RAISING ADULTS

The Empty Nesters - Zephyr Theatre in Los Angeles

Empty Nesters Play

The Empty Nesters

By Garret Jon Groenveld

Starring John (JW) Walker & Pamela Walker

Directed by Richard Seyd

Frances has just dropped off her baby girl at college and looks past her husband with a vacancy in her eyes that shows only a fraction of the void she feels in her broken heart. Greg looks on the bright side, assuming there will be more sex with his wife now that the kids are out of the house. While this couple has had 18 years to prepare for this day, becoming “empty nesters” can feel like falling into a deep abyss of nostalgia, anxiety, and uncertainty. 

Sound familiar?? Last weekend we attended opening weekend of the Los Angeles run of “The Empty Nesters” at the Zephyr Theatre. To say it touched a nerve is an understatement! Nearly every one of my friends is facing the empty nester syndrome at this phase of life; some with a newfound sense of freedom and reinvention, and others with deep consuming grief. “The Empty Nesters” explores the harrowing passage of a couple going from habitual creatures of parenting to the limitless opportunities available to them. Placed on the sky walk of the Grand Canyon, writer Garret Jon Groenveld shows us the view is metaphorically terrifying and exhilarating all at once. Beautifully written, the darkly comic play captures the paradigm facing couples as they enter a brand new chapter, without kids in the house. His snappy dialogue and relatable idiosyncratic quips had me wondering if he was eavesdropping on my personal conversations with my husband.

The Empty Nesters Play

Our newly navigating empty nesters, Frances and Jack, are empathetically played by real-life married, empty nesters Pamela Walker and John Walker.  First of all, BRAVO to these talented empty nesters who are back on stage doing something together they both clearly enjoy. John Walker masterfully manages to keep Jack tremendously likable, even through all his whining and complaining. His comedic timing is spot-on and while I was extremely happy that Jack was not my husband, I was also pulling for him to evolve into the man Frances needs moving forward. His cadence for comedy reminded me of John Maloney as Fraser’s cranky, but lovable dad. Pamela could easily have gone over the top with the “sad mom” angle, but she keeps the emotion just behind her piercing eyes as the shock of her finality as a mother sets in. Pamela’s sublime performance made me ache for her… as if all the things she has let slide in her marriage came to a crushing epiphany when she waved goodbye to her daughter. I wanted to shake her by the shoulders and let her know it’s all going to be okay. I wanted to tell her how much she will enjoy spending time with her friends, traveling, and taking on new hobbies. I wanted to tell her how much she will love having adult relationships with her children, now that she’s not enforcing curfews. 

Director Richard Seyd guides us through the arch of this couple’s passage, showing us Frances and Jack’s ugliest warts along the way, but giving us hope in their commitment to one another and their future together. He steers away from the pitfalls of melodrama and keeps the pace moving. The use of the simple sets and 3D visual elements of the Grand Canyon added dimension to a little gem of a theatre in Los Angeles. This is why we support live theater! Raw human emotion, innovative set design to help our imagination paint the pictures, and a connection with the audience who resonate with the characters on stage.  

As empty nesters ourselves, with a blog called EmptyNestersFly.com, I could never have imagined this chapter could be so fulfilling. My husband and I decided to live abroad for 2-3 months of the year and we actually made it happen! On our blog we explore cooking, traveling, dining and the ease of Italian living (and yes, just like Frances, I correct Bruce’s rolling R’s when he speaks Italian!).  I had the blessing of watching my friends become empty nesters before me, and the ones who transitioned best started working on their new passions when their kids were still in high school. In their mid-fifties I have watched my friends become successful artists, first time writer/producers, join the board of directors for medical and philanthropic organizations, take up golf, volunteer in tutoring programs, create apparel brands, author novels, and so much more! 

For ticket information for “The Empty Nesters” visit: www.EmptyNestersPlay.com or call 866-811-4111

Save 25% on tickets with code SAVE25!

http://theemptynestersplay.com/

To follow Caroline & Bruce Somers’ cooking and traveling adventures follow us at: 

Blog: www.emptynestersfly.com 

Instagram: @carolinesomers @brucesomersjr

Facebook: @emptynestersfly 

Have a Snack! Celebrating Daisy's New EP!

I love summer - after being an empty nester for the first year, I was thrilled when the kids came home. Once again, the house is full of laughter, drama and chaos and I wouldn't want it any other way. Our big family gatherings make me happiest of all with cousins, aunts, uncles, friends and grandparents! Pictured below: our daughters Camelia on the left, Violet on the far right, their grandmother, Suzanne and our niece, Daisy in the middle!

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DAISY Have a Snack!

Our last summer dinner was in honor of our amazing niece, DAISY, who dropped her new EP last week called Have a Snack! We have watched Daisy evolve from an animated adorable baby with the wise old soul into a phenomenally talented singer, song-writer and artist. When she finished her latest record and had a show to launch it, we had our own little launch party to go with the theme Have a Snack! Daisy's EP is streaming on all platforms and also check out all the recipes and stories behind our "snacks" for the night! If you would like to watch the hour long Facebook LIVE of this video, WATCH HERE: https://www.facebook.com/suzannesomers/videos/700572013636383/

Brillat Savarin

BRILLAT SAVARIN with CARAMELIZED SHALLOTS and TRUFFLE HONEY

The first time I tasted this spectacular cheese was at my mother-in-law, Suzanne'’s house in Palm Springs. Brillat Savarin is the softest, creamiest triple cream brie I have ever experienced. When paired with caramelized shallots and truffle honey, the combination overwhelms in the best way possible! I am extremely lucky to have been introduced to so many wonderful tastes from Suzanne over the past 30 years. Suzanne also introduced me to these gluten-free flat breads, which are a revelation for my girls who are intolerant to gluten. Cooking with Suzanne is one of the great joys of my life. She’s the best cook I know! 

1 wheel Brillat Savarin Affine – (a triple cream brie from Normandy) 

15 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced

Extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt

Truffle honey

French bread, sliced on the diagonal

Gluten-free flat bread (available at VeniceBakery.com)

Fresh sprig rosemary 

Rainforest Crackers (salted date and almond)

 

Bring cheese to room temperature a few hours before serving to make sure it’s very soft. 

To Caramelize Shallots:

Place a saute pan on medium high heat. Add olive oil to cover bottom of pan, then the shallots. Saute shallots, stirring frequently, until they release all the moisture and begin to caramelize. Turn down heat to medium low and continue caramelizing until they are uniformly brown and candied. The process will take about 30 minutes. Remove from pan, season with sea salt and set aside. 

To Toast French Bread:

Lightly oil sliced bread, then sprinkle with sea salt. Toast for a few minutes until barely golden brown. 

To Prepare Gluten-Free Flat Bread:

Lightly oil both sides. Place a saute pan on high heat. Add a light coating of oil to cover the bottom of the pan. Add a few leaves of the rosemary, then the flat bread. Cook for about 3 minutes per side, until warmed through and a little crisp on the edges. Sprinkle with sea salt, then cut into large triangles. 

To Serve:

Place the soft cheese onto a cheese board or serving platter. Add a small dish of the caramelized shallots. Set out the small jar of truffle honey with a tiny spoon. Arrange the two types of bread and crackers.  To serve, place a generous smear of the soft cheese onto a slice of bread or cracker. Top with a few of the candied shallots, then a drizzle of truffle honey.  

Lipstick Peppers

ROASTED LIPSTICK PEPPERS with PECORINO

30 years ago, long before we had children, Bruce and I used to meet his parents at the Farmer’s Market on Wednesdays in Santa Monica. I have fond memories of visiting the local vendors and exploring new foods while bonding with Suzanne and Alan. Those were the years Suzanne and I were in the kitchen for many days testing recipes for her Somersize books. I remember how excited we would get when the Lipstick Peppers were in season. Suzanne taught me to pair them with pecorino – what a combination! As the years passed, Suzanne and Alan moved to Malibu and Bruce and I moved to Brentwood. This week I went back to the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market and the Lipstick Peppers were popping! I surprised Suzanne and Alan with a batch this week. Great nostalgia and still a winning combo with the saltiness of pecorino. 

30 lipstick peppers

Infusio Basil Olive Oil (available at SuzanneSomers.com) 

Wedge of Pecorino cheese

French bread, sliced

Extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt

To Roast Lipstick Peppers:

Heat a grill on high. Add the lipstick peppers and char on all sides until skin is blistered and begins to blacken. When each pepper is blistered on all sides, place into a pot with tightly fitted lid. This helps to steam the peppers and makes the peeling process easier.  To peel the peppers, run under cool water. Remove the stem and peel away the skin. Break the pepper open and remove the seeds. When all the skin is peeled, set aside in a glass container. Store in refrigerator until ready to use.  Set on serving platter in overlapping layers to form petals along the edge of the platter. 

To Grill Bread:

Lightly grill the sliced French bread with a drizzle of olive oil and sprinkle of sea salt. 

To Serve:

Place a lipstick pepper onto a slice of grilled bread. Drizzle with Infusio Basil Olive Oil. Using a cheese knife, slice a thin piece of pecorino and place on top of the lipstick pepper. 

Grilled Peaches Burrata Marcona Almonds

BABY GEM LETTUCES with GRILLED PEACHES, BURRATA & MARCONA ALMONDS

Burrata is like the goat cheese of the 90s! it’s everywhere and I shamelessly love it. Unlike it’s firmer counterpart fresh mozzarella, Burrata is softer, creamier and so delicious. In this salad, I pair it with grilled summer peaches for sweetness and salty Marcona almonds and caramelized shallots. Crisp lettuce, creamy cheese, sweet peaches, salty almonds and shallots… then the combination of Infusio Meyer Lemon Olive Oil and Pomegranate Balsamic makes it absolutely SING!  

4 heads baby gem lettuces, red and green leaf

4 ripe summer peaches, halved and seeded

15 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced 

1 ball Burrata (or substitute fresh buffalo mozzarella)

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Infusio Meyer Lemon Olive Oil (available at SuzanneSomers.com)

Infusio Pomegranate Balsamic Vinegar (available at SuzanneSomers.com)

1 cup salted Marcona almonds

Baby Gem Lettuces

Wash the baby gem lettuces and arrange in a bowl to showcase the beautiful varieties.

Grilled Peaches

To Grill Peaches:

Slice the summer peaches into wedges. Place them onto a hot grill, gently turning to char each side of the peach. Remove and set aside in an oven-proof dish. Keep warm in oven 200 degree until ready to serve.

To Caramelize Shallots:

Place a saute pan on medium high heat. Add olive oil to cover bottom of pan, then the shallots. Saute shallots, stirring frequently, until they release all the moisture and begin to caramelize. Turn down heat to medium low and continue caramelizing until they are uniformly brown and candied. The process will take about 30 minutes. Remove from pan, season with sea salt and set aside. 

Grilled Peaches Burrata Marcona Almonds

To Arrange Salad:

Toss the lettuce with Infusio Meyer Lemon Olive Oil, then season and sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Arrange onto individual serving plates. Gently slice or break the burrata into 6 pieces and place a nice dollop on top of the lettuce.  Arrange 3-4 hot grilled peaches on the side of the burrata. Season the cheese with additional salt and pepper. Drizzle the Infusio Pomegranate Balsamic over the top of the lettuce, cheese and peaches. Sprinkle with Marcona almonds and caramelized shallots. 

Artichokes

ARTICHOKES with GRILLED LEMONS

Bruce loves artichokes. It’s probably his favorite food! I have never asked what he uses to season the water, but it makes them extra special. While, he’s never measured, it’s a little of this and a little of that.  The day I made these, they were so spectacular with the long stems, I left the stems on for dramatic presentation. The stems were a little stringy and not really edible, but they sure looked pretty on the platter! 

4 artichokes

10 lemons, halved

2 tablespoons Herb de Provence

1 tablespoon lemongrass

1 tablespoon dill weed

1 tablespoon dill seed

1 tablespoon celery seed

Infusio Meyer Lemon Olive Oil (available at SuzanneSomers.com)

Sea salt

To Prepare Artichokes:

Remove the outer tough leaves of the artichokes. Trim off the tips of the pointy leaves. Trim the stems or leave stems long for presentation. Wash the artichoke, then rub with lemon all over to prevent browning.

Prepare a larger steamer over a pot of boiling water. Add the herbs and spices into the water. Arrange the artichokes in the steamer. Cover with tightly fitted lid. Depending upon size, steam for35-45 minutes or until a leaf pulls off easily and tastes tender. 

Grilled Lemons

To Grill Lemons:

Place the halved lemons onto a hot grill. Cook on all sides, turning until browned all over. 

Artichokes with Grilled Lemons

To Serve:

Slice the artichokes in half and remove the inner purple leaves and choke, being careful to keep the tender heart in tact. Arrange the halves onto a platter and place a grilled lemon into the cavity of each heart.  Place additional lemons around the edge of the platter.  Drizzle the artichokes with Infusio Meyer Lemon Oil and a generous sprinkle of sea salt.  To eat, squeeze the grilled lemon over the heart and leaves, including the soft pulp. Peel off the leaves, eating the tender edges, and save the beautiful heart for last with a little extra salt and grilled lemon.

Lamb Chops

PAN SEARED LAMB CHOPS with ROSEMARY

This is about as simple as it gets.  A thin, single rib lamb chop, pan seared with excellent olive oil, sea salt, a grinding of black pepper and rosemary. I finish them with a drizzle of Infusio Tuscan Olive Oil with the tastes of garlic, rosemary and basil. So tasty and simple! 

16 rib lamb chops

Extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon dried rosemary

Infusio Tuscan Olive Oil (available at SuzanneSomers.com)

Season the lamb chops liberally with sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, and rosemary. Place a large saute pan on high heat and add olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Place the chops flesh side down in a single layer. Do not overcrowd pan.  Sear for about 4 minutes per side until crusty and brown. Turn chops and sear other side. Lastly, prop up chops on the edge to crisp the fat along the bone. Transfer to a serving platter. Drizzle with a small amount of Infusio Tuscan Olive Oil. 

 

Bittersweet - Sending the Kids Back to School

When your kids are healthy and happy and doing what they are supposed to be doing to progress in life, there is really nothing more we can wish for... but wow, do our hearts ache when it's time to say goodbye after an amazing holiday visit!

Our youngest, Violet, is now 19 years old and living in Florence, Italy while she attends a 4-year program in Fashion Design at Polimoda. Of all the schools in the world, how did she end up here?  We looked at art programs all over the United States. She loved Parsons in New York, and I’m sure it would have been amazing – but Violet really needs space and time to do her art.  Hmmmm, where do they respect rest and the true creative process? Italy! I started investigating fashion design programs in Italy and stumbled upon the most amazing video for Polimoda. Globally, it’s rated one of the top fashion design schools in the world. They offered a summer program and Violet was thrilled to test out the opportunity for 5 weeks in the summer before her senior year of high school.

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It was a fit.  The school.  The city. The vibe. The pace. The art. The architecture. There is so much inspiration in Florence and at this school. Violet was overwhelmed with creative input.  At the end of the summer program, they offered her a position as a full time student and suddenly, we created a home abroad where Violet could live and we could have a second home.  She looked at us and said, “Wait, are you guys coming to college with me?”  Haha, no. We are only there for a few months, in maybe three trips a year, and for the rest of the time she lives on her own.

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Empty nesting for me and Bruce took full hold in Fall of 2017. It’s an odd feeling when the evening rolls around and Bruce says, “Hey, you wanna go to yoga?” I mean, why not? Work is done. I’m not waiting for one of the kids to roll in so I can grab 20 minutes whenever they have a moment to connect.  We eat dinner whenever and wherever we like.  No coordinating with afterschool activities, social calendars, homework cram sessions, art shows, etc.  Is it quiet? Well, yes, but we are still really busy.  It simply allows for all the work we normally do, plus a little personal time instead of that space we saved for precious family time. 

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After our beautiful Christmas, the night before Violet left to go back to Florence, we were having dinner and she was reflecting on heading back to Italy. She loves it there. We love it there. She has bravely forged her new life there in a new school in a new country! She has managed living by herself and running her household while managing the intense workload of school (it’s relentless, but she loves it!). She sat at dinner with a stoic face and then she couldn’t hide her big lips when they started to quiver and pout. One little tear fell from her eye and she said she was going to miss us, and miss being so supported because, “ya know, it’s heavy to carry the water up those 84 stairs… and I drink a lot of water.” 

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Oh I wanted to grab her and hold onto her forever and never send her back.  Instead I just acknowledged what an incredible job she’s done acclimating to her new environment and living independently.  We got all the tears out that night. The next day when she left we all smiled and hugged and there was not a moment of sadness.  I have joy in my heart watching her grow and expand without our daily assistance.  I knew it would only be a few weeks before we’d be back in Italy.  I thought about the chicken soup I would cook for her to have in the freezer in case she gets sick while we are not there. 

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How we love and cherish those holiday visits, when we have all our birds back in the nest for a few days, maybe even a few weeks.  How bittersweet when we send them off again to spread their wings. I couldn’t be more proud of her.  I miss her so much every day, but I’m not spending those days looking at home movies. I’m out creating my own next chapter. When she left she said, “Promise me you won’t be boring when I’m gone. You have so many talents.”  She’s proud of me, too!  Children are such a blessing and our new relationship as adults is evolving beautifully. 

 

Abroad! Your child's safety in another country

In Camelia's junior year of college she was eager to travel abroad, and it made complete sense for her to choose Shanghai as her destination since she is a Chinese major.  While her friends were making plans with other students to room together in Paris, Barcelona, or Rome, Camelia was on her own headed to China.  Of course we were proud of her for making such a bold choice, but would she be safe in China on her own? Would we have access to communication? Cell service? What would happen in the case of a medical emergency or a natural disaster? It's easy to let your head spin with all the ways your child could potentially be injured, abducted, harmed, harassed, or compromised in a foreign country.   Add China as the destination and you are bound to feel even less in control.  

Bruce and I were thrilled to have the opportunity to take to explore her new city and help her get set up in her dorm at East China Normal University.  Before her move-in date, we spent a week at a lovely hotel near the French Concession area called Twelve at Hengshan. It was an easy location to navigate the many attractions of this fabulous high-tech modern city with ancient historic culture. Our favorite feature was their spectacular breakfast, especially the wonton soup. With all the adventurous eating ahead of us for the days in China, we knew we would start each day with this amazing soup with fresh vegetables, broth and dumplings, as well as a spectacular array of breakfast foods to please travelers from any country.  

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On the Bund you overlook the Pudong district across the water with buildings that look straight out of the space age;  towering architectural masterpieces with outrageous shapes and color that light up the night sky. 

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The Bund (along Zhongshan Road) is the European district and walking down the shopping streets, you could be in Paris with the Neoclassical and art deco buildings and familiar designer store fronts. 

One of our favorite outings was to the garment district, where our friend Diane recommended a local tailor to make beautiful cashmere coats for a fraction of what you would pay in the states. We also loved M50, the art district at 50 Mogansha Lu, with contemporary and modern art from small local studios. We spent an afternoon walking through and meeting local artists, had an incredible lunch at a noodle restaurant, and meandered through bookstores.  Definitely worth a visit, especially for these soft, spicy pork noodles.

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On the more tourist route, we explored Yuyuan Gardens with its ancient architecture, koi ponds, and cherry blossoms. Unlike the more metropolitan areas of Shanghai where there are many travelers from around the world, Camelia was more conspicuous as that blonde American in this densely populated area with Chinese natives. She likes to listen to people talk about her in Mandarin, of course they assume she can’t understand.  Taxi drivers here will not pick up Americans unless you have an address written on a card. At the beginning of the trip, Camelia acted as our translator was able to converse with our driver. She stumbled here and there as she was getting up her confidence, but we always arrived where we were supposed to and she our driver formed a sweet friendship. 

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I expected to feel incredible censorship everywhere we went.  I didn’t.  I expected to only meet families with one child.  They all had numerous children. I expected to feel like life was restricted for these 1.3 billion people. They seemed happy.  The realities are that I missed having international news on TV and found it fascinating that CNN was mostly pre-recorded programming with a few snippits here and there of what we would call regular news. Bruce showed me how to access the internet in a familiar work-around using VPN so it appears my computer is logging in from the states. (His favorite is Express VPN, but make sure you download and install it before arriving in China.) This allows access to all my regular sites and social media that are not available to Chinese citizens.  Camelia was settling into these new norms and she’s got a lot of street savvy because she’s traveled extensively.  She opened a We Chat account, which is the most popular social media site in China.

People in China do not have access to guns and there is security everywhere. This dramatically cuts down on crime and makes the streets extremely safe.  Camelia was well aware of this bubble and in many ways said it made her feel safer in China than at home. She was beautifully naïve to the freedoms and rights she has always had as an American, but felt that because she was born into a culture with those rights, she could enjoy the safe guards in China – knowing she had her American citizenship with all her privileges.

Our wonderful Chinese friends, Catherine & Kevin Chan, introduced us to a small circle of surrogate parents in Shanghai who promised to watch over Camelia when we left. How incredible to have these kind, compassionate, connected, and caring people nearby so that if Camelia needed something, she had resources.  They also opened many doors socially for Camelia who found herself at private clubs, Shanghai Fashion Week, and the birthday party of our new friends, Anya and Richard, who happens to be the 78th direct descendant of Confucious! Diane, whose friends lovingly refer to her as The Martha Stewart of China, gave us incredible recommendations for food and shopping. They also took us to beautiful restaurants and provided resources for whatever Camelia needed while she was there. 

Camelia Somers Shanghai Fashion Week China

Camelia already has several food allergies, but she managed to navigate the strange and wonderful cuisine of Shanghai – with a few exceptions.  One night Camelia called me from the Top of Shanghai Tower and told me she had such bad food poisoning, she didn’t know if she could get back to her dorm.  She became quite friendly with the bathroom attendant in her 90 minutes of horror.  When the observation deck was closing at 9:30pm I told her she better get downstairs before she got locked in the tower! She was so weak and didn’t think she could walk the 15 minutes it took from the drop off point for cabs at her school to her room. This is where it helps to have local friends who say, “Seriously, call us if you need anything.” It was serious, and I didn’t know where else to turn! I called Catherine & Kevin, who live part-time in Hong Kong and part-time in Shanghai.  They insisted on sending Camelia to their residence at a hotel and had people standing by to bring her soup and Chinese herbs to help her stomach.  Suddenly Camelia felt like the luckiest girl in the city to have food poisoning! Some soup and a little TLC was just what she needed. 

Camelia Somers Shanghai Tower China

By the end of Camelia’s four months in Shanghai I expected her to be aching to return to the states.  No, she was sad to leave! I was on the phone with her and listening to her rattle off (no stutters) directions in Mandarin to her cab driver. She was arriving back at her dorm after a late night out and leaned out the cab to speak to the attendant at the school gate.  I asked what she said to him and she laughed, “I told him I just got in from the airport and have heavy bags with me so I needed the cab to drive me all the way to my room.  I couldn’t bare that walk in heels tonight!“  The cab driver laughed and told her she was smartest foreigner he’s ever met! 

Now that she’s about to graduate from USC, there is no doubt she will be spending more time in China and we can’t wait to explore more of this fascinating country. Camelia's time in Shanghai was her transition to adulthood. She came back for her senior year with notably more maturity and focus on her career. When our kids are abroad, of course we worry, but the life experiences and independence they gain by not having us there are unsurpassed!

Camelia Somers Shanghai China
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