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Category: JWo (page 1 of 6)

Grief, Take Two

James’ grandfather is dying. Stage IV Melanoma; it’s in his brain and lungs and a lot of other places, too. He had a doctor who put him into radiation immediately, but the 2nd opinion at KU Cancer Center confirmed everyone’s worst fears – nothing could be done to save him, and just live what life you have left. Hearing how kind the second doctor was brought my first tears, for he was so kind. So caring. Facing finality, with no good news and surrounded by family, this man took all the time necessary to convey the worst news of all: there is no hope. For hope is that tiny spark in the face of darkness.

Obviously this is painful and horrible and heavy and sad. It is hard to watch your partner struggle with the oh-so-many-faces and emotions grief brings when it moves in and settles down, right in the center of your chest like a boulder going nowhere. It’s hard to relive the memories it all churns up, images I’d pushed far to the back of the closet, the bottom of the box, the gray shell my father had become, a shadow of his former self, his body an empty sarcophagus that once housed a robust, vibrant, witty man. What those final moments were like and how months later they threatened to destroy me, crying at the night sky, anything to end the constant aching pain of loss.

Some of my own defenses kick in, and I don’t cry at home. I have to be strong and kind and gentle and understanding, because it’s some rough shit and it’s my turn to drive. My turn to be a rock. So I’m angry when grief still springs from the office ceiling or the backseat of my car, causing tears to slide down my own cheeks while I fight off old haunted feelings. The best thing I can do is just be here, be there, because if there is proof you can survive some of the greatest loss imaginable, I’ve done it. Still kickin’. Still pissed at grief for being an unpredictable demon, reminding us that with great love can also come great loss.

There are lost periods. Time passes in fits and starts. And where my world, 8 years ago, was filled with a jumble of crazy, of helplessness, wildly racing emotions and rage, confusion and denial, now there is … white static. It’s like that thing you hear in your ears, as though the air pressure around you has shifted, increased, and your head feels like its underwater, but you can still breathe, you just feel suspended by the buzz and hum of containment. It is an odd purgatory, this limbo, for it insulates somewhat against the pain, while you wait for the next verse to start.

White light. Open spaces everywhere.
The hum. Holding my breath.
Just. Waiting.

Tales of the Crazy Cat Lady

So as you know, we’ve got a Crazy Cat Lady in the neighborhood. As in, across the street. This past spring she had what we could only guess was yet another small unfortunate fire, as random burnt objects starting showing up on her curb. (She is not familiar with the 3-1-1 Action Line for bulky pickup, either, so we get lots of opportunities to eyeball the assorted flotsam that resides on the curb for days on end.) One of the piles got dubbed “Crazy Cat Lady’s Rugs and Remnants” because it appeared to be some hideous ’70’s carpet, a carpet pad and god knows what else.
ANYhoo.
She is, sadly, mentally ill, enhanced and distorted by alcohol and prescription medications. Gaunt as a skeleton and severely aged by the ravages of her abuse, she is hard to look at, and she can’t make eye contact. She also pretty much detests us, as we are mean and don’t bend to her requests like, “Give me a phone,” or, “I need to come in your house,” or, “Give me three cents.” (I’m still struggling to puzzle out that last one.) Sometimes they are just statements: “I lost my cell phone.” Ohhkay. Sorry?

But I have not told all of her stories here – and there are some doozies. We are coming up on the year anniversary (Halloween), when she went completely batshit crazy and laid down in the middle of the street, barefoot and wrapped in two acrylic blankets. I was still at work, JWo had called the police, and a cheerful kind woman in a brightly colored caftan and sneakers had pulled her van over and was directing traffic around CCL, who was now curled up by our telephone pole. I came up over the rise in the street to see this montage of crazy in front of me and was boggled by the insanity of it all.

According to CCL, she was having a “surge”, and we should look it up on the computer. (JWo’s fast-witted reply? “I don’t think they make that soda anymore.”) She lurched back to her house just before the police arrived, and refused to let them in. We thought if she had stayed in place, we’d certainly have the scariest trick-or-treat house on the whole street, because her rising up out of the dark would scare the piss out of grown adults, let alone 8-year-old kiddos!

She really has become such a fixture among the fire department, paramedic team, and hospital that a couple strapping firemen came by a few weeks ago and asked us if we’d seen her, as they hadn’t gotten called out for a couple weeks and they were just checking in. It’s a strange blend of funny and sad, to be that reliant on public servants for help that they notice when you stop surfacing; it’s tragic to lose your existence into that pit, and it’s kind of funny because we’re all sort of thrown in on this same “team” whether it’s geographic or service based, so you can literally strike up a conversation – even with the 911 operator – about her, because everybody knows her. The veritable female version of Norm from Cheers, but less robust and certainly no match to his snappy wit.

Pretty sure the house will have to be razed when she finally departs this world (though there’s something about a certain breed of alcoholics – tough as nails and somehow bionically fueled by their diluted bloodstream, and she could be around for decades to come.) Right now there’s a hodge-podge of refuse by the curb, with more random piles and a large barrel for burning out back.

People keep pointing me to the Crazy Cat Lady action figure that’s out there -but what can I say? We’ve already got our own version!

CCL

Trying to Outfox a Fox….

A couple weeks ago, the handle apparatus inside the toilet broke. Snapped right in two, it was a plastic lever that had been there since we moved in 9-some years ago. James procured a replacement, made of metal, and after some internet consulting and installation, everything was fixed. (Apparently, you have to bend the metal ones to make it fit your tank, which wasn’t immediately clear on the package.) So, after being teased all evening about using brute force and tearing things up when he’s off hunting, I decide I can razz him right back! He had gotten into bed, and I was in the bathroom, and I flushed the toilet, immediately exclaiming, “Holy SHIT, I can’t believe it, the handle broke again!” I hear, “You’re KIDDING ME!” from the bedroom, and just as I say, “Yes, I am!”, the last consonant is leaving my lips and he appears in the doorway, indignant and ready to Battle Royale the toilet. I hadn’t meant for him to get back up, but I burst out laughing, and he scowled at me, having gotten him, and I was told to “watch out”, because he was going to get me back.

A day later, he calls to me from the kitchen, asking what’s wrong with the refrigerator. I say, “What do you mean?” He says, “The light won’t come on. I thought the milk was a little warm.”

Pause.

Me: “Are you trying to get me? Because it’s not working. I just got milk half an hour ago.”

Him: WHARRRGARRRRBLLLLLEEEEE “Dammit, Jen!”

Time Passes.

The toilet handle has issues with not stopping the water from running, so, fancying myself an apprentice plumber, I try things. At one point, I’m certain I’ve fixed it, only to discover a while later, the running issue continues. So this past weekend, I took the whole thing back apart, and adjusted where the bar went into the handle, and while it returns now to a more upright position (aesthetically annoying to me), it works. I told James this on Sunday.

This morning. I attempt to flush the toilet, to be greeted by silence. By now, I’m a motherfucking pro at whipping that tank lid off. I see there’s barely any water in the tank. Hrmph. How can this be? I stare at it. I lift the flapper. I touch ALL THE PARTS. Now, it’s still pretty early, but I’ve had a cup of coffee, and clearly, the issue at-hand is water. I think to myself, “Is there an issue with the water line?” I reach down and feel the shutoff valve knob. It seems solidly in place, no leaks… so I stare into the tank again. Brain tells me “Righty-tighty, Lefty-loosey!” and I reach back down to the valve.

Yep.

:Somebody: got up in the middle of the night & turned the water off. And the last time I checked, the dogs don’t have the requisite opposable thumbs.  I restore balance to the universe, turning the water back on, and decide to leave the tank lid off as a message. “Message Received,” as it were. Two seconds later, I grin. Nope. Better to put the lid BACK ON and leave everything in a working state, and say :nothing:. Because I learned about jokes, practical and otherwise, at the knee of the master, my father. Slicing open a package of M&Ms to fill it with one color, as a joke on his best friend after a hunting trip – left in the car for the friend’s ride home. The best moments can be had when you don’t even witness them, that filament in the brain, rapidly burning with realization as the person processes they’ve been had.

I stepped out of the bathroom this morning as James got up, and stood outside the door, toweling my hair, waiting to hear the water rush. Clink. Whoosh. Everything works. He turns, still stumbling with sleep, and I stand in front of him, leaning in to kiss him and whisper, “You’ve got to get up earlier if you want to outfox the fox….”

 

Reclaiming One’s Youthful Spirit

Yeah, that’s what it’s called. We went out to The Brick last night, had a blast – caught the tail end of Howard Iceberg & the Titanics, saw our friends Hillary & Tommy perform in their band, “The Hillary Watts Riot”, and then our friend Camry was in the last band, “The Sexy Accident”.  Since the first band was slated to start at 9:30, I knew we had plenty of time to get there, so we went out to dinner at The Beacon on the way there. It’s weird to go out to dinner at 9 pm in the Midwest, and while I’d been pining for Chai Shai, their kitchen closes at 9. In any event, we had a great meal, headed down to the Brick, saw people, were seen, made new friends, had a great time just listening to music, sipping a beverage, people-watching. I also did an amazeballs job of parallel parking, if we’re recounting ALL the wins of the evening.

At one point, I leaned over to James and said, “OK, wearing a kilt is cool. Very cool.”

pause.

“But if you’re also drinking PBR when you’re wearing one, does it make you a hipster?”

He laughed, and while he couldn’t say if that particular formula was a hipster recipe, he did observe there were a number of hipsters around us. (In the wild! I felt like Jane Goodall.) I said, “Am I a hipster?” and he laughed even harder.

“No.”

“Why not? It’s because I’m fat, isn’t it. You can’t be fat and be a hipster, can you.”

Maybe part of being a hipster is caring a little too much about how you… present oneself, all the way down to what you drink and the brand of shoes? I dunno.  I did feel like I really needed about 3 large tattoos to “blend in”, that’s for sure. And the dogs were completely perplexed by our atypical hours – what is this, 2:30 a.m. and you’re just going to bed?

Well, they sure didn’t hold back at 6 am, 7 am, and finally I gave up around 8 am and hauled my un-hipster ass out of bed to let them out, make coffee & head to the garden to collect a basket of veggies to whip into a mega-breakfast scramble. Now, I bet on the cooking front, I can outpace any damned hipster there is. I sauteed home-grown garlic, onions, kale, peppers, tomatoes & tossed in some potato, eggs, spicy beef sausages & cheese for a smashingly flavorful, vitamin-packed breakfast.

Oh, and I had to take a two-hour nap before we could even go out. Definitely not a hipster.

Oooops….

Soooo Crazy Cat Lady has issues. She’s like an octogenarian collector’s back room of National Geographics, to be exact. The cray-cray is strong with CCL. We found out she doesn’t “socialize with mean people,” as she waved at our house; what’s hilarious is the notion of her socializing at all, given that she seems to subscribe to my mother’s newsletter on “Social Drinking” and has her own subset of drugs she takes. ANYway, a couple days ago, BING-BONG, there goes the doorbell. James went to answer it and I could tell the crazy times were ON just from the tone of his voice. “WHADDYA NEED?” he brusquely said, through the barely-opened door.

WELL. Turns out she had a small fire (good lord, I can only imagine how that happened) and it somehow rendered her land line useless. Could he call Donny and let him know that her phone’s not working. O-kay, 10-4, CCL, will do. He followed through, and back to her hovel she went. The fire does explain the random furniture showing up in the ditch by her house, though none of it appeared to be burned. And she’s somehow called the action line to have it removed, but I haven’t spent to much time puzzling that one out. ANYWAY.

UPDATE: DOUBLE OOPS! I neglected two minor details – she came over with one of her feral lovelies, AND was carrying a roll of toilet paper. Let the mystique and intrigue continue!!

Next day? BING-BONG. (Really, I don’t plan to stay in my jammies all day so I can avoid the door, but hey, look who’s dressed to answer it this time? NOT ME!)  We thought it was the guy fixing our lawn mower; as James entered the breezeway he said, “Nope, it’s Crazy Cat Lady.”

And CCL? Says through the door, “YES, IT’S CRAZY CAT LADY.”

(Thus the aforementioned, “Ooops…”)

This time she’s got her corded phone with her. CLEARLY her phone does not work, can you not see this? (Um, sure, because there IS NO PHONE WIRE.) But she needs a phone. Can we give her one? She’s had a fire.

Uhhhh.

No.

I think had we given her a phone, it would have been akin to when my co-worker started bringing McDonald’s for the homeless guy who lived in the stairwell at work. And the feral cats she feeds. They will only stay longer…..and keep coming back!

Plus, now she knows she’s got a nickname. Whups. Given the back story on her, though, I think she’s had that label waaay before she moved in across the street.

Tomatoes in the News!

Our good friends, Todd & Julie, have photographed everything tomato-related, including plants, the finished product, James’ hands separating seedlings…. and this past Sunday, those photos were a major feature in the House + Home section of Sunday’s Kansas City Star! Along with an awesome interview with my husband, who doles out all the growing advice you can get regularly over on his blog.  Since the pictures aren’t online, I snapped the two full-pages with my phone:

 

As much as I detest sweating, I’m ready for some fresh, tangy, delicious, home-grown tomatoes!

Church of Stove

I got up this morning & hit the ground running!

James got a Weber smoker a week or so ago, and we had a turkey in the deep freeze, so we arranged to have our gardening friends Julie & Todd over to have a late afternoon meal. The turkey will be smoked, along with a large pan of homemade baked beans, and greens are simmering on the stove. Grandparents are also rumored to be showing up as well, so it will be a full table!

The beans are my first attempt – and a salesperson I was dining with on Friday sent me her recipe, as she also loves to cook & these beans are requested over and over again from her friends and family. I modified it a little bit (of course) by adding in some frozen Serrano peppers, and omitted the bacon because we had about half a pound of smoked pork butt that I chopped and added to the mixture. I doubled the recipe (of course) so hopefully these freeze well! Three kinds of beans – pork & beans, red kidney beans, and butter beans, plus ketchup, molasses, brown sugar, vinegar & mustard.  Here’s a shot of what didn’t fit in the pan:

Moving on from there (as I was cutting up onion after onion!) I sliced up some hot Italian sausage, and got that cooking with an onion. Added chicken broth, a huge bag of fresh spinach, and about five potatoes, cut into chunks. That’s simmering on the stove, and will get a last-minute addition of some half-and-half before serving. That’s going to be “early brunch”. Homegrown spinach is so fantastic!

On to the last onion… James went out in the rain and picked a giant tub trug of Siamese Dragon greens… basically a huge mixture of all sorts of greens, including bok choy, mustard/turnip greens, some crazy escarole-like fronds, and I started sauteing the onions and browning the delicious-looking smoked ham shank. I added a pitcher of water, a few cubes of vegetable bouillon, and got to work cleaning and stripping the greens from the tougher stems. Once a sink basin was full, in to the pot they went, and the process began again. Eventually, the huge bucket of greens compressed into a stockpot, where they will simmer all day – to be dressed at the table with some Serrano vinegar!

The house is redolent with savory smells… rain is falling outside, and it’s time for another cup of coffee. Enjoy your Sunday, no matter how you spend it!

 

Spiceh…..

James grew kale this year, for the first time – it’s lovely, sturdy, frilly, and I’d heard about all these kale chips, so I thought, hey, why not? Give it a whirl.
They’re terribly easy – you just tear out the thick stem, toss with a little olive oil & sea salt & throw in the oven at 350’F for 15 minutes. One recipe mentioned using some pepper flakes, so I grabbed the tub of smoked Thai chili peppers my MIL had brought us, sprinkled some over the fresh greens, and let the oven do the rest.

Should have washed my hands more thoroughly, it turns out – my bagel had a distinct afterburn, not something one normally gets from an Asiago cheese bagel, and that heat, combined with the fact my nose and corner of my mouth were EN FUEGO from an innocent face rub with the spiced-up hand, made me realize these weren’t ordinary chili pepper flakes.

Sensation confirmed after the chips came out of the oven. Delicious, though! And we’ll certainly be having more of them. I’m intrigued by the idea of crushing them and sprinkling on popcorn, too – with a little parmesan cheese. It looks like it can be prepared just like spinach, as well, which is good, since the spinach has run its course. My friend Jane puts kale in her smoothies all the time, thought she does have the mixer that makes things “disappear” – I’m a little skeptical about my two-speed Hamilton Beach retro-style blender doing more than macerating the leaves or chunking them up. We’ll see. For now, it’s just nommy salty-spicy goodness, with loads o’ vitamins!

 

Spinach Saturday!!!

Last Fall, James put in a bed of spinach – he watered it like crazy during the blasting heat, and then covered it up with agribond fabric (lets light & moisture through, but still protects from the elements – even a “real” winter, which we didn’t even have!) As the unseasonable weather allowed, he started peeking at it a couple months ago, and the beautiful dark-green leaves were dotting the bed. Then it just exploded! We cooked a few dishes with it last week – a  trumpet pasta with sausage, onions and cream sauce, an omelet stuffed with sauteed spinach & asparagus, and quiche this morning. Then he picked about 2/3 of the bed so we could put it up and have it later this summer:

Then I took over, and began blanching & ice-bathing all the greens. They really do cook down, so it seemed rather comical to have them go from MASSIVE SIZE ZOMG to five Foodsaver bags! But the bags are solid, heavy packets of good-for-you goodness, and will surely be a tasty alternative to store-bought.

Upcoming recipes are going to include a spinach pesto, some homemade pasta noodles (we’ve made them once before – lots of work, but worth it!) and I’m going to try frying up sliced garlic until it has a crunch, like I do for my pho topping, and then cooking a bunch of spinach with a dash of sesame oil & some chili garlic paste.  Popeye’s got nothin’ on us this Spring!  Here’s a shot of the quiche, shortly before it was devoured:

Grateful

I sat here as the sun slid down across the horizon and whispered to myself, “I feel….” and waited. Waited for the right word to come forward. Eventually it did, and the word was “grateful.”

I’m grateful for the comments, messages and kind words that were sent my way in the hours since I hit “publish” on my post about suicide & depression.

I have written that post a thousand times in my head and my heart. I felt that I’d finally reached a point, where you just drop it all, the fears, the baggage, the pain, the vulnerability, and just speak from the heart, hoping to hell it doesn’t backlash on you in some unforeseen way, but also out of exhaustion from carrying it all these years. Even in the brevity of the moment, my teflon-coated heart braced for the worst. Especially as I saw the number of visitors climb, higher by the hour, in fact, the highest amount of traffic I’ve ever seen on my blog.

It never came. There’s been silence, sure. Some people just don’t know what to say. I get that. This isn’t funny or comfortable or easy.

So, thank you. Thanks for your comments, the love, for your own stories – from so many perspectives. It really comes down to the ability to give voice to that pain, to try and take away the shame, to recognize that so many people’s lives are intersected by depression, suicide, mental illness, whether their own or a loved one. While it’s sad to see there are so many people in that shared space, it’s also oddly comforting, because I know only too well that it’s 100x worse when you feel like you’re alone. My soul aches for everyone’s struggles and sadness, but my spirit soars to see and hear the conversations, the new openness that  freed them to speak and acknowledge their own journey or a family member’s. I know there are a lot of hearts out there that hurt, that are aching right here in our city. My heart still rails against reality, thinking somehow we could turn back the clocks, stop time, save these men from their demons.  I hear Auden in my head, a drumming poem of grief.

Two nights ago, I made a promise to my husband, one we shared equally, that if it ever feels that bad in the future, to speak up. Just say something. No judgment, no arguments, no criticism, just wave the flag. I hesitated for a moment – because I know how hard it is to really do it, especially in that hard, painful space. I also knew that if I made that promise, I’d have to keep it. Could I keep it? I promised I would.

I’m heartened by the conversations I’ve seen in the media, speaking so openly and frankly about depression. Included in that discussion has been the encouragement to seek help, keep seeking help, keep searching, find a way to stay alive and get through it all. Make that promise, if you’ve seen even a small bit of yourself in all of this. To yourself, to your partner, to a friend or family member, just make it. Promise to wave the flag. Keep your promise. Please.

 

“Not knowing when the dawn will come, I open every door.”

Emily Dickinson

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