Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Mayan Princess

My friend Myrna is from San Salvador.

Last night she invited Anne and I over for a home cooked meal. I think perhaps this is going to become a Monday night staple. Anne's house one week, my house another, Myrna's the week after. Perhaps we will pick a favorite restaurant the fourth week and start all over every month.

Myrna refers to herself as a Mayan Princess. She told me that she has to love someone a lot to cook for them. She also told me, "mi casa es su casa mi amiga"

I think she loves me a lot.

She wouldn't let me take a picture of her, so I had to sneak this one with my cell phone.

Then she fed me.

Homemade chicken flautas.
And enchiladas.
And tamales, wrapped in banana leaves and steamed to perfection.
And plaintains with creama.

I asked her for all the recipes and she gave me a cookbook to read. It is in Spanish. As soon as I figure it all out I will post (at the very least) the flauta recipe.

The food was amazing. She is amazing.

I had my first session with a Grief Therapist tonight. It was good. It was good to talk to someone about, well, everything.

For a full 30 minutes afterward, on the drive home, the buzzing in my chest and head stopped. I felt calm.  I felt normal. Or at least a little bit.

I am going back next week.

Seven weeks he has been gone. Seven weeks.

Myrna sent me home with plates full of Mayan Treasures. My therapist sent me home with a heart that was calm.

Thank God for Mayan Princesses and Therapists.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Swingset

Yesterday my family threw a surprise party for my oldest, our brand new Chief Petty Officer.

I promised myself I would not cry.

I cooked. A lot.

Hot and spicy chicken wings with blue cheese dip and meatballs in sauce with fresh basil, thyme and garlic.

Two whole beef tenderloins.

A huge green salad with all the fresh vegetables from my CSA share.

Salsa and guacamole.

Cheese platters.

Fruit trays.

A vegetable platter with ranch dip.

I was busy.

Then I stepped out onto their deck and saw the swingset that TBHITW and I had bought for the grandlittles this summer. My son and his wife had just bought a new house, with a big yard and it was our house warming present to them.

He would have climbed all over that thing with the girls.

But he never got to see it put together.

So I stood there and cried.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


(male readers, please bear with me, I love you too)

Women. What is it about women?

How do they know what to do?

For weeks now I have been surrounded by the most amazing women. Both here, physically and "out there" in the wireless world.

Monday night my friend Anne hosted a birthday dinner for herself. She invited me, Wanda and Myrna, calling us her "best buds". She took us all to a beautiful upscale restaurant where we wined and dined and chatted and laughed (and yes, cried a little too).

Last night Anne, Wanda and Myrna came to my home and allowed me to cook for them. A gift.

They sat at my table and laughed and chatted and told stories about their own lives and loves and trials and tribulations and joys and sorrows. And yes, we all cried a little too. But mostly we ate.

These women have their own families. Their own husbands and children. Yet they leave them alone, to fend for themselves and feed themselves and occupy themselves to be with me. To grieve and laugh and hug and light a candle in my night.

What is it about women? How do they know? Are women born with the innate ability to nurture? Are women programmed from birth to know how to comfort?

It's not just these women. My sisters, other friends, and women throughout the world call me everyday, send me emails of encouragement and leave loving comments on this blog - all holding me up. Helping me through the day, cheering me on, sobbing with me, listening to me, supporting me with their words, their thoughts, their intentions and their prayers.

What is it about women? Thank God for women.

Monday, September 20, 2010

A Proud Family Moment

Yesterday, my first born bouncing baby boy was promoted to Chief Petty Officer in The United States Navy.

He joined the navy when he was 19 years old. Sixteen years later, he still serves proudly.

My brother, who served for 25 years in the United States Navy (Chief, retired) was at the ceremony to welcome his nephew into the elite rank of Chief.

I could not be prouder. And it felt good to cry tears of joy.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Things He Did and Places He Went

He witnessed glaciers. In Iceland and Montana.

He rode a horse up into the Bob Marshall Wilderness. And camped for three days.

Then he white water rafted down the middle fork of the Snake River for another four days.

He saw the Aurora Borealis.

He went to the land of the midnight sun.

He parasailed in the Cayman Islands.

He scuba dived the Caribbean and Hawaii and Bermuda and Florida and the Bahamas and off the Eastern Coast. A few times at night.

He learned to surf.

He lived in Michigan and New Orleans and New Jersey.

He flew kites at Kitty-Hawk.

He saw lava flow into the ocean and form new land.

He ran in the NYC Marathon.

He hiked in the Grand Canyon.

He saw Meteorite Crater.

He saw the Petrified Forest. And Napa Valley. And Big Sur. And The Muir Woods. And the crookedist street in the country. And Monterrey Bay and Cannery Row. And the southern most point in the United States (Key West).

He visited Alcatraz.

And Acoma, New Mexico.

He stood in Four Corners.

He ate dinner in the oldest Adobe House in Sante Fe, NM.

He worked on an oil rig.

He flew in a helicopter.

He rode in a hot air balloon.

He saw a geyser.

He swam in a natural hot spring.

He sailed in a lagoon with icebergs. And drank vodka that was iced over a million year old ice cube.

He biked through the Normandy D-Day sights. And walked the beaches of Omaha, Utah, Sword, Juno, Gold, and looked over the precipice of Pointe du Hoc. He cried at the Normandy Cemetary.

He saw Paris. And London. And Mount St. Michel.

He collected shells in  Sanibel, doing the famous Sanibel Stoop.

He saw 1,000 year old petroglyphs and traced them with his fingertip.

He crawled through Mammoth Cave in Kentucky.

He saw Stonehenge. And Big Ben. And London Bridge. And the Eiffel Tower. And Notre Dame. And The White House.

He dug for fossils in Wyoming and Nevada. And skied in Utah, Colorado, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Vermont.

He was an excellent skier.

He jet-skied in the Bahamas.

He saw whales breach off the coast of Maine. And learned to rock climb.

And camped on the beach.

He went sea kayaking and seals followed his boat.

He went to Disney World. And Epcot. And Universal Studios. And Sea-World.

He swam with dolphins. And giant sea turtles, in the wild.

He fed Manta Rays. And sharks. And he wasn't in a cage.

He won money in Las Vegas and Atlantic City and on a cruise to Bermuda.

He toured Hoover Dam. And went to the top of the Empire State Building. And The World Trade Center. And The Statue of Liberty. And Ellis Island.

He saw the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace and The Tomb of The Unknown Soldier.

He drank good wine and ate good food.

He attended The New York Academy of Film and made a movie short called "Dirty Water Dogs".

He did a geology talk every year at our childrens' schools. And brought unusual rocks for the children to touch.

He loved me.

These are some of the things he did.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Pan Seared Thyme Roasted Pork Chops, Baby Red Swiss Chard and Spiced Apples and Asian Pears

Today was my CSA pick up day.

Apples are in.
So is Swiss Chard
And we are still getting tomatoes.
And peppers.
And eggplant.
And greens
And corn.

Tonight, I cooked.

I made pan seared pork chops. I heated some olive oil in an oven proof skillet, threw in a few sprigs of fresh thyme from my garden and seared them. I then set them in a 350 degree oven to finish cooking.

Meanwhile, on top of the stove:
I peeled and sliced some apples and asian pears, put them in a skillet with a good knob of butter, spritzed them with lemon juice, drizzled them with honey and a little brown sugar and cinnamon and set it all on the back burner on low.

I rinsed some Baby Red Swiss Chard and put it to simmering on a front burner. When it was nice and soft I drained it, sauteed it with some bacon then added some red wine vinegar and a sprinkle of sugar.

I imagined TBHITW sitting upstairs in his office and all the aroma's of an early autumn meal wafting up to his nose. He would have called down to me, "Hey, Mrs. S, that smells good down there!

And that would have made me happy. So I smiled while I shook the pan with the Swiss Chard and checked the chops in the oven.

I set the table, poured a glass of wine and waited for everything to finish cooking. Tasting this, salting that.

It felt good to cook something lovely.
It felt good to eat something fresh and local and from my own hand.

I didn't cry while I ate dinner tonight.
I smiled at the memory of a thousand meals.
After dinner TBHITW would have helped me clean up and would have complained that "I did it to him again". He always said that when he ate too much. It was always my fault.

I liked being guilty of cooking "too good of a meal"

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

How Am I Doing?

I have a motor running inside of me 24/7.
It is a constant buzz in my chest. It never stops.
I've never had this feeling before.
I guess they call it stress.
They say that loosing your spouse is the highest stress factor someone can experience.
Who are they and how dare they say anything? What do they know?

I sit for hours on my front porch on one of the two matching rockers we have.
We were going to put the rockers on the porch of our new home.
The home that was going to look out over 12 acres of beautiful land.
That was our dream for the future.
The land is for sale.
That dream is gone. It died on August 11th.
I don't have a dream for the future now.
Dreams are for young and silly people. People who don't know that life can come crashing down in a moment.
I am not young and silly anymore.
So I sit and rock. Mornings turn into afternoons. Afternoons into night.
Sometimes in the middle of the night I wrap myself in TBHITW's warm blue robe (the one I sleep with) and sit out on the porch and rock. All alone.
During the day people walk by with babies in strollers. Husbands and wives and children and dogs.
They don't see me sitting here on one rocker, an empty rocker beside me.
Maybe I'm invisible.

I have found the perfect diet.
Fifteen pounds lost in 5 weeks.
It's that motor that never stops.
It's the buzz in my chest that won't quiet down.
It makes my hands tremble.
My hands never trembled before.

I read TBHITW's autopsy report.
It was obscene and disgusting and I don't think anyone should ever read an autopsy report of someone they love. Ever.
I cried for my beautiful husband's body and the indignity of it all.
I cried for me.
I cried for us.

I shouldn't be driving a car.
Everything startles me.
And mostly I'm scared - all the time.
Of everything.

I had TBHITW's cell phone service cut off. Now I don't even have his voice.
And I'm afraid I'll forget what he sounds like.
But I have to be practical, right?
Dead people don't need cell phones.

I sleep (when I sleep) on his side of the bed. On his pillows. I guess they are my pillows now.

I am going to cook tomorrow night. Maybe I'll eat too.
Maybe not.
Maybe I'll just cook.
Apples are coming into season.
Fall was his favorite season, and winter.
We always went apple picking. And I'd make pie.
And applesauce.
And apple crisp.
And spiced apples.
And we would buy cider donuts and drink apple cider before going home with our bushel of freshly picked apples.
Last year we went apple picking late in the season. There weren't that many apples left on the trees. But we picked enough.
We always had enough.
I think maybe the colors of fall will be hard to look at this year. Too vibrant. Too real.

That's how I am doing...

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Chocolate Cake

It is supposed to rain today.

I have been wishing for a rainy day for weeks now.

I think I would like to walk for hours in the rain. Without an umbrella.

My brother invited me to an NFL kickoff party today. He lives about an hour away. I said I would come but I'm going to call him and tell him I changed my mind. I don't think I can be around that many people, that much noise and that much excitement about a game.

I baked a cake yesterday. Not just any cake, but my grandmother's chocolate cake.

My nanny died fourteen years ago. She was 93 years old and she baked the best chocolate cakes you ever tasted. German chocolate, red velvet, and this one.

I've only shared this recipe with one person. And I made her swear to never share it with anyone else and never tell my sisters that I gave her the recipe. She lives in Arizona so I felt pretty safe they wouldn't find out.

It's a pretty easy cake to make. You put everything in the mixing bowl at once, then beat it up and pour the batter in the pans and bake it. Voila.

I put everything in the mixing bowl and turned on the mixer. Nothing. I looked and realized that I hadn't plugged the mixer in. I'm a little foggy these days.

So I plug the mixer in and WHIRRRR - batter flew everywhere. In my hair, on the cabinets, the counters, down my shirt, there was even batter in my shoes.

Two months ago I would have let go with a string of profanity that would make a sailor blush. TBHITW would have rushed in and gotten upset to see me upset. He would have said to me "it's just cake" and I would have yelled, JUST CAKE? LOOK AT THIS MESS!

Yesterday, with chocolate cake batter flung high and low and dripping off the walls I stood there and laughed until I cried.

I think my grandmother was teaching me a lesson. Don't sweat the small stuff.
I think TBHITW would have been proud of me. If grief is growth, I am growing.

I'm going to share this recipe with you because what good is having the best chocolate cake recipe in the world if you're not going to share it? Just make sure to turn the mixer on slowly.

Nanny's Moist Chocolate Cake: makes a 2 layer cake

Preheat oven to 350. Set the oven rack in the middle of the oven.
Butter and flour two 8 or 9 inch round cake pans.

2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 cup cocoa
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup hot coffee
1 cup milk
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla

Put everything (starting with the dry ingredients) in a large mixing bowl. Plug in your mixer. Beat on low speed (trust me on this one) until well combined. The batter is very thin.
Pour into prepared pans and bake in the center of the oven until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out with a few moist crumbs clinging to it, about 35 minutes.
Cool in pans for about 10 minutes, then invert onto racks and cool completely before frosting.

A Cook's Notes: I cleaned everything up and started over. The cake came out beautifully. I frosted it, gave the 16 year old a piece and gave the rest to my neighbor. Like I said, what good is having a great cake recipe if you don't give it away?

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Angels Walk Among Us

Friday nights were always date night in this house.

When the kids were young that meant family dinners out. Nothing fancy. Chili's. TGIFriday's. Cheeseburger In Paradise. Pizza.

As the littles grew Friday nights changed. They were going to football games. Or had to work. Or met friends for a movie.

Friday nights became TBHITW and my date night. Better restaurants. Fancier fare.

And always, around 9:00 pm TBHITW would ask me, "What's our toddy?". We always shared a cocktail and relaxed into the weekend on Friday night. Not big drinkers, it was our one evening a week to unwind with a libation. I would go through the list: wine, or a cosmopolitan or an appletini.

Friday nights are hard, lonely nights now.
I eat alone.
Or sometimes don't eat at all.
I read. I cry. I go to bed.

Last night around 8:30 pm someone knocked on my door. When I answered it, I found my friend Anne standing on my front porch and she asked, "What's our toddy?"

She made me laugh.

I made cosmopolitans. We sat on the patio in my backyard and burned a healing candle that her oh so wise daughter gave to me.

My neighbor has lights strung all across his backyard and their glow, along with the candle were just enough to soften the darkness of the night.

Sometime around 11:00 pm my neighbor came out and leaning over the fence, handed us canoli from Carlo's Bakery (you know Carlo's, he's the Cake Boss).

The sixteen year old came out and joined us for canoli.

And we sipped cosmopolitans and ate our canoli under the glow of a thousand stars and a healing candle.

Angels walk among us and we call them our friends and neighbors.

Cosmopolitans: makes 2

1 cup vodka of choice (I LOVE Tito's. A small distillery out of Texas. If you can find it, try it!)
1/2 cup Cointreau
Juice of 1/2 lime or splash Rose's lime juice
1/4 cup cranberry juice
Crushed ice

Fill a shaker with crushed ice. Add the vodka, Cointreau, lime and cranberry juice. Shake vigorously for 30 shakes. It HAS to be 30 shakes. Really hard. The perfect martini has tiny slivers of ice crystals floating on top. That keeps it cold from the first sip to the last.
Sip with a friend on a starry night. 

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Face of Grief

I looked in the mirror this morning and saw a woman ten years older than myself.

I was surprised, but not shocked.

I can now recognize the face of grief.

I have met many people (mostly women) over the last few weeks who have shared with me their grief story. I recognized that they had one before they ever told me.

The local florist who has now been to my home at least a dozen times lost her husband seventeen years ago. She held my hand and cried with me and told me to call her, anytime. Then she called me, to remind me to call her, anytime.

My neighbor's mother, whose husband passed this February. She slipped a piece of paper into my hand with her phone number on it. And whispered, "blessings". I saw the same look in her eyes that is now in mine.

A client of my husband's told me that he still has a voice message on his phone from his sister. It is five years old and is the last time he heard her voice before she was killed in a car accident. I recognized our friend grief in his voice as soon as I picked up the phone.

My sisters voices when we speak. I know they are grieving. I hear it in their voices and see it in their faces.

My children who are no longer littles, middles or kidadults. They are adults now. Living in a grown up world of sorrow.

My parents, who have aged more over the last few weeks than in the past few years.

My in-laws, my husband's family. All of them with a new sound, a heavy heart.

To know grief is a terrible, sorrowful thing.

Some of you may remember that during Christmas last year I was grocery shopping and a woman and her college age son were behind me at the checkout. She was sobbing quietly and the young man was gently rubbing her shoulder and telling her "it will be alright". At the time I thought they were having financial difficulties, you know, making ends meet during the holidays.

I now know that what I saw was the face of grief. They were suffering a terrible loss. At the time I did not recognize that face. Now, I will never forget it.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

3:00 AM

I am sitting on the couch, alone and sobbing and TBHITW comes into the room and sits down beside me.

I rest my head on his shoulder and say to him, "I miss you".

He sighs and quietly says, "I know" and the tips of his fingers gently brush the tips of my fingers.

And I wake up.

It is 3:00 AM.

And I lie in bed trembling with the reality that I am going to long for him and miss him for the rest of my life.

When the sun finally rises, I get up and start another day without him.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Walking Through Jello

This Grief thing is hard.

It is work.

It is like walking through Jello.

Or thigh high mud.

It is arduous.

It is exhausting and confusing and stupid and shameful and full of guilt and anger and sadness and aloneness.

I started reading Elisabeth Kubler-Ross's book, Grief and Grieving, The Five Stages of Grief.

She died before she saw her last book in print.

She is amazing.

She knows me. She has seen my pain and is explaining it to me, step by agonizing step.

It helps to know I am normal.

It helps to know that others have (and every minute, join me) gone before me in this journey.

I hope TBHITW meets her on the other side.

As I talk with my family and friends I have found out that TBHITW has been busy. He has been visiting people. Even some of you. I take these accounts into my heart and it makes me smile.

He lives.

As I told the 20 year old tonight, away at college, over the phone, he lives in us. The 20 year old dreams of him. It is comforting. I assured him that is his dad. Visiting him, caring for him.

TBHITW's brother called me today to tell me of his dream. TBHITW was on a houseboat. His brother asked him what he was doing on a houseboat, he reminded him that he was dead. TBHITW replied, "this is the waiting place". "What are you waiting for?" TBHITW replied, "heaven". On a houseboat? And TBHITW replied, "We get to choose our waiting place, I chose, this. Beautiful, right?"

Yes. A houseboat would be beautiful.

I made salmon yesterday. TBHITW did not like salmon so I never made it for him. But the 16 year old and I love salmon.

I found cedar papers that I had bought a while back. I marinated the salmon in brown sugar and ponsu sauce, wrapped it in the cedar papers and grilled it. I made tri-colored couscous and fresh steamed green beans. It was sweet and smoky and sad and happy and everything that life is. You get to unwrap it when you are ready. Just like a present.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Racking Sobs

I thought the days of racking sobs were behind me.

For a week or so now when I cry tears would just roll down my face. The physical sobbing and shaking was gone. It was like my body just could only do so much.

Not so.

Today for whatever reason (do I need a reason?) the racking, gut wrenching sobs came back. It started in the shower. In full force. And lasted for hours.

A new little treat that was added today was vomiting. For the first few days after TBHITW died every night I would wake up in the middle of the night and vomit. It was like my body was trying to purge itself of this evil poison bestowed on me.

Today it all came back. All morning long. And into the afternoon. And now, late evening, it has returned.

When does the pain stop?
I am giving this everything I have. I am trying to remember all the good and blessed and wonderful and smiling times we had.
I am. I really am.
Harder than I've ever tried anything before in my life.
But give me a clue someone. When does my stomach and head and heart stop hurting?
Can someone just tell me when the pain stops?

My sister dreamt of him again the other night. She said,

"He was sitting in the play room, playing a game on her son's playstation. She said to him, 'you're not real, you're dead' and he said, 'I'm real'. And she repeated to him, no, you're dead. To which he replied, no, I'm right here. I'm real. You can touch me if you want.' And she touched him. And he was real.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

In The Beginning

When TBHITW and I first met we were two broken people.

You see we had both been married before.

We had been married to people who were unsuited to us, people who did not love us the way we wanted to love or be loved.

And that broke us.

Because who we were, and from where we came from, marriage meant something. Marriage meant promises and commitment and love and respect and all the good things that being in a solid partnership can bring.

But we were married to the wrong people. People who didn't share the ideal.

Long before we met, we both ended our marriages. And it was sad. It was sad because divorce is the death of dreams. Of hopes. Of promises. Of the future that we all imagine when we imagine we are in love.

And then we met each other.

He courted me. And I courted him.

And over the course of two and a half years we came to trust each other. And love each other. And know each other. And respect each other. And we both thought, "hmmm... this is the way it is supposed to be". "This is what happiness and partnership looks like".

So we married.

The April before we got married (August 4th.) we went to Europe together. We spend two and half weeks traversing England and France. We visited London, riding the tube and walking the squares and eating and drinking in smoky pubs.

We crossed the channel from Portsmouth to Bayeux and biked the entire D-Day map. TBHITW was a history buff and we used Stephen Ambroses' book, "Citizen Soldier" as our map.

We slept in an 11th. century manor house.
We drank Calvados, the local apple brandy.
We drove to Mount St. Michel and watched the tide roar in at 60 miles an hour.
We rented an Alpha Romeo and with the top down, we drove to Caan and took the train to Paris.
The City of Lights.
We stayed on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées  and witnessed the finish to the Paris Marathon. 
We strolled under the Arc de Triumph. 
We went to the Eiffel Tower. And Notre Dame. And the Louvre.
We walked beside the canals. 
I spoke high school french. 
We ate wonderful food and drank cheap wine. Everyday we ate cheese, chocolate and bread. And because we were young we didn't gain a pound or worry about cholesterol.
People mistook us for honeymooners and we didn't correct them. 

When we got home we began planning our wedding. And our new home. 
I was moving from Pennsylvania to New Jersey where TBHITW already owned a home and a business. 

So it began. 

Our rehearsal dinner party was a picnic at a local suite hotel, with a pool. People swam in the warm summer evening. We BBQ'd and ate sushi. My sister's room was on the pool side so guests climbed in and out of her window to get to their own rooms or grab an extra drink. Other guests of the hotel, thinking it was a hotel happy hour, joined us and we let them. 

Family and friends came from all over the country to celebrate our wedding. Everyone said, "you look so happy" "I haven't seen you so happy in years" "Look at the two of you". 

We walked down the aisle together. 
No one had to give us to one other. 
We had already given ourselves to each other. 

For our "real" honeymoon we both decided that it wasn't fair to people (or to us) who had travelled so far to only get to spend a day or so together. 

So we rented a 10 bedroom beach house and invited anyone who wanted to come along with us. 

The beach house was not one of those new monolithic McMansions you so frequently see on the Jersey Shore. 

No, this house was old. It was clapboard. With porches that wrapped around its floors on every level. The kitchen had an enclosed screen porch that sat 18 for dinner.

It did not have air-conditioning, but had whirling ceiling fans in every room. Even the four bathrooms. 
It did not have a dishwasher because, really, if you are cooking for 18 people don't you think some of the 18 will help with the dishes. Over music and wine? Of course everyone pitches in.

Seventeen people came on our honeymoon and stayed the week. 

It was glorious. 

And I wouldn't go back and change a thing. 
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