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Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

I know I sort of discussed this a couple days ago, but I really am having a difficult time getting past this weird feeling of loss as 2015 ends.  Okay, yeah, I know, obviously...loss.  But I don't mean Leslie exactly.  Or rather, I DO mean Leslie, but I mean that it feels like Leslie is a part of 2015, like her memory is rooted to it.  Like when 2015 ends, that door closes.  It's really...disconcerting, and sad.   And so I'm struggling with it, because I know that the door isn't closing...it just is difficult to get past that feeling.

I think because putting the old year behind me and looking forward to the new year has become so ingrained in my psyche, I feel like I somehow am also saying goodbye to Leslie all over again as this year draws to a close, like a barrier goes up when I open the calendar to January. 

It's just another day, and I keep reminding myself of that.  But everything moving forward always seems so tied to that, "first day of the new year" label, that "start here" mindset, that somehow starting new means ending old.  I just have to wrap my head around it.  It's just another day.  It's just another day.  No endings and no beginnings. 

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On the subject of New Year's Eve...and New Year's Day.  I was talking to a couple friends about their plans.  NYE always seems to be a bit of a disappointment.  I don't know if it's because the evening itself is so romanticized, but I suspect so.  If you're not on a marble dance floor gazing lovingly at the "one who got away" about to have your first kiss as snow gently falls outside, and the big band plays Auld Lang Syne while confetti dusts her long lashes...then it seems disappointing.  It's just another day.  It's just another day.

On the other hand...it seems like a natural drinking day.  Drinking to good memories.  Drinking to luck or fortune.  Or even drinking to try to get rid of the foul taste that the previous year left in your mouth.  It seems like a night that lends itself to going out. 

I don't know.  Do you go out on NYE?  Do you enjoy it?  Or is it always a bit of a disappointment?

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My sister is coming over tonight to HABLAB with me and we'll watch Dick Clark (Seacrest now?  Or is that the other network) and the cavalcade of lip syncing pop stars du jour entertain until the ball drops.  I'll probably have a shot of something expensive.  That'll be for Leslie.  But not two...that'll be for Lily.  Because Lily's inner clock does not recognize my hangover's authority.  Never has.  And just like this morning, I have no doubt that I'll hear her softly stirring around 5:30 tomorrow morning.  And I can't really parent her properly with a hangover.

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Expect to read more from me in 2016. 

I hope the New Year brings you peace.  I hope you never forget 2015.  Everything that happened then brought you to now. 


Monday, December 28, 2015

2015...On the shoulders of giants

I think a lot of people had shitty years in 2015.  I know reading Facebook I certainly see a lot of that.  And I'm tempted to tell 2015 not to let the door hit it in its ass on the way out to 2016, but I won't.  There's a lot of 2015 that was amazing and awesome, and a lot that sucked.  And overall, I think 2015 was probably a GOOD year.  And I think that probably will surprise a lot of people reading this, so I wanted to explain a few things about 2015 for which I am IMMENSELY grateful.

  • In 2015 my wife's suffering finally ended.
  • 2015 was the last year in which I was able to hold my wife's hand and tell her I loved her.  And it was the last year she held mine, and told me she loved me too.
  • 2015 was a year in which people, near and far, known to me and also unknown, showed how important my wife and our family was to them, and offered their support when we needed it the most.
  • 2015 was a year in which I proved to myself and my family that I could do it alone* (even if I didn't want to)  
*alone...with a metric shit ton of help from my parents and inlaws and close friends...but you know what I mean I hope.

Those are some of the big, headliner type things that happened in 2015.  The obvious, unspoken big baddie also happened in 2015.  But man...those other things.  I've mentioned before how grateful I am that the family was able to be there with Leslie at the end.  Holding her hand, listening to that horrible christian station she loved, telling her we loved her and we were proud of her. 

We still talked in 2015.  She held my hand.  How can 2015 be a bad year when I know that 2016 can't offer the same.  Nor any year. 

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I've said before how this wasn't the way Leslie's story was supposed to end. 

I read a lot.  Or I used to.  Before I grew up and became the man who falls asleep rereading the same paragraph five times before closing the book in disgust and turning out the lights, I was a younger man who devoured books like Galactus devours worlds.  I read very few books where the hero died before the end.  I wanted to read more about Leslie.  I wanted more adventures with her.  She was a character I could really get behind.  She was authentic.  She had a lot of integrity.  She made the other characters in the story better than they were. 

Leslie's sisters (have I told you this story before?) were (are) very talented.  Her older sister is an amazing singer.  Her younger sister was (is) very smart.  Leslie loved telling the story about how she blindsided her mother by asking her, "Danette is such a good singer, and Lauren is so smart, what makes ME special?" And her mother's reply, "You make people smile" was something that Leslie and I enjoyed talking about.  It's a perfectly valid answer, but not, I think, what young Leslie was hoping for when she asked the question, so we would often trot it out as a joking consolation prize...I know you completely wrecked this risotto...but at least you made us all smile.

But I think looking back on Leslie, if there was something that really made her special it was that she made the people around her better.  Better friends.  Better parents.  Better people.  She cared.  She was genuine. 


When I think about my life moving forward in the context of the continuing story that develops when the story of how "Leslie and Jim" ends, I think about the phrase, "On the shoulders of giants".  I think about who I am and what being Leslie's husband for 15 years did for me as a person and a parent.  I feel like I rode piggy back and watched what she did, and now a lot of who I am and how I parent is the direct result of that 15 year piggy back ride.  And I feel like I can do it.  But I feel like my ability to see that horizon is because I'm standing on Leslie's shoulders to get a better view.  She made me better than I was before I met her.

Somewhere along the way the Jim's story analogy breaks down because it feels dismissive to think of Leslie in terms of "supporting character to Jim's story" even though I suppose each of us is in some way a supporting character in the novel of someone else's life.  What I meant to communicate wasn't that Leslie just had a supporting role, but that where I am as a character in my own story is so different than it would have been if she hadn't touched my life.  Our lives.  Anyway. 

She'll always be a part of our story. 
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Emma and I were watching "Good Luck Charlie" this weekend.  It was an episode where Amy Duncan decides to throw herself a "surprise" baby shower for her 5th kid.  She invites a bunch of people who she thinks will give good gifts, but talks shit about them in front of her three year old, who then regurgitates the information to the invitees during the shower and causes them all to leave. 

Emma said, "Did mommy have friends like that?"
"Like, you mean friends she didn't really like that much but she sort of tolerated?"
"Yeah."
I thought about this. 
"No.  She really didn't."
Leslie didn't use people.  Leslie didn't tolerate people.  If you were friends with Leslie it was because Leslie wanted to be your friend.  She didn't befriend you because she needed stuff from you.  She wasn't in it for the perks.  She just...liked you. 
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Christmas was nice.  We did pretty well.  The big things seem more manageable to me.  They always have.  The little things sucker punch me, but the big things we've been good with. 

2016 is coming, and although I personally have argued that January 1 is an arbitrary time to start "the first day of the rest of your life" it feels convenient under the circumstances.  I have resolutions, but I still have stuff to clean up from 2015.  So I'll start then.

I have to learn who I am without Leslie.  I'm old enough now that I feel like maybe I can do that without letting my baser instincts govern me.  For instance, right now I'm frustrated by my inability to do all the things I want to do.  I want to get fit.  I want to learn to play the guitar.  I want to write.  I want to read.  I want to have a drink.  I want to go out with friends.  And I can't do all of that at once.  And I have to decide...what's more important to me?  How do I make it happen?

At night I think...okay, the kids are in bed, I'm free to do what I want...what'll it be?  Get on the treadmill?  Read a book?  Pick up the guitar?  And some nights the answer is...just go to bed.

I'm learning that when I don't sleep enough my mood and patience both go down the shitter.  I'll have a really bad day, where I'm "blue" or depressed or whatever, and I just don't have the patience for the kids that I typically do, and then I'll get a good night's sleep and it's "fixed" and I'll remember that the previous night I only slept for 3 hours.  That light bulb has gone on a few times.  I'm starting to remember it.

I also know that sometimes when I'm feeling the most wrung out, stepping up on the treadmill and getting my blood pumping ALSO makes me feel better. 

I feel lonely in a way that can't just be fixed with company.  I miss "sharing time", even if that time is spent watching TV or reading a book in the same room in silence.  I miss wordless communication or just knowing she was my safety net to tag out in case I started to lose my temper with the kids.  That kind of loneliness isn't fixed by hanging out with friends and family or by dating.  And dating is sometimes lonelier than NOT dating, though I know at some point I'll re-enter that fray.  We knew all of each others stories.  We were comfortable in each others' space and silence.  Eventually getting to that point with someone else seems daunting. 


At grief support we talked about the idea of wearing your wedding ring even though you're no longer technically married.  I told them how it'd already caused one socially awkward situation (Happy Hour).  Taking the ring off seems unspeakably sad to me.  I told them I would most likely move it to my right hand.  Taking it off entirely seems too sad.  Thinking about a time when taking it off doesn't seem too sad ALSO seems too sad.  Moving the ring...I'm okay with that, I think.  One woman wore hers around her neck on a chain.  Another man was still wearing his.  Day to day.  I was thinking about doing that in 2016.  It seems like a sad way to begin a year, but really it'll be sad no matter when I decide to do it.  

2016 goals...
Learn who I am without Leslie
Write more
Read more
Sleep more
Weigh less

Easy.



Monday, November 23, 2015

'Tis the Season

I know the last post I wrote (a month ago) I said I was going to write about our wedding day.  And I will.  But that's not what I'm going to write about in this post.

And it's not all doom and gloom.  But there's some gloom.  I don't know why I haven't written lately.  It's starting to get jumbled in my mind...the things I've written and the things I want to write.  Sometimes I'll catch myself writing things in my head and think..."I should write this"...and later it's hazy to me whether I wrote it, or just thought it. 

Anyway, there's been so much already written (by me) about grieving and processing and life without Leslie that I don't want to play like a broken record.  But this is it.  This is THE time of year I've been dreading.  The holidays are upon us.

First...Status Report:  We're doing well.  I'm looking at private placement for Lily next year (she graduates to fourth grade and will have to transition out of her current school situation anyway).  She remains more or less unchanged by all this still.

Emma just finished a play at school.  She played Juliet in "Romeo to Go".  It was fun to watch.  Funny.  These 'drama kids' have become her clan and support network.  She's doing well in school.  Sad at times, but overall seems okay.  She and I have been going to the "Caring Place" since late September.  They have ten sessions of "group support" spaced every other week.  We're going again tonight.  Halfway through.

I am doing well too.  I consider, as I always have, nearly every day a good day, though many days have sadness in them, there is more joy than pain.  I'm slowly...very slowly...getting the house back into shape.  Clearing out messes in Leslie's (now Emma's) office, and the dining room, collecting old computer equipment to put out for the garbage, cleaning the basement "weight room/dobby's room" and steam cleaning the carpets (fucking cat).  I get lonely at times, but I've been reaching out to friends more than I ever did before.  And I've been trying to go out more...to eat or to see a band (next week)...just getting some adult time. 

There is this feeling of...being on hold.  Like somehow grief and grieving needs to run its course before I can continue to live my life.  It still seems like most of what I'm doing in some way is based on a reaction to Leslie's passing...and not necessarily on just...living my life.  I have to really think about that.  On the one hand it feels right.  I still have a lot to process and work out before I'm just me.  Before I'm just living my life and not reacting to Leslie's death.  On the other hand it feels wrong.  Thoughts and feelings about and for Leslie will never NOT be a part of my life (though I'm sure they'll change and develop), so I need to just accept that as part of "me" and move forward with it.  Like I said, I don't know.

In the meantime, I'm doing little things for me.  Things that aren't separating me from Leslie, but that somehow draw a distinction.  Leslie liked my hair shorter, and certainly my beard MUCH shorter.  She would never have said no to anything I really wanted to do, but I liked keeping my hair and beard the way she liked it.  So I'm trying something a bit new with both.  I started using Trunk Club for clothes to just update my wardrobe a bit.  It's probably not going to last super long...because it appears to be expensive as fuck, but it helps me with ideas, and if I pick up a few high quality basics and build on it with other stuff, then it's worth it.  I haven't spent money on clothes (that weren't on my birthday or Christmas) in ...decades.  Seriously I was going through my closet and could pick out clothes that I knew I'd bought 15 years ago.  These little selfishnesses seem minor enough that they don't hurt to contemplate or implement.

I find I'm talking to Leslie less.  This hurts.  I compartmentalize a lot, and maybe that's part of it.  But sometimes I forget about the little butterfly monument and makeshift shrine/time capsule that the kids and I planted under the corkscrew willow.  The beauty of recognizing a thing you're doing (or not doing) and being hurt by it...is you can change it.  

Anyway...back to our story...

First, I want to say that I love the holidays.  Well...not Thanksgiving.  Fuck thanksgiving.  So many reasons that Thanksgiving irritates me, but I looooooooove Christmas.  And loving Christmas is unchanged without Leslie, though certainly her absence is a shitty contrast to "joy to the world".

So I had been thinking about Christmas...really I've been thinking about it since Leslie died.  There are so many things that I "thought ahead to"...things like Mother's Day and her Birthday and ...Christmas, happy/fun events where her absence will make them less happy/fun and more bittersweet.  And Christmas is sort of the grandaddy of them all.

Thinking about Christmas, I started planning for Christmas.  And the first pragmatic conclusion I reached was that unlike Christmases past...I wouldn't have that extra set of adult hands needed to either:  help decorate, help direct, organize tasks, or wrangle Lily.  So I decided to start decorating a week earlier than we used to.  Adapted tradition.  Every year we tried to decorate the day after Thanksgiving.  This year, Halloween damn near didn't go up (decorated the day before).  Christmas is just too special to our family for me to let that happen.  So I started dragging out the decorations yesterday.

Emma, noticing I was really beat the night before, tucked me into bed at about 10:15 that night.  The result was that I woke with a ton of energy and was able to get laundry and decorating started.

My folks offered to watch Lily and then have us over for dinner last night, but then switched gears when it became apparent that I was stressing out over being able to get as much done at home as I wanted if we went to dinner and just took Lily for a play date instead.

And I thought...okay...this is going to be okay.  And my sister took Emma to church so I started lugging all the decorations out from the basement behind the stairs to surprise her when she got home.

Having carted the Christmas tree box upstairs, I started moving the furniture to accommodate the tree.  The love seat is really heavy, but also sort of...flimsy?  The furniture twists a bit when you try to move it.  I think it's the result of having the ability to recline.  But it's shitty to move.  And I literally was thinking...I wish I had you here to help me, Leslie.  Like that was in my head.  You should be here helping me now.  And I budged the loveseat with my shoulder and it slid a bit against the carpet and uncovered a bunch of m&m's and some popcorn and paperclips...and...this picture:


And if you've read past posts you know that Leslie's friend Jen is a bit of a butterfly fanatic when it comes to lost loved ones, and I find myself much more conscious of it myself as a result.  To the point where it's become an important symbol of Leslie...and transformation...and ascendance of the soul, and of her watching us and helping us.  And so this stupid card that the school sent home with Lily one year to help her work on vocabulary (we told them she loves flipping through the pictures and labeling them, and we work with her on describing them) is revealed beneath the loveseat as I shoved it aside, my thoughts on Leslie and her help...and I kinda fucking lost it.  A little.  In my fashion.  I sort of gave that half sob sound thing and my eyes welled up and I held the picture in my hands and rubbed the wing with my thumb and felt a little sorry for myself before I smiled, chuckled a bit and thought..."yeah, I know you're here to help me when I need you, baby...but I meant lifting the couch, not emotionally, ass."  Leslie would have laughed at that too. 

So I think I was probably already a little emotional when I opened the storage bin of stocking holders and stockings.  There, put away inside the box in which we first bought it, sandwiched between foam, was the jeweled Christmas tree with "Leslie" engraved underneath for hanging her stocking.  Digging further, the faux fur stocking she had glitter-written "Leslie" across.  What the fuck was I going to do with that?  Even my stocking had her mark on it.  When we'd first started dating we bought matching stockings and wrote our names on them.  Mine came out horribly.  Looked like a 5 year-old had done it.  We kept them like that for years, maybe even until Lily was born, and when we couldn't find a fourth stocking that matched the other three...at last we bought all new stockings and I made her write my name so it would come out legibly. 

The gut punch of the stockings came as these things always seem to:  unexpectedly.  I really SHOULD have known this was going to prove harder than it started emotionally, and maybe that's why the butterfly 'proactively' flapped its colorful wings in my face...be strong, be ready, I'm here to help.  If you believe in that sort of thing...

I wasn't really sure what to do with them.  Throw them away?  I had no sooner thought of it than I had discarded it.  Put them up?  That seemed somehow worse.  In the end I waited for Emma to come home and talked to her.  I nudged her in the direction of "storing them for next year."  Sort of a planned familial compartmentalization until we were better equipped to deal with it.

In the end we finished perhaps 90% of the decorating before Lily got home.  Some things I just don't know how to do.  I don't remember how Leslie decorated the light over the kitchen table or the fixtures above the island...or the dining room in general.  I have boxes of decorations, but it's like looking at a jigsaw puzzle with no picture.  Except that I DO have pictures, I'm almost sure, and I need to go back through old pictures and see if I can piece it together. 

I had to push Emma to help more than in the past.  I don't blame her.  She's usually pretty eager to decorate the trees, but if she was somewhat less eager this year, I can't really fault her.

We're going to be fine.  Christmas will still be great.  But it will be great without Leslie, and so that will make it less great than it could have been.  But we'll manage, together.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Happy Hour


One of the things Leslie told me I needed to do while we were in the hospital together, knowing the end was coming, was, "make friends."  I rarely went out even before Leslie was sick.  I preferred time with the family to time away.  I still do.  But now I feel like I need to be social with people.  Let them in.  Back then I didn't need friends.  I had Leslie.  She was always enough socialization for me. Now...

I went to a Happy Hour with work people a month or more ago.  First time I've done it in years.  Literally years.  At some point during the happy hour a girl, new to the company, was talking to me.  We had been talking about her husband and their dogs.  She pointed across the table to my ring and said, "I see you're married."  Asked me about it. 

I had known it was coming.  Had pictured that moment in my mind.  I didn't know it would be that night.  I thought about what I'd say.  How do you tell someone who has no idea that your wife recently died?  How do you do it in a way that doesn't make them feel like a total asshole?  I didn't let myself come up with an answer though, mentally changed the subject until just then, that night, and she popped that cherry and I found myself completely unprepared.

Everything now seems so pregnant with meaning.  I'm no longer officially married, but I wear a ring.  When do you take off your wedding ring?  Everyone tells me, "When it feels right."  It doesn't feel right.  But I can't help thinking about it.  When will it feel "right"?  That answer seems too simple.  It will never feel right, because the minute I think it feels right I will also feel like I'm betraying her.  Betraying us.  Facebook rolled out this new profile video thing, and I was like..."oooh, cool!" and before I could think about it, I took this stupid little 10 second video and it replaced my profile picture.  And a minute later I was like..."Shit!  That just changed it from the picture of Leslie and I!"  I used to change my profile picture relatively frequently.  Now I can't do it without second-guessing what messages people will glean from it. 

I took my ring off a couple nights ago and massaged my ring finger like she used to, and it made me think about this.  Then I slid it back on.  Maybe it will feel right someday.  Maybe everyone is right.  Whether they are or aren't...today is not that day.  But maybe I'll know when it is.

"Uhhh," I said, unhelpfully, looking down at my ring, twisting it nervously, "It's sort of weird situation."  It was a horrible non-answer.  I wanted to deflect the question, make it disappear, but my answer just invited curiosity.  She guessed wrong and congratulated me for getting out of a bad relationship.  I let out a long breath and said, more or less, "It's not that.  My wife passed away a few months ago."  And into the shocked inhalation and near comical gesture, her hand going to her mouth, immediate apology on her lips, mortification evident, I quickly said, "You had no way of knowing.  It's weird.  I have this ring, and it's obvious from the ring that I'm married, anyone would think it, and it's just that I'm not ready to take it off yet." Words tumbled out quickly, I tried my best to make her feel better.  It wasn't her fault.

Next to me was a woman who had lost her husband perhaps a decade before.  She pointed to her right hand and said, "I still wear mine.  I just moved it to my other hand." More apologies followed.  The night was ending anyway.  I'd had my beer.  Had my second.  Paid the tab.  I was leaving anyway...but what a way to end it.

So...I'm making friends.  Sort of.  

I miss just rolling out of bed and having a friend to talk to.  Not just anyone, obviously, I mean, I miss Leslie in particular.  But I mean, when you get married, assuming you get along as well as Leslie and I did, you always have adult conversation.  You always have company.  I miss Leslie specifically , but I miss company in general, and conversation, even arguments.  I don't want to make it sound pathetic, because I think somehow it always sounds pathetic when people say it, but I get lonely at times.  Not cripplingly lonely, it's not a cry for help, or an open invitation to drop by (I don't love that), but just missing the mundane day-to-day feeling of being around people I enjoy.  The banter.  Even the small talk.  It's out there for me all the time via social media or whatever, but in person is so much harder. 

I've gone to a local microbrewery a couple times with a couple different friends.  I'm realizing that "making friends" or even maintaining existing friendships requires a bit of work.  I'd love to just "go out" to grab a beer or two and come home, but I have to schedule it, line up a babysitter, that kind of thing.  It's one thing to talk to a friend about "grabbing a beer" and then a whole new thing to actually execute that plan.

I went to meet some "internet friends" recently.  It was fun, but even that wasn't without its strangenesses, since most of my internet friends are female, and I worry what Emma will think.  When I say I'm going to meet a friend from out of town and use the "she" pronoun, I immediately worry what she'll think.  We went to dinner and had drinks, and the idea of getting Uber or a taxi or something exhausted me as I then tried to figure out...how will I get my car back?  So I stopped drinking.  I got "lost" on the way home (phone gps wasn't updating as quickly as I needed it to) and ended getting home about 30 minutes late.  I ended up paying the sitter for 8 hours, and then thought...oh my god, has it really been eight hours??  But I left at 4:30 and I didn't get in until 12:30.  I paid her for an actual eight hour work day...  THAT shit will get expensive. 

And then I think...I had fun, I'd love to do it again, but think...Emma...money...get a sitter...and then think, "I'll give it some time."  Anyway...I started writing this post weeks ago.  The day after the happy hour, actually, and then forgot I started it.  Then I wrote a post for Healthline (which was sweet because I actually got paid for it) here:  http://www.healthline.com/health/parenting/explaining-death-to-children, and one for Glade Run (which was sweet because I got etc etc) here:  http://gladerun.org/blog/2015/10/06/you-should-have-written-this-post/.  But I think I'll write about the day we got married next. 

I can always go back in time and write about the stuff that we did before we were 'legit' another time, but we've been watching the video of our wedding a lot lately (Lily calls it "Mommy Video") and so it's pretty fresh in my mind.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Memories and Gentle Wind

I am lying in bed with Lily.  Her eyes are heavy-lidded, drooping.  Her face is turned away toward the wall but I can see her eyes, still open, dreamily gazing toward her nightlight between languid blinks.  I am holding her hand with one of mine.  With the other, I am tracing a slow gentle arc from her cheek, over, around and behind her ear, across her hair, sleek and smelling of flowers from her bath, four fingers smoothing it back from her face and sweeping it over her ear.  Slowly.  Over and over.  She is very still.  I look at the clock.  It is 8:45.

My mind wanders as I perform this nightly ritual.  It wanders back to the first time I ever did it, lying in bed with Leslie, as she told me how her grandmother used to run her fingers through her hair in just that same way to calm her.  To put her to sleep.  She shows me on my hair.  It feels nice.  It feels soft and gentle with the faintest hint of a tickle, but not an uncomfortable one.  Like a sort of faint electric thrill at the nerve endings.  It makes me want to purr like a cat.

Virtually every night for twenty years I smoothed Leslie's hair back over her ear.  She was always early-to-bed.  I was always a night owl.  Before I ran or read, watched TV, played video games, surfed the net or wrote into the wee hours of the morning, I first would put Leslie to sleep.  Through the years that slow gentle arc over her ear morphed into back scratches, foot rubs, calf rubs, head rubs, or finger massages, but they all started with that first slow gentle smoothing of the hair from her face.  We called it her rubby-rub.  In the morning she'd wake me up with the same.  A back rub or scratch, a head massage...it woke me up.  It put her to sleep.  We limited it to ten minutes each to save on muscle strain.  It was always over too soon for me, the waking one.  She rarely maintained consciousness long enough to feel me finish my ten minutes.

Sometimes she'd take my wedding ring off and rub the finger under the ring.  It felt so good.  Who knew how good a simple finger rub could feel.  She'd pull the ring off clumsily.  It wouldn't budge, tight against the knuckle.  She'd yank it until I'd yelp then she'd get frustrated and give up, so I'd pull it off for her, twisting it as I pulled.  

Sometimes I think about how it shouldn't be any different, me being downstairs alone with the kids while Leslie was upstairs resting in bed, or me being downstairs with the kids with Leslie passed on.  But it is.  Of course it is.  It's just the knowing.  Observing something changes it.  If I didn't know that Leslie was gone would I still be as sad?

Sometimes at work, my mind trips over the phone call.  The nightly call home.  "Hey honey, taking off now.  See you in about 45 minutes."  The habit is there.  I never actually start to make the call, but the urge to reach for the phone and call her still exist, deeply ingrained after years of repetition.  Sometimes I briefly imagine she's there.  If I don't call her, I never feel the gut punch confirmation of someone else answering the phone.  It will never be her again.  But I can toy with the idea of her being there, and me just not calling.  Observing something changes it.

I once wrote a fictional short story around the premise of Schrodinger's Cat.  The idea that you cannot know whether the cat is alive or dead until you open the box to observe it.  It lives as a probability, no matter how minute, until it is observed to have died.  It wasn't about Leslie.  When I wrote it in 2011, Leslie was "cured".  In remission.  Our worries were behind us.  Instead, it was inspired by true events, earlier that week Leslie had gotten an email that a coworker's mother had died, followed by another email that she was not dead, followed by another that she was. Apparently there were three sons, and they had sent word of the woman's passing before the third son knew about it. . . attempted to retract it until he could be told. . . then sent it again once he was notified. She'd died, they just didn't want him to learn in QUITE such a shitty way. In my story, the "hero" gets a phone call that his girlfriend has died only to find out that it's a false alarm.  It is implied in the story that the girl dies shortly after the first call.  Certainly she is expected to, and when the phone rings a second time, the man doesn't answer it.  He packs all his belongings and leaves, taking only her picture with him.  If the box isn't opened, you can never be certain the cat died.  Its life continues as a probability.  So he leaves, loses himself in another city, another country, another culture.  Never calls never writes, never learns whether she dies and allows himself to believe that if there is a probability that she is alive, then she will always be alive.  At least for him.  He saves her life by never observing her death.  I loved the idea of it.  It seemed sweet and haunting but it wasn't great the way I wrote it out then.  It would probably be better now that death has touched me and grief and I are better acquainted. Write about what you know...right?

Anyway, I think of that sometimes.  What's the difference?  When Leslie was alive and I didn't see her, I always knew she was upstairs.  She existed as a probability in that upstairs bedroom.  A strong probability.  We weren't talking.  I couldn't see her, but I always knew I could visit her at any moment.  I always knew I could run upstairs, give her a kiss and an update on the kids, then run back downstairs before Lily grabbed something fragile.  But she wasn't with us.  She wasn't being 'observed'.  I wish I could make my peace with the idea of this unobserved 'better' place beyond where Leslie is...and that place is really no different than when she lay upstairs in bed...a different plane, a higher existence, but still at the heart of it...just "upstairs".  Just like always.  And nothing is different about the scenarios.  But everything is different.  Uncertainty is a sort of questionable deathlessness.  But observing something changes it.  And this isn't an invitation to anyone to tell me, "But Jim it IS just like Leslie is upstairs, you can still talk to her, you can still see her if you close your eyes and think about her" or whatever.  I know.  I know. 

When we told Lily that Leslie was dying, we told her that she was going to live in heaven but that she'd always be with her in her heart, and that if she needed to see her, she just had to close her eyes and remember and Leslie would be there.  That's an immortality of sorts.  Not a Shrodinger's cat kind.  Not a probability.  But a handprint left on the soul of someone who loved her.  Who loves her still. A spark of recollection.  An image of a face.  A remembrance of soft words whispered nightly by a mother who loves you.

And nobody ever is really gone even if you are sitting with her holding her hand as her breath stills and her pulse fades, as it was with Leslie, so near imperceptible that I didn't even feel it go until I questioned it.  Felt for the pulse.  Watched her breathing.  It was slow and peaceful, subtle and silent.  Observed.  Changed.  But everything she touched and everything she observed remained behind, changed by HER observing.  Like the wind.  You don't see it, but you observe it bend branches, and watch the leaves it stirs on the ground.  You can't see it, but it's real.  It is alive.  It exists.  Leslie is still with us.  The gentle wind. 


With Emma, I always tell her to listen to her mother's voice.  It's still there.  We know what Leslie would say.  We know her council.  We listened to it for years.  I can play it out in my mind...that's Leslie.  That's what she would say.  We know whether she'd approve or disapprove.  I can hear her voice saying the words.  Those memories, the way she changed me, the way she help shaped the kids, that's Leslie.  That is Leslie alive and walking.  A gentle wind bending the branches of our lives.

And so tonight in bed with Lily I'm thinking about these memories that keep Leslie alive and in our lives.  Not the funny stories.  Not the anecdotes.  But the things that she changed by observing them.  The things she shaped and developed.  The branches she bent and bends still.  The leaves she stirred and stirs still.  Our kids.  My parenting.  The presence of her moral compass.  And I'm thinking too about this life-preserving passing on of traditions, because here I lie in bed with my daughter, stroking her hair the way her great grandmother, a woman who died before I ever met Leslie, once stroked Leslie's hair.  And Leslie now gone too.  And yet I trace tiny arcs over Lily's ears.  And WHY do I do that?  Because a woman I never met once left an undying imprint on a little girl who grew to be the woman I married.  Who herself grew to be the mother Lily knew.  Who stroked her hair.  Who stroked my own.  Who imprinted me.  And I pass it to the girls.

I wonder who once stroked Leslie's grandmother's hair.  Where did it start?  I'm stroking Lily's hair and I'm thinking about how Leslie's grandmother is alive in this gesture.  I'm thinking about how Leslie is alive in this gesture.  And I see my daughter's eyes are closed.  And she is sleeping.  I look at the clock and it is 8:51.  Six minutes it took to put her to sleep.  It was the same with Leslie.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Pasta Carbonara (without peas)

Okay, I hate to do two recipes posts in a row, but I was talking to someone about carbonara - specifically making a "low cal" version of carbonara, which is just substituting yam noodles for regular pasta, and I offered the recipe.  Then another friend asked for it, so I figured I'd just post it.  I hate making recipes that don't have pictures, so I apologize that it doesn't have any, but I just made it at the beginning of the week, and really didn't plan on posting the recipe until later in the week when we started chatting about it.  Next time I make it, I'll come back her and add a picture.

1)  It's super simple to make.  I'll give you the Jim's Annotated version complete with my recommendations, so it'll look longer and more complicated than it actually is, but if you read my stuff already you know that I make every explanation long and complicated but if you're reading for meaning, it'll make it super easy.

2)  I forgot what two was.  I started on 1, and then I got on a roll, and forgot why I even started numbering shit. 

3)  I'm adding three now because I was just rereading this whole thing and thought...here's a place for this one other little tidbit.  And now I feel like I could delete "2" but I won't, because it's cute.  Anway...The reason the title specifically says "(without peas)" is...I don't like peas.  I don't like them alone (unless they're snap peas and they're stir fried or they're raw) and I really hate them in pasta, like pasta primavera or carbonara.  And most carbonara recipes call for peas in them.  I don't know why.  This recipe does not.  Because it's not stupid.  It's awesome. 

Here are your ingredients:
6 tbs butter
1/2 lb sweet italian sausage
1/2 lb prosciutto (finely diced)
2 eggs
1/4 cup shredded asiago
1/4 cup shredded parmesan
1/2 cup fresh parsley (or dried.  I honestly use mostly dried cause it's easier, but fresh is obviously better)
one box pasta (I use angel hair because that's what Emma likes)
 
It ends up being a lot.

Pre-prep and prep:  When I buy proscuitto, they cut it really thin and they separate each piece with wax paper.  It's annoying as hell and completely unnecessary for THIS recipe.  It's also a pain in the ass for the deli people.  So when you buy the proscuitto (and they'll say stuff like...do you want the fancy-fancyioso 18 month cured or the blah blah 12 month or whatever it is...just get the cheapest proscuitto) tell them not to worry about the wax paper.  You just want it cut thin.  When you start the recipe, you're going to just cut it into really small pieces.  So I actually roll the whole thing together and slice it, then I cut the slices until they're pretty small.  Cut the parsley leaves the same way.  Think about how small and fine dried parsley is and cut it about that small.


I'd start the water boiling and cook your noodles.

While that's cooking, get a kettle...I use a 6 quart kettle.  Okay, brief explanation.  It's not that you need a 6 quart kettle.  You can do this next part in a regular pan, but later when you combine all the ingredients, it's nice if you already have a big pot and you're not dirtying another one.   In your 6 quart kettle, put half your butter in and melt on medium heat.  Brown the italian sausage.  Toss in half of your diced/minced proscuitto. 

When I brown the sausage, I'm constantly breaking it into smaller and smaller pieces.  Like when you make tacos.  Do the same thing with the sausage.  Sausage sticks together more than ground beef does because of all the extra fat, but put in the effort, the prosciutto will help a little.  It's kind of annoying because you have to reach into that big kettle to do it, but you'll thank me later.  Unless you're an ungrateful asshole.  I won't wait for the thanks.

Crack the two eggs into a little bowl and mix them up.

Melt the remaining butter in a Pyrex measuring cup (or whatever you feel like melting the remaining butter in, but I use a measuring cup because it's easy)

When the the sausage is done browning, toss the rest of your prosciutto in and turn the heat down low.

The idea (I guess) is that half your proscuitto will be cooked and browned and a little on the crisp side, like well done bacon, and the other half will be a nice reddish pink color and give it a better texture.  Make it...sorry...more "moist".  Yeah.  I said it.

Hopefully your noodles are done now.  Strain them.  HERE'S why you need the 6 quart kettle.  Dump the noodles on top of the sausage proscuitto mixture.  You're going to be mixing all this stuff together, and lifting the noodles and stirring them up will take a ton of space and make a huge mess unless it's contained in a kettle.

Okay...now...to help the noodles separate, pour the melted butter over the noodles.  Then dump the parsley over them.  Now mix it all up.

Now you're ready for the egg.  Brief sidebar, you're not going to cook the eggs, and because I never feel SUPER comfortable with that, I like the noodles and pot to still be pretty warm.  Getting the egg on the noodles while they're still hot will cook it to the point where it's done.  You'll know what I meanwhen you do it.  You'll see the egg start to cook and change like you might if you've ever made fried rice.  My point is, don't wait super long before you add the egg.

Pour the beaten egg over the noodles and stir.  Dump all the cheese in and mix everything up really well.  The egg will make the noodles sticky enough that the cheese will stay on them.  Asiago gives it a nice tang with the sausage and the proscuitto.

You're done.  This recipe typically feeds me, Emma, Lily (sort of) and gives me enough leftovers for three days.  I'd say it would serve 6 pretty comfortably.  It doesn't reheat badly, but sometimes I'll melt a tiny bit of butter over it in the microwave to make it less stiff and microwavy and more like it was when you first cooked it.

If you make it, and have notes, critiques or reviews, please let me know!

 Oh...PS...I use that whole "coat the noodles in beaten egg then cheese" in other stuff too.  It's an easy way to make plain noodles yummier.  For example, I have a pretty decent shrimp scampi recipe, and since scampi is really buttery, sometimes I'll just make linguini, dump the entire dish of scampi over the cooked linguini noodles, mix it to get the butter worked into the noodles so they separate, then add egg and parmesan to it, mix it up, and make what I call Shrimp Scampi Linguini.



Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Hellwich

People tag me in bacon posts a lot on Facebook.  Like...a LOT.  They also post tons of bacon recipes on my wall.  I don't even really remember why that started, but it's a thing.  So maybe four or five times a week something bacon-related gets posted on my page.

Sometimes it's ridiculous, like the bacon grilled cheese recipe where you take a POUND of bacon and wrap it around a grilled cheese sandwich and pretend the bacon is like a crust?  Ridiculous.  Does it look amazing?  Oh my god yes.  Is it practical for a middle aged man to make a sandwich with one pound of bacon?  No.  Jesus, no.

I just calculated it on myfitnesspal.com.  It's a 976 calorie sandwich.  With 2,320 grams of sodium.  That's an entire day's sodium in one sandwich. 

Okay...honestly that calorie count is lower than I would have expected...if I shared it with Emma...NO!  STOP IT!

Anyway...of the four or five bacon posts per week that make it to my page, I pick one every couple weeks or so to try out.  The last one was bacon sushi.  It was really good.  Before that, bacon wrapped fried oreos.  Decent. 

This week I made what I'm calling...the Hellwich.  First, you should watch the video that got posted to my page so that you can see what it was that inspired me to cook it for myself (Neither Emma nor Lily would have touched it)

From Buzzfeed on Youtube: 

So I'm like...okay...I have to have it.

But I made some tweaks.  For starters, I thought, "If this is a breakfast 'burger' why not make it out of a sausage patty?"  Secondly, I didn't like how stuff oozed out of it.  I don't like getting syrup or egg yolk all over my hands.  So I used less sauce, and I cooked my egg a little longer. 

So, here are your ingredients.
1 package Ore-Ida frozen tator tots
3 slices bacon
1 - egg
2 - slices sharp cheddar
1 - sausage patty
some bourbon
some maple syrup
butter maybe.  maybe not.  whatevs.







Alright.  So give yourself a little time to let the tator tots thaw out.  When I did it they were frozen.  It worked great, BUT...you have to close the waffle iron on the tator tots, and the waffle iron is stuffed full.  The softer the tator tots are to start with the easier it'll be to close the waffle iron.  Grease your waffle iron.  You can use butter or Pam or whatever.

Next, you'll see in this picture that I lined the waffle iron with tator tots, and then in the next picture, magically, you see this waffled tator tot bun, beautifully done and complete.  That's...not exactly how it happened.  The FIRST time I did it I took a picture of the tator tots in the waffle iron.  And there weren't enough.  Essentially I got a waffle iron full of squished tator tots that I subsequently threw out and started over on.  So...see the picture?  You need to fill the gaps.  You'll have to stack tator tots on top of the other ones so they straddle the gaps.  Like a pyramid of tator tots.  A tatormid.
Too many gaps here.  Stack to fill the gaps

magic!

While you're waiting for your waffletot (no...not twat waffle) to finish you pour some syrup and bourbon into a pot and then stir and let it reduce.  It is only now, three days after making the sandwich that I see the video has them putting butter in there too.  I didn't add butter.  It still reduces, still gets thick...but REALLY thick.  When I was done it spread like caramel.  Ultimately I ended up with just enough, but I probably only used 2 tablespoons of syrup and 2 tablespoons of bourbon.  I'd double that just so you have more and it's easier to spread.  I wouldn't necessarily USE double.  But it would have been nice to decide whether I wanted to use more or not.


The waffletot takes a while, so while you're waiting for it to cook, and the syrup to reduce, you can do the easy stuff.  Toss three strips of bacon in the skillet or on the griddle, or wherever, and cook them.  Then make yourself a fried egg.  I was winging the whole process, so I cooked the bacon, then fried the egg in the bacon grease.  Because that's how you SHOULD do it.

Last is the sausage patty.  I seasoned mine with some grilling spices (I was worried it all might end up being too salty, but it did not) I put it in a pan, browned it on both sides, then slapped two slices of cheddar on it, put a couple tbsp of water in the pan and covered it for a couple minutes.


The maple bourbon sauce is probably done.  So are the waffletots.  Put one waffle tot down on a plate, add the cheese sausage patty, put your bourbon maple sauce on top of it.  Add your fried egg.  Add your bacon.  Top with your other waffletot.





What you have now is a completed hellwich.  And listen...I'm not going to lie to you...it's not good for you.  Please consult your doctor before trying Hellwich.  That said, it is without question the greatest sandwich I've ever tasted.  I ate half for supper.  I ate the other half for breakfast the next day. 
The day after I posted pics, people were making grocery lists.  They made their own versions...they were the greatest sandwiches THEY'D ever eaten.  Everyone's tastes are different, but...come on.

It.  Was.  Worth it.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Inclusive Sensory Park and Playground

"Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood."
  - Fred Rogers
Alright...this is blog post about Glade Run's newest project, with some personal bits thrown in for flavoring.  First of all, I need to tell you that I was asked by someone at Glade Run if I could give this project a plug on my blog.  I didn't get paid to write it, though, nor would I have written it if I didn't think it was a great idea. But it is...so here's the "plug".

I'll ramble around in circles that slowly spiral inward until my point is revealed.  As is the custom of my people.

(outskirts of the circle)
A few years ago a friend of mine did a crowd-sourced funding for a project of hers.  It was a sensory gym.  Essentially it was (in my words) an OT's view of what a children's play area should be for kids who want, no NEED, sensory input to help regulate themselves.  You might compare it to a sensory room, but turbocharged.  Bigger, more stuff, more feedback.  I loved the idea.  I wished we had something like it in the area.  We could brave Chuck E. Cheese, or hang out in the kiddie section of the amusement park, but Lily keeps getting bigger, and her presence is less and less welcome in the areas of those places where she looms much larger than the 2 and 3 year old children it is truly geared for.

(inching closer)
A year or so ago (because my wife worked there) I learned about Jeremiah's Village.  This was a project that Glade Run is undertaking right now to design and build an entire community specifically geared toward accommodating people of all abilities, and including them.  It's being built right now.  The local paper did an article about it, and my daughter got sneezed on by a horse in the picture section (she volunteers in the animal program at Glade Run).  For more on that click here: Jeremiah's Village

When it was first introduced, they talked about housing where caregivers could live together with, side-by-side, or in the same community with their loved ones in an apartment style setting.  And I immediately had visions of one day retiring to an apartment where Lily could live in an adjoining apartment; it was every autism parent's commune fantasy come true.

(crawling a teensy bit nearer my point)
This inclusion really seems to be central to Glade Run's thinking.  Jeremiah's Village seems to be all about inclusion.  It almost seems like it would be "easier" to build something that catered solely to those autistic people who needed it.  This vision seems broader.  This vision seems more in keeping with what my understanding of "acceptance" is.  Acceptance isn't recognizing that some people have different needs and creating specific programs just for those kids/adults who need them.  Acceptance is creating opportunities for those people to join everyone else doing what they're doing.  Acceptance is recognizing that the playing field is tilted and instead of building a new playing field for those who struggle with angles...untilting it. 

(nearing my point)
One reason many autism parents (and I'll speak for all autism parents here knowing full well that there are almost as many different viewpoints among autism parents as there are autism parents) struggle with inclusion on the tilted field, is because of the stares.  Because people by and large judge and make assumptions about behavior without knowing the story.  Every does it.  That won't ever change.  I have been told I shouldn't have taken Lily to a movie theater unless I could keep her quiet.  I have been asked to leave a church because Lily's volume was disrupting the organ player's Easter music.  I have been asked to move my seat during a school talent show because Lily was too loud and was hurting her child's ears.  Every time something like this happened, it drove me further and further toward not taking Lily with me anywhere.  Every time I felt ostracized.  Every time I felt judged.  Every time I felt excluded.  And it drove me further and further toward just excluding her from everything.

And the above isn't meant to reproach any of the people involved in it.  I was plenty pissed, don't get me wrong.  But ultimately, the theater wasn't an inclusive environment.  People paid money to enjoy the movie and were irritated that they thought Lily would drown out the show.  The organist playing the packed Easter mass was sitting right next to the overflow seating in the balcony where we had to sit.  She couldn't focus on her job with Lily next to her.  The woman sitting right in front of us at the talent show had every right to be concerned about her son's ears.  She had sat down before us.  She and her family had every right to enjoy the talent show just like mine.  (Honestly though, she was sitting directly in front of the speakers, and Lily's volume was nowhere near the loudest thing assailing the poor boy's ears.  Some people are just assholes)

(Okay...we've arrived)
Glade Run is building an inclusive park.  This is a park with a level playing field.  It's not for autistic kids.  It's not for neurotypical kids.  It's for everyone.  And the needs of everyone have been weighed and incorporated where practical for everyone.  They're calling it a Sensory Park and Playground, and a sketch from their crowd-source webpage is here...


So...it looks like a playground, right?  It IS!  So what makes it "inclusive"?  How is this park any different than any other park?  Why is this park exciting to Jim Walter, "Target Guy", "flusher of sporns" and autism parent visionary??

Here are some design bullet points. (See the link below for a more thorough explanation)
  1. enclosed to help prevent bolting
  2. organized separated play zones
  3. retreat spaces, quiet zones, and separation to minimize overstimulation
  4. incorporates sensory elements:  touch, scent, movement, sound
  5. play elements designed to aid body awareness and improve motor skills
  6. social opportunities.  play equipment designed for use by more than one child.
  7. ammenities.  restroom, lighting, landscaping, shelters, picnic areas.
I really hope you click the link below.  I think this vision of inclusion and acceptance is one worth rewarding.  And yeah, many, or even most of you are reading this from far away from buccolic Zelienople.  To you I would say, support this park, and then encourage your own local charity, foundation, school board, or community to use it as a blueprint for your OWN park.

Check out the link "Glade Run - Inclusive Sensory Park and Playground"

Monday, August 10, 2015

Hi Again

It's been a couple weeks again.  Some of what I've been thinking and feeling and observing just seems like a lot of repetition.  Ups and downs, more good than bad, yadda yadda.  And there are times where what I'm wanting to write about seems like stuff I've already written about, but my memory is crap, so I no longer can figure out what I wrote about here, posted on Facebook, or just talked to friends about.  It all seems like the same thing.

But...
shh...the show's about to start
Emma had her performance of Annie Jr.  It was really good.  Like...REALLY.  I was telling my mother that we've been doing this since Emma was 6, and she said, "Has it really been that long?" so we started counting backward through the years...

2015 Annie Jr.
2014 High School Musical
2013 Hairspray (and Peter Pan Jr.)
2012 Legally Blonde
2011 101 Dalmations
2010 Charlie Brown
2009 Jungle Book

the full cast
And I guess because the productions are age-based you'd expect them to get better and better the older the kids get.  And they have.  This was far and away the best production we've watched Emma in.  The ensemble sang "Hard Knock Life" and the whole time I was thinking..."this is as good as the version I've heard recorded."  It really was.  Some of the performers (predominantly girls) are developing their own areas of specialty.  Where Emma is sort of a Jill of all trades, a few of the girls are competitive dancers, and the production made use of those sorts of skills, incorporating them where appropriate.  It was very very entertaining.

Emma as "Lily"
Emma was Emma.  She possesses a gift for comedic timing, and she is very at home on stage.  Her part of "Easy Street" was clear and in-tune and lovely.  I always worry about those first few notes, but there was nothing to fear.  She was dead on.

She struggled the week leading into the performance, though.  She was very nervous.  Felt unprepared.  Really appeared uneasy.  And I tried talking to her about it.  I tried to help her with the idea of compartmentalizing.  I think she has that tool in her toolbox already, but I thought maybe I'd try to reinforce it a bit.

Her thing:  I just want it to be a good show.

"Emma, you need to worry about your performance.  Only yours.  Make your performance the absolute best it can be.  Know your part, know your dance, know your positions.  You don't worry about the rest of the performers.  Let the director do that.  Your job is just to worry about you.  His job is to worry about all of you."

And I think she mostly got that.  I told her to focus on those things that were within her control.  To figure out everything she could improve or alter.  Anything she could directly impact.  And everything else, she just needed to put away in a box inside her brain so that she could get some sleep.  So she could relax when she steps away from the stage.

I wondered too if maybe mommy not being there had something to do with it.  And we talked about it one evening.  We shared some tears in her room at bed time.  It's hard knowing that a lot of the reason she is participating in CLO at all is because her mother was so passionate about making sure she had opportunities to get on stage if that was what she wanted.

And so I told her a bit about some weirdness I've been experiencing.  More of that weird...joy/guilt type stuff.  And let me back up for a minute to sort of explain myself, because I've been thinking about it for a couple weeks.  If you follow the blog relatively closely, then you know that I shared my weird feeling about being happy about being sad and being sad about being happy.  Just that while I'm grieving for Leslie I've been doing this...weird...finishing projects thing.

There are all these things that Leslie and I talked about doing...hardwood on the stairs and hallways, putting together a will, starting a special needs trust for Lily, figuring out our retirement, setting up Emma's 529 plan.  And I've been doing all of them.  And not just that, but trying to keep our room clean and the bed made every day and trying to keep the counter clean of dishes for the following morning, changing the bedding...all stuff she used to nag the shit out of me to do...I'm doing.

And so on the one hand, I feel like Leslie would be all..."Wow, Jim, you're really doing a nice job with the house." and on the other hand I feel like Leslie would be all, "I had to DIE for you to change the fucking sheets?"

Except Leslie wouldn't say that because she was a lady of breeding.  Still.  It's weird to think that all the things she used to be forced to bug me to do, I'm really careful about doing.  And I justify it to myself that it's Leslie's voice, or Leslie's influence, or it's an homage to Leslie that it's all getting done.  And that's part of it.  But I think the other more practical part is that I literally KNOW that Leslie won't be picking up after me, so if I don't want to live in squalor, I have to do that stuff.

Okay, so back to Emma.  I know she was sad about mommy not being there to see her in Annie.  God...she'd have been SO proud, and there were many times during the performance that I felt my eyes well up thinking about how much Leslie would have loved to see it...so I told Emma, "Em, every time that you and I do something that we know mommy would have wanted us to do, or that we know she enjoyed doing with us, or that she had fun watching us do, we honor her memory.  It's like remembering her and remembering her love and letting that memory guide our actions and shape our lives.  And when we do that, we include her in our lives even though she's passed."  I explained to her that I know it still sucks.  And I know it's still not the same...that it can't be the same.  But I tried to explain to her about me and the housework and redoing the stairway and explaining that every time I do all the little things that Leslie always harped on me to to, every time I finish a project that Leslie always wanted to finish, every time I go enjoy time with friends like she always encouraged me to do...I'm remembering Leslie's voice.  I'm honoring Leslie's memory.

And even though Leslie wasn't going to be sitting in a chair next to me at the performance, I told her that I believe she'd be watching Emma perform if Emma wanted her to watch her perform...and that doing her best to put on a good show would be a nice way to honor mommy's memory, and listen to her mother's voice in HER head.

Meanwhile, Lily has been a bit off lately.  Defiant.  Anxious.  And it's difficult to tell whether it's related to:  summer, her mom passing, growing up, etc.  The BSC is looking at the data trying to help us figure it all out.  She seems happy enough most of the time, but lots more "noes" than I'm accustomed to.

Anyway.  Sorta dry stuff.

Less dry...

Friday Tryday was more or less a success.  A friend did caution me not to make Emma feel like she was solely responsible for the variety of our menu, and after mulling it over, I talked to Emma about it and explained to her that I hadn't meant to put the weight of our eating variety on her.  And then I relaxed Tryday to every other week (this week...chicken wings).  But the first Tryday was a success...fried fish.  Not horrible.  Actually sort of liked it. 

And, not wanting to be outdone, Lily ate baby back ribs that I slow cooked.  I stripped the meat from the bones for her, and didn't add barbecue sauce, but she ate everything I gave her.  I was amazed.

What else...

Oh! Emma's Aunt Lauren was in town for Pappy's birthday, so Emma and Aunt Lauren made some Adventuretime (mostly) themed cupcakes.  I think they turned out great!


Finally...the newspaper did a story about the volunteers at Glade Run (where Emma volunteers).  They had a little slide show that accompanied the online article, and there were several pictures of Emma included.  One of them...(this gem below)...I'm having blown up and framed for our home.

gesundheit

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

It's a Hard Knock Life

Emma does CLO musical theater camp every year.  She loves performing.  She loves to dance.  She loves to sing.  She has a great presence on stage.  But if you follow this blog much, you know that her track record is not spectacular when it comes to "parts" or "callbacks" or whatever.  And while I love watching her on stage, I secretly also dread the chill winnowing wind of auditions and the uncertainty of her role and her mental state when those roles are selected.

There's almost this feeling that the kids who go to CLO's school get selected over the kids who just attend the camp.  I can't say that's a 'for sure' thing, but I get that feeling, and it feels wrong and twists my guts at the perceived injustice of it.  And when she get's Tree #3, I'm forced to do the dad thing, which is, "Be the best Tree #3 that you can be, Emma.  Don't be ashamed of who you are, and what you do.  Own Tree #3, BE Tree #3, make the audience remember Tree #3."  Instead of what I FEEL like doing, which is calling up the people in charge and making a big stink about it because Tree #3 is beneath my daughter, and she's got way more talent than the girl you picked as the lead and blah blah blah.


This year's musical is Annie Jr.  And Emma was very apprehensive about it.  Not because of the auditions and possible roles, although she really wanted to get a good part, but also because most of the kids she knew from previous years had selected Mary Poppins instead of Annie Jr., and she didn't think she'd know anyone.  And she didn't want to feel left out of the little cliques of kids that naturally form around those sorts of camps.  Anyway...apprehensive.  Stressed.  Sleeping like crap.

Yesterday she got her role.  She texted me:


Emma:  "Guess who I got"


In the back of my mind I'm thinking...it can't be Annie.  This isn't Dickens, where the good girl with the great heart overcomes adversity and not only comes out ahead, but wins it all.  This is real life.  Set your sights lower, Jim.  The only other female role I could remember from Annie was the lady who ran the orphanage...Mrs....whatsherass.  So I allowed myself to hope for Mrs. Whatsherass. 

Me:  "Who baby?"

Emma:  "LILY!"

I read the text and thought..."Who the fuck is Lily?"  Fucking musicals...why don't I know more about musicals.  I wanted to be supportive, but at the same time all I could think of was that it was someone I didn't know, so I'm thinking to myself, "Is this some orphan friend of Annie?" but I needed to congratulate her and so I googled it even as I replied.

Me:  "Awesome!  Are you happy??"

Emma:  "Ya!

And at that point two things happened.  The first was that Emma's picture of Lily from the old version of Annie came through via text.  And the second thing was I found a link that told me who Lily was.

And I knew who it was!  And I got genuinely excited for my little girl.  No, it wasn't Annie or Mrs. Whatsherass, but it was Lily, the con artist who pretends to be Annie's long lost mother for Warbucks' reward money.

Me:  "I'm super happy.  You can do a lot with that role!" (I actually spelled it roll, but nobody needs to know that)

And this is when I wanted SO MUCH to tell Leslie.  Leslie wouldn't have needed to google this shit.  Leslie would have known.  Leslie would have been just as anxious about the selection.  Leslie's heart would have been just exactly as invested in this.  Leslie would have carried along the exact same perceptions and baggage from past auditions that I would.  Leslie would have been so excited for Emma.  Leslie would get it.  Completely.  I wanted to share this with her and my heart just sort of sunk right then in my chest. 

I can't let happy things turn sad just because Leslie isn't here to share them with.  My happiness for Emma is unrelated to my inability to share it with Leslie.  It's no less happy.  It's no less awesome. 

I told Emma last night that I'm proud of her every day.  That getting a "good" part doesn't make me MORE proud of her.  But I did tell her that it made me happy for her.  That I was happy it was a part that made HER happy. 

Last night while Emma took out her contacts and got ready for bed, I walked in darkness through the grass of my back yard until I stood beneath the looming corkscrew willow I once bought Leslie for Mother's Day.  I stooped beneath the draped limbs and turned the light of my phone on so that I could see the ceramic butterfly Lily had helped make Leslie in school one year.  Beneath the butterfly we'd buried Leslie's memorial, a glass canister with playing cards and pictures, hand made cards and mementos that were special to us and special to Leslie, or special BECAUSE of Leslie. 

I hunkered down, using the phone light to direct my focus at the glazed butterfly and I talked to Leslie.  I told her about Emma's part.  I told her I was so happy for Emma and I knew she would have been too.  Because I needed to be able to tell her.  And when I finished telling her I told her to rest peacefully and that I loved her, and then I went back into the house and waited for Emma to finish getting ready for bed.

I didn't tell Emma I had talked to mommy.  And I didn't suggest to Emma that SHE talk to mommy.  Bringing it up seemed sad.  And she was very happy.  She had a good day yesterday, and I didn't want to mar it.  I don't want every triumph in her life to have an implied asterisk that says, "That's awesome*"  "* - if your mom was alive to see it, it would be better though".  I'll talk to her about it though.  I'll ask her if she still talks to mommy.  It's a nice segue to discussing "how we're doing". 

But certainly that will keep until tomorrow.  It's only a day away.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Fish out of Water

I started making a list a week ago of every entree that I can cook that Emma will eat.  Essentially it started out as a "cheat sheet" for grocery shopping, because, as has possibly been written of in days of yore, I create a weekly menu before grocery shopping, then I use that menu to populate my grocery list.  It's been extremely helpful honestly.  We always have everything we need to cook whatever is on the menu, and when we do it right, I'm not trying to figure out what we're eating at the last minute.

So I mapped out this list, and there are maybe 25 entrees on it, which actually is better than I thought it would be, but, as I told Emma:  "Unless you start eating other things, this list represents what I'm going to be cooking and eating at home...FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE."  Which...no.  Leslie and I used to try to cook something new every few weeks or so.  We loved researching recipes, finding ones we liked, and trying them out.  I have a friggin' recipe box stuffed with printouts, cards and copies of recipes we liked that I WILL NEVER EAT AGAIN...unless something changes.  Because, one of the other shitty things about losing a spouse is...now when you cook, you're really cooking for one.  And there's no way I'm cooking chicken piccata just for me (for example.  See "Surprise" for the amusing (in my humble opinon) details on how to make chicken piccata my (Pioneer Woman) way).  And that became one of our favorite recipes!  I wish I could have included more parentheses in the sentence before that last one.

So...on the spot I told her "I'm going to start making you try something new every Tuesday." (And I picked Tuesday because she has dance on Wednesday and Thursday and I'll need time to cook it, and she just won't have time on that day).  But then...I was like...I wish it rhymed.  Like...Tuesday Tryday?  It has alliteration but if there were only a day of the week that rhymed with try-day...

Sigh.

So yeah, anyway, Friday (also have time to cook on Friday) is now officially Tryday, and Emma has selected the next thing that she's never really tried/wanted/liked and it is...

Fish sandwich.  Fish sandwiches are a Pittsburgh staple.  Pittsburgh has one of the highest percentages of Catholics in the nation, and so during lent every year, people line up around the block every Friday to order a fish sandwich.  Forget even trying to get into Red Lobster.  Emma doesn't even eat them, leaving her with cheese pizza, or grilled cheese, or mac and cheese as her choices.

So...I'm soliciting your feedback.  Do you have a favorite way of making a crispy fried fish sandwich (cod, by the way)?  I loved the feedback and interaction I got on facebook from my request for tips on spaghetti sauce.

The end result should look something like this:
Taken from WPXI's "best fish sandwish in Pittsburgh contest article
http://www.wpxi.com/news/entertainment/pittsburghs-best-fish-sandwich-winners/nD7sC/
(The winner was actually a friend of mine who owns a restaurant/bar...I'd ask him, but I feel like it's his business secret)
And you should know that Emma does not eat food with any kind of sauce on it (except spaghetti).  She doesn't eat ketchup or ranch or honey dijon or tartar sauce.  When I mentioned that I might try to beer-batter it, she was concerned that the fish would taste like alcohol. 

Help me. 



Friday, July 17, 2015

Two Weeks

Yikes, has it really been two weeks since I wrote last?  That makes me feel bad, like I've lost stuff in between.  Lots of adventures in that time, but the high points are:

I ate some (okay, one) crickets.
crickets

I cooked a lasagna roll (yum).
no crickets


Lily played her last (I think) Challenger game yesterday.  I like the idea.  I like the concept.  I admire and respect the people doing the work in the trenches.  But it's just not for Lily.  Baseball is something she tolerates watching.  It is not a thing for playing.  She is a reluctant participant, and if it hadn't been something that Leslie really pushed for...I'd probably have quit halfway through this year.  Her season this year I think solidified in my head that it's just not a good fit for her...or me.  We finished the season she started, just like we would have if Emma would have started some team activity, but she does not enjoy it.  And her lack of enjoyment stresses me out the entire time I'm there.  It's better for us both. 

the little tiny girl second from the left.

My washing machine broke.  I've fixed my dryer a few times, but never my washer.  I took it apart to see if I could figure out what was broken.  I started by pushing the washing machine away from the wall and disconnecting the plug.  Underneath the washer were dust bunnies, a wet sock, a broken zip tie, a round rubber thing, and three broken pieces of hard white plastic.  The round rubber thing and the hard white plastic thing are called "direct drive coupler".  BAM!  I ordered one.

The thing about washers and dryers...they come apart really easily if you know which screws to loosen.  Typically they're designed with a case that slides away to reveal the internals, but on the day that I decided to take it apart I was already behind the washer before I thought to look at the manual.  I scanned the shelves in the basement to see if it was there, but it wasn't.  I knew I would need to download it, and I didn't want to, so I just started taking screws out.  This was a mistake.

A week later the parts arrived and when I went to fix it, I couldn't really remember what all the screws and things were for.  I knew this was "bad" but there was nothing I could really do about it so I just fixed the washer, and put it back together.

There were some troubling things:  Three screws that had no homes.  One dangling green wire that might or might not belong in a terminal plug.  I plugged the washer back in when I'd finished.  Nothing worked.  I took it all apart and plugged the green wire into the terminal plug and put it back together again.  I plugged the washer back in and turned it on.  The washer spin cycle was fixed!  It spun faster and faster, but then started wobbling and bucking, but I figured I could address the balance after the fact.

Except that nothing else worked.  So I bought a new washer.  And because I was mad at both the washer and the dryer (by association) I bought a washer AND a dryer.  My mom and dad helped me with them yesterday.  They're magical.  The washer weighs the load to determine whether it thinks it's small/medium/large/heavy.  I just have to figure out where to put the drain so that I don't flood my basement every time I do laundry.  (again).  Anyway...magical.

There's this weird war going on inside me right now.  Responsible parent on one side, immature adult on the other.

In THIS corner:
I met with a financial planner about retirement, college and long term care stuff.  I needed to do it.  It's been something that Leslie and I always talked about doing, but never did.

and...

I finished reading through my Will and my attorney is coming over next week to sign paper work.  It's something that Leslie and I always talked about doing, but never did.

These things are incredibly important.  Leslie was always my safety net, and I was hers.  We never had to worry about whether the kids' lives would be in order if one of us died because we had the other...but that safety net is gone, so I'm trying to get that stuff handled ASAP.

but in this corner:

I feel like Leslie's death might push me into the mid-life crisis I was never going to have when she was alive.  When she was alive, it was easy for me to push my own wants/desires/goals to the background, not because she stifled them (far from it, she always always encouraged me), but because I felt guilty spending money and time on me that I could be spending on US or HER or the kids.  And she wouldn't have been upset or angry, but...she was present, and that presence was enough to make me want to push ME into the background and focus on US.  I almost never went out with friends (maybe once or twice a year), I almost never spent money on me.  And I know that's a good thing for a husband and a father to do.  Focus on your marriage and your family.  But the sort of subtle check that Leslie's presence provided against "selfish spending" is gone.  And I find myself asking "Would you be doing this if Leslie was alive?"

I'm explaining this like shit.  One of the first things I bought after Leslie passed was a guitar.  I had always told Leslie that I wanted to learn to play.  And Emma had always wanted to learn.  And it was just this thing that wasn't important enough to actually execute.  But after she passed, I was on this kick where...I needed something positive to do now that this giant gulf had opened up in my life.  So much time was spent focusing on US that now that I'm not caring for her full time I just don't feel like spending "free time" with my sadness.  So I'm walking on a treadmill or playing a guitar or learning a new language or whatever...positive things that I've always wanted to do, but just couldn't find time for.

And I bought some new shirts and shorts (and some new clothes for the kids), because all the shirts in my closet were years old.  Les and I always talked about going out to buy clothes, but mostly we just bought at Christmas and birthdays because there was always something else to spend the money on.  Something important for the family or whatever.

And before Leslie passed we'd gotten a contractor friend to look at putting in a bannister in place of the half-walls we had on the stairs, and putting hardwood in the upstairs hall (since the cat was tearing up our carpet).  And when we went on vacation, I had him do the job Leslie had always wanted done.

And I know that clothes and a guitar and home improvement is a far cry from mid-life crisis...believe me, I do.  But I'm very aware/concerned that if the money is there...I'll spend it.  And that presence isn't there to keep me in check.  So I just have to watch it.  Clothes and a guitar is great.  Clothes and a guitar is awesome.  As long as it doesn't turn into clothes and a guitar, an Xbox One and a new car.

And both of those things are calling to me.  I was thinking about trying to sell the minivan and my car and maybe getting a crossover.  I was thinking about buying that Xbox One that I always joked about wanting as a Christmas present but felt guilty about because it would blow the budgeted amount we allotted for each other (but I knew she'd buy me if I just told her that THAT is what I wanted).

I know those things aren't "bad".  I just wonder why I thought they were when Leslie was alive?  Why didn't I buy the guitar then?  Why didn't I buy the Xbox One then?  Why didn't we buy new clothes?  (We WERE pulling the trigger on the hardwood, she just didn't live to see it) Why didn't we enjoy more and worry less? 

I'm rambling.  This is just what's been going on in the back of my mind.  Leslie was always very fiscally conservative, and I feel like I've been buying so much since she passed.  The flooring, the washer and dryer, the clothes.

I've rambled enough...

Quick Leslie sidebar:

Emma told me that last night she woke up in the middle of the night (4:30) and thought it was 12 hours later than it was.  She looked at the clock and saw 4:30 and thought it was the evening.  And she was all brain-blind and struggled wrapping her head around the idea that she hadn't somehow slept through the entire day.  And slowly she told herself that it was 4:30 AM...and she was able to settle back down, and I told her, "You must get that from your mother."

Because Leslie would often wake up in the middle of the night...like 2 in the morning and tell me we had to get going.  We were late.  Or she'd sit bolt upright, a look of panic on her face, staring at the ceiling and seeing spiders everywhere.  In both cases, her entire body would be tense and I would just have to say, "Go back to sleep Leslie, you're dreaming," and her entire body would deflate like a kiddie pool and she'd sink bonelessly back onto the pillow and fall immediately back into a deep sleep with no recollection the following day. 
So I told Emma she must have gotten that from her mother and I told her "Congratulations" and she rolled her eyes and said, "Yeah...awesome!"