Runaway Mom

Lisa writes: One evening right before my youngest son left for college, he ganged up with his oldest brother and gave me a talking to. They told me that it was time for me to do things differently. My life had revolved around theirs for decades and thus, they implored, “You should have adventure now, Mom. You should do what you really want to do.”

z camino 9

I restrained myself from pointing out the obvious, that having them was an adventure like none other and it was exactly what I had wanted to do. I just hope that one day my grandchildren will make these points clear to them.

But I did hear their message. And while I think the clarion call of the empty nest is not to run off and have some big midlife adventure (which is pretty much what I am about to do), the point I think they hit upon, inadvertently, is that it is a moment to reassess. Our children’s moving out is a turning point of extraordinary proportions, one that warrants reexamining life as we know it. While it would be great if we could imagine life without our kids while they were still home, sometimes an experience speaks to us only once we are in it.

The biggest failing of in-the-moment parenting is, perhaps, that we are so steeped in daily life that trying to take an outsider’s look at our own lives can be all but impossible. Our kids very present needs easily drown out our more existential ones.

Yet, the best decisions I have made about my life involved stepping away from it and examining it from the outside. Sometimes I have done this literally. I decided to go to graduate school while living in Freetown, Sierra Leone, and sometimes it has been metaphorically, by getting rid of all the givens and realizing that there are often more options than there once seemed.

But my kids were right about one thing, their departure marked a turning point and the one thing I should not do is carry on as if only my grocery bill had changed. I am watching parents at midlife change houses and careers, start new businesses, pick up new and extreme activities (I stand in awe of anyone who can run 26 miles) and throw themselves into social and philanthropic causes. For me, the empty nest felt very much like an ending, but all around me I see people for whom it is just a beginning.

Returning to that quiet house, the home that had known so many years of chaos and love, gave me more than a moment of pause.

So I am running away from home, temporarily, and setting off to walk across Spain with one of my oldest girlfriends. I will be traversing the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, a thousand-year old pilgrimage that I only heard about a month ago.

I don’t like the outdoors, hate exercise and despise routine of any sort. So a long walk through slowly changing scenery that requires regular discipline about setting off early and sticking to a path, just might not be my thing. And for that reason alone, I am going.

Runaway Mom in Burgos

Camino De Santiago

Camino de Santiago

Camino de Santiago


CAmino de Santiago


Camino De Santiago

Camino de Santiago

Interested in learning about the Camino de Santiago?  Here is a great website with fabulous photography.

It you want to read more extensively, here are two amazing guidebooks:

Camino de Santiago: Practical Preparation and BackgroundI loved this short (inexpensive) book,  Camino de Santiago – Practical Preparation and Background, because I read every word and felt I got an excellent idea of what the trek is like.







A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino de Santiago: St. Jean • Roncesvalles • Santiago (Camino Guides) is the classic, day-by-day guide with more detail than can be absorbed.

Camino de Santiago



Ten Terrifying Things About Going Back to Work and Why You Should Not Be Scared

Lisa writes: For some time now I have been obsessing about going back to work. I have ruminated on my misgivings about being a stay-at-home mom to anyone who will listen and then spilled my guts on national television. While I have been spouting off, a number of my friends have been listening, sending out resumes and have actually returned to the working world. All were excited, none were without trepidations. They were good enough to share their thoughts with me because they are very kind people, have all been thrilled with the transition back to the workplace and they hope to kick me into action.

Grant Central Station, New York City

1. Time

While the demands of a SAHM are many and, at times, overwhelming, there is the opportunity to set some of one’s own priorities and schedule. Back to work and someone else is the boss, your time is in their hands and your schedule is not longer your own. The trade-off between time and money is rarely perfect in our lives and at no time is that clearer than when returning to work. But here is the cold hard truth, nobody juggles better than a mom, so while it may be daunting at first to cede your calendar to your new boss, moms have got the skills to make it work.

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Trust, Change and Social Media

Lisa writes: Last week Roger Cohen, op-ed writer for The New York Times, excoriated Baby Boomers for being the “Twitter-Bashing Bores.” In his piece his chastised the generation born after the war for the curmudgeonly practice of belittling our children’s addiction to their screens and for the social media that connects them. He reminds us that our parents despaired of us, of our music, our clothing and our mores and reminds us that “More things do not change than do.”

social media

Our irritation at our kids and their love affair with technology and social media, Cohen surmises, is just “irritation at the new” something older generations felt about younger generations for all of time. He concludes by scolding those of us who grew up without personal computers to, “Repeat after me: Thou shalt not complain about social media or judge the habits of a generation you do not understand.“

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Waiting for Downton Abbey Season 4 Premier: What I’ve Missed Most

Mary Dell writes: Lisa and I are among the millions of US fans who have spent the last 11 months pining for our favorite period drama. Downton Abbey Season 4 Premier is January, 5, a date already circled in red on my calendar.

Here is what I’ve missed the most during this long wait for the show to resume:

Downton Abbey cast, Downton Abbey Season 4 Premier

1. Theme Song

The gorgeous orchestration of the theme music by British composer John Lunn prepares viewers for the weekly feast of audible pleasure to come. While I have endured the wait for the program to resume, I have clicked on the YouTube recording, closing my eyes, and imagining the cast beginning to assemble at the manor house.

2. Opening Photo montage

Creator Julian Fellowes is a master of detail and the opening montage richly displays life in both the upstairs and downstairs quarters at Downton. Fellowes’ wonderful dialogue and highly textured use of period furnishings in this television production are of the caliber of feature film Gosford Park, a movie for which he wrote the script, winning a best screenplay Academy Award in 2002.

3. British History

Every Downton Abbey episode gives viewers a chance to absorb lessons in British history. The writers have already covered WWI, the influenza epidemic, the decline of the landed aristocracy, and the beginnings of the Irish Free State. Season Four is set in the Roaring twenties and a new Season Five begins production in 2014; we have much more to absorb.

4. Interior Design

I savor the details of Downton Abbey’s set design, and wonder what it would be like to live with the sweeping staircases, vaulted ceilings, and formal home furnishings. Every Sunday night I am inspired to take my own decor up a notch.

5. Parenting Lessons

Lord and Lady Grantham face challenges with their daughters and extended families that are surprisingly relatable. Watching the interpersonal dynamics presents vivid examples of parenting do’s and don’ts. The world may have changed much in the last ninety years but the challenges of parenting remain unaltered.

6. Grantham Clan

Downton has an expertly drawn cast that I love visiting every week. Fellowes made these characters real to me and I am invested in the lives of both the gilded Granthams and the downstairs help.

7. Smash Hit

Downton Abbey is a rare quality costume drama, the biggest success ever for PBS and ITV, where it is shown in the UK.  I recall watching every episode of Brideshead Revisited and Lisa fondly remember Upstairs, Downstairs. But those shows were televised in 1981 and 1971. Success like this does not come around often.

8. Gorgeous Clothes

The ladies’ period costumes are stunningly beautiful. From wedding gowns to sleeping attire, the luxurious fabrics and intricate accessories are breathtaking. Watching the show feels like playing dress-up. Just imagining the contents of the Grantham ladies’ closets makes me want to put long leather gloves and strands of pearls on my Christmas list.

9. Maggie Smith

Dame Maggie’s lines alone make the show worthwhile, and she dominates each and every scene. I lean into the TV whenever she appears to make sure I don’t miss a word (although I can count on seeing her in a Monday-morning meme with the best zinger of the previous evening.)

10. Dan Stevens’ Matthew Crawley

The hopes for happily ever after for our favorite upstairs couple ended with the Season Three finale. Though there is no doubt that Mary will thrive without Matthew, I can’t help but grieve for the what if’s in their lives together.

11. Date Night

Discovering a show that both my husband and I enjoy is a gift. On the evening of January 5, we will set a fire in the fireplace, pour two glasses of wine, and watch the Downton Abbey Season 4 Premier together. In our almost empty nest, watching this favorite show together has become our date night. I am counting the days until it returns.

Cooking for Two in an Empty Nest Kitchen

Mary Dell writes: One of my roles as a mom has been that of chief hunter and gatherer for our family meals. To say I am bored with every single chicken dish that I have placed on the kitchen table over the last two decades is an enormous understatement. With our youngest child a senior in high school, the end is in sight for family dinners as I have known them but a new challenge looms – cooking for two.

Fortunately, Lisa and I had a serendipitous introduction to Katie Workman, author of The Mom 100 Cookbook, when we were all on a terrifying flight  from Chicago back home this summer. Our shared adversity fostered a friendship and, by the time we finally arrived (safely) in New York, we had learned that Katie is not only an amazing writer and cook, but also someone with a steady sense of humor, regardless of the circumstances.  She offered this advice for retooling our empty nest kitchens:  katie workman   chili-636

Dialing the quantities of recipes up or down sometimes feels daunting, but many recipes are highly flexible, and the freezer can become your best friend. Even if you make half of a recipe of turkey chili (a very easily recipe to scale down) you may have more than you need.  Just freeze extra in pint size containers for easy defrosting, and pull them out as you need them. Not only are you not worrying about how to consume the whole pot, but you’ve got another dinner ready to go. Apple Cider Beef Stew is another great candidate, as are most soups and stews, and casseroles (just divide them into two smaller pans and freeze one).


Also, think of how leftovers can be used in other meals a couple of days later. Extra Citrus Basil Shrimp Kebabs are a wonderful way to turn a green salad into a real lunch, cooked sausages get crumbled into a pasta, leftover Lemon Garlic Roasted Turkey Breast becomes Turkey Posole Soup.  Making cookies, but don’t want an extra dozen lingering around your kitchen? Freeze half the dough in rolled balls, then transfer them to a zipper top bag with all of the air pressed out, store them in the freezer and defrost and bake them as needed. And don’t forget – your neighbors will always appreciate a little care package!

StruesselApplePie-636 To that we would add, your college kid might actually venture to his post office box if he knows homemade treats awaits for him and his roommates. The cookies that Katie suggests seem perfect!  

Katie Workman is the author of The Mom 100 Cookbook  and the creator of blog.  She is also the founding Editor in Chief of, “the website that shares tested, trusted recipes from cookbooks created by respected chefs and cookbook authors.”

Photo credit: Todd Coleman

Katie Workman and the Empty Nest Kitchen