- 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.
- 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.If 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Seeing his words on the page brings tears to my eyes every time. He loved me. I loved him. That will never end.
Some highlights from the last couple of weeks:
- The coyotes have been noisy lately, howling up a storm every night in the open space right across the street from us. It’s loud and a little creepy, especially when there are what sounds like 40 of them yipping and yowling and probably killing something a hundred feet from our house. Felix was scared of the sound the other evening and we told him that the coyotes are just wild animals that live in the bushes and like to sing. He was quiet for a bit and then he said, “I like wild animals that live in the bushes and don’t sing.”
- Orthodontia. We paid $5600 for the privilege of looking at this on a daily basis: I
have toget to crank this apparatus every evening in order to “expand Lola’s palate” over the next month. Do any of you have a fear of going crazy and doing something horrible some day? It’s one of my worst phobias, and for whatever reason this device triggers it in a serious way, maybe because it seems like such an instrument of torture. I’m afraid I’ll lose it and crank the thing too much, ripping the poor girl’s face in half. I promise I won’t though.
- Birthday week. Lola turned 12 and made some brag worthy birthday dinner choices. First, she chose to have macaroni and cheese, not unusual for a kid, but she likes this version that is over the top and adult in every way. I use this recipe as a guide, but switch up the cheeses to accommodate what I have on hand, I up the nutmeg a bit and use white pepper instead of the black. Does that make me a pepper racist? I hope not. I also grind the bread crumbs in the food processor because I like them a little finer. I don’t make this very often because we would all weight 500 pounds if I did, but it’s a pretty great choice for a birthday dinner. For dessert she wanted a salted caramel chocolate cake (can you imagine how that makes my pastry chef heart swell with pride?) No food coloring, no gaudy decorations, just a sprinkle of fleur de sel and a couple of perfect garden roses.
- Lola is a remarkable gift getter. She loves all presents, and is especially appreciative of ones that are homemade or from the heart. Her enthusiasm and gratitude are delightful, one of her best qualities. I loved hearing her whoop with joy when she opened this one from my aunt: That there is a box of freshly picked chanterelle mushrooms. For a 12 year old’s birthday present. And do you see that smile? I can use this picture as proof that I’ve done at least one thing right in raising this girl. The mushrooms were the firmest most meaty ones I’ve ever seen and I cooked them into a lovely risotto with a bit of crispy pork belly on top for day two of birthday fest 2015.
- As some of you know, Robert and I were a little freaked out when we found out I was pregnant with a boy the second time around. We joked in a very politically incorrect way that even though we know that you can’t turn a person gay we were sure going to try. The idea of raising a stereotypically gay son was much easier to get my head around than a team sports playing, non-showering, sloppy dressing, rough and tumble straight boy. But I overheard this conversation between Robert and Felix the other morning and I think Mother Nature has made her call. Robert: “Why don’t you ever snuggle with me in the night?” Felix: “I like to snuggle with Mama.” Robert: “Why?” Felix: “Because Mama has boobs. I love boobs.” God help me.
- This fall weather got me feeling like making bread again so I got my sourdough starter all freshened up and made this loaf. If you are local and want some starter with which to make your own let me know, I’m happy to share.