Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Charlie's Dream Vacation

Over the holidays, I drove to Indiana to visit with my family. Mainly, I wanted to ensure my step-dad, Doug, was alright. He's not quite an old man but he has lived a hard life, and I haven't seen him since my mom passed away over 2 years ago. Although he was the source of a lot of fear as a child (he drank too much), he taught me to love animals. He always had pets: chickens, cows and dogs. I used to spend summer days wedged between branches of a tree, completely immersed in a book. Our beagle, Buttons, would be keeping watch, asleep on the roots. Once our jack russell/terrier mix, B.B. (stood for Black Butt), followed us onto the school bus! I bonded most with Kenzie, a wire-haired terrier mix, who would accompany me on runs and trips to the grocery store. She would bury herself under the covers and keep my feet warm during the winter, when lake-effect weather blew right through our old farm house. Kenzie was also my copilot when my step-dad would get angry and I only felt safe getting the heck out. As I grew up, however, so did he. He stopped drinking. He started taking care of his health, although he still smoke Marlboro's. Despite the difficulties I faced as a kid, I found comfort in the dogs that Doug insisted on having. My step-dad really showed me how to love a dog, and after getting Charlie, I knew they needed to meet.

Here is a little album from Charlie's dream vacation. Charlie was happy to be in the car with me and kept her supplied with snacks and toys. Her favorite spot is on the console. That way she can really see everything. She was a good copilot with Doug too!

For the few days that we visited, Charlie would bound out into the snow and shake herself of the zoomies. When she had finished, she'd sit by the door, waiting for her people to let her back inside. Doug really spoiled Charlie. He bought giant bags of pig ears and beggin strips, which he doled out once an hour. He made knotted socks into toys and delivered her meals on plates, declaring that her snout was uncomfortable eating out of a bowl. Doug didn't penalize her when she stole pizza off my niece's plate. Instead, he got Charlie her own piece! When Charlie and I fell asleep spooning on the sofa, I awoke to Doug giving me a kiss on my forehead. As he covered us with a blanket and clicked off the TV he said, "She's like your guardian angel."

I today is my weekend, and I spent all day eating Shepherd's Pie (made with lentils instead of meat) and napping on the sofa. Charlie was snuggled in next to me during my marathon of laziness. When I'd rise to refill my glass or find the remote, she'd gaze up at me, eyes half closed with her ears down and back as if to say, "Where are you going? It's so comfortable next to you. Don't take long."

I am exhausted because we went on a two hour hike yesterday. (As a side note let me mention that I accidentally dropped her lease in the parking lot of the park just as we arrived and she took off! My cousin, JP, who is over 6 feet tall and mostly made of muscle, darted after her. Swerving and twisting in her trail until he half lunged, half fell over a barricade at the end of the lot. Somehow he managed to grab her leash on his way down. It was a real-life Benny Hill chase!) Aside from the physical stress of the hike, I am mentally exhausted. My aunt is less than a week away from the end of her life after a battle with lung cancer. Her situation is eerily similar to my mother's, who passed away from pancreatic cancer. Additionally, I am in the middle of some highly stressful events. I can't talk about the details so let's just leave it at that.

In the middle of these stressful events, I am so grateful to have a fuzzy dog to act as my heater on a lazy, rainy day like today. Much as I did as a child, I find peace in her presence. I know that part of managing the emotions I have is allowing myself time. 

See, Charlie knows what it's like to be blue.
This was my view for most of the day. How could I be upset?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Dear Everyone

Dear Everyone,

I initially sat down to write to my mom. I wanted to tell her that even though I haven't been writing, it's not because I've forgotten. Oh hell no.

I stopped posting for a while because I was afraid that I was making my readers' lives difficult, thinking they feel obligated to click the link and commiserate with me. I also imagined that had I tormented my family by sending them her needlepoint.

Then I realized I needed to continue posting and that I wanted to write to you. I'm here to tell all of YOU that I haven't forgotten. Mom knows I think of her. I tell her everyday. Writing a post on here would not be for her sake. It is for yours.

This blog began as a means for me to share about my mother and connect with people who love her. I wrote because I needed to share my grieving process with my family. It gave me a means to start the conversations that I needed to have. In bearing my emotions, I learned that many of my family members wanted to shield me from this pain. Knowing that they wanted me to be happy and that it was ok for me to let go of a lot of sadness gave me strength to do so.

This blog turned into a space for me to mourn. I would read and reread my posts and those same desolate emotions would surface. Wounds would be uncovered and cleaned, over and over, until they became scars--a memory of an emotion once had.

I also needed to post for myself. I needed to see in black and white that I'm ok. Validation through repeated rumors. The idea that a myth becomes fact on shear human belief--like Bigfoot. My sanity became a monster, written into existence with the continual coverage. 

I am delighted to hear the click clack of the keyboard and the inaudible whispers of a spring morning drizzle. It feels good to stretch my hands and roll my eyes in search of a word just beyond my sight.

I want to continue writing but I don't want to share in the way that I have in the past. I no longer feel as if I'm in emotional stress due to grieving. I no longer need to broadcast this. Of course, I'll always be grieving the loss of my mother but I've found other outlets to manage it. I want to continue writing and I'm here to tell you that I don't know where this project will be going, if anywhere.

But, you should know that I'm ok. I'm great actually. I'm a knitter and kick-boxer in the same day. I'm even taking grad school classes!


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Everything Cookies

1 c unsalted butter
1/2 c white sugar
1/2 c brown sugar
2 eggs
2 c flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 c oats
1 c chopped walnuts
1 c coconut
1 c raisins
1 c chocolate chips
1 c white chocolate chips

Mix wet ingredients (sugar, butter, extract, eggs) and dry ingredients (flour, salt, powder, soda) in two separate bowls. Sift dry ingredients into wet and fold in oats, walnuts, coconut, raisins, chocolate.

Form the dough using a small ice cream scoop and bake for 15 minutes at 350. Allow to cool for 2 minutes before removing from sheet.

To make vegan cookies:
In place of eggs, boil 2-4 teaspoons of ground flax seed with 1 cup of water for 5-10 minutes. Cool before adding to wet ingredients. Also, exchange margarine for butter and check your chocolate for dairy (dairy-free substitutes can easily be found).

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Eating Raisins

My hands are clasped behind my back and I'm leaning against the wall waiting for a timer to go off. Somebody walks by and I smile as a hello. I realize I haven't taken a breath. Maybe I'm just taking immensely shallow breaths but it's as if I'm wearing metal armor.

My hands are cold and wet. They are wrapped around my handle bars. Reaching for the brakes and making a familiar right turn, I survey the trees. Drawing cold air over my lips, my nostrils sting and I fill my lungs to capacity. I force warm air through my teeth.

With my hands gripping a fork and stirring vegetables, I look out the window. There are yellow leaves on the driveway, and I count to ten. Ten days.

Ten days until the first anniversary of mom's death and I find my breath shallow. It is alarming and I am constantly forcing my chest cavity to fill. I can't logically connect the anxiety to this anniversary but I know they are related. I don't have religion and no tools to manage death. In some sense, I am creating the anxiety. I am expecting October 12 to be morose, and I can't quite fathom the connection but I can't breathe.

I am still angry that she has missed this last year. So much has changed. I have needed her advice on so many different occasions. I have reached for the phone to call her to celebrate more times than I can count. I don't feel like writing this because I'm having a hard time articulating these emotions. I like writing to be cathartic and indulgent, like eating a decadent slice of chocolate cake. This feels like old raisins.

It's been over a month since my last post and I have an idea that I'd like to share so I'll eat my raisins. No one looks forward to the anniversary of the death of a loved one but while chatting with Aunt Polly, we came up with a good idea. How about this date being the marker for a reason to do something good for yourself? (Like using your last child's birthday as your reminder to make a gyno appointment, which my mother did. Yes, I'm the youngest.) Since August I have been training for a triathlon and am happy to report that I've lost 15 pounds. The race will be in a week and channeling mom while exercising has been a great way to prepare for the impending gloomy day. I will get to spend the weekend with my Aunt Polly and Aunt Kathy. We will get to do a lot of exercise, maybe a little shopping, and certainly a lot of talking. I couldn't think of anything Cici would want to do more.

In the last year of my mom's life, she became involved in Fort Wayne's Smallest Winner and with them she reached a healthy weight. She was exercising regularly and eating healthier. I know she would encourage my plans and I want to motivate you to do something similar. Maybe on October 12th, eat a salad. Get off your ass and do a little stretching. Skip the chocolate cake and eat raisins.

Then, tell me about it. Please! I'd love to hear from you on that day. Tell me something you did for yourself!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

First day of school


Last week was the first day of school. I'm not enrolled.

Instead I drove around my new neighborhood. I found my pharmacy. I checked out the grocery store. Their produce is mediocre but always on sale. I rode my bike to work four times last week and both days this week. The weather was perfect and it was glorious to have my body so close to the road and the wind on my shoulders. I am in control of my destiny. Isn't that what you used to say? It was something like that. I am the master of my destiny. Maybe. That's what it was. 

I did the 27-Fling Boogie three times. The kitchen is full of my dirty dishes and I only feel the urge to find a man and make love to him. To pretend that we are in love and on our way to some other life.  Or maybe I should call an old boyfriend to catch up. Where is my head? I haven't met anyone who meets the height and weight requirements. But, then again, I haven't been looking.

Last week at work a coworker chided me for using the screen name "Scientist Maggie," claiming that I'm not a scientist. "All you do is filter fluids!" he insisted. I was dumbfounded and focused on the trash cluttering the middle of the table. Maybe I could burn it away with my television. Sending it through the air like they did at the Willy Wonka factory and when it arrives at its destination, it will be much smaller as well. Less waste. I think about this a lot. This always seems like a logical fix. If I could only stare at that great Pacific garbage patch long enough. I'd send it all to my trash can. Then I'd stare at my trash can, and send the minuscule left overs to a Tic Tac box. You know how much I love those.

The conversation at work drifted from the fact that bats were mammals to weekend plans, but I was recounting my love and obsession with Fibonacci numbers during my senior year of college. I am a scientist. I filled up my bedroom with pinecones and flowers--anything remotely symmetrical--and counted the rows when I was unable to focus. In the next beat, I was imagining I had stumbled upon the most massive specimen of fruticose lichen. I am a scientist. I envisioned standing on the edge of a village that was once ravaged by cholera. It had undergone a transformation because of the work of epidemiologists. I am a scientist.

"I think we're all scientists," I finally replied. 

"Yay! Animal science!" another coworker added, tossing her hands into the air as if throwing the whole field, scientists and animals alike, into the air as confetti.

This is my reality, Mom. It isn't perfect but I'm making it work. I'm entertaining myself with science inside my brain, even if my technical title isn't "Scientist." I am still a Scientist and I am grateful to you as you were the first to recognize me as such. I'm preparing myself for school. I'll be getting a desk this weekend and I bought a chalkboard. I've written two things on it so far:

One thing at a time. You're only human.
A mental mind fuck can be nice.

However, I'm not so sure about the last one. (Don't worry, it's a quote from the Rocky Horror Picture Show and I found it the idea of it so appealing years ago. There's just something about the way those words fit together. Plus, sometimes it can.)

I love you,

Saturday, July 23, 2011

A Cup of Tea

Again I woke up at 3:30 on Saturday morning. The house is quiet and warm with summer's heat. I collect last night's dishes, start the dishwasher, and sip on cinnamon tea. I feel sad again. I do not understand why my mom has gone missing. I do not know where to place this emotion.

I woke up in tears. I had been hanging out with my mom. She helped me look for an apartment and then I needed her opinion on a dress. I guess it was for something significant but I don't remember. She came with me to see a few apartments but she was distracted. When I'd turn around to ask her what she thought, she would be on the phone or meandering near the edge of the property. I looked for Doug to see if he could help but all he gave me was a shrug and avoided my eyes. 

My mom and I finally sat down to discuss the apartments and make a decision about my dress. This time I thought I'd have her full attention for sure. But when I began explaining, she picked up her cell phone, a big plastic ridiculous thing that looked like a child's toy. I lost it. The water I had just sipped was now spewing out of my mouth and onto the TV. It flashed and whirred and finally went dark. I felt monstrous, fists clenched and hair wild. Those around us looked at me in horror. I began screaming. I wanted her opinion, I wanted her input. Why was she holding that from me? In a flash I realized I was not mad at her, logically she could not give me her opinion any more. She is dead. That woman in front of me, ignoring me was not my mother. She was a mirage my subconscious had created to bring her back to life for me. I immediately collpased into tears.

I woke up on a damp pillow and looked at the clock. 3:30 again. Standing over the sink, I examined my hair. My head felt like it was too small for the amount of material inside, as if the pressure of it would compress my brain and I would fall onto the floor in a heap. I took a deep breath and ran my wrists under the cool water. I told myself the pressure would subside with a cup of tea. 

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Don't Eat the Hummus (DANGEROUS)


I just wanted to tell you, because I could never say this to you without hurting your feelings, your hummus is no good. When I became a vegetarian as a teenager (which I still am today) you freaked out. I was very active and you insisted, rightfully so, that I needed protein. In the mornings before school you'd make me smoothies filled with fruit, milk, and tofu (sounds gross but they were good) and you filled the freezer with my favorite bean burritos. On the weekends you'd make massive amounts of hummus and divide them into little plastic take-out containers. You were never able to make anything "just for two." It was enough for an army, no less.

After I went away to college I had hummus at a dining hall, over at a friend's party, or maybe dipped into a roommate's stash, and I realized that it was a mild, creamy dip and unbelievably delicious. It was easily spreadable on crackers and it fit perfectly into the groove of a celery stick. I compared it to the bricks of flavorless garbanzo beans you'd insist I take with me. Crammed into those little plastic containers, they'd get lost in my freezer and a pang of guilt would hit my gut everytime I shuffled things around enough to find one. Sometimes they'd fall out and the containers would shatter and I'd think to myself, "Well, I can't eat that now! When I thaw it out it will have shards of plastic pieces in it! Surely mom wouldn't want me eating that." When I raved about the hummus I had at college you questioned me. What was so good about it? Did it have a special seasoning? What was the texture like? I was caught off-guard and realized I'd inadvertently admitted that someone else's hummus was better than yours. I stammered but couldn't come up with an answer, focusing more on your feelings than the actual hummus itself.

You made hummus up until you became sick, although by that time there was plenty stocked away in both my freezer and yours. I had been eating your hummus for almost a decade and I was in too far to tell you the truth. Instead, I encouraged you to make Roasted Red Pepper Dip or Aunt's Sue's Marinated Cheese, both of which are divine.

Despite this bad news (I know, I should have told you the truth about your hummus years ago), I am writing you to share good news: I am becoming more like you! In short, I've begun sewing, I have your bad taste in music, I have weird sleep hours, and I've inherited your cooking skills. I bought a sewing machine second hand and made a bag (but only to house my new hobby of knitting). I dashed around the house in my pajamas all last weekend with little pieces of fabric in my hands, destined to be flattened by the iron. My hair was wild and I'd shout at every victory and frustration. Next I'm going to make a skirt and an apron. I also have horrible taste in music. You once admitted that while everyone was jamming to the Beetles, you were singing your heart out to show tunes. I make a hodgepodge mix of songs that I listen to until I become sick of it. I forget about it for two years and when it is rediscovered I overindulge in the same way. Additionally, because of my different work schedule, my eyes insisted on staying open at 3:30 am.  I had dreamt you made a smorgasbord of mouthwatering vegetarian food for me, my friends, and the family just to celebrate me. You were not present in the dream (although you haven't been lingering in my dreams for a last few months). This is disappointing to me because in the months following your death, I would be so grateful every time I'd dream about you, positive or not. It was a way to know that you still existed, even if only in my hallucinations. You could say in the dream I had last night it was as if I were seeing you indirectly, as I was enjoying the food you made. Mostly I remember the gazpacho.

When you reached a certain age, your body decided when and how long you were allowed to sleep. You'd get up and by 10 am have accomplished more than I would all day. You'd stitch a little, work a little, and eat a little. By the time I meander into the living room, you'd be resting in front of your needlepoint and offer to make me some tea and a little breakfast. We'd have an early morning chat, which, admittedly, sometimes ended in a fight. I long for these conversations now. It was often a time to talk about something we loved and enjoy each other's company, even though they weren't always pretty. Now without you here, I am awake at an unusual hour and using the wee hours of the morning to cook for those that I love, just as you had. I'm making gazpacho, your recipe for which I cannot find but I'm going to do this from Cook's Illustrated.

I ALSO CAN'T MAKE HUMMUS. But these days I just buy the stuff.

I love you, Mom, and I miss you madly.