Monday, December 31, 2012


On the brink of a new year, I think about the resolutions I will not make.  I will not promise to write every day.  Though I want to.  I will try.  But promising to do it every day feels like I’m cursing it to doom before the first scribble on the page.  For now I am writing about not writing.  Well done.

I will not promise to sweep the house clear of clutter.  Though I want to.  I will try.  But I am a saver and a cherisher and a planner of big things that I will get to someday.  Maybe today just the desk.  And maybe tomorrow just a drawer or two.  Again, I feel like I am cursing it to doom.  Before the first surface is clear.

I will not promise to exercise EVERY day.  Though I kind of want to.  I will try.  But I am a content lounger and reader and cocooner.  I did get in my early morning walk with my neighbor and dog.  And I am scheduled to do the same tomorrow.  And the day after.  But If I resolve to do it every day I will be defeated within the week as maybe one morning is too wet or cold and the bed too warm.

I will not promise to eat only healthy food and toss no leftovers or unused vegetables gone bad.  Though I should.  I will try.  But I am a shopper and a grazer and a lover of good wine and a sweet or two and get too carried away at Farmer’s markets.  Today, though, I had leftover Thai soup for breakfast and threw in veggies from the drawer.  But if I resolve to be good for all of the new year I will be defeated with that third glass of Prosecco after midnight and the tub of Cozy Shack pudding nursing my hangover.

I will not resolve to be grateful for everything in my life.  Though I like that idea.  I will try.  But in moments I am lost without my parents just a phone call away or have flashes of anger and bitterness about being a skilled and able professional displaced from a company I gave so much to: now with so much uncertainty about how I will make it to the finish line.  But today I awoke to the sun rising over the lake, my dog snoring at my feet, my child successfully launched into the world and an evening with good friends to look forward to.  My resolution is to make no resolutions for the future and to be content in this moment in this place.  So far so good!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Deb's Story

"Did you see the jasmine by the front door?" Deb asks me as we are walking around the back garden. "Kim (her daughter, age 37) brought it here between moves. It was a little healthy thing so I asked the landscaper who was here on a project to pop it in by the front entry. He looked at it and where I wanted to put it and said 'It won’t live.'" She planted it there anyway despite his advice. She took me to the front where the fragrant beauty was stretched to the beams, a flood of delicate white blooms spewing out. And I thought "Just like you, Deb."

Four and a half years ago, on Christmas Eve, my friend Deb Ferse, then 61 years old, got a prognosis, similar to that the landscaper made about the jasmine: a lime-sized glioblastoma was located towards the back of her brain. Five days later, after her children, including Kim and her son Kurt, now age 34, had made a hasty return to Seattle, Deb was operated on at Swedish to remove as much of the tumor as possible. Deb talks about those days with breathtaking honesty. She tells me of how she went with her husband Dick to her family doctor of many years and demanded the honest, non-sugarcoated truth.

Deb, now 65, is a retired nurse. She tells me nurses don’t cry easily. They can't. They have to steel themselves against the sorrow that comes across their workday, fronting strength in the midst of much trauma. The same applies to her husband who is also in the medical profession. But after the frank meeting with the doctor and confirming that Glioblastoma was considered incurable, she came home and sat on Dick's lap where they cried and cried and cried. And then wept some more.

Then she went into treatment with Dr. Foltz and his team at the Ivy Center. Treatment hasn't been easy: radiation, chemotherapy and participation in the critical on-going work at the Center have given us precious time with Deb. She’s been able to travel to beloved places with her family, nurture her family and garden, and have life experiences that she notes are not taken for granted in her "ABC life" (after brain cancer). She even got to throw the first pitch at a Mariner's game last year and Co-Chair the Seattle Brain Cancer Walk last year. She speaks with great fondness and appreciation of the support from the staff and specialists at all levels at the Ivy Center.

Treatment is a necessary intrusion to my vibrant friend's life. As are the monthly MRIs that bring a hellish visitor to her thoughts as she prepares herself for the potential bad news, which, thankfully has not yet come. And in between these visits she nurtures her garden and her family and her friends. We share a love of gardening. It is therapy to move plants around, feel the dirt run through your gloved fingers. Sometimes when I pull a weed out, challenged to get to the bottom of the root before breaking it out I think of Deb's tumor and hope they really did get it out all the way to the roots.
Thankfully, a small return of the tumor last year was successfully managed. But, like the surprising and unidentifiable things that sometimes show up in our gardens, an unidentifiable shadow appeared on another MRI which led to a gamma-knife treatment to check out what appeared to be a return of the tumor (and if so, a harvest of those cells to grow a personalized immunization, one of the several potential treatments that are being developed in the Ivy Center labs). While the shadow turned out not to be new growth, it also meant no tissue for the immunization route and, unfortunately created other complications that required yet another trip into her head to fix the leaks and pressure problems that resulted.

I ask Deb what she thinks about when she gardens. After a moment of thought she tells me "I have this little pendant that was given to me from a favorite place I visit. A spa in Mexico. The pendant says 'I am here.' I am here in my garden. I am here on this earth with my family. With my plants that I love. That’s what I think about. I am here and that is really something, isn’t it?"

She shows me her pendant as I head out the door. Past the gorgeous blooming jasmine that wasn’t supposed to live. I hug my friend under the jasmine's branches and reflect that she is still here. That is really something wonderful, isn't it?

(This story was written for the "Our Stories" section on the Seattle Brain Cancer Walk  website.  Deb is an inspiration and a blessing.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

On Being a Mother of the Band (Devilwood at Rat and Raven)

I get a text from Andy telling me I am on the guest list.  I AM ON THE GUEST LIST.  A little thrill goes through me as the bouncer checks his short list and lets me through, stamping my wrist without collecting the cover fee, ignoring my undermybreath declaration that “I am a band mother” as if that wasn’t obvious.  As if I could be mistaken for a band girlfriend or something, I don’t know.   The bar is small and dark.  Eighties-rock music is pumping into the venue room, now mostly just populated with members of the three bands playing and a very few of their closest friends.  The first band doesn’t start until 9:00, almost another hour from now.  It’s a Wednesday night in the middle of summer in the University district so the crowd will be light.  But still THE CROWD will be light.  I think of performances past with earlier versions of bands comprised of other combinations of kids where the only folks in the crowd were the dedicated parents of the band and maybe one or three bar regulars who looked to be likely to be there at their seat at the bar every night of the week regardless of what band or not.  And as the hat was passed through the crowd these same parents (us) who funded instruments, lessons and the clothes on their backs slipped a fiver or two into the hat so we can smile impressively when they excitedly tell us later that they actually made a little money.  Money which they have already earmarked as savings to buy the next better version of their instrument of lust. 

Though some of Devilwood have spent the night at my place during a previous recording weekend, and I’ve met the parents of Hilary, the smoky voiced lead singer, at college graduation earlier this year, this is the first time I’ve seen them all play together.  I was living overseas when this band formed, and in New York during their recent Seattle debut performance, and, frankly, too lazy to drive the four hour round trip to catch their latest shows in “the Burg.”  But here, before the show tonight, they greet me with hugs, introduce me to their friends who are arriving, acquaint me with the players in the other two bands who are also featured on the bill tonight. Sweetly they connect us with the other parents who are here to see what their years of schlepping kids to lessons and practices has reaped.   We’ve come a long way since the days of their sheer mortification of being seen in the room with their parents.  This is fun.  These are our kids and they are no longer embarrassed about that.  And, finally, we are on a real freaken’ guest list.

I have staked out a good table with a nice view of the stage.  I realize after things have started that this isn’t as big a coup as it used to be back in my bar hopping days.  Because now all those who came to hear the bands and enjoy their friends playing won‘t be sitting down once the bands start.  They will be standing, bobbing and shimmying to the music.  I am a band mom.  I have earned the right to a good seat (and I have to reserve my energy.  Will be only standing and bobbing and shimmying – with respectable reserve of course – to my son’s band.  I only have so much to give at my age for a show that doesn’t start until nine PM, you know.  But I will bob and tap in time to the other bands from my seat.  Those kids, ahem, players, need us too.)

About ten minutes before the scheduled start time fans of the bands begin to trickle in.  My son introduces me to some gorgeous young men and women, newly graduated working class with interesting tattoos.  They are enthusiastic and sweet and intelligent and interesting looking.  I can’t help but remember the days when I used to worry about the friends my child was gravitating to and, now, being relieved in how things are turning out. I like his friends and fans.  

So the fans are arriving but the sound technician, who was supposed to be here about two hours before show time still hasn’t arrived.  Nobody seems to know where he is.  I make a few inquiries of the bands and suggest they get a little more assertive with the establishment but resist the urge to take this on as my project J.  They are all grown up now and need to figure this out.  Apparently the sound tech can’t be found.  A backup has been contacted and is on his way.  The last band has to drive back across the mountain tonight and at this point they won’t even take the stage until at least 11:30.  It’s a “school night” and even though I’m not currently working I don’t fancy listening to very loud music (no matter how good a band is) until after midnight tonight.  I love that the kids in the bands and the crowds are concerned about carrying on too late as they have jobs and classes to get to.  What a difference maturity makes. 

Finally a sound technician shows up and things set up quickly.  The first band, Blackburn, is up.  The three guys that make the band have a nice sound.  But nothing I can dance to.  Sitting at the table, with the ‘rents, I am transported to my college years.  Bar venues were a regular occurrence.  OK, maybe too regular.  I was young, like those kids I am looking at and find it hard to believe so much time has passed.  They seem to be much better behaved than I remember myself being. 

A large screen TV glows from the side wall.  The Mariners game has wrapped up (it’s now that late) and a poker tournament is now on.  I can’t believe people spend time watching poker on TV.  That’s right up there with watching golf on TV in my book.  I notice that at the poker table is a kid, about my son’s age, skinny with a white hooded sweatshirt, with hood up looking at his cards.  The TV cuts from this kid to another heavier set kid about the same age, wearing really stupid (like star-shaped) sunglasses.  It strikes me that I am so glad I am a mom sitting at a bar waiting for her kid to play music than watching him piss away money at a poker table.  But, I realize that these kids at the poker table have mom’s too and they are probably as impressed with their own kid’s skill as I am with my own….(back to the parent’s table at The Rat and Raven).

The first band has finished and Devilwood sets up.  We parent’s agree that we will not be able to sit this one out and we move from the table to the floor.  I plant myself right up with the movers and shakers at the front.  I know I will not let go completely.  My kid has not shown embarrassment with my being there up ‘til now and I will not push my luck.  However, I manage to move enough to break my sandal (a fact about which my son later will express impression with).  I am biased, I know, but judging from the crowd, Devilwood is good.  Their set includes some very original and catchy tunes (you can find their one quality recording on Reverbnation, Sticks and Stones, if you want to check it out, or friend Devilwood on Facebook and find some other clips from concerts).  They throw in a few covers: Motorhead’s “Ace of Spades”; The Mamas and the Papas “California Dreaming” and a nice rendition of the Appalachian classic “In the Pines.”  Their sound is broad and fresh and they are really clicking with each other.  It’s been a while since I’ve seen Andy perform and he has gone beyond anything I’d ever imagined.  He’s shredding the bass.  Tapping, bowing and plucking the hell out of it.  Joey on the drums is smashing perfectly and working so hard he’s taken his shirt off.  Bill does a beautiful lead guitar and backs Hilary’s lead with smooth vocals.  Nick, a hold-out with an acoustic guitar is not holding back and adds clean backup vocals too.  And Hilary, who is always so nervous before a show, leaps in with strength and character and the best smoky voice you can imagine.  She befriends the crowd like a pro and everyone in the place is happy.  Especially the parents!  This is so much fun and definitely worth the years it took to get here.  Hilary tells the crowd that as she was singing “The Ace of Spades” she saw on the big screen Poker Tournament a real honest to goodness ace of spades in someone’s hand.  All is synchronicity tonight.

After breakdown, Scruffalow sets up, Devilwood gets kudos from the fans on the floor and they graciously accept all the high-fives and hugs.  The show was impressive as was their humble thanks to their fans.

I tried really hard to stay through Scruffalow.  They were such nice guys to me before the show.  They are better known than Devilwood and it’s thanks to their promotion that Devilwood is starting to get paid bookings.  Due to the late start on a “school night” the crowd is pretty thin for Scruffalow.  Their sound is more heavy metal and the vocals are more of a primal screaming nature.  Hard to sing along to.  And it’s got to be disheartening to play to a thin crowd late on a school night.  But God Bless ‘em for their passion and their love of making music.  And for being nice to the parents in the room. 

I feel kind of like something came full circle that night.  I was there in the present, there in my past and thinking of a future where you all will know Devilwood from maybe something like being featured on Letterman.  Of course I’ll be on the guest list for that one too.  So much fun and worth all it took to get here. 

-One Proud Mother

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Blue Cheese, Pancetta and Pear Gallette

The inspiration for this yummy experience is a recipe in Mary Karlin’s Artisan Cheese Making at Home.  Mary taught the artisan cheese class I recently took at Pantry at Delancey.  I bought her book but truthfully I will probably make very few of the cheeses.  I have to stick to the simple cheese: ricotta, paneer, crème freche, marscapone.  Maybe a cream cheese.  The more complicated cheeses require special cheese making supplies, and more critically, a climate controlled environment (temp and humidity) that I just don’t currently have.  But, also in her beautiful book is a final chapter with some delicious looking recipes.  This is basically her recipe with a few changes based on what I had on hand and what seemed more up my alley.

In making this I had to figure out the best application: is it a dessert?  An appetizer perhaps.  It is sweet and savory and a pastry.  Fortunately there was just enough left over that I could test it cast as all these characters.  As a course in a big meal it loses its identity, though as a side with a simple soup and salad it does OK.  Can hold its own.  As an appetizer with a lovely glass of red wine (i.e. my kind of dinner) it was perfect.  But if you are serving a big dinner or have other things you want to equally showcase maybe not so much.  It is pretty filling and will be a hard act to follow.  Now warmed for brunch, with a nicely steamed latte: perfect.  Go for it.  Or, like me, you can start with it for something else and enjoy it for breakfast afterward until you run out.  It keeps well for many days once wrapped tightly in plastic wrap.  

I will do this again but will try it with apples next time.  A tart variety I think.  It was lovely with the pears but I want to see how it does with apples.  Note: if using apples probably peel them.  I left the skin on the Bosc pears and it just melted in with the rest but for other pear varieties with chewier skins you might want to take them off. 

The simple syrup glaze laced with cardamom, rosemary and a little maple syrup was so good and I had left over which I used in my lattes along with the pastry for breakfast.  It was the perfect marriage.  Who says they don’t exist?  In fact, I’ve been rather intrigued by the possibilities of flavored simple syrups as a result.  Yesterday evening, at Stopsky’s Deli, Mercer Island, happy hour, Andy order a gin and tonic with celery simple syrup.  It was amazing.  We got to talking about trying to create our own.  I’m even thinking I may have finally figured out a use for all these strange spices I brought back from the Middle East and haven’t figured out what to do with.  So stay tuned.  There may be a coming blog entry on simple syrups.  But for now I give you: Blue Cheese, Pancetta and Pear Gallette!

What you need: 

- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- ¼ cup almond flour
- 1 ½ teaspoons sugar
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ cup unsalted butter, cut into small pieces then chilled
- About ¾ cup ice water

-          2 Tablespoons olive oil
-          3 to 4 ounces pancetta, cut crosswise into narrow strips
-          1 yellow onion, halved, then thinly sliced lengthwise into strips
-          3 large shallots, thinly sliced lengthwise into strips
-          ¼ cup maple syrup
-          ½ teaspoon vanilla
-          ½ teaspoon ground cardamom
-          2 large pears, cored, and cut into 12 wedges each
-          3 ounces blue cheese cut into thin wedges

-          ¼ cup maple syrup
-          ½ teaspoon ground cardamom
-          ¼ teaspoon vanilla
-          ¼ cup sugar
-          ¼ cup water
-          1 teaspoon finely chopped rosemary leaves

Early in the day put together the dough so it can rest in the refrigerator.  Combine the flour, almond flour, sugar and salt.  Using a fork and knife or pastry cutter, cut the small pieces of butter into the flour until the pieces of butter are pea sized and consistently distributed throughout.  First add about six tablespoons of the ice water, gently tossing with a fork.  Then, gradually add the rest of the ice water, gently tossing with a spoon just until the dough hold together and there are no dry ingredients left.  Gather into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and put into the fridge.

(I also prep the filling part early because it makes the house smell so good, you can get the kitchen mostly cleaned up and focus on other parts of your meal before final assembly which you should start about an hour before you want to serve it.)

In a large skillet heat the olive oil and add the pancetta pieces.  Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until the pancetta is crispy and the fat rendered.  Remove the pancetta onto a paper towel to drain.  Discard about 1/3 of the drippings, then add the onions and shallots to the skillet with the drippings.  Cook over medium heat until lightly caramelized.  Set aside.

In another bowl combine the fresh ground cardamom with the maple syrup and vanilla.  Add the pear slices and let marinate in this syrup mixture in the fridge until ready to eat.  I used Bosc pears.  (Hint: since bosc pears are firmer than other pears when ripe, the way I tell if it is ripe is to look at the stem end.  Just at the base of the stem the skin should be dark and puckered.  Not mushy at that end but not smooth.  If it is smooth and not wrinkly the pear will still be bitter.  Just wrinkly is just right.) 

Make the glaze:  In a small saucepan, combine the glaze ingredients.  Bring to a low boil and cook until the sugar is melted and the glaze is slightly thick.  About ten minutes.  Remove from the heat and let cool to room temp.

Assembly and baking

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Working on parchment paper, roll out the dough circle into roughly a 14 inch circle.  Lift the parchment with the circle onto a baking sheet.  Mix the fried pancetta pieces and caramelized onion and spread them onto the center of the dough, leaving clear a two-inch border around the outside of the circle.  Drain the liquid off the pear wedges and arrange decoratively in a circle around the top of the bacon/onion layer, overlapping as needed.  Fill in the center with small pieces of pear.

Moving around the tart, fold the edges of the dough toward the center and over the filling, pleating it as you go.  Place on the lower rack of the oven and bake 20 to 25 minutes until golden.  Top with the wedges of blue cheese in the middle section that is exposed.  Bake another approximately 10 minutes until the crust is crispy and very golden and the pears are caramelized. 

As the last baking phase is taking place rewarm the glaze.  When the tart comes out of the oven brush the glaze over the top of the galette with a pastry brush.  Let cool for 15 minutes.  Then cut and serve. 

Monday, April 30, 2012

How To Eat Porn

I’ll admit it.  I have succumbed to the “Fifty Shades of Gray” mania and have jumped into this soft porn for hard old ladies phenomenon that has become so popular.  While the subject matter has successfully taken me to old familiar heights of passion it left me slightly unsatisfied: the story line dependent on a beautiful young co-ed and a dashing young rich entrepreneur. Characters a little too far-fetched to relate to personally.  However, I was thinking perhaps it did get the libido engaged as I found myself wanting to write about my recent dining experience at the Pantry at Delancey in mostly pornographic terms.  Thus, my latest entry:

How to Eat Porn

Start with a tease.  Let your partner know what you are capable of.  What treasures you might have in store.  Perhaps a quarter sized mushroom shell, softly supple, with a smooth, moist flesh loaded with a sharp salty goat cheese blended with a hint of sweetness emanating from the creamy caramelized onions blended in.  Approach gingerly.  These may be too hot to handle at first, all fired up from their time in the oven.

Or slap your palate, shocking your taste buds with a bright bite from the lively blend of finely minced salsa of biting green jalapeno pepper and white fleshed apple lightly saturated with freshly squeezed lime juice preciously poised atop an also quarter sized round bed of pink salty salmon flesh.

And just in case you are not yet primed for the sensual encounter, wrap your tongue around a savory herb stuffing laced with juicy pieces of wrinkled currents all atop a fat, juicy, soft plump clam which you scrape off the shell with the sharp edges of your sharp and assertive front teeth.  Try not to sigh out loud too loudly as you macerate this very satisfying combination.

While you are playing with your taste buds it is good to keep your mind well lubricated with very good wines.  For the first few rounds a lively, fragrant, flowery Riesling which deflowers your mouth with the aroma of springs newest blooms, like a 2011 Efeste Columbia Valley Riesling will do very well. 

At this point you become aware of the fact that your palate will be experiencing a long night that will go down in the books as a multiply orgasmic experience and you want to be fully present to the dance going on inside your mouth besides the distractions emanating from the room around you.  You must focus on the dishes set before you, not wanting to miss a single touch to your taste buds.

The next course will send you over the edge, even though you are early on in the encounter.  Bite sized pillows of creamy ricotta dumplings bathed in a bath of browned butter give way in your mouth.  Your mind sorts through a question of whether this is a lightness or a richness you are pressing to the roof of your mouth with your eager tongue.  You decide it is perfectly both.  The dumplings are wearing a conservative top coat of beautiful bright green wood sorrel shedding a crisp peppery flavor with a hint of fresh lemon.  The perfect way to cut through the richness of the dumplings.

Next arrives a more rugged entry, rustic and bold, a taught layered complex soul just waiting to be explored.  A crusty toasted slice of levain bread with chunks of nutty walnuts incorporated provides the mattress on which a perfectly poached egg is laid out.  This is tucked under a beautifully executed garlicky green fennel pesto which helps to contain the oozing yolk of the egg as it breaks into the toast in which it is absorbed.  You lap up every streak on the plate, blotting with the pieces of toast scattered to the sides as you abandoned your soul to this hearty romp.

This calls for a stronger libation.  Something to stand up to the testosterone of the egg and toast.  A red blend which must have at least four or five different grapes to get your palate immediately sorting and wondering.  For this you have a 2009 Columbia Valley Red from “For a Song.”  The complex layers draw your attention from the fennel pesto and you think “is this too much?  Can I take so much in one night?”  But like many cases of overstimulation, you adapt.  Boost yourself up.  Give yourself a pep talk and remind yourself you are in it for the long run. 

And just in time, arrives a virginal palate cleanser, white and shivering on the platter, pale and thinly shaved flesh of fennel, turnips and radishes.  Very lightly sprinkled with a clean mildly tart vinaigrette.  Then dusted with a coarse salt and dry grana parmesan. 

The tricky thing with love is to know when to stop before too much damage is done.  Or actually more about how to let your love know when you have had enough.  You look forward to lying together, fully sated in the arms of a sweet blanket of surrender.  So when one is spent and the other arrives with a lovely offering of even more perfection the work of love is cut out for you.  Disguised as a bath to soak your senses in, the blend of the sea brine found in the fish broth is made richer from the crème freche with which it is steeped.  Lovely little French carrots float with fleshy pocketed morel pieces and short lengths of crispy asparagus spears swimming with perfectly poached shrimp, scallops and fleshy halibut pieces.  Ah, if this had just arrived in your lap before you were so perfectly sated by your earlier moments of palate pleasing bliss.  It is too much stimulation for one night.  You force yourself beyond comfort, perhaps faking your pleasure as there is just nothing more to give.  Perhaps.  Only you will know.  This is the only dish you cannot fully imbibe.    Even chilled glass of Righteous 2009 Walla Walla Viogner is pretty much un-noticed.  Your mind wanders away from the lovingly executed offerings set before you to thoughts of future fasting, which gym class you must hit the following morning and what strategies you might come up with to be able to find comfort enough to sleep in the following hours.  You want to get up and walk away but you don’t want to hurt any feelings.  Or, selfishly, miss anything further that might be coming, even though you know you are already done.  In the arms of a great lovely meal you are grateful that you were able to find in the depths of the soul that is you the ability to come up with the proper sounds and words to let your server believe that you are still in it.

And there is a final offering.  Painfully undeniable.  Your own personal jar of tart and spicy ginger roasted rhubarb layered with a pillowy lemon fluff topped with crunchy ginger cookie chunks.  Somehow you find a way.   Spent and panting.  Nearly comatose.  So grateful for the mug of black coffee, this one a Stacya’s blend, True North.  A lovely and reorienting final note.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Mucking Out

There are just some things a daughter should not see.  Nor a parent suffer the discovery by their child.  A life blurred at the edges as the body and mind ever so slowly, or in other cases swiftly, go into neglect mode.  A sibling sends up a red flag and things that were swept under the rug, or shut behind closed doors leak out: revealing a confusion and clutter that is beyond embarrassment.  It reaches into the realm of denial and then surrender.  What he had been hiding from us is out in the open and it is not pretty.

Boxes, dozens of them, little brown boxes, stacked high like termite towers landmine the rooms.  Evidence of late night shopping for unneeded and forgotten items that filled a lonely life and give witness to a life chapter where there are expendable funds but nothing meaningful on which to spend it. 

Unopened bills and financial statements.  I say a prayer that somehow these got paid and remind myself that the cable is still connected and the electricity on so some arrangements must have been made.  Respectful of his pride and independence I resist the urge to question his bill paying approach and let that one go.  Larger looming are questions about the shopping channel shopping sprees and the donations he’s made and hoping he has not been taken advantage of.  He supports a multitude of causes and I love that he loves to do that.  But still…I want his funds to last him as long as his body does.

My brother, acting as a self-proclaimed “prick” about this tries to keep him focused on the most important task at hand: deciding the fate of each item.  Lake house.  New senior apartment.  Donate.  Toss.  We are gently urging things for the toss and donate.  He does not need all this stuff but he is having trouble letting go.  My brother, who is the calmest, most positive man you will ever meet, is not a natural in this role of prick.  He even says so to my father and my father tries to take advantage of this admission, looking for a weak spot that will let him keep his unneeded stuff.  It feels a little overstepping as we secretly shift things from the “take with” piles to the donate piles but still necessary to do: we want him to have a fresh start.  A clean page.  A less cluttered foothold on his new reality.  And we truly believe that we will not miss those things about which we made these decisions.  Three flashlights are enough.  He will not miss the other seven in assorted sizes.  Nor the second set of ecofriendly non-stick pans that are so thin I worry about the effects of smoking food on the atmosphere (and smoke alarms at the new place). 

In the kitchen the clutter and filth is appalling.  How long has he lived like this?  How is he cooking and eating?  How is it that he has not gotten sick?  My own stomach is queasy just looking at it and breathing in the air slightly tinted with rotting fruit and burned coffee.  I believe the stove will need to be replaced before this place goes on market unless a successful exorcism can be performed.

The amount of date expired food and bizarre packages procured from the import stores that he loves is stunning.  A dear friend who has arrived to pitch in wonders why someone alone needs so much food.  Together we conspire to toss anything previously opened or outdated.  We divvy up unopened up bags of Trader Joe Pine nuts and still send a few with him.  Did he buy a new bag with each Trader Joe’s visit forgetting that he already had several at home?

Teetering on the bar top, among the piles of used plastic bags, corks and crisply aged rubber bands are several bottles of “Men’s Slimming Pills.”  This confuses me.  My father is fit for an 85 year old.  Heck, he’s fitter than most 75 year olds.  But during some part of our mucking out he rushes in with urgency saying “I hope you haven’t touched my special medicine on the counter.”  I tell him we have not but it’s something I want to talk to him about later.  He rolls his eyes, swoops it up and squirrels it away in his bedroom where we will sort through it later. 

Later, as we are dining out for dinner, I, as casually as possible, ask “Does your Doctor know you are taking diet pills?” 

“No.”  Then under his breath “but they said a doctor developed this and it’s apparently supposed to be safe.”  These words from my PHD professor father who hangs everything, including his denial of God, on pure scientific fact, render me nearly speechless.  Dad goes on to say how he can’t lose the fat around his waist though he doesn’t eat cheese and he is getting plenty of exercise.  He is not fat.  He is not his thinnest either.  But he’s perfect enough for me and in impressive shape for his age.  I’m intrigued by his self-assessment but even more worried that he is taking diet pills ordered from a shopping channel along with his blood pressure medicine.  And living in a nearly haz-mat situation. 

There are other things that shock me.  Things that a daughter should not see.  Things I can’t share in this love and concern based disclosure.  It saddens me to see his world crumbling around him.  The last thing I want him to feel is embarrassed.  There were years when we could easily put each other on the defensive.  When a word or a comment from my father could easily send me back to a rebellious teenage brat-like state.  Or a poorly phrased question from me could send his walls up.  (Unfortunately that time was not that long ago.)  But in thinking about the decluttering of his life and his near willingness to let us do so, I realize we have come full circle.  I have taken on the protectiveness a parent feels as they launch their child into a new life.  I want him only to make good decisions, knowing that there will likely be some that will serve as lessons.  I hope.  I hope I have the grace in me to respect his dignity when things crumble more.  I hope he can see that the toughness with him comes from love for him and not a desire to take away any shred of independence he deserves.  The inner struggles I have as we muck out his place are so familiar.  They are the same I have for my son.   A combination of protectiveness, irritation, pride, fear for his wellbeing and love.  The greatest of these is love.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Fool Was I

It started as a joke: I love a good April Fool’s joke, especially when it’s me playing it instead of receiving it.  The key to doing a good joke is catching people early in the day.  On THE DAY, April 1.  I don’t really plan an April Fools ahead of time.  I just happened to remember to do it this year because I was watching Sunday Morning on TV, before church and they had a story on painted masterpiece forgeries in honor of April Fools.  I was inspired.
 First I got Melinda.  I was supposed to meet her in an hour for church so I sent her a text telling her I was too hung over to go to church and was going back to bed instead.  She shot back that she hoped “it was worth it” and remarked that I had sounded so sober when we had talked the evening before about our arrangements.  I sent back the April Fools confession and re-established our meeting time before church.  But my appetite was wetted.  Sad but true: being hung over is not a huge stretch for me.  I might have been in that condition a time or two in the not so very distant past.   But then for some reason I wanted a bigger lie: something that was more a stretch.  I got a wild hair and decided to change my relationship status on Facebook.  I haven’t had the pleasure of doing that since I started actively Facebooking a couple of years ago.  With no thought to the consequences or how it might be received I went to edit my profile and changed the status from “single” to “in a relationship.”  I initially tried to complete the “with” portion with George Clooney but since he is not a FB friend of mine it wouldn’t let me complete that part.  I guess that was a good thing because it let the other part of my new relationship remain a mystery. 

As I selected the “save changes” button a crack opened up in my heart.  What would it be like to be in a relationship?  Those of you who know me know I have done my best to avoid any such status change since the very welcome end to my twenty year marriage about seven years ago.  But just checking that box did something in me and I kind of April Fooled myself.

I was surprised when some of my closest friends almost immediately posted things like “What???  Call me.  Want to know all the details!”  Others “liked” my status.  I thought “you mean people might actually believe that I could be in a relationship?  This is interesting.”  So I let it ride for most of the day.  I’m not a good liar in real time so those I talked to on the phone I fessed up to.  But as I told each of them “I love that you think that it could even possibly be true.” 
Later in the day there were some who immediately smelled a fool and tried to spoil the lie.  I tried to keep up with those spoilers, deleting those remarks as quickly as I could find them.  (And if you are one of those, you are very smart but also a dream killer.  I forgive you.  I would have done the same thing.)

I have done a lot of work avoiding being in relationship.  Ask Jill who is forever after me to get on a dating website (She is a success story.  Found a wonderful man to whom she is now married on such a site.  Diligently kept up the work through some not so successful internet based dates until she found her love.)  Ask my friends who openly agree that relationships take too much work and we don’t want to do that much work anymore.  Ask my heart that goes into spastic palpitations with just the thought of getting close to a man again.  Nope.  I am not relationship material.  Yet…I am admitting it was some fun on April Fools for just one day (well not even one full day) pretending to be in that status.  So the joke was on me.  I was a fool.  For love.  April Fools.

Just so you realize that I wasn’t always this way, I walked into Starbucks Naked as a result of being there.  Doing that.  A long time ago.  You can read about it here.  If you dare.

Monday, March 12, 2012

A Bowl of Bravo!

The energy charged foyer of the new High School building is buzzing with strapping guys and confident young ladies wearing hand decorated chef’s hats and brightly striped socks.  The excitement is palatable as balloons are filled with helium, tables set up and big pots of soup delivered outside where propane hot plates are waiting at the serving station.  A large picture of a gorgeous young man sits on an easel next to a long acrylic tube with “donations” painted on the side.  On the high windows over the door leading out to the soup are two hand painted signs saying “WE GIVE” and “BECAUSE YOU GAVE – we love you Hunter.” 

So many old farts my age whine about the youth of today: citing perceptions of self-centeredness and sense of entitlement.  With some of the highest average incomes nationally in our local suburbs and a survey of the cars in the Bellevue High School Parking Lot it’s easy to see how the uninformed might come to that conclusion.  But if those folks had been at Bellevue High School around noon this last Wednesday their perspective would have been forever changed. 

This was the date of the sixth annual “Soup 4 Simpson” event at Bellevue High.  Spearheaded by the efforts of Kathy Adams, enthusiastic and adored accounting teacher at the school and faculty advisor for the event, a large number of students (students from a broad range of social groupings...yes, I mean cliques of jocks and nerds and emos and homey goodness…inclusive of so many different kids) had been working for months on pulling together this popular event.
Anne Simpson, Hunter's Mom and Kathy Adams, staff advisor for the event
 The event is a beautiful legacy of Hunter Simpson, the eldest son and middle child of my dear friend Anne.  Hunter passed away on New Year’s Eve in 2005, just six months after his High School graduation, after a year- long battle with brain cancer.   In his short lifetime Hunter modeled what true selflessness means: he was a humanitarian who set a remarkable example of what it really means to humbly make the world a better place.  The model he set planted seeds that have grown a whole new garden of philanthropists at Bellevue High, nurtured by the tending by Adams.

Served along with the soup are cookies that have been cooked by the students in their home-ec class.  One of the cookies is made from Hunter’s favorite recipe that he liked to make and includes his “secret ingredient”. I don’t even know what it is but the cookies are delish.  On the outside of each cookie bag is a label that tells the story and why soup is the menu.  This is how it goes:
In January 2005, in his senior year, Hunter Simpson was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor.  He endured six weeks of intense radiation and then various forms of chemotherapy over the next ten months.  Though he suffered frequent seizures, brought on by the tumor and chemotherapy, he continued to attend Bellevue High School, God Squad and feeding the homeless in Seattle on the weekends with some of his friends.  He graduated in June and was very intent on attending college at Trinity Western University in Langley, B.C., Canada to pursue a degree in International Religious Studies.  Despite the fact that he would have to come home every other Friday for chemotherapy, he left for college in August 2005 and he had a plan and his plan involved SOUP!  He figured that if he only ate soup for lunch and dinner (Chili was too expensive at $2.00!) that by the end of the semester he would have enough money left on his meal plan to “buy out the cafeteria.”  So, in the third week of December, with $998.00 left on his meal plan, Hunter loaded up his girlfriend, Gwen Rowland’s car with all the non-perishable, “legal-over-the-border-food” he could fit in the car and came home for Christmas vacation.  He and Gwen delivered the food to New Horizons Homeless Shelter for Teens in Seattle the next day.  New Horizons was very grateful for the food and also for the new sofas and a pool table that had been given to them from the “Make-a-Wish Foundation” as Hunter’s gift.  Hunter had been given a “Make a Wish” when he was diagnosed with brain cancer and he said that he had “everything that he needed” and gifted his gift to New Horizons.  Hunter died a week later on New Year’s Eve.  The “Soup4Simpson” lunch day gives the students of Bellevue High School the opportunity to make a little sacrifice to help those in need.  As Hunter would have put it, “in order to leave the world a little bit better than when you got here.”

At the Soup4Simpson event students are asked to give to the fundraiser the money they would have otherwise spent on lunch that day.  Instead, that day they enjoy a cup of donated soup side by side with their schoolmates.  The money raised is given to New Horizons, a nonprofit ministry that serves street homeless youth. The non-profit agency is headquartered in the Belltown neighborhood of.  Hunter was very smitten with this organization where street kids are given a place to come out of the weather, get a shower, clean clothes and a hot meal while they connect with loving staff and volunteers.  The foundation also includes a coffee shop where the kids can learn business and social skills to better equip them to leave the street life.  Soup4Simpson has raised around $4,000-$5,000 each year for New Horizons.  But more importantly than the money it raises is the spirit it fosters in these young High Schoolers to do something bigger than themselves; to follow the example of Hunter in caring for others in need.

My son was two years behind Hunter at B.H.S. in 2007, his senior year and the first year of the Soup4Simpson event, he was working in the kitchen of Pagliachi Pizza.  The event happened to fall on his payday.  It was this mother’s proud moment when she found out that her son drove to work and picked up his tip envelope and took it straight to school to put in the donations without even opening it to see how much it was. 

I never got the honor of meeting Hunter in person.  It wasn’t until after he died that I became friends with Anne, his mom.   I want her to know that Hunter has given me so many gifts though.  Through him I got to see the seeds of empathy and compassion sewn in my own child.  Every year, through his legacy I get to be reminded of the goodness and energy of the next generations and shed some of that old fart cynicism about the youth of today.  What an honor to be touched by such goodness.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

"A Three Dog Life" - a memoir by Abigail Thomas

I picked up this little gem at the Overlake Children’s Hospital Thrift Store.  I went in for Vintage dish towels.  Don’t ask me why.  OK, I'll tell you why.  I found some there on a foray for a white dish I could use for a food photography assignment.  One I gave myself.  An assignment that is.  I didn’t find the dish but I have a hard time leaving a store empty handed.  So I browsed until I found something.  It was the tea towels which I love and am using on food photos.  Photos I haven’t found a use for.  Except here I have: to show you why I bought the dish tea towels  The two towels clipped together were tagged at $2.50.  They had a pink price tag so that day I got to take 25% off that already thrilling price.   

So the next time I went in I went to see what they had in the kitchen linens rack and found nothing but, again dealing with my difficulty leaving a store empty handed, went by the used book shelves.  It was a good day.  I nabbed two tour books for New York.  I’m taking my sister there in June for her fiftieth birthday.  And this book.  A Three Dog Life, a memoir by Abigail Thomas. 

I love memoirs.  Someday I might write one.  Except I keep getting caught up in thinking that it may have to have a point and a good ending that wraps everything up nicely.  Then that gets me stuck.  But I do appreciate a good memoir.  Especially one that is written by someone who can simultaneously take something in their life that is their normal and make it intriguing to the observer they share it with.  I love the ones that are filled with profound tidbits discovered in the folding of clean sheets or taming a wild garden.  I really admire the writer who can transform a horrible situation into something with lots of laughter and “aha” moments.  Like Angela’s Ashes.  I remember when it first came out and I was reading it and loving it but when I went to describe it to someone who asked I felt like I had been caught burning insects with a magnifying glass in the sun.  “It’s a coming of age memoir of a boy growing up in the poverty of Post War Ireland.   His family is so poor they have to move upstairs when the ground floor floods.  They live up there, tons of kids to a bed. They can’t afford plumbing so share an outhouse with their neighbors in the alley behind.   Siblings die because they can’t get health care.  The father drinks away any money he ever makes so the kids have to steal apples and potatoes just to survive.  And they heat with coal so the kids have to spend their days following coal carts grabbing up anything that might fall off.  It’s such a beautiful, funny story.”   

In A Three Dog Life Abigail Thomas describes her life and relationship with her husband after he sustains a major brain injury.  She resigns herself to the fact that she couldn’t take care of him at home so moves him to a care center outside of New York City where they had lived together.  She eventually moves herself from the City to a small town nearer where he is housed.  There she is able to more easily visit him, even bringing him home for regular afternoon visits.  She finds sweetness in the person he has become since the accident and an acceptance of what life has dealt her.  She has brought two additional dogs into her life to join the first who was somewhat responsible for the accident that stole her husband’s memory capabilities.  She comes to terms with her life, overcomes her fears.  Comes to a brave acceptance of a past she cannot change and a future she cannot fathom so learns to live and find herself in the present in a lovely and admirable way.
Like the good memoirs I enjoy, there are lots of light moments in the midst of a heavy story and profound pronouncements of discovery in the everyday life.  I had never heard of this book and only put it in my basket because I liked the way it is bound (It’s a paperback but has thick velvet pages, slightly uneven on the unbound edge and extended cover flaps folded back that can easily be used as a bookmark.  I didn’t like the title: I am not by nature a dog story fan.  Or should I say not a fan of reading about people obsessed with their animals.  (Luckily this memoir did not turn out to be such a story).  But like I said, I was drawn to the feel of the book itself and a little note on the front cover: “The best memoir I have ever read. This book is a punch to the heart.  Read it.” – Stephen King.  A $2.00 price tag 15% discount, on luscious paper with a strong recommendation from a man who knows how to write.  It was something I could feel good about with my inability to leave the store empty handed.  If you can find it try it.  Or I’ll lend you my copy.  It’s a good read.
Interesting side note: in the preface I learned the origination of the well-known saying in the title.  That “Australian Aborigines slept with their dogs for warmth on cold dog nights, the coldest being a “three dog night.”  It’s also the name of one of my first favorite bands to listen to in my own coming of age memoir.  The one I haven’t written yet.