Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Heartache of Infant Loss by Laura Schubert

Josh posted this on his blog today, and I had to re-post it here.

December 6 is just over a month away.  It is unbelievable to me that I am just a little more than a month away from the one year anniversary of my daughter's birth and death.  I still wonder how this could be my life.

I use this blog to sort through my thoughts, to try and articulate exactly how I'm feeling.  To name the pain, and pin it down with words, so maybe I can keep it from suffocating me, to explain to people who couldn't possibly understand but, God love them, they try to, and to connect with people who, unfortunately, do understand.

David and I have been talking a lot lately about what almost-11-months without our baby feels like.  "Shitty" is one word that gets thrown around a bit.  It doesn't quite account for the fact that shitty now feels a lot different from shitty last winter.  So much has changed in these past months.  The ache has not diminished, but I've gotten better at lugging it around, at keeping it hidden when necessary.  It's hard for me to reconcile how I can be so changed, and also still be the exact same person I've always been.  It's hard for me to explain how my day to day life has gotten easier (and even fun sometimes), but life without Eliza is still so impossibly hard.

I think this article says it perfectly.

Infant loss is nature's cruelest practical joke. It's investing all of the required time and effort into pregnancy, only to be robbed of the result. It's cradling a body that grew within your own and trying to reconcile the cold, lifeless form in your arms with your memory of the baby who turned double flips in your womb.

It's worrying that you'll forget what your child looked like and snapping an album's worth of photos that no one will ever ask to see. It's sobbing so hard you can't breathe and wondering if it's possible to cry yourself to death.

Infant loss is handing off a Moses basket to the nurse who's drawn the unfortunate duty of delivering your pride and joy to the morgue and walking out of a hospital with empty arms.

It's boxing up brand new baby clothes and buying a 24-inch casket. It's sifting through sympathy cards, willing your foolish body to stop lactating, clutching your baby's blanket to your chest in hopes of soothing the piercing ache in your heart.

It's resisting the urge to smack the clueless individuals who compare your situation to the death of their dog or who tell you you'll have another baby, as if children are somehow replaceable.

Infant loss is explaining to your 7-year-old that sometimes babies die and being stumped into silence when she asks you why. It's watching other families live out your happy ending and fighting a fresh round of grief with every milestone you miss.

It's being shut out of play groups for perpetuity. It's skipping social events with expectant and newly minted mothers because, as a walking worst-case scenario, you don't want to put a damper on the party.

It's listening to other women gripe about motherhood and realizing that you no longer relate to their petty parental complaints because, frankly, when you've buried a baby, a sleepless night with a vomiting toddler sounds something like a gift.

Infant loss is pruning from your life the friends and relatives who ignore or minimize your loss. It's recognizing that, while they may not mean to be hurtful, the fact that they don't know any better doesn't make their utter lack of empathy one whit easier to bear.

My baby girl would have been 5 years old this month. I don't know what she'd look like, what her favorite food would be. I've never had the privilege of tucking her into bed, taking her to the zoo or kissing her boo-boos. I will never watch her graduate or walk down the aisle.

Infant loss is more than an empty cradle. It's a life sentence.

-  Laura Schubert, The Heartache Of Infant Loss

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Verbal Altercation at Local Retail Store: Woman Speaks Up For Justice, Plaid-Wearing Hipster Flees

So I went to Tar-shjay yesterday, to get some various odds and ends, including cotton balls and goat cheese spinach pizzas.  As I was getting ready to check out, lines were ridiculously backed up.  Those of us who were in line were blocking the main aisle of the store, so we were backing up into clothing racks in order to let people pass by.  But soon red-shirted employees were on their walkie-talkies and a couple more lines opened up.  Those of us waiting with our carts reallocated ourselves appropriately and the lines started moving forward.

BUT THEN, one young man took this opportunity to step into line in front of me AND the guy I was standing behind-- a dad who was there with his four year old son.

The little boy was holding a mermaid Barbie doll and looked totally thrilled with it.  I was wondering whether his dad was actively thwarting society's tendency to emphasize gender differences in children, or if he was just cool with his son wanting a Barbie, or if it was a gift for someone else.

Anyway, this guy in a plaid shirt jumps in line in front of both of us, and I glanced at the dad to see if he would say something, but he just sighed.  About the guy in plaid?  Or his son's obvious excitement about the mermaid doll?  I am not sure.

Plaid Shirt's girlfriend was still out in the main aisle, unable to slide into line next to him because she was pushing their cart full of stuff (lots of stuff, not just like a few items).  She seemed uncertain about butting in line in front of dad/son and me, so she was really wishy-washy about it, and they were doing that silent communication thing couples do where they barely move their lips and raise their eyebrows at each other while using the tilt of their heads to gesture.  He was silently pantomiming that she should get into line next to him and she was indicating her uncertainty with shrugs in the direction of me and the father/son duo.  I observed this all, openly staring at them, waiting to see if she'd actually do it, and seething at the nerve of this kid.

Finally, Plaid Shirt reached out and grabbed her cart and pulled it over in front of us.  He had officially BUTTED IN LINE.

At which point I smiled politely and said, very calmly, nodding as though I were answering a question he had asked me, "We were standing in line here.  Both of us."  I gestured toward the dad/son/mermaid.

Plaid Shirt glared at me defiantly from behind his hipster glasses (which I am not criticizing, I happen to love hipster glasses), and said, "Yeah, I have been standing here too.  In this line.  The whole time.  Didn't you see me standing here?"

Now, my friends, this was TOTAL bullshit because I watched Plaid Shirt and Girlfriend push their cart up and figure out what line to get into after more registers had opened and we were all moving forward toward the checkout.  Also he said this looking wild and defiant, just like my students do when they lie to me about why their paper isn't finished and they're daring me to call them out on it.

But what was I going to say?  "Excuse me, little boy with the mermaid doll, could you please hold my earrings while I take this guy DOWN?"

I was not going to get into an "Un-uh!" "Uh-huh!" conversation with this dude.  I knew it was time to maintain my dignity and let it go.  So I said, in a very calm and polite voice (my most professorial tone), "Oh. Well, if you think that's true, then I'm sorry."

I said "I'm sorry" as though I were apologizing for my error, not as though I was sorry that he was mistaken, but I guess it was somewhat open to interpretation, since I might have emphasized "you think," but I swear I kept my tone very pleasant.

But it turns out the guy could lie to my face, but he didn't have the balls to stand in line in front of me after he did it.  Instead, he said, "No, it's fine!" in a super irritated tone.  Then turned to his girlfriend and snapped, "Where do you want to go?" and made her choose another line.

Huzzah!  Victory was mine!

David would say that I have no patience.  He thinks that when I have to wait in check out lines, I feel the same fight or flight response in me that my dad feels when he has to sit in traffic.  He might even suggest I picked a fight with Plaid Shirt just to see if I could get through the line faster.

But then I would remind David of the time that we were standing in line to kiss the statue of St. Peter's feet at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome and somehow three little old Italian ladies butted in the queue and separated David and me and he was so pissed he tried to get confrontational with them and I was MORTIFIED because we were in a CHURCH and they were OLD LADIES and they didn't speak ENGLISH and in my experience, Europeans simply do not respect the order of queues the way Americans do. In that instance, I shushed David and politely let the old ladies kiss St. Peter's feet before I did.  David maintained his righteous indignation since the line was really super long and we'd been waiting forever before these ladies sidled up and invited themselves in alongside us, but I just don't think you should fight with old ladies in churches.  As a general rule.

Hipsters wearing plaid shirts in Target?  Totally fair game.

I mean, if this guy had a cart full of medical supplies and someone was bleeding in the parking lot, I totally would have let it slide.  But that was most decidedly not the case.  I could have stood there and said nothing and waiting an extra five minutes and it would have been no big deal, right?  But it's the principle of the thing!

There is so little justice in this world.  Therefore, I will step up and fight for it at appropriate times, such as in the Target check-out line!

Take that, Plaid Shirt.

Friday, October 21, 2011

There Are Moments...

When I feel lucky.

When I eat a hot bowl of chili and sip a cool bottle of hard cider and appreciate how delicious it all is.

When I snuggle up on the couch with David to watch TV, and Cooper clamors on top of us and pushes his way under the covers and I feel so happy that they're both mine and I get to hang out with them every day.

When Little Mac's antics make me laugh.

When I have a conversation with a friend and afterward I feel like I can take a deep breath for the first time in days, and I'm grateful for these people.

When I leave a yoga class and I'm so stretched and relaxed and focused that I ride that high all the way home.

When I grade a quiz and see how much one of my students has improved, and I feel like I am actually teaching them something.

When I watch Parks and Recreation and it's so funny I laugh out loud, really loud.

When I redecorate our backroom a hundred times in my head, entertaining myself for hours as I rearrange furniture and imagine how it might all turn out.

There are moments when my life isn't just bearable, it's actually enjoyable.  It's a good life.  Almost a great one.  My sadness for Eliza exists right alongside all of those moments, but it does not wholly overshadow them.

I have grieved for that baby girl as intensely as I could possibly grieve for anyone.  I continue to mourn her loss, as I will do every day until forever.  But the truth is, there are moments when life gets a little of its sparkle back--a glimmer, a sheen.  It might be gone in an instant, but I'm trying to appreciate those moments for what they are.  Not signs that I'm "over it" or that I'm "okay again," but signs that life is full of gifts to help balance our heartaches.

I'm learning we need to clutch our joy at least as as tightly as we hold our grief.  Because the hard part never goes away, and if that's all we focus on, we miss out on so much of the good.

In the early days, that lesson was wasted on me.  I lived and breathed my grief and it was all-consuming.  These days, I'm trying to appreciate the good that comes my way.  It will never be good enough.  It will never make up for what's been lost.  But life can be terribly, horrifically, unbelievably shitty.  So if a bowl of chili and a bottle of hard cider gives me a reprieve from the sadness, I'll take it.  And I won't feel bad about it, or guilty that I'm somehow being disloyal to her memory, because I know that no matter what happens, I'll never, ever in a million years have enough joy to make up for the sadness of Eliza's death.  But I'm starting to see that this doesn't mean I can't have any happiness at all.

The poet Jack Gilbert writes, We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of this world.

I've never had a problem being stubborn.  And the analogy of a ruthless furnace seems a pretty apt description of the world I'm currently living in.  So this is where I am--try to accept my gladness when it comes, and trusting that when it goes, it will return again.  Life is hard.  But there are moments when it's a little softer.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Hello from the Land of Dive Bars and Serial Killers

I saw this on Pinterest and decided to repost it here, mostly because I thought it would make my brother laugh, and he's not following me on Pinterest (yet).

Some stereotypes are just undeniably true...

Don't be shy--leave a comment with greetings from whichever stereotype you reside in (and ignore my dangling preposition. I don't even know how I would begin to restructure that sentence).

Friday, October 14, 2011

Go Ahead, Make Me Cry

Someone asked me the other night if I would appreciate it if other people who knew about Eliza, but with whom I'm not super close--people I don't know very well, or someone with whom I had a professional relationship, like my doctor, or dentist, or financial advisor--would mention Eliza or acknowledge her birthday when it gets closer.  She wanted to know if I would want them to say something to me, or if that acknowledgement would upset me.

The answer was yes to both.

Yes, of course I want people to acknowledge my daughter.

Yes, talking about her upsets me, in the sense that it makes me cry.  But it doesn't make me angry or sad (-er than I already am).  It just allows me to acknowledge those feelings.  And that's a gift.

We know it's bad to make people cry.  We don't want people to be upset.  We are culturally and biologically conditioned to feel bad when we hurt someone, physically or emotionally.  We see that hurt when it shows up in the form of tears, so, naturally, we want to do everything we can to avoid making people cry.

A few years ago, I was at a wedding for one of David's cousins.  David's dad was there with his then-girlfriend, now-wife, and I knew that her dad was really sick.  I hadn't gotten the chance to talk to her all day, so as we were walking through the buffet line at the reception, filling our plates with caesar salad and potatoes au gratin, I asked Michelle how her dad was doing.  She set her plate down on the edge of the buffet and burst into tears.

Her dad was dying.  And I had just made her cry.

I felt terrible.

She had been fine all evening.  She seemed to be having a good time.  And then there I went and opened my big mouth, bringing up a "sore subject," upsetting her in the middle of a nice reception, when she should be enjoying herself.  I felt so bad.  I told David later that I didn't know what I was thinking, but I never should have said anything.  I hated to see her so upset.  And it was all my fault.

Yeah, I see now how stupid that was.  Her tears had nothing to do with me.  Maybe my question brought them to the surface, but they'd been there all day long, through the ceremony, through the picture-taking, through the introduction of the wedding party.  They'd been there for weeks--ever since her dad got the cancer diagnosis.

My question did not remind her of something she had forgotten.  Yes, she might have held the tears in all night long if nobody had mentioned her dad, but that question came from a place of sympathy and concern and it was the right thing to ask, even though I didn't realize it at the time.

The truth is, I was embarrassed by her tears, and I felt like I'd done something wrong.  But why shouldn't she cry?  Her dad was dying!  He was young and the only parent she had left and she was terribly sad.  Of course she would cry about it.  Maybe the timing was awkward (I seem to have a knack for tearful encounters at the salad bar), but all my question did was open the way for her to release a sadness and emotion that had been building up all day long.

Here's what my therapist says:  Crying is not a negative reaction.  It releases sadness; it does not create it.

Too often, our friends, co-workers, acquaintances, are often so worried about not wanting to upset us, not wanting to see us cry, that they avoid mentioning any topics that might be upsetting (just like I did with Stephanie and her mom).

But the people who are truly concerned for us, they don't try to keep our tears away.  They sit there in the midst of them with us.  As uncomfortable and awkward as it might feel.

Being truly kind to people who are grieving isn't about not making them cry.  It's about letting them cry.

I really wanted to communicate that to the person who asked me if it would be appropriate for an acquaintance, casual or professional, to mention Eliza.

So this was my answer:

I would appreciate any acknowledgement of my baby.  It might make me cry, but that doesn't mean that it was inappropriate.  It means that you are acknowledging the greatest tragedy of my life and I am responding to it the only way I can--with a grief that is as deep as my love for her.  I am grateful that you gave me the chance to do so.

(Perhaps I should get this printed on business cards, so I can hand them out to people while I dig around in my purse for a tissue and choke back sobs.)

I can't show off a parade of photos, I can't tell you how much she's grown, I can't tell you how many teeth she has, or how close she is to walking.

But I can show you that I love her so much, the mere thought of having to exist without her here brings me to tears every time.

I'm not going to lie--sometimes I feel totally embarrassed after I've cried in front of someone.  I've cried in front of the chair of the English department at my new job.  Twice. I've cried in front of my advisor from graduate school.  On the phone with insurance companies.  In the office of every doctor I've seen since I lost Eliza, and sometimes in the waiting room.  I cried in line for security at the airport when we were leaving for Canada because I was so sad we weren't taking our baby with us. There are moments when I am afraid I will be perceived as crazy or weak or out of control because I can't keep from crying, and that frustrates me.

Most of the time, I can keep my tears in check.  These days, I don't typically walk around blubbering in public (airport incident notwithstanding).  I still want and need to be somewhat private in my grief.  But I've also gotten more comfortable with my tears, and with letting people see them.  Crying doesn't set me back, it doesn't tear me apart, it doesn't make me depressed.  Tears just spill over sometimes, because that's how freaking hard this is.  And if someone else witnesses that?  Fine.  After all, most of the time, I do a pretty damn good job of making it through the day.

What I want other people to understand, when they mention Eliza and my eyes fill with tears, is that crying does not mean, "I can't believe you mentioned her name and I hate you for making me sad."

Crying means, "I love her and miss her so much, and I'm really touched that you are thoughtful enough to say her name and ask how I'm doing."

So please, go ahead and make me cry.  The real kindness isn't avoiding the subject.  It's abiding with me and my tears.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Hallway Frame Gallery

So one more part of the living room painting project was to re-do the gallery of frames in the hallway.  I'd had silver frames up there, and I decided I wanted to put up an all white frame gallery (thank you, Pinterest).  But I didn't have enough white frames.  So I busted out some spray paint.  But then I had decided that my gallery didn't have to be perfect and could just be mixed and match silver and white.  So here's what I ended up with:

It took forever for me to figure out how I wanted it to look.

First I laid it out on the living room floor.

Then I laid it all out on our bed in the bedroom.  Then I edited, rearranged, removed.

Then I tore out pages from an old phone book so I'd have the size and shape of all the frames and laid it out on the wall.

Then I started hammering.

It took me an entire afternoon.  Seriously.  Like at least 3 hours.  And if I had it to do over again, I might edit a bit more (I'm not sure what I would take out though...)  It still seems a little crowded in spots.  I'd make the top and bottom a bit more uneven, I think, so it's not such a perfect rectangle.  But over all, it makes me really happy.

For perspective, this is the hallway that leads from the living room to the bathroom and bedrooms.  It's directly across from the bathroom, so if you pee with the door open (for example, if you're the only one home and you don't bother shutting the door because your dogs will just sit outside the door and whine for you because they are codependent little beasts), you can look at the frames while you pee.

Or you can observe them at other times, when your pants are on.  Whatever makes you feel more comfortable.

But!  If you are long distance and cannot see this in person, do not fear!  You will now get the guided tour of my hallway gallery with individual pictures of each framed piece (or you can stop reading here before your eyes glaze over from boredom).

Our Eliza sunset photo, created by Carly.  It's the biggest frame on the wall, and such a lovely picture.

A postcard I bought in Seoul, South Korea when we visited the North Seoul Tower.  I was pregnant with Eliza at the time. I like that the postcard is whimsical and colorful and a happy vacation memory.

Can you tell we're related?  My aunt, me, and my mom.  This was taken a while ago (before I got bangs), but I like any picture that features white wine.

White water rafting in Canada.

These are lots of pictures of the sky all put together.  I cut it out of a magazine.  I liked the soft blue color and I know a little something about this cloudy sky feeling.  

Another vacation photo -- at Stonehenge.

The little crafty print that I created.  I noticed a spacing error but I'm pretending to embrace imperfection.

David snapped this artsy shot of streetcars when we were in San Francisco a couple of years ago and since I'm always giving him a hard time about being a terrible photographer, I wanted to make a big deal out of a good picture he took.

Oh, the wedding.  Not only are we young and blissfully happy, the wedding car was borrowed from David's grandpa's Mustang collection, and my best friend Monica hand-lettered the sign for me and created all of the tissue-paper pom-poms (with the help of her little sister).  So it makes me think of lots of people we love.

I have another project I'm working on to go in this frame, so I just cut this head out of a magazine as a placeholder.  Because I really like her necklace.

My parents when they were engaged.  I think this photo is adorable and hilarious.

There's no story behind this except I liked it.

The brother.  This was taken ages ago, when he graduated from UT Austin.  Hook 'em horns!  I stayed at his frat house that weekend (what the hell was I thinking?  I have no idea) which was disgusting but also pretty fun.  I couldn't keep up with them, though.  After going out to the bars, they dropped me off to go to bed while they kept the party going.  

My dad and me at my wedding.

A butterfly.  Butterflies make me think of Eliza.  Legend says that if you lose a baby, their spirit may come to visit you in the form of a butterfly.  I don't always think I believe in that stuff, but every time I see a butterfly it makes me smile and feel like crying at the same time.

This one didn't photograph well, and in person it's really dark, too.  But it's a picture of a night sky and you can  just see the stars peeking out in the darkness, with trees and a fallen log in front.  

A fortune I got a long time ago.  It had been up on our fridge with a magnet and I moved it to a frame.  It's been true, even though those friends are not always whom I thought they'd be.

A tiny watercolor of the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, bought from a street vendor for just a few Euros.

A shadow box containing a champagne cork from the bottle of champagne that was waiting for us in the flat we rented in Paris a couple of summers ago.  We lugged our suitcases up four flights of winding stairs, flung open the windows, and popped the cork.

The aforementioned BFF Monica, pictured at her wedding, where I was the matron of honor and she was a gorgeous bride who looks like she stepped out of old Hollywood.

View of the hallway when you walk in the front door.  I wanted Eliza's sunset to be visible the moment you step inside.
So there you have it.  Hallway gallery, finished.

Not to worry, though.  I won't be sitting around with nothing to do.  I've got my sights set on a new home improvement project.  I'm collecting supplies for it this weekend, and we'll start on it next week.  I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Chili Recipe

I'm making chili today.  We're visiting David's grandparents again this weekend and in an effort to make things a little easier on them, I'm bringing chili and cinnamon rolls (Why do these things go together?  I don't know, maybe you should ask the people who designed school lunches when I was in grade school and cinnamon rolls were always the dessert on chili day.)

I like to brag about this recipe because (1) it's delicious (2) I'm not great at cooking, but I have mastered this and (3) even meat eaters like my chili.

So here is my ingredient list:

big can of tomato puree
black beans
kidney beans
chili beans (are kidney beans and chili beans the same thing?  I have no idea)
green pepper
tempeh (for those of you not in the know, tempeh is vegetarian deliciousness, pronounced "tem-pay."  It's a combination of grains and who knows what else, and it packs lots of protein.)
salsa verde
plus a SECRET INGREDIENT. (Now you're intrigued, right?  Keep reading.)

Chop your veggies.  I use a big knife, but it's not very sharp.  Because I'm clumsy and I don't want to slice off a digit while making chili.

Drain your beans.  As I'm draining beans, I always think about how I wish I had that Pampered Chef tool that fits over the tops of cans and drains them easily, but then that would be one more gadget to store in the limited space of my kitchen and I want to be one of those people who doesn't buy lots of material objects, but that's not really happening, so maybe I should just give in and buy one, and then I wonder if my old college roommate is still selling Pampered Chef, and by the time I get done thinking about all that, the beans are drained and I promptly forget about the can-draining gadget until the next time I'm opening a can of beans.

Get out your big ol' chili pot and put the burner heat on medium.  Sautee the onion and garlic in a little bit of oil until they're nice and fragrant and the onions are translucent.

Add your peppers and carrots to the pot to soften them up a bit.  At this point, I always mentally pat myself on the back because my chili has vegetables in it and is therefore very healthy, which is why it's totally fine to bury it under a pile of cheese and Fritos before eating.

Also at this point, I usually remember to turn on some music.  For making chili, I really like Jeff Buckley and also old Tim McGraw.  Something homey and nostalgic.

While your veggies are softening, chop up your block of tempeh.  You can also use Boca or Morningstar soy crumbles, but I prefer the tempeh.  It just feels less processed or something.

You want your tempeh to crumble up, kind of like ground beef, except BETTER, and a cow doesn't have to die for this pot of chili.  Win-win!  Add your tempeh to the pot, stir it all around, and then add whatever chili powder floats your boat.

I really like Penzey's spices and I live near a Penzey's, so I usually stock up.  But I have not yet replenished my chili spices from last fall!  So I'm going old school with my favorite grocery store brand of chili powder:  Williams.

Williams was the last name of my great-grandparents, so as I sprinkle it in, I pretend it's an old family recipe.  Is that weird?

The tempeh will take on the flavor of whatever it's hanging out with in the pot, so now you have a delicious mixture of onion, garlic, pepper, carrot, and chili seasoning, and the texture is somewhat close to ground beef.  At least, from what I remember.  I haven't eaten ground beef in ten years, so my memory could be fuzzy.  At any rate, tempeh doesn't have the "tofu texture" that David complains about, so he likes it.

Time for your beans.  Dump 'em in.  Sometimes I only use two cans of beans, but this time I am feeling crazy! Also I originally got this recipe from my friend Natalie, and she says that every cook makes a chili recipe his or her own.  So here I am, personalizing it.

It's looking pretty chunky now, and so healthy and full of veggies!  So it's time to add the tomato puree.

I also stir in some salsa verde.  Except my neighborhood grocery store didn't have salsa verde in stock.  What the what?  We live a block away from "The Hill," which is the Italian section of St. Louis, meaning that it's a neighborhood of Italian restaurants and Italian grocery stores and Catholic churches.  Evidently even the chain grocery store has been influence, so Mexican food gets the short shift.  If I go the opposite direction, there is an adorable little Mexican grocery store within walking distance of my house, but it's raining today.  So we're going with this green taco sauce!  Because it's green!  Verde!  And it has roughly the same ingredients--green chilies.  And Natalie gave me permission to improvise!

Dump in about half of whatever green Mexican sauce you have on hand and stir.  One time I made this with real salsa verde that my uncle in Arizona had made himself from super hot peppers he'd grown in the desert.  It was so spicy and delicious!

Then it's time for the SECRET INGREDIENT!!!!

That's right.  A bottle of beer.  The darker the better, but any kind will do.  I'm using Dunkelweizen, an Amber beer from Trader Joe's.  If you have the option, adding one at room temperature is the best idea, but I've popped the top straight out of the fridge and it's fine.  Just fizzes a little more.

Pour it in.

Watch the chili foam!  And froth!  And smell delicious!

Stir it all up really good.  Crank up the heat and bring it all to a rolling boil.  Let it boil for a minute or two, then take the heat way down.

Now the hard/easy part.  Let it simmer for as long as you can.  Let it infuse your home with delicious chili smell.  I try to let it simmer for two hours.  Why?  Because I like my chili to be delicious, that's why.  It also gets thick (soupy chili = gag) and all the flavors mix perfectly.

It's best to let it simmer uncovered, but that's totally impractical because it sputters and bubbles and makes a big chili mess.  So I put the lid almost all the way on, allowing space for the steam to escape.  I also stir it occasionally.  Like whenever I walk by the kitchen, or during a commercial break, or in between student essays, or at the end of a chapter, or at that point when you realize you've been staring at Pinterest so long that you've forgotten to blink and you need to step away from the laptop.

Once it's simmered to your preference, it's ready to go.  Ladle it into cute bowls and serve with extra sharp cheddar cheese grated on top to make it extra good.  I also like to serve it with beer bread (because it's a THEME!) but it's great with Fritos, tortilla chips, or Saltines.


OK, now here's the short version of the recipe without my commentary.  It occurs to me that my commentary is probably not as cute as the Pioneer Woman's and that's why she's written a famous cookbook and I have not.  Or maybe it's that this is really my only successful recipe and a one-recipe cookbook does not a cookbook make...

chili seasoning
chili beans and/or kidney beans
black beans
tomato puree
salsa verde

Chop veggies and drain beans.

Sautee onions and garlic until softened.

Add carrots and peppers, stir until softened.

Chop tempeh and add to veggie mixture.  Stir in chili seasoning.

Add beans.  Stir.

Add tomato puree.  Stir.

Add half a jar of salsa verde.  Stir.

Add the SECRET INGREDIENT - a bottle of beer.

Stir well. Increase heat and bring to boil for 1-2 minutes.

Turn heat down to super low.  Let simmer, not fully covered, for 1-2 hours.  Stir occasionally.

Serve with bread, chips, or crackers, and grated cheese.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Laundry Day

Little Mac is eleven and half years old, nearly blind, and obsessed with the idea that the world is out to get her.  As a result, she is careful to avoid putting herself in vulnerable positions.  For example, we have never rubbed her belly and she growls if anyone comes near her bed when she is resting/snoozing/plotting to kill us all.  Therefore, we could hardly believe that she took a leap of faith up into a basket full of dirty clothes.

Where iz I? Wut did I do?

I luv the dirties.  I risk all for the dirties.  Plz do not approach me.
Perhaps Cooper bribed her to dig him out a pair of panties?  I tell you, these two are a formidable team:

Who, me?  Say wut?

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Remember my bathroom?

The one I painted with stripes?  Like way back in July?  And then I said I'd post pictures but I never did?

Of course you do.  You've all been sitting around waiting patiently, just hoping for the day when I post the pictures of the stripes I painted in the bathroom.

Or you've been quietly assuming it was a total flop and you're just too tactful to mention it.

The truth is, I was waiting to post pictures until I got pictures hung up in the bathroom and it took two months to make that happen.  I can't explain why.  I re-used frames I already had on hand.  I did not have to order pictures or buy prints.  I think it's just that I use up on my energy on the stuff I absolutely have to do to get through the day and then I have nothing left over for hammering and nailing.

At any rate, I managed to get motivated yesterday.  I wanted to post before and after pictures, but I absolutely cannot find the "before" pictures.  Just keep in mind that "before," the bathroom was the lighter beige color and it had a striped shower curtain in bright, shimmery jewel tones of blue and purple and green.  Now we have this:

view from the doorway
shower curtain (from Target)
opposite the sink
up close view of the stripage
The stripe is pretty subtle, but in addition to being slightly darker than the original wall color, it has a nice metallic shimmer that appeals to the side of me that loves all things sparkly.

David thought the following picture was my grandma:

While flattering for my grandma, I was dismayed to learn that not only did he not recognize the actress in the picture, the name Vivien Leigh did not clarify things for him.

"Um, you know, Scarlett O'Hara."

Blank stare.

"From Gone With the Wind!"

Unconvincing nod of recognition.

"What is the matter with you?  How do you not know Scarlett O'Hara?"

Turns out, he's never seen Gone With the Wind.  Are you KIDDING me?  Not to worry, Netflix to the rescue.

Which brings me to another question:  Is it weird to have a picture of Scarlett O'Hara in your bathroom?  I'm not sure she's a permanent addition; she was intended to be more of a place holder.  This frame had been displaying a picture of David and me in front of the Golden Gate Bridge, but somehow it seemed weird to have us smiling cheerfully at whomever was sitting on our toilet.  So I decided to have Scarlett O'Hara smirk coyly at whomever was sitting on our toilet instead.  At least temporarily.

And while you're peeing,  you can also look at this:

Hey LADIES Get Funky; GENTLEMEN Prefer Your Sister
I took these photos of signs at a public restroom in London.  They made me snicker when I first saw them, and as far as I'm concerned, they still haven't lost their appeal.

postcards I bought in Florence--the photos I would have taken if these places hadn't been full of annoying tourists like us

map of the London Metro -- a romantic adventure for David and me back in 2009
I guess I forgot to take a close up picture of the collage above the toilet, which you get to look at if you pee standing up at my house!  It's photos I actually took in Verona and Florence.  Because I guess I wanted our bathroom to represent London, Italy, and the Confederate States of America.  

Anyway, the real deal is the stripes, which I still like pretty well.  I think they kind of look like wallpaper.  How did I do it?  I just left the old color up there (a kind of beige color that I think is called Keystone by Benjamin Moore) and I added a metallic stripe with the Martha Stewart metallic paint from Home Depot in Bone. I also had to buy the specialty roller that went with the paint, except my Home Depot was out of the Martha Stewart rollers so I had to buy the Ralph Lauren one.  It did the job just fine.

I measured the height of my walls, divided it by 8, and then penciled up and down each end of the wall.  Then I used green Frog painter's tape (it's the best for sealed edges with no paint leaking through) and carefully stretched it from one pencil mark to another.  I eyeballed this a little bit, and my stripes probably aren't quite perfect, but they turned out pretty sharp.  The tricky part was putting the paint on the outside of the pencil line and then the inside.  It looked like this:

And I ran out of green tape, so had to use blue at the bottom.  Turned out okay with the blue tape, too.  So once it was taped off, I just rolled on the paint.  It was a super liquidy paint, like much more watery than any kind of paint I've used before.  But it covered okay, and I was planning on doing two coats, which I definitely needed.  The whole project took two days because the metallic paint was supposed to dry 24 hours between coats, but the actual painting process went super fast because the area of the stripe wasn't very big at all.

So there you have it.  My bathroom is now striped!  Come over to admire it and allow Scarlett to watch you pee.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Abide With Me

A day or two after we lost Eliza, when I was home but everything was numb and foggy and my milk had come in and I didn't know how it could be possible that my body failed my baby and then somehow still thought that there was a baby to feed and it seemed like the worst and most cruel and unfair thing that had happened yet--to be so ridiculous and so uncomfortable, and literally, actually, for the first time in my entire life, wishing that I were dead, as I lay on the couch, staring into space, looking blankly at David or my mom when they would say, "What can I get you?" because there was only one thing I wanted and nobody could get it for me, somehow in those dark, horrific blur of days, I sent an e-mail.

I managed to find Glow in the Woods and I clicked through the website, trying to find a human being.  Anyone who would write to me and tell me how this could ever get better, get easier, get just good enough that waking up in the morning was bearable instead of a crushing disappointment.  I wanted to send an e-mail to someone, and I wasn't brave enough yet to post on the message board.  I couldn't even tell you where I found the list of e-mails, or why I chose the one I did.  Maybe because I've always liked the name Kate?

At any rate, I sent an e-mail to Kate Inglis.  I knew nothing about her except there was her e-mail address on a website for parents whose baby has died.  I don't know what my e-mail said.  Something along the lines of "My baby died three days ago and now how am I supposed to keep living?" except with lots more details and run on sentences, as is my style.

And bless her heart, she wrote me back.  Almost right away.  I still have her reply saved in my e-mail in a folder labeled "Baby Duck."  Her response was so kind, so perfect, no platitudes but real compassion, and in it there was a promise that Eliza would be remembered but that memory would not always be so painful.  There was assurance that I would find myself again and even if I were different, I wouldn't be ruined.  And she told me that I was not alone.

Over this last weekend, she spoke at a walk for remembrance, in memory of her son Liam, who died four years ago.  She posted her speech on her blog.  I wish I had been there to hear it in person, to fight my tendency to be shy around people who intimidate me and leap out of the crowd to hug her and tell her that she was the first person outside my family who shone a light on that terrible, bleak darkness.  I would tell her how sorry I am that Liam's not here, and how grateful I am that his mother reached out to me in the worst days of my life.  I would cry and tell her thank you.  I'd tell her she's a brilliant writer, and I'm lucky that she took the time to write to me.

Just as they were almost ten months ago, the words she shared at her city's walk for remembrance were exactly what I needed to read today.  They address all the complexities of grief, the sorrow that sucks away your will to live, and the unexpected gifts such sorrow brings--the compassion, the clarity, the people.  These gifts can never make up for the loss of a child, but they can't be ignored either, because they are so real and so meaningful and so wonderful.  If you are one of those people who continue to abide with us as we grieve for our daughter, you are one of those gifts.

Please take a moment to read Kate's words here.  Find the part that's meant for you, whether you deserve my thanks or forgiveness, and know that I mean it, too.