Friday, February 24, 2012


I have been feeling very February today – cold, windy, grey, covered in chunks of crusty, mud sprayed snow.  To relieve this sense of spiritual muckiness I decided to read through some of my earlier scribblings from this summer, hoping for a well defined memory of warmth and sunlight.  I found this little gem, which gave me a few laughs for obvious and not so obvious reasons, especially considering all of the time I have been spending lately trying to separate the what I think I should be doing voice from the what God thinks I should be doing voice in my head.  I won’t say “please, enjoy” because I think that’s presumptuous and you may not enjoy it at all, and I may not care.  So…please, partake.


In Which I Find Myself Picking Up Dog Poop With A McDonald's Bag


Balanced on my hip, Lu leans her upper body away from me and gives me a Peter Rabbit, crinkled nose grin as she whispers hello.  She leans in, snugs her crusty nosed, tously curled head into my neck, snakes her strong little arms around my shoulder and pats me on the back.  Endorphins flood my system.  I close my eyes and sigh.

“hi…” she breathes into my neck.

It is the 63rd day of my stay at home experiment (adventure? Journey I did not intend to embark upon but am trying to jump into whole hearted?), and strangely enough, the first time I have written expressly about it.  Well, it is the first time I have written about staying at home without the gratuitous use of language that would make a cowboy/trucker/sailor blush, so I feel I am making progress.

At 29 years of age I find myself with a husband, a 16 month old daughter, a huge black lab, a house, two cars, bachelors and master’s degrees from the University of Notre Dame, wonderful friends, two loving families, and no job.  Allow me to rephrase: no CAREER.  No calling.

63 days ago I was called into one of my supervisor’s office, and told that my job no longer existed due to a restructuring of the office.  Moreover, due to the sensitive nature of the information that I dealt with, would I please pack up my desk and leave immediately?  Thank you so much, maybe now would be a great time to focus on your family, and best of luck with your life!  In a daze I drove to the hospital and liberated my husband forcibly from his Tuesday lectures.  We sat in our park drinking coffee and made a PLAN.
            Item 1: Decide whether to go back to work for the next 11 months, or stay home with Lucy while figuring out what I want to be when I grow up?
            Decision: Look for work.

Four weeks of depressing and hectic job hunting later (Question: have you ever tried to write a cover letter with a toddler on your lap fighting you for the mouse?  Have you ever had to look for a job knowing that the skill set and job history you have amassed do not match the job of your dreams, but without really knowing what that dream job is exactly?  First things first: have you ever had to look for a job at all!?  If not…just skip this page I guess) that decision was reversed by the Court of Appeals as a result of several strong arguments presented by several very convincing parties.

            Party One: My Rochester friends, who, while shocked and saddened by my sudden….dismissal?...were unabashedly delighted at the thought that I would be free to play and parent with them more.  These are all incredibly smart, talented, professional women who stay at home with their children here while their husbands are in residency.  Nurses, lawyers, doctors, you name it.  They convinced me that I could stay at home with Lucy and not turn into an insane, wearing-pajamas-in-the-grocery-store, using baby talk with non-babies, no longer aware of current events, vacant eyed crazy lady.  Note: I am NOT saying that this is what I think stay at home mothers are like – far from it!  This just delineates my irrational set of fears as to what I would become.

            Party Two: the second appeals argument was made by my husband and good friend Carolyn.  They are both madly convinced that I am supposed to write (but, unhelpfully have no advice on what I should write).  They think my unceremonious sacking (sorry, but “restructured” just doesn’t sound as fun…or convey the emotions involved) was in fact a providential opportunity to explore the next step in my intellectual life i.e. writing.  I think they are nuts.

Party Three: this third and most convincing argument was made by Lucy herself in ceasing to become a wriggling need-monster, and blossoming into an actual human being that can communicate.  One morning, about a month after my nonchalant dismissal, I was readying Lucy for our morning walk down to the playground.  I glanced at the clock to see if we would be early enough to avoid the YMCA mob.  When I read 7:35am, instead of my typical line of though about how we had better hurry up, my mind felt as if it suddenly cleared.  All I could think was:
Thank you God.  Thank you God that I have not just dropped off Lucy at daycare and am now on my way to that job that I really never liked, and that was slowly sucking away my soul.  Thank you God that I am lucky enough to be able to take my daughter and dog to the playground every morning.  Thank you God that she is healthy and happy, and that I am able to watch her and guide her as she grows into a little person.  Thank you God!

And here I am, another month later, daughter in one hand, dog leash and coffee mug in the other, cell phone, tissues and poop bag in my back pocket, at 6:50am on a mid-August morning on my way to the playground.

In adjusting to my new “routine” as a stay at home mom and wife, I have been disgustingly lucky.  Not only do I have a wonderful group of friends to meet up with for play dates and happen to live in one of the most family friendly towns in America, but our location could not be better.  Our backyard consists of a hill which terminates in an amazing little playground, a three minute walk takes us to the cities system of walking/running trails, and a 10 minute walk takes downtown and to the library.  Like I said – disgustingly lucky.  Well, for the five months of the year the city isn’t covered in snow…

Leaving the house, baby, dog and coffee in hands, we are at the playground in two minutes by the long route.  Boss stops twice to poop in the grass of the park, and Lucy looks on in confusion as I explain to her that humans poop in toilets (or their diapers) while dogs and cats, and pretty much all animals, can poop where they want.  While I am trying to set a foundation for eventual potty training, this running commentary mostly serves the purpose of keeping her from running away when I set her down to pick up after Boss.

Our journey resumes, and dog, coffee, baby and full poop bag in hands, we complete the short walk to the park, passing a steady stream of Mayo employees walking to work on the way.  The streets around the park and in our neighborhood serve as overflow parking for the downtown Mayo buildings.

As I stated before, not only are we lucky enough to live this close to a playground, but it is (in my opinion) the best playground in the city.  Designed to look like a rustic, wooden fort but safely made of mostly composite plastic, there are separate play areas for toddlers and older kids, as well as two sandboxes.  We love to come so early in the morning so that Lucy and Boss can play together in the “big kid” area that quickly becomes dangerous to an adventurous toddler when full of screaming seven year olds.

View of the park from the top of our backyard hill.

Quick aside: Lucy is in the 50th percentile for her age across the board, but she runs everywhere, climbs everything, and follows older kids around like a shadow.  It is better to have her away from larger playgrounds when bigger kids are around.  Several times I have rescued her from the jaws of death (or the Emergency Room at least) as she tried to follow a bigger kid off a two story drop down a fireman’s pole or up a rope ladder that she can fall through.  This brings us to one of the most important EM Wife Rules: whatever you do, do not visit Daddy at work in an official capacity.

Yes, of course I never want Lucy to get hurt in the first place.  However, with a growing monkey bumps, bruises, scrapes, stitches and even breaks are bound to happen.  And while I dread the thought of Lucy in pain, I dread perhaps even more the though of my husbands terror, however momentary, at seeing our address or name on the incoming ambulance board.

This is a shift in mentality that seemed to happen slowly, so I am not sure if it is a function of being the wife of an EM doctor, being the mother of a child whose father is an EM doctor, or a function of the recent tragedies that have affected our family.  Regardless of the cause, the affect is clear – don’t get hurt!

Lucy, not thrilled to be sitting with Boss, at the park,

Once at the gates of the playground (which must be approached from the right so as to steer her past the large sand box full of dewy wet morning sand) Lucy runs immediate to a large dump truck which seems to have been liberated from the sandbox the night before.  Relishing the feeling of the playgrounds wood chip flooring between her fingers, she squats down in her purple bug pajama pants and starts filling the back of the truck with chips.  (A note on playground flooring:  wood chips – yes, please.  Rubber matting: awesome.  Pea gravel: ok, easy to pry out of wounds, but that sucks.  Sand: you are stupid and cheap!)  Boss makes a circuit of the playground, looking for discarded edibles, discarded trash, large sticks, etc.  I sit down on the low fence that seperates big kid land from toddler land, sip my coffee, and sigh in contentment.  The sun is just rising above the treetops that line the street, the air is a bit cool, Lucy had decided wood chips are probably not food and recommenced filling the truck bed, and when pouring my coffee this morning I attained the ideal ratio of coffee to vanilla creamer.

Perfection achieved.

Happy sandbox baby and puppy.

I do another quick visual check to make sure everyone is still in the area and see…Boss pooping again underneath the jungle gym.

Shit.  Ok.  Ok, don’t panic.  The one bag I brought with us this morning is already gone.  However, in anticipation of just such a problem, I took the liberty of hiding several poop bags around the playground.  Keeping one eye on Lucy (now trying to fit her butt into the wood lined truck bed) I walk around the playground checking out the bolt holes.

Small recess behind wooden flower: empty.
Small recess behind wooden bunny tail: empty.
Hole underneath back of bench: empty.
Small recess behind wooden ear of corn in corn maze: empty.

Shit.  Literally.

I now begin a process I had hoped to avoid with my clever bag hiding scheme.  A process I have only had to perform once before, which left me in a very disgusting situation where I actually had to think whether it would be better to carry my daughter home given my state of contamination, or leave her in the playground for two minutes ALONE while I sprinted back to our house and quickly sanitzed my hands.  I had to compromise by first wiping my hands on wet grass, scouring them with sand until they were red and raw, and carrying Lucy back on my hip with an uncontaminated forearm while attempting not to touch her with my hands.

I scour the playground and nearby trash cans for suitable poop picking up trash.  What kind of trash can you use to pick up dog poop, you enquire?  Well, I have found the following items work quite well:
  • Discarded party plates, preferably large
  • Empty plastic bags
  • Empty fast food drink cups
But were any of these items present?  No.  What was the only item in the very bottom of a nasty, wet trash can?  A sodden, paper McDonald’s sack.

“Well” I thought, “At least it looks to have been a very large meal.”  What the bag lacked in poop retention and hand protection qualities it made up for in sheer size.  And so, prize in one hand, fending my overly curious daughter off with the other hand, nasty trash fluid dripping onto my shoe and down over my foot in the process, I made my way over to the jungle gym.

“bad dog…” I mutter, trying to hold my breath, pick up poop, keep Lucy away from the poop, and keep a positive frame of mind at the same time.  As the wet paper starts to tear under the weight of the…package…I fight even harder not to let a cloudy perspective take over.

Damn it, I am an intelligent and accomplished woman who makes plans for even situations such as these!  I come from a good family!  I am an excellent wife, a damn good mother, and a loyal friend.  I have two degrees from a top University!  How the hell did I end up running to a trash can holding a rapidly disintegrating McDonald’s bag of dog shit?!

After the 3 second wave of self righteous indignation passes, I begin the process of dew-washing and sand-scouring.  I pause to point out a large stick to Lucy, who pauses in her laughing pursuit of mommy who is playing this excellent game of running swearing through the playground, and runs towards the stick.  Lucy views every stick, be it an inch long twig or a two foot long branch, as Boss’ toy, and takes pains to pick them up and offer them to him.  Lucy and Boss happily engaged in a tug of war over the stick, I resume the sand scouring. 

I shrug my shoulders…oh well.  Sometimes in life, you just find yourself picking up dog shit in a playground with a soaking wet McDonald’s bag.

Tunnel exploration.

Lots of swing options.

And more sandbox fun!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Coming Home

It has been hard to get a handle on settling back into our routine here in Minnesota.  I think that is because, in part, I haven’t had the chance to collect my thoughts on our last few days there, and in part because everything seems to be life as normal here in Minnesota when life as normal isn’t normal anymore. 

Do you remember when you would go home from college for a break or a summer, and your home wouldn’t seem to fit anymore?  You would have taken a life changing course from a new mentor, made completely different friends, had an incredible volunteer or service experience, or just lived more life.  In short, you would be different, changed, possibly on the exterior but more probably just inside.  But your home, your family, your friends from High School, would be expecting the you that left a few months ago, not the you that felt so different inside.  And so, over a course of time, a disconnect would develop, and soon you would just be waiting to go back to school, back to the environment where you felt real and authentic-  where you weren’t either pretending to be someone else from six months ago, or struggling to drag everyone else along with you.  Maybe being at school was difficult, and maybe you were going through a lot of changes and challenges, but it was what you knew, and what knew you.

Well, that is sort of where I am at right now.  Being in Haiti was very difficult at times – it was hard feeling like we could not get outside of the compound walls very often, like we couldn’t freely walk around.  It was difficult not really speaking the language, but that was something I was trying to remedy.  It was heartbreaking being surrounded by extreme poverty and need and not having the skills to directly meet any of those needs.  It was unsettling to me sometimes to not really be doing anything down there except for being present and experiencing and doing what I normally do – parent Lucy and occasionally write. 

Haiti is a place where people from America go to do things – build schools, work in hospitals, provide clean water, dig wells, build churches, etc, ad infinitum.  While Don and I had talked about this extensively beforehand, and agreed that while I may not be able to participate directly in any actual work, it was still valuable for us as a family and a sign of our commitment as a family to always having Haiti be a part of our lives, it was still difficult not to have any tangible signs that I had been there.  True, I had been extremely blessed to be able to use my knowledge of nonprofits to help Naomi file for tax exempt charity status for Kado…so maybe I will feel better once we get those papers in the mail!

I think the crux of the problem is that experiences and relationships and the changes that those make in you are harder to show, harder to explain, to the important people in your life that haven’t been on the journey with you.  They have not forged the same neural pathways in response to the smell of burning trash in the Port-au-Prince morning air, or the taste of fresh mango, or the sight of a group of street kids playing baseball in an abandoned lot at dusk.  Your loved ones, for the most part, want to know what you have experienced, want to hear your stories and live in the moments with you, but you lack the ability or perhaps the energy to take them there with you.

D and I had a good talk the other day about how our experiences of coming home have been different.  For me, the different in what I do day to day has changed little – it is the environment and the context that has shifted.  D is experiencing that same contextual shift in addition to a drastic change in his day to day work, in the very way he practices medicine. 

In Haiti, when practicing medicine, as in many other professions, one learns to work with less.  Your patients come in, they present with certain symptoms, your job is to ascertain the needs of the patients and treat them.  You have done your training in an American hospital, arguably the best hospital and healthcare system in the United States and the world.  So now you learn how to ascertain the needs of the patient when your x-ray machine is working but the developer is not, so no x-rays, and a CT scan is out of the question, and you can get certain lab tests done but not today.  Your skills of physical diagnosis are developed, and you learn to work with what you have. 

And then you move on to working on your treatment plan within the confines of your current resources.  What drugs do you have available?  Are any of the four monitors open?  Is there any oxygen available?  You start back at the very basics – Airway, Breathing and Circulation – and sometimes you realize you cannot even address those very basic needs.  What you do have to offer is your humanity, your presence as a human with another human being in need or even as they die.  You return to an even more basic practice of medicine, to a greater reliance on human connection.  That is sometimes all you have to offer.

Now, back at home, safely enfolded in the bosom of western medicine, you can still be overcome by indecision, but one that stems from a very different source.  Here, you have everything available to you.  You start with the ABC’s but you have to move forward quickly with a veritable assault of specialists, drugs, and tests.  Back at Mayo, being a good doctor is standard; if you can also bring your humanity to your practice, that makes you a great doctor.  Unfortunately, in the fast pace of medicine here, especially Emergency Medicine, this is often the last thing you have time for.  Something you have to make a special effort to achieve.

The meat of it is that I am not sad we are having a hard time being back here, and I don’t think D is either.  I would be sad if we slipped seamlessly back into our old routines and walked away from our experience without any scars at all.  Like the story of the Perfect Heart from the Christian inspirational email that goes around, our hearts are full of scars and patches and holes.  We are the better for every time our hearts have been broken open and re-mended, for every time we have loved and been hurt.

This past year, since Riley died, our hearts have been worked over time, and because of that I thought we would have been a more guarded than we were.  Much more reluctant to meet new people and love them, to witness pain and suffering with or without being able to relieve it.  That was not the case. 

I believe it is because our hearts are still broken open, still gaping with the loss of our brother, that we were both unable and unwilling to shield ourselves from further scarring.  Unable, because although we seem to function regularly to the outside world, inside we are still struggling to come to terms with the new “normal” of our lives.  The everyday ache of absence.  When faced with things with the potential to harm us – more changes, new friends, Haiti in general – we haven’t the energy to form barriers. 

Unwilling, because D and I have made the conscious decision many times in our lives not to let pain and the fear of pain keep us from loving.  Not to let an already broken heart keep us from breaking our hearts open again.  Not to walk away from a heated “conversation” that could lead to hurt feelings and instead making the effort to work through the pain and the misunderstanding to the other side.  Not to let tests and referrals to specialists and prescriptions be enough, but getting to know the person inside the patient because sometimes just talking will make all of the difference.  Not to gloss over the last month of our lives with a standard “it was great” response because we assume that people cannot understand.

It’s a difference I have noticed in myself since those early days of returning to college frustrated with a family and friends I felt I had grown apart from.  Some drift is natural as people take separate paths in life, but a great deal has to do with making the effort to make yourself vulnerable to those you love, and show them how your heart has changed.  Chances are, theirs has changed too, and they were only waiting for the opportunity to share it with you.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Arts, Crafts, and One Nervous Breakdown

D had the day off today, and we had a very snuggly, sunny Minnesota morning during which I had a very short complete breakdown that apparently nobody noticed.  Phew!

It was one of those deceptively sunny Minnesota mornings, where the brightness of the sunshine distracts you from the fact that this very sunshine is travelling into your home through bone shatteringly cold air.  Momentarily forgetting this reality, I stepped forward to place my hand against the windowpane, eager to feel the heat of the sun.  Instead I sear my hand on the freezing glass and my body shrank two inches into my skin as I entered that Frigid Zone that exists within 12 inches of the window in Minnesota in February.  I stopped myself mid-swear word and instead looked down at Lucy and say “be careful, Lucy, it’s very cold” as if I meant to do that as a demonstration to her.  Lucy has been watching me this whole time with a cool air of appraisal.  She looks up at me, eyes narrowed.  She is not fooled.

Freezing or not, the sunny morning once again inspired us to make some colored glass and bead picture frames and ornaments.  Lu and I had great success making a small picture frame filled with colored glass stones last week, and I thought we could experiment some more since we had a ton more glue, picture frames, stones, beads, etc.  And, since we had the right kind of glue now (the kind that dried in one day instead of seven, unlike the Christmas Ornament Debacle of 2011) I thought we could make some more window ornaments too.  This would be a great morning craft to do in the sunny living room while D studied for his in-service exam at the kitchen table.

In my sunny morning greatest mom every crafting haze I had conveniently forgotten a number of things.  All of these things pretty much fall under the category “Crafting Is My Stay-at-Home Mom Achilles Heel.”  I fear glue – it’s sticky, it oozes out from under shapes and molds, it adheres all sorts of things to little hands.  It’s hard for me to let go of control and let Lucy put stones, beads, glitter, etc where she wants them and in what color combination she wants them.  Because this means being ok with letting Lucy pour the greater part of the beads on the floor, into the cracks of the table, into the stone bins, and pretty much anywhere but onto the glue.  Which, when it comes down to it really doesn’t matter anyway, but at the time every single bead that bounces its way off the frame and onto the floor makes me feel like sometime is plucking out all of my hair follicle by follicle.

On top of that, in perhaps the stupidest objection I have to arts and crafts, it is hard for me to give up art direction to a toddler.  Because, well, despite the fact that every mommy blog I have ever read states that every art project made by a child is a shining example of learning and creativity infused with the holy light of playtime wonder, sometimes they are…ugly.  They lack a certain sense of aesthetic that develops when you lose your sense of childlike wonder in vast and random combinations of colors and shapes and textures and narrow your world down to a set of, seemingly random, aesthetic principles.

Let me be very up front with the fact that I am fully aware that this is my own issue that I bring to the craft table…well, the parenting table in general.  My very being cries out for me to exert control over the crafting situation for minor reasons in an effort to reduce clutter and mess and glue in Lucy’s hair.  I am also aware that in doing so, I stifle Lucy’s creativity and her instincts to explore the world through touch and taste and I create all sorts of arbitrary and probably unnecessary rules for her.

The battle is joined!
So this is the war that rages within me whenever I see a new craft posted on Play at Home Mom, admire the morning sunlight in the play are and decide to break out the glue again.  What ensues is almost a comical series of thoughts mostly played out in an inner monologue as Lucy very happily concentrates on the task at hand.  I try to restrict my outward comments to only those that will actually helpfully guide (“Let’s squeeze the glue over the picture frame or the cookie cutters, not over the floor”) and bite my tongue on those that are arbitrarily judgmental (“Ohhhh…that color glitter doesn’t really mesh with the scheme you have going Lu…”) or too controlling in general (“Why don’t I hold the beads and you can place them one at a time where you want them since you keep dropping them all over when you hold them.”).  The panicked “no no No NO NO more glue no more glue it’s everywhere already!” becomes a slightly shaky but calm “honey, I think we have enough glue in the picture frame to start adding stones and beads now!”  My control slips for a moment while Lucy is occupied pouring glitter into a star shaped cookie cutter I add a green stone or two to her picture frame to even out the color tones.
Almost dry.

In general, by the time I exclaim brightly “are you finished with beads and stones now or do you want to glue something else?  No, ok great craft time Lu let’s just put these up to dry and get you a snack!” I feel as though I have done a two hour Pilates session am my core is held together by pipe cleaners.

I lean against the kitchen counter, sweating with emotional effort, and catch my breath for a moment as I put the morning’s spoils of war on the counter to dry in the sun.  Lucy is coloring on her table, pausing every other minute to point out each color to D.  I take the moment’s respite to give myself a pep talk.  I am resolved to conquer the inner control freak that is wreaking havoc on craft time and my nerves.  More to the point, I am resolved that there will be a next craft time at all.  I come back into the dining room/play area to join the coloring play.

“So…” I ask Don hesitantly “that was kind of crazy huh?”

“What are you taking about?” He looks at me, confused.

“Well, I figured you noticed a lot of tension while we were making those crafts, since craft time is my Achilles heel.  I think I had a nervous breakdown stopping myself from taking over.”

“Seriously I didn’t notice anything.  It sounded like you were both having a lot of fun and you weren’t really controlling that I noticed.”

“Oh.  Well.  Inner monologue success then.” 

Spoils of war, up against the bay window.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


I love food.  I have some favorite foods, and some really-seriously-I-know-it's-weird-but-I-can't-go-there foods -- for instance I can be convinced to eat anything fried in duck fat, I will eat good house made ranch dressing with a fork, dream about roasted Brussels sprouts, and a huge pot of beans and rice will just about undo me.  And now that I am searching my brain for foods I cannot, will not, just don't talk to me about them even, eat I can't think of a single one.

Everyone would like to say that they learned to cook by watching their mother or some aged and revered family member.  But that is not what happened to me.  My mother is a good cook, and I frequently ask her for recipes and inspiration, but I was sadly way to involved in my own teenage angst to learn how to cook...pretty much until my early twenties.  My college years were spent in a vegetarian haze of anxiety in the dining halls making sure the meat stir fry pans were cleaned before my food touched them.  The one year I lived in an apartment with two of my best friends I had about three meals I would make on a rotation: tune salad nachos (seriously, why didn't they kill me for making the microwave smell like that?), soy bacon and sausage with southwest flavored egg beaters, and garlic shrimp (I was eating fish by then) from the local Chinese take-out.

My love for cooking and food really began after graduating from college, when I went to work at a homeless shelter for the Jesuit Volunteer Corps in Tacoma, Washington.  As a volunteer, one of our duties was to cook breakfast and lunch for the guests, which could number in the 400s on a busy weekend.  We always had help in the kitchen, usually from a group of guests who had spent a lot of time cooking in commercial kitchens...or prison...but they were skilled and any skill is welcome when you are facing down a line of 400 hungry people and you have no idea when the rice is going to be done.

The Grindmaster Twin 3 Gallon Coffee Urn

It was a true baptism by fire.  We got many donations of fresh fruits, pastries, eggs and vegetables, but our main stock came from government donations.  Rice, beans, government grade canned pork, government grade canned salmon, canned peaches, canned beans, canned corn, canned hot dogs, macaroni and cheese, etc.  I made my first batch of coffee ever in a twin 3 gallon coffee urn.  My education was further refined cooking for my housemates in the evening, a task which we rotated and which had its own unique quirks.  Each of us only received an $80 stipend a month, and while our house also had a food stipend, it did not stretch very far.  We bought in bulk, we bought cheap and seasonal, and we made HUNDREDS of noodle casseroles that we dubbed Funky Macaroni Bakes (or, FMB) and worshiped the 5lb loaf of Tillamook cheddar in our fridge.

During Lent that year I gave up artificial and refined sugars to challenge myself to learn exactly how much sugar was in our food and why so many of our guests were obese and had type 2 diabetes when they were homeless and on food stamps.  I made all of our houses sauces and dips with honey or agave nectar, and learned about the politics of food in our country.  After only a few months at the shelter I could no longer handle the injustice of the food hierarchy that had me sneaking into the walk in to eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich after making a canned pork and rice casserole for everyone else, and I began to eat meat again.  My first meal was macaroni and cheese with hot dogs.

After my volunteer year was over, I moved back to Indiana and into an apartment with my friend Juliana and another girl Jasmine.  I do not remember cooking in my all.  The kitchen in our apartment was haunted with the scents wafting from Juliana's dog's litter box, and I spent most of the time at my now-husband's house as he was in medical school and the only way I could see him was to eat meals with him or read quietly while he studied.  But I continued to cook at Don's house, intent on conquering certain recipes as I found them or as they struck Don's fancy.  I remember being horrified by one of his favorite meals, hamburger gravy and mashed potatoes.  Being raised in California on a diet of salads, grilled chicken and rice with vegetables, sushi for special occasions and any kind of fruit whenever you wanted it, just the sound of the term "hamburger gravy" made me feel as if my arteries were clogging.  His elaborate explanation that it "really wasn't that bad for you" because it was made from lean ground beef from his family's cows, 2% milk and wheat flour has become a long running joke in our family.

In the years that followed, I moved several more times and conquered a few more recipes, never bothering to write anything down of course.  Don and I learned to love cooking together, and learned a lot about each other and our relationship in the process.  For instance, we discovered that when we cook together, we must have a designated chef and sous chef, or one of us will try and take over and then be caught throwing salt into the sauce when the others back is turned and things will be thrown and silent rage will blossom and then whether or not the pasta is good, the meal will essentially be ruined.

This is because we have very different styles of cooking.  I am the planner/researcher.  I will select a meal, or several meals, that I would like to eat or learn to cook, and then spend a ridiculous amount of time looking up thousands of recipes in books and on blogs, searching for the perfect mix of ingredients (gross, I am not putting walnuts in that), technique (hhmmm, that recipe takes way too long, there must be something with a short-cut), etc.  Then I will go to the store, get the necessary ingredients that we do not have, and make the hell out of the recipe that I have come up with.  And then I will make it again a few days later, because what if I tried it with some lemon?  And then again, because that lemon didn't work out very well, but if I took the lemon out and used lime instead....I give Juliana a lot of credit for not kicking me out of the house when I went through my roasting chicken phase in 2008.  Our house smelled like a grocery store deli for weeks!

There are two other chickens off camera.  Not kidding.

Don is the fly by the seat of his pants cook - he gives true meaning to the term degage.  He wants to look in the cupboard, see what is there, and make something from it.  He is constantly reminding me of the time his mother made waffles with beer because there was no milk.  The first time he said this, I did not think it was the kind of thing that I would brag about...or tell anyone about, actually...and I looked at him like he was crazy.  He is a whirlwind of ideas and energy and challenges when in the kitchen, and when we first started cooking together I would sometimes (all the time) feel as if I would end up killing him or go insane while watching him cook.

Donsagna...the most requested dish of my MNA cadre during our summer intensive courses.

Now, we have struck a good balance for us.  I am able to degage in the kitchen a lot more, and Don has accepted that some meals do warrant an elaborate planning process.  Don makes the chili and the meat lasagna and the cookies, and I make the eggplant Parmesan and the quiches and pot pies.  When Don said all he wanted for his 30th birthday this year was cheese danish I literally prepared for months.  It took me several days to make the dough, and I got up at 4am on is birthday to make the fillings and form the pastries.

Happy birthday Danish

I feel an incredible amount of pride in cooking, and cooking well, for my family.  I can't say that I loved every second of pureeing chicken and apples together for Lucy when she was a baby, but I was happy that I could feed her healthy and nutritious food.  And I can't say that I love every second of peeling sweet potatoes or hacking through a huge butternut squash or tossing out pizza dough (OK, I hate tossing pizza dough.  I seriously once threw a piece of pizza dough across my kitchen in a fit of too-sticky-not-enough-flour rage).

But I love the smells and the textures (non-sticky) of cooking, and the satisfaction that comes from opening a pot of simmering tikka masala and knowing that I made it.  I am proud of the scratches on my knuckles from grating ginger and garlic.  I am giddy when Lucy can tell the difference between cumin and turmeric because I let her smell and try everything I put into a recipe.  I am joyful knowing that I don't have to cook tomorrow, because we can either have leftovers because I made two gallons of tikka masala (still don't have the cooking for less than 400 people thing quite pared down enough) or that Don will take the helm and I can step back and chop peppers for him.  And I am secretly looking forward to next week's reprisal of this new favored tikka masala recipe...wherein I add sweet potatoes.

P.S. I am not a food blogger, and will never claim to be.  However, because I do love food and I do cook a lot, and I do get requests from people to share certain recipes, I am adding a page to the blog for recipes.  Some will be added as I cook them.  Some will be dug up from the recesses of my brain for those of you who have asked.  All will give credit where credit is due to the many other blogs and websites from which I take my inspiration.

A Few Changes Around Here...

You may notice I have been changing things around a bit, and all for the better I hope.  At the encouragement of several friends and family, most notably my husband who has been saying this for years, I have decided to make a go of it and write.  What this means is that if you have told me that you think I am a good writer and that I should blog, write a book, submit articles to magazines, or any combination of the above then I am sorry to inform you that I now think you are slightly stupid, really bored, have bad taste, or any combination of the above.  I still love you, may still respect you, and will never tell you to your face that I think you are nuts because I desperately still need your approval and encouragement.

So, I am trying to expand the blog, write on more topics, write more often, and spam the universe with my "take" on everything.

If you have any ideas for improvement, see any writing contests that look interesting, or know anyone who would like to give me an advance for a book about being a doctor's wife, the mother of a 22 month old whose memory surpasses my own, and traveling in Haiti, then please let me know.

I hope you enjoy!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

A Case for Valentine's Day

Most of you know that I am not a big Valentine’s Day person.  I can trace the origins of this back to fourth grade, when I had an intense and very ill advised crush on Kris Spears.  His honey brown eyes twinkled with mischief and rebellion, and I worshiped him from afar in our Gifted and Talented Education class.  The smart bad boy has always been my own personal downfall.

Well, this particular Valentine’s Day I had mustered up all of my gumption, and had purchased Kris a special “grown up” Valentine’s card in addition to all of the usual Charlie Brown tear off notes for the rest of the class.  Considering my level of shyness and introversion, this was no less than a Herculean task.  I barely managed to sign my name to it, but I did, and I secreted it at the bottom of his pile of valentines during our class party.  I sat back in my chair next to my friend Lindsey, repressing the urge to vomit, silently opening my own pile of cards and not daring to make eye contact with anyone.  A few minutes passed, and over the general din of a fourth grade class party I heard a sound that struck like a knife into my heart – the unrestrained sniggering of 11 year old boys.  Unable to stop myself, I raised my eyes to the corner of the room where Kris and his friends sat.  

The large pink envelope was torn open on his desk, the card in his hands.  As I watched from under my half lowered gaze, he and his friends laughed again, and he threw the card down into the pile, the incredible joke of receiving such a declaration of affection already forgotten.  I lowered my eyes again, struggling not to cry until I felt another presence at my side.  One of Kris’ cadre stood next to my desk, the card in his hands.  He dropped it in front of me on my desk and said “um…Kris doesn’t like you ok?”

“Oh, ok.”  I shrugged my shoulders, some internal preservation instinct kicking in and causing me to feign indifference.  “Whatever.”  But of course, a feign is what it was, and from that day on I hated Valentine’s Day.  In High School I found a group of like minded friends, and drunk with our cleverness and indifference we formed a club of single people who would celebrate the hated day by scorning tales of great love gone wrong.  There is nothing like a high school lunch period of snuggling teenagers, hormones choking the air, to make someone feel like an outcast!

After meeting and falling in love with Don we found that we both still thought the day a ridiculous ode to consumerism, and a crutch to relationships.  A tradition of celebration not found before Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, and latched onto by our consumerist society like a leech to an exposed body part.  Why have only one day a year when only men are pressured to pay homage to their loves with flowers and chocolates and fancy dinners?  Why does our society celebrate a day by making people feel incomplete and a failure if they are not coupled?  Don and I would avoid the horrors of couples making out or fighting over their tables by going to our favorite pub and getting a basket of incredibly messy chicken wings.

This Valentine’s Day, we will still be settling back into Rochester after our month in Haiti.  Hopefully we will be able to run to Whistle Binkies for some wings, as Don is off that evening.  However, I do know one tradition I will be adding to my yearly celebration.  

I have been helping Naomi Darg and the ladies who work at Kado get together supplies for their Valentine’s day special.  They have been making cards with little hearts made out of metal hammered from 55 gallon drums by local artists.  The paper is from an Operation Blessing project in Israel.  This gorgeous card will be paired with a red or pink necklace or bracelet.  I remember the day we went through all of the cupboards at Relax cannibalizing all of the snack and cereal boxes that were red or pink for use in this holiday special!

Yes, I have finally been sucked into the tide of this consumerist holiday – but if I am going down, I am going down swinging!  Can you think of a better gift for the one you love, your lover, your sister, your wife or mother, than a gift that gives back to someone else?  A gift that will help Rosilia build a home for her children, or help Joanna buy food for her son, or help Dorrisaint send her daughter to school?  I can guarantee these one of a kind pieces of jewelry will last longer than a box of chocolates, and be far more welcome.

If you are interested in the Valentine’s special, or any of Kado’s products, contact Naomi Darg at