10 years since then

I dreamt about my dad last night.

We were in my childhood home; I was visiting and aggravated he was still using the microwave from when I was a kid. It was, like, 85 watts or something, and I couldn’t cook anything.

“Dad, why are you still using this microwave?” I asked. “I’ll get you another one. We could probably find one at Goodwill.”

That’s all I remember.

My dad died on February 19, 2006–the ten year anniversary is next week. I’ll be in Florida then, visiting with dear friends; a welcome celebration of life and living.

However, the week leading up to the day of dad’s death is also saturated with beautiful and painful memories. 

It all started on the 13th, when I took him to a new oncologist for a second opinion.

I could smell sickness on his breath. He had shrunk and his dark circles surrounded his eyes.

I won’t go into all the details, but we left that meeting with a glimmer of hope about the future, though the future was much shorter than we could know.

He wanted to stop to buy his girlfriend flowers for Valentine’s Day. He couldn’t walk far, so I told him I’d go in and pick out things. I bought a bouquet and a stuffed animal, and when I came back, I climbed in and he said, “I should have told you to get something for yourself, kid.”

I’ll never forget that sentence.

He insisted on paying me and wrote me a check that I never cashed. I still have it upstairs in my office. Probably the last time he ever wrote his name.

We surprised his girlfriend completely. I left the flowers in my car until I could sneak them in. When she saw them, there were tears and laughter. She was amazed he’d think of her while feeling so lousy. Six days later, he’d be gone.

I’ve been working on the following essay for quite a while…a few years, I think. I’m trying to strip the language down to make it precise and lyrical. I don’t know if it will ever be “finished,” but on this anniversary, I thought I’d share it:

People were making foolish decisions on The Price Is Right. Underestimating the cost of cough syrup. Overbidding in the Showcase Showdowns. “What are they doing?” I asked dad, who was reclined on the hospital bed Hospice had provided. It took up space next to the woodstove. “Don’t these people have any idea what things cost?”

*

When he dozed off, I would march out in the frigid, February air to get more wood for the stove. As a teenager, I couldn’t keep a woodstove burning. I would arrive from school to a cold, empty house, and curl up in my heated waterbed until dad returned from work. He’d tease me for my inability to get the fire going, and ignite the woodstove with little effort. Now, throwing wood in the stove and adjusting the air grates, I don’t know why it was so difficult when I was younger. Add oxygen and the fire burns. Deplete oxygen and the fire goes out. 

*

At night, we would watch Becker, his favorite show. I’d fall asleep on the couch, and the days before Hospice had given him his hospital bed—the days when he had to sleep upright in his recliner because he felt like he was drowning when he lay flat on his back—I would wake often to see him staring at the television, blue light dancing across his ghostly face, dark circles ringing his eyes, the volume nearly inaudible so as not to wake me. “Are you alright, dad?” I’d ask. “Yeah, I’m fine, kid.”

*

On a Monday in February, we went searching for a second opinion. The doctor who had been treating him for colon cancer for the last three years had already said there was nothing more to do. I stood in the new doctor’s office, sick with fear, anticipating this doctor to reiterate the last doctor’s prognosis. Instead, she gave him the gift of hope. She said, all was not lost, all had not been tried. I left there upbeat, because this bit of news made him feel a little better. “Are you afraid to die?” I asked him as I drove us home. “Kid, none of us know when it’s our time,” he said. “I’m not going to go before the Man upstairs calls me, so there’s no reason to dwell on it.” I could sense he didn’t want to discuss it any further. 

*

Six days later his oxygen waned. We had a tank of it in the house and his girlfriend put a mask over his mouth, told him to breathe in. He didn’t feel right. We didn’t know that an artery had given way—that he was quietly bleeding out through his colostomy bag. I couldn’t wait for the Hospice caretaker, so I called the squad. When they arrived, a young woman tried to take his pulse, but couldn’t find it. “How are you feeling?” she asked. “Not too bad. Just having a little trouble breathing,” he said. I rushed to my truck, and watched as they lifted his gurney into the back, his eyes open, alert. I followed the squad. They stopped at a traffic light near the highway, and sat there for several minutes. I could see the top of dad’s head through the windows of the back doors as emergency workers moved around. They switched on the emergency lights and sirens, and the vehicle rocketed down the highway. I watched from my truck, unable to keep up. I called and woke my brother.

*

When we got to the emergency room, he was behind a curtain. The nurses were talking amongst themselves, and I heard one say she needed a colostomy bag for him. I had one with me—his girlfriend had anticipated this need and gave me one before I left for the hospital. “I have a colostomy bag,” I said, and I moved into the private, curtained area. I handed it over to a nurse and looked at dad. His pupils were fixed; his eyes glided effortlessly back and forth in perfect, mechanical time. 

There was oxygen, but the fire had burned out. 

Unflinching

Today I wrapped my hair in a scarf, pulling it all away from my face. 

I know this is No Big Deal. It truly isn’t. And yet it’s taken all this time to get here.

You see, I’m actively trying to accept myself as I am. Today. Not dependent on anything other than the fact that I’m here and this is how I look. Good/bad/indifferent. This is me.

I’ve lived most of my life completely taken in by the mainstream definition of what is “beautiful” and what types of women get to wear what styles of clothing.

I grew up brown and chubby in a rural midwestern town where the faces were primarily white, and beauty was genenerally defined as slender and/or petite and preferably blonde.

I’m astonished at how strongly such experiences hold on to us, even as we grow into adults.

I remember two comments from my teenage years that had a lasting effect on my confidence. One was simply a student in the lunchline pausing by my table and calling me n**ger lips and n**ger nose. The second was while at a neighbor’s house, and this lovely blonde girl telling me she wouldn’t mind looking like me, except for my nose, of course. She’d prefer to keep her own. (My mom has always felt self-conscious about her nose, believing it to be too flat.)

Here are my facts: I have a round face; it is asymmetrical; my nose is kind of broad; my lips are wide; my neck is short; I’m always on the verge of having a double chin. 

One way I dealt with (disguised) all these perceived deficits was through having long hair.

I like long hair, and I liked the way it framed my face. It was a security blanket for a long time.

Even as I’ve cut it over the years (and that decision took FOREVER, in spite of the fact that I longed for a long bob), the one stipulation to my fantastic hairdresser has been that I have to have long pieces around my face. I still stick to that rule, even as I shave the sides now. Still need that touch of security around my face.

But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve met friends who’ve encouraged me to question this notion that women need to look a certain way to wear certain styles. Says who? they ask. Says the mainstream culture, I say. And why should they get to dictate to us, if we like what we’re wearing and how we look? Excellent question. 

It’s taken so long to see that these are false parameters of beauty I’ve been setting for myself all this time.  There is no single definition of beauty. There never has been, though for many years we’ve been sold one and I bought it completely.

I don’t have high cheekbones, a thin face,  a long neck like so many of the women I see photographed wearing head scarves.. 

But I sure do like the look of head scarves, and that’s all the reason I need.

Observations after a week of basically vegan

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Black bean brownies with peanut butter swirls. Weird but delish.

I feel lighter. Not in the sense that I’m losing weight, but in the sense that my gut–which has never given me problems, thankfully, feels even better (is that the right way to say it ?) than usual.

The closest example I can think of is that heavy feeling you have after eating something quite greasy, fish and chips for instance, and how it feels like a brick in your stomach. I feel the opposite of that. Make sense?

I think my stomach looks less bloated, too. I don’t expect this to be noticeable to anyone but me, but when I look at my profile in the mirror, I see a difference.

I’m becoming more thoughtful about eating because I have to (and I want to). I start thinking about what I’m making for dinner as I drive home. Typically I would plan on popping in a frozen cheese pizza because they are fast and good. Now I get home and snack on avocado and crackers to ease my hunger pangs, and then make spiced quinoa and zuchini.

Avocado. It has become my cheese replacement. Happily, it provides me with the same flavor satisfaction as cheese did. Maybe because it’s also high in fat?  I don’t know, but I plan to have our kitchen stocked with them all the time. And when they get really ripe, they can go in the refrigerator where they will stay in that state for a while.

I feel more creative in the kitchen; I feel more frustrated in the kitchen. It depends on my hunger. It’s hard to rethink my default modes (of grabbing cheese and snacking on it), but it’s also enlightening to see how automated my eating has been. I was quite proud of myself last night for making a vegan “cheese” sauce to pour over a bowl of broccoli and pasta. It tasted pretty okay–I had to diverge from the recipe a bit and deal with the ingredients we had on hand, so I think it will be tastier next time with all the proper ingredients.

It’s fun, however, finding alternatives to all the usual recipes. I’ve made brownies twice this week–once with black beans and once with bananas (plus cocoa/maple syrup/etc.) I brought the black bean brownies to a vegan dinner with friends, but didn’t tell them what they were made from until after they had all tried one. We all liked them, even if they didn’t taste precisely like dairy-based brownies; they were still good.

And thank goodness for culinary adventurous friends. The two people I spend the most time with (in addition to my husband) are the wonderful HK and MC. HK has been a vegetarian for a long time, and MC is not a vegetarian, but she likes interesting food. MC has probably cooked more vegan dishes than I have because she likes to cook and she likes to experiment. It helps so much to have friends who not only sympathize with your vegan efforts, but are willing to indulge them in their own cooking in order to have you over for dinner. And their cooking provides continual inspiration that vegan food can be delicious!

I have another lovely friend I will be seeing in Florida soon; she is moving toward vegetarianism for similar reasons I did. When I learned of a (sort of new) vegan restaurant down that way, I invited her immediately because I knew she’d be game to try it. And she is. So happy to have companions in this effort. :-)

My next culinary experiment is making a supposedly delicious “cheese” sauce from potatoes and carrots…I don’t see how this will work, but that’s part of the fun.

Get off my lawn

School started again, and I noticed how all of the students walk around with earbuds, listening to whatever is on their iPhone. On the first day back, I was waiting for the elevator and a student walked by with earbuds in, and I could hear his music. He was, like, four feet away from me and if he’d stopped, I’m sure I would have been able to identify his music. It was that loud.

I have a 20-something family member who does this same thing. If she doesn’t have her iPhone playing out loud for all to hear (also incredibly annoying), she has her earbuds in.

Now, I’m all about listening to music, and particularly listening with earbuds to block out all else. Sometimes I like to pop in my earbuds, start up Hamilton the Musical, and listen to it while coloring in the Sugar Skull coloring book my friend bought me for my birthday.

I’m a bit thrown by the pervasive reliance on earbuds/iPhones to fill the void of silence/nature/people. When I’m out in the world, I like listening to the world. The birds, the wind, the chatter of people, the tidbits of conversation. I like the quiet, too.

Part of that comes from being a writer. Overheard bits of conversation are of great value when you’re looking for inspiration for a story.

And, of course, this presumes a lot—for all I know, these students meditate an hour each morning in total silence. Perhaps they wear earbuds to more easily eavesdrop on the people around them because it looks like they’re tuned out when really they aren’t listening to anything.

All I know is that I could do without walking into a classroom and seeing students with one earbud in and one earbud out. Come on, people. You can go two hours without noise blaring directly in your ear. (Just call me a crotchety old woman)


In other news, I am going ‘basically vegan’ for one month, and the month started on the 18th, so I’m just a few days in. I decided on only a month because I really love cheese, and I didn’t know if I could go cold turkey on giving it up. Instead, I’m telling myself it’s only for a month. I want to see if I feel any different after a month of avoiding such items.
I’ve been toying with this idea for a while, and this latest decision came after an interesting chat with my madre, and then a delicious vegan dinner that same night at a friend’s house. The dishes she made were so simple and satiating; I decided right there to try going vegan for a month.

I say ‘basically vegan’ because I’m giving up obvious products like cheese, milk, eggs, but I won’t be scouring labels to look for all animal-based ingredients (gelatin, bone char). I’m hoping I’ll be avoiding them by default as I switch my snacks to vegan snacks. I’ll still allow myself honey, which strict vegans don’t.

The conversation I had with my mom was about a woman my brother had met, and how veganism had help her with a lifelong problem of high cholesterol that ran in her family. It was the only thing that helped.

As I posted before, the health benefits are a perk of veganism, but my primary interest is in removing myself, as much as I can, from the industry of animal cruelty.

I heard on the radio this morning that Pamela Anderson was in France to lend her celebrity to a movement trying to ban foie gras–talk about an uphill climb! Banning foie gras in France? But I applaud her and her efforts. Even the French diners who were interviewed said they thought the procedure to create foie gras was awful, but that it wasn’t going to keep them from eating it. That when they’re eating it, the method of creation doesn’t cross their mind.

And that’s the problem. I also ignored what was on my plate until I couldn’t ignore it any longer.

It helps that I’m a fairly committed animal lover. My brother tells me cows are the stupidest animals around (he worked with them when he was younger), so he has no qualms about eating them. They’re intelligence makes no difference to me. I can’t bear the idea of animals heading to the slaughterhouse when we, thankfully, have the ability to eat well without eating meat.

 

2015 Gratitude Jar

I just got around to looking at it. 

I hope 2016 is as full!

  
 

I guess I started the year off clumsily.

  

Speedy Pete helped me realize i needed another pup!

  

Here comes Lucy! (I love the face.)

  

I’ve never been so exhausted. Still love the floor!

  

The 2016 trip is already planned!

 
 

10 year anniversary deserves an amazing trip!

  

We lost this amazing spirit in 2015, but he’s still here.

  

This was kind of a big deal. Also ran a 15k and 10 miler

  

This person is the one that kick started my running.

  

Friends’ getaway to the Upper Peninsula. So fun.

  
 

I am always thankful for these visits.