details of an event will be tattooed on our brain for a lifetime. For example, from DD’s four weeks at camp, I’m not positive that, 20 years from now, she’ll remember: Did she sail or ride horseback? Did she play tennis or golf? Did she water-ski or learn to fly just by running at a fast clip and flapping her arms? (OK, that last she might remember.) I feel certain, though, that she’ll recall, in precise detail, “shaving parties.” I wasn’t there, of course, but even I have an indelible picture in my mind – all those slender pony-tailed girls on a long wooden porch, with their colt-like legs angled this way and that, stars in their eyes, doing far more chatting and giggling than shaving.

A girl needs girls – whether she’s 12 or, like me, 46. And while DD was sharing Schicks with her girls this past weekend, I was sharing stories in Boston with mine, including Super Sis (blog editor par excellence) and three of the funniest, funnest, smartest, dearest women I know. Our friendship goes back over 20 years, from when I lived and worked in Boston in the 80s. As I said, I am one lucky girl.

Boy did we laugh.

We drank, we laughed. We ate, we laughed. We shopped, we laughed. We used profanity, we laughed. We snapped pictures of inappropriate signs, we laughed. Sometimes we giggled and squealed and snorted. And then, we laughed.

A couple of times, we couldn't even talk for laughing. We promised each other that what happened in Boston would stay in Boston. Even so, some of what happened kind of leaked out around the edges and found its way home. (Dang Facebook. And cell phones. And me.) But we just laughed some more. SS and I laughed all the way to the airport and all the way home to Charleston (SS) and Charlotte (me). We're still laughing now.

Not all of the stories we shared were funny, of course. We’re older now and have seen far more than our share of difficulties. Of the five of us, three are messily divorced. One of us had attended two funerals the week before -- including a shocking one for a teenage boy. There were stories of infidelity and money woes and difficult teenagers and assorted family tragedies. But in the end, we found humor in sharing. We laughed.

Girl power at its best.

Naturally, today’s recipe has to include every girl’s favorite ingredient – chocolate. So here's a little something that SS shared with me, but I haven’t yet tried. It's a little unusual, but just by looking at it, I think it’ll work. (Besides, the idea of baking cake in a coffee mug makes me laugh!)

Because truly, I am one lucky girl.

The Five-Minute Chocolate Cake For One Person
4 tablespoons flour
4 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa
1 egg (lightly beaten)
3 tablespoons milk
3 tablespoons oil
3 tablespoons chocolate chips
Small splash of vanilla extract

Mix dry ingredients in a large, microwavable coffee mug (no kidding). Stir in the beaten egg. Pour in milk and oil. Mix well. Stir in chocolate chips and oil. Put your mug in the microwave and cook for 3 minutes at 1000 watts. The cake will puff up, but don’t be alarmed. Allow to cool a little and tip out onto a plate if desired. Sounds like it would be good with whipped cream, too, don’t you think?