My Apple Genius

I’m going to marry Liam, my Apple Genius.

Shhh…he doesn’t know it yet. I could tell he was impressed when I referred to my computer as “my machine.” I was going to marry Jared, my first Genius, but I dropped him when he couldn’t solve my keychain authentication problem. The Apple Store guy sent me upstairs to the next level of Genius where I met Liam.

Upstairs two Geniuses checked out my frozen screen. Puzzled, they waved over Liam, clearly The Man. He glided over and like a ninja deleted a bunch of .dlls without even flinching.  My heart went ping! I nodded proudly when one of the other Geniuses said, “Man, that’s what you do.” Thank goodness those guys dispersed, and Liam and I had a few minutes alone to reset my passwords (had to go to the Notes section of my Sierra Club calendar to look them up).

“I have so many passwords that I can’t remember them all,” I said. Liam smiled knowingly. We have so much in common. My fingers flew over the keyboard with dazzling speed and only a few typos.

We shared a good laugh when I told him that in the good ole days we called computer bugs “undocumented features.” Features, ha!  Not wanting to wreck the moment I didn’t say anything, but I had a feeling the reason for my visit to the Apple Store had something to do with a feature. Anyway, this exchange firmly established us as one in the tech world.

Enough shop talk. Did I mention that there’s a bit of an age difference between us? I’m 60 and thinking Liam is 20-something, maybe even 30. Is there a problem?  Look at Georgia O’Keeffe. Or Susan Sarandon. Or Catherine the Great. I could go on and on. I’ve already figured out what I’m going to say to his mother. Age doesn’t matter. We connect on a level outside time and space…well, at least time. Plus, I can pay off his student loans.

“You’re nothing but a Cougar!” she’ll shout.

“Yes, but don’t you see? It was meant to be. Cougar was the name of an Apple operating system.” Or some animal like a cougar.

Flash forward to our wedding. Something old (me), something new (signature wedding cocktail with Jeppson’s Malört), something borrowed (bubble-making machine), something blue (Bluetooth). Oh the fun we’ll have! Who knows, maybe company execs will fly in for a marketing opp. Post wedding plan: We’ll summer in Wisconsin and run a hacking camp.

“Is there anything else I can help you with?” That sly dog. Gotta think of something fast!

“Uh, how do I get the photos from my phone on to my computer?” Bad move. Most of my photos are shots of the sidewalk. But maybe he won’t actually see them. Fingers crossed.

Blah, blah, blah…something about syncing. My attention is drawn across the room.

There’s a gaggle of Geniuses, including Jared, looking over at us smirking.  Hmmm.  It’s nothing short of professional jealousy. Maybe I need to have a word with the manager: “Looks like that jolly band of Geniuses doesn’t have anything to do.” No, be cool. If this were a movie, the background music would be Bonnie Raitt singing “Something to Talk About.”

 Ding. A text from my husband. “At Hot Tix. Do u want to go to matinée of Jersey Boys?” Jeez.

“Liam, listen to me…I’ll be back for you!”

Monday Wisdom

Stop and smell the lilacs.
Really. If you pass a lilac, smell it.

Easy Meal #2

This is a satisfying dish for any diet. Plus it’s pretty. Even if you’re not a vegetarian, chances are you know one.  Keep this recipe on hand in case you need to whip up something veg fast. Or add it to your repertoire if you’re keeping Meatless Mondays.*

2–3 large servings


15-ounce can chickpeas, drained
Medium onion chopped
1 cup shredded red cabbage
Grain of your choice (optional)


→Heat oven to 450 degrees.
→Place chickpeas on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper to taste.  Roast in oven about 20 minutes or until golden.
→Sauté chopped onion in olive oil a minute or two. Add cabbage to pan and sauté until soft.
→Add roasted chickpeas to onion-cabbage mixture.
→Season with fennel seeds or paprika or whatever you have that might go.
→Serve on top of your favorite grain (or not).

Chickpeas and cabbage on top of brown rice. Sriracha garnish for kick and color.

*Fact check: Meatless Mondays have their origin in World War I, not Whole Foods’ marketing department. During the war, the government promoted wheatless meals on Mondays and meatless meals on Tuesdays in effort to conserve scarce food resources.

Monday Wisdom

“May there always be simcha.”

Back story: Over lunch with friend Irene, Femme Banale groused about all the weddings and big birthday celebrations on her banal calendar.  A bit of silence … Irene processed a gracious response. “May there always be simcha.”

Simcha: (Hebrew) gladness or joy

Spring Cleaning: Your Closet


PASS OLD CLOTHES ON—Clothes that you are not wearing will do someone good if you pass them along to those who need a little help. Don’t keep them thinking you will have them remade, only to find that you kept them so long that they are way out of date and not much use to anyone.
—Janet D. Myers, 2002 Household Helps (1941)

Funny how this advice from 1941 could have easily appeared in any of today’s myriad books helping us get rid of our stuff. Femme Banale likes Janet D. Myer’s advice because it is straightforward and practical…period. No therapeutic talk of liberation, leave-taking rituals, or the psychology of why we hang on to old blouses with shoulder pads.

It’s Spring. Time to clean. Let’s start with our clothes. Femme Banale applies what she calls the “Oprah rule”—if you haven’t worn something in a year, it’s time for it to go. (This is based on an Oprah episode in which an organization expert helped Gayle clean out her closet.) Go ahead try it. Maybe set a goal for yourself: I’m going to fill 2 shopping bags, or I’m going to get rid of 10 items.

Of course, there are special pieces that you’ll want to keep. But be careful on the slippery slope of rationalization. I could wear this to an ABBA party! I don’t think so.

Let me know how it’s going. Any tips?



Whistler’s Mother

Anna McNeill Whistler, aka Whistler’s Mother, is in Chicago for a short stay at the Art Institute.

“I don’t think he liked his mother much,” a visitor says.  But he did! James McNeill Whistler was close to her and relied on his mother to help with his business affairs.   She entertained Southern-style his coterie of Bohemian friends. When Anna moved from America to James’s London home, he dispatched his mistress to another apartment. Ma Whistler was clearly the lady of the house.

Art historians talk about how this painting of an older woman in dark Victorian garb became an enduring symbol of motherhood. More than 150 years separate her and me but we share this: our adult children are still our children.

Mothers are forever there in either the foreground or background.


Monday Wisdom

May I be the tiniest nail in the house of the universe, tiny but useful. May I stay forever in the stream. May I look down upon the windflower and the bull thistle and the coreopsis with the greatest respect.
—Mary Oliver
Excerpt from Upstream, Oliver’s 2016 collection of essays.

For Betty

Is anyone named Betty anymore? Maybe the name will make an ironic comeback, but when my Aunt Betty died at the age of 102, the last Betty left the world.

102 years old! She got there with all the right cards stacked in her actuarial favor: no husband, no booze, strong faith, walked to work every day, the presence of a large network of family and friends. Her modest life as a factory worker in a Midwestern tavern town was the flipside of the urbane aunt with a martini glass in hand.  Yet, to me—a girl growing up in the 1960s—Betty presented possibilities. She had a job and drove a Rambler.

Was she a feminist? Such a label had little meaning in her world. But Betty, with steady determination, made a stand for what was hers. When her parents were in arrears with tuition payments, the Catholic high school she attended said that Betty wouldn’t receive her high school diploma upon graduation; the school would, however, award a diploma to her twin brother. What’s a girl need a diploma for anyway? How little they knew of her will. With steely resolve she saved her factory job earnings, later returned to the school to pay her tuition, and received her diploma. I like to imagine the scene of her handing a money order over to a startled clerk in the school office who would likely defer in hushed consult with the priest-administrator. Betty settled the score.

Quiet. That was her style as she walked through the noisiness of life. If one of her brothers or sisters was in a tough spot, she was always there to help. She paid her own way, never bragged, in fact, she didn’t talk much at all.

Once in a while she would open up. In her nineties, she surprised me with a story about the long-ago boss who would invite young girls to his office and sometimes to his cabin. Betty knew what he was up to and wasn’t going to have any part of it. This was the closest she ever came to talking about sex or men within its context. Men were generally brothers or nephews or priests—some simply tolerated, others admitted to the circle of her kindness.

Childless, Betty was the matriarch to many and fairy godmother to generations. Every new baby in the family received a hand-knit blanket, followed in time by hats, sweaters, ponchos, stuffed animals, slippers, and one-off pieces of her own invention. A 3-by-5 index card with our birthdate assured us a place in her permanent record, which meant at least a birthday card and Christmas box of treats. I received a birthday card with a five-dollar bill well into my fifties.

The furious abundance of her “Maker” skills extended well beyond knitting. Betty grew and canned tomatoes and green beans. She made her own fruit jam. Before Christmas, her small kitchen became a production site yielding commercial proportions of cookies, candy, and popcorn balls—all to be packed in tins and shipped to scores of relatives local and far away. The arrival of Betty’s Christmas box via UPS was cause for uncontained excitement when my sons were little.

They are mostly gone now—Betty and her generation of women who crafted ornaments out of clothes pins and walnut shells in the church basement. Who lit candles with whispered intentions for someone’s safe travel or a deeper secret appeal.  I miss them. I miss her.

My son wearing a Betty creation



Easy Meal #1

Even experienced home cooks face the what-to-make-for-dinner block. Baked potatoes have long been a go-to answer at my house. They are the perfect vehicle for your favorite toppings or leftovers. Plus they offer a menu item easily adjustable to household size. Make a party out of it with a toppings bar.

My husband prefers sweet potatoes, but I’m a straight-up Idaho lover. No matter—they bake well together. Below is a recent take on baked potatoes using leftover beet and bean chili.

His: Sweet potato topped with chili, fried egg, and jalapeño
Hers: Idaho potato topped with chili and jalapeños