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Yeah, I’m Still Here

I bet you thought you’d seen the last of me. Ha ha ha (that’s an evil laugh). Just when you think I’m gone for good I’ll resurface, like lice or horsetails.

I started a post a few weeks ago that was supposed to be a recap of what has been going on around here for the last six months. I kept holding back from hitting the ‘publish’ button though, and I realized what was bothering me. What I wrote was hideously boring. So I’m going to spare you most of the bitching and moaning and trim it down to just the basics, so that we are caught up and I can move on to other subjects.

The fall was a dynamic few months. And by ‘dynamic’ I mean that there was a strict Advil, adrenaline and red wine diet enforced around here. Robert and I finished the house we were building to sell even though it felt like swimming upstream though mud to get it done. In the end we were really happy with how it turned out and it sold right away. Though we vowed at one point to never again take on a project like that, it was successful and well received so who knows. We’re kinda dumb like that. Those of you that I know in real life have seen pictures of the project, but here it is anyway, proof that I was busy for a while:

After the house, the holidays came and wreaked havoc, leaving the usual exhaustion and apathy in their wake. I love Christmas, I think I do anyway, but truly, it makes me and everyone else crazy. I didn’t get my one perfect moment this year, because perfect is perhaps just a little hard to attain, and I was resentful about it. But we made it through. Next year I will have to just obsess a little more and control things a little more tightly because that is the key to happiness. (I’m kidding, totally kidding. Like 97% kidding.)

I can’t do a summary of the last while without touching on the darkness that has permeated our collective consciousness since November 8th. It is so hard for those of us who live in our liberal bubbles to understand how we ended up in such a mess. The thought that our country is not safe from tyrannical rule, that it only takes one charismatic man and his lackeys, no matter how unstable, to upend everything, goes against what I always believed about my country. As flawed as it is, I thought the system would work. I’m afraid for us. But I have also found hope in the fact that a fire has been lit in so many, including myself, who have been complacent. For the first time in my life I have been moved to tears by the bravery and goodness of my governor, I have grappled with explaining white privilege to my daughter, I have stuttered my way through calls to senators asking to be heard, and I have marched with my family and a hundred thousand others. My kids and theirs may have to work for years to repair the damage done by this administration, but they are going to know how to stand up for what is right. Kindness and fairness, these are the values we will defend. Onward.

 

It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Nine days until Christmas, do you know what that means? It means my children are hopped up on goofballs. It means my husband is being a turd. It means vacuuming up Norwegian Spruce needles and glitter three times a day. It means meal planning and wrapping paper color schemes (black and gold this year, if you must know), and ‘oh my God, I forgot to do something for the UPS guy!’ It means moving that one crocheted snowflake two inches to the left in the blizzard of other crocheted snowflakes. It means coming to terms with the fact that I may have some teeny little control issues that I need to look at, but not right now. Right now there is a hand appliquéd tree skirt that is rumpled up on one side and if I don’t go straighten it out my eye will start twitching.

Okay, phew, it’s straightened.

I had a long post planned out to make up for the fact that I haven’t written anything since early November. It was going to be about how we all go crazy this time of year in various ways and for various reasons. But there just isn’t time at the moment for me to write that post. Besides, you know it already and you probably don’t have time to read about it. It’s nine days to Christmas, remember? My inner whack job, who resides just below the surface of my normal person facade, is driving the bus from now until January 1st. And I’m in good company. Most of the lovely, wonderful, sane people I know will be possessed, off and on, this month by sides of themselves that they would rather not admit to.

So, as we all frolic/trudge/grumble/party/fret our way through the next couple of weeks, I want to send out this blessing: I wish for you, my friends, the tools to cope. A good therapist, a couple of Xanax, a walk in the woods, a glass of bourbon, whatever will ease you through. I wish for you toys that are easy to assemble, a box to fit your every need and plenty of tape. I wish you family members who behave themselves and the ability to behave well yourself. I wish you candles that fit neatly into your candlesticks without a bunch of fiddling around that you don’t have time for, damn it. I wish you a meal that contains brown butter. I wish you one perfect moment when all is right with your world and your heart is full of love.

See you on the other side.

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Noteworthy 10/22/15

  • Lots of talk about Halloween around here. Over the last couple of weeks my conversations with Felix have left me laughing and scratching my head. Me: “What do you want to dress up as for Halloween?” Felix: “Hmm. Maybe a crossing guard with a weasel on a life jacket.” Then later, “What do you want to be for Halloween?”  “I want to be a friendly blue monster…like that car (points to a black Toyota 4 Runner).” A few days later, “What do you think you want to be for Halloween?”  “Raggedy Ann’s dad.” And finally, “Have you decided what you want to be for Halloween?” “A spider with a balloon helmet.” I think I have finally convinced him to be Raggedy Andy. He’s kind of like Raggedy Ann’s dad, right? I found some terrifying inspirational images on the internet that I just had to share with all of you. Something about a grown man in this outfit is super scary to me.                                                                    imgresimgres-1
  • Nothing says fun like a Friday night multiplication facts competition. Lola gleefully watched Robert and I take the test she took at school, 100 problems in 3 minutes. What were the results you ask? Well, I got 94/100 (the damn 12s, I don’t think I ever learned them, and no, I’m not planning to any time soon) and Robert got 97/100. Neither of us did better than Lola who got 99/100. In our defense, we had had a couple glasses of wine. But really, the shocking part of this whole thing is that we did this, by choice, on a Friday night. And laughed really hard doing it. What has happened to me?!
  • I hardly ever buy meat at Costco because it grosses me out. But the other day I was there and feeling particularly sound in constitution so I thought I check out what they had and I was heartily rewarded. They were selling ribeye cap steaks! Yeah, I know, crazy right? I’ve been looking for a source for those for years. For those unfamiliar with the delectableness that is the ribeye cap, imagine if a hanger steak and a tenderloin got together and had a perfectly marbled baby. When you get regular rib eye steaks, they sometimes have a strip of the cap along the top, notice and enjoy the next time you eat one. When the entire cap is removed it’s fairly thin, like a flank steak, but some of the best meat you will ever eat. I was introduced to this culinary delight back in 2007 when Robert and I ate at The French Laundry. We were told at the time that Thomas Keller uses almost exclusively this cut of beef in his restaurants, and for good reason. Why it’s so dang hard to find in stores I don’t know. But anyway, we had a lovely dinner with the steaks (when I say lovely, I mean the food was good, the atmosphere was the normal chaos that happens around here at dinnertime). I kept it simple and just seared the meat and made a little shallot and madeira pan sauce to go on top. We also had cauliflower gratin and sautéed carrots with thyme.IMG_1415If there are any photographers out there who can tell me how to take a picture of meat without it looking disgusting, please give me some tips. This meal was great but the pictures I took are pretty gross.
  • Anyone who has spent much time reading with the two to five year old set in the last 30 years is familiar with the phenomenon known around here as “All Berenstain Bears, All The Time.” Felix has recently discovered the joys of this book series that has well over a hundred books, but pretty much just one plot. These books are addictive, and some of them have questionable content in my opinion (we just hid ‘The Bully’ because all the talk about beating people up was having a bad effect on Felix, and don’t even get me started on the one called ‘The Birds, The Bees and the Berenstain Bears’. It basically tells kids not to ask questions about where babies come from.) But we read them, and read them, and read them some more; they’re like literary junk food. I’m starting to have a real attitude about these characters I spend so much time talking about. Like Mama Bear for instance. She’s such a self righteous bitch. I can’t stand her, and I can’t read any of her dialog without putting on a condescending voice, it’s just how she talks when I read. She and Papa Bear pretend that everything is just great in their relationship, and they preach about family values, but there is trouble under the surface. I know I shouldn’t gossip, but I think Mama is having an affair with Dr. Bearson, the family dentist. Check out this look she gives him while saying goodbye and tell me I’m wrong.  Scan 2015-10-21 0002
  • I wonder sometimes if my social anxiety is getting worse or if I’m just becoming less able to deal with fakeness, in myself and others. After a trip to the pumpkin patch I realized that it had been a good time in part because I hadn’t run into anyone that I had to make unexpected small talk with. That’s not a great sign. I like talking to people, some people, but I like to know ahead of time who I’m going to be talking with. The annual pumpkin patch visit always gives me a case of the nervous sweats. Everyone is dressed in their rugged, yet perfectly conceived fall garb, Carhartts and plaid for the men, Hunter rain boots (perfectly clean) and down vests for the women, kids in either a Halloween themed outfit or in a mini version of what their parents are wearing. Every year it seems I run into someone from high school whose name I can’t remember (but I’m pretty sure they were a jerk), or some overly smiley PTO mom who just ran a marathon, bought a condo in Whistler, and is trying to start a music program for highly gifted kids. And I’m there with my realness oozing out around the edges, wearing boots with actual mud on them and stuffing my face with Halloween candy. This year was a pleasant surprise for me as I got to mind my own business, which was taking pictures of the kids and trying not to get covered in rotten pumpkin.                             IMG_1432IMG_1458
  • Thank you to everyone that read my last post about my dad and gave me such wonderful feed back. I was really touched that so many of you shared it or felt inspired to reach out. This whole writing thing is a little nerve wracking for me but it was a real thrill and encouragement to get such a great response.

Lessons from my dad

I have to preface this post by acknowledging the fact that I was fortunate enough to grow up with two dads in my life. Paul was my biological father and the one I am writing about today. Mark is the step-dad that I lived with from the time I was four years old. He has been every bit a dad to me, and I know how very lucky I am to be able to say that. These two men have had completely different roles in my life, but it’s impossible for me to call one a father without giving due credit to the other. So on we go…

Twenty years ago today my dad passed away. It feels impossible, but he has now been gone from my life longer than he was in it. Knowing that this anniversary was approaching, I have been looking for a way to honor it and thinking about the parts of Paul that I continue to carry with me after all these years. I want to try to put into words the gifts he gave me, whether he meant to or not, as a way of marking this milestone in my life and his death.

1994.

Paul, 1994.

A little back story for those of you who don’t know. My dad died of AIDS at 43 years old. In the mid 90’s AIDS was very much a death sentence, and there weren’t many treatment options. He had known that he was HIV positive for a number of years, but he didn’t share that with anyone until he started to get sick. We never knew how he contracted HIV, but he lived his life in a way that gave the disease ample opportunity to find him. In any case, it doesn’t really matter how he got it. He had it, and it killed him.

I’m afraid of this starting out sounding like some kind of sob story. It is not. These are the facts of my life and I hold them lovingly. When I look back now, my dad’s sickness and death were, in a literal and archetypal way, the beginning of my adulthood. There is symbolism aplenty in the whole scene, so obvious that it’s almost absurd. And yet, the symbols and the story itself are different for the other people who were affected by the loss of this man. My aunt, my mother, my sister and her mom, my cousin, they all have their own history with Paul and their own lessons.

My dad, my sister and I at Priest Lake. 1985.

My dad, my sister and I at Priest Lake. 1985.

My dad was 23, and a very young 23, when I was born.  It was the 70’s and I think he was completely unprepared and unable to cope with the changes that a baby brings to your life and marriage. He was not ready to grow up, and my parent’s marriage ended soon after I was born. My relationship with my dad took place during sporadic weekend visits. As I know now, it’s a struggle to keep up with the changes that take place in your children under the best of circumstances, so it’s no wonder our relationship was not an easy one.

My birth in 1976.

My birth in 1976.

Even before I came into his life, my dad was a damaged soul. He endured traumatic heartbreak at a young age and he was never able to recover from that. I’m no psychologist, but it’s pretty obvious that he spent an exorbitant amount of energy running from the feelings of loss, abandonment and inadequacy that plagued him. During the last few months that my dad was alive I tried hard, in my sloppy 19 year old way, to address the sadness and anger I felt about our relationship, but our talks went nowhere and my letters were unanswered. At the time it was very hurtful that he didn’t want to heal things between us while we had a chance, but I see it in a different light now. It was terrifying for him to look that closely at pain, both mine and his own. It would have opened up a whole chasm of anguish for him and he wouldn’t, couldn’t go that deep.

I’m painting a pretty bleak picture here so far, but those undercurrents of pain were so influential in his life that they affected every relationship he had and choice that he made. Paul was a brilliant artist, a wonderful cook, a hilarious friend, a curious intellectual. And yet he was so full of torment that he sabotaged himself every chance he got. The sadness of that, the talent and ability and love that were wasted while he tried to prove what a failure he was, is a grief I still feel acutely every time I think of him. Which leads me to lesson one.

Lesson One – We have a responsibility to look our pain straight in the face so that it doesn’t kill us. It is our duty in this life, I really believe it, to confront our fear, our hurts, the damage that has been done. That does not make it go away, but it’s like turning on the light in a spooky closet. If you can look at the scary stuff and put a name to it, it can’t torment you in the same way. It’s a lifelong process, but the process itself is what helps to heal. Go deep, explore the chasm.

Watching Star Trek, drinking beer, being naked. 1979.

Watching Star Trek, drinking beer, being naked. 1979.

In spite of all that haunted him, I would be hard pressed to name a man more generous than my dad. He lived on the edge financially, but he freely gave praise, compliments, humor and a sympathetic ear. He invited the homeless guys that camped outside his building to come in for cigarettes. He took in stray cats. He was genuinely interested in people from all walks of life.

Lesson Two – Generosity is about opening your heart, not just your wallet. Making someone feel at ease, at home, and understood is a huge gift to give. Give your true self. Give kindness.

1985. Note the the earring shaped like a sword. Bad ass.

1985. Note the the earring shaped like a sword. Bad ass.

Paul was a great connoisseur of food and drink, both fancy and simple. He loved to cook for people, including me, but as a kid I was less than impressed with the creamy mushroom sauces, unusual sausages and crepes soaked with liquor that he had a penchant for. These were not kid-friendly dishes, but I would so love to eat them now. Watching my dad eat was an education in pleasure, and in being present. I remember him eating a pumpkin ice cream cone, just weeks before he died, in a way that was almost like a meditation, so focused was he on the task.  I inherited his love of planning themed dinner parties, though I occasionally follow through and actually host them; he never did. He had fantasies of medieval feasts with roasted whole pigs and mugs full of wine and ale. He talked at length about a party where everyone dressed in white and ate all white foods. Some Christmas I will cook a full English holiday masterpiece in his honor because it was something he never got to do to his satisfaction. There will be both roast goose and beef, Yorkshire pudding, desserts studded with candied chestnuts, things lit on fire. It will be fantastic.

Lesson Three – Eat well. Pay attention. Never let a perfectly ripe summer peach pass you by. Plan fun parties with good food and good friends. (Then actually have the party.) Even the simple things can be worthy of a feast.

That suit? That hair? Again, totally bad ass.

That suit? That hair? Again, totally bad ass.

Paul was an in-the-flesh example of the dark and the light and all the shades of gray in between. His charm was at once self deprecating and grandiose. He drew people to him and let them down, and they loved him anyway. He was easy to be mad at but impossible not to like. It’s so much a part of human nature to want to categorize people, especially ones that have done you wrong, but not one of us is all bad, or all good. Just because someone is self centered, or irresponsible, or a child in a grown man’s body doesn’t mean they aren’t also full of tenderness and beauty and talent.

Lesson Four – It’s okay to love someone for the good in them, while still holding the bad against them; the two are not mutually exclusive.

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I was so privileged to be with my dad when he crossed the boundary between this life and whatever lies beyond, and I was blessed to spend the days leading up to it in transition with him. I was struck by how much work it is to die, and by the fact that the people included are there as a distant support, but mostly to hold vigil and bear witness to the miracle. A few years after Paul’s death I attended my first birth as a doula, and was blown away by the similarity. The labor, the struggle, it’s the same. Moving through the veil is totally freaking intense. It’s messy, it smells bad, there are tears and sweat and crying out. And there is so much beauty and magic. We all get to experience both birth and death at least once but I am fortunate to have been included in the miracle when I, personally, was fully here on earth.

Lesson Five – Death is as magical as birth. We are entrusted with something very precious when allowed to be a “midwife” at someone’s death. It is one of the moments of great awe.

Paul Penketh 6/9/52 - 10/6/95

Paul Penketh 6/9/52 – 10/6/95

For my eleventh birthday my dad gave me a  beautifully illustrated book called ‘Secret Spells and Curious Charms’ by Monika Beisner. Inside the front cover he wrote this:book inscription

Seeing his words on the page brings tears to my eyes every time. He loved me. I loved him. That will never end.

 

  

 

 

 

The Hardest Thing To Write

This first damn post is one of the major things that has been holding me back from starting a blog. I mean, who the hell do I think I am anyway? Who am I to start yet another food blog (or is it a parenting blog?) Who do I think is going to read it? Do I have anything to say that hasn’t already been said a hundred times before? I don’t have answers to any of these questions. But there is a little voice that whispers in my ear in a very convincing way that this is something I need to try. I don’t know how to introduce this project, partly because I’m not sure what I’m doing here yet, but I’m hoping that I will figure it out as I go.

There are way more food blogs out there than anyone needs. Same goes for “mommy blogs” (I just have to say that I hate the term “mommy blog” so much that it’s another thing holding me back from writing). And yet, food and mothering are the two things I know about. That’s what I’ve got, so that’s what I’m going to use.

I’m starting this blog so that I can practice and learn. I want to write and I want to learn to take decent photographs. If you are a person who is easily offended by bad photographs then this is not the place for you. I’m a idiot with a nice new camera and I’m hoping to improve.

Everyday life can feel so full. There is always laundry to do, dishes to take care of, kids who want attention. I’m trying to find some discipline and make time to become the next version of myself. This is my attempt to be accountable.