Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A non-Thanksgiving recipe

While everyone's getting ready for the big day, making all the usual stuff, I tend to be thinking about what I can cook for the day before and the day after, especially things that don't't involve cranberries or stuffing. This is this year's effort. If you have questions, I'll do my best to answer.

Tuscan Chicken and Sausage Stew.

Feeds 4-8, takes a couple of hours, including cooking time. Great with garlic bread, side salad, etc.

1 cup diced shallots
4 cloves garlic
1 15-oz can cannellini or Great Northern white beans
1 whole chicken, cut up, or 8 chicken thighs, skin removed if desired
1/2 - 1 pound italian sausage, cut into bite-size pieces
1-1 1/2 cups dried small pasta, aciuge di pepe or orzo or similar
3 TBS olive oil
Pinch red pepper flakes to taste (Aleppo pepper works well, too)
1 tsp dried italian seasoning, or Penzey’s Tuscan Sunset
3 TBS tomato paste (about 1/2 little can)
1/2 cup dry red wine
1 14-oz can chopped tomatoes, or 1/2 large can of peeled tomatoes in sauce, chopped
3/4 cup chicken broth
1 small head bok choy, or small head escarole, or 4 cups baby spinach, trimmed and chopped into bite-size pieces, optional.
1/2 cup grated Pecorino or Parmesan cheese.
Preheat oven to 300〫

Season chicken with salt and pepper, then brown in a large pan or dutch oven with olive oil, in batches if necessary. Remove to a platter, cover. Brown sausage in same pan, breaking up as little as possible. Add to chicken platter.

Reduce heat to medium, add shallots, garlic, red pepper and herbs; cook, stirring until shallots are soft, about 5 minutes. Add tomato paste and cook, stirring, until brick red, about 1-2 minutes. Add wine and deglaze pan, then cook until reduced to syrupy texture.

Add beans, tomatoes and chicken broth, bring to boil. Return chicken and sausage to pan, with all accumulated juices. Put pan in oven, cook 45 minutes, until chicken is fully cooked. (Or cook on stovetop 20-30 minutes.) You may need to skim fat from the pan at this point.

Add pasta, and cook on stovetop until pasta is done, adding broth or water as necessary. Add greens if using, and heat through, about 4-5 minutes. Ladle into bowls, and top with cheese.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

How many children do you have?

How old are your kids?  

How do I answer such an innocuous question?

Often, I can't . Or sometimes I just start crying. Which is really difficult for people in the grocery store, who think they're being nice (which they are: they have no idea what a can of worms they're opening.)

Sometimes I answer, "I have 2 living children." Which is just begging for a question I don't really (or really don't) want to answer. Sometimes I ignore it, and answer something else. Sometimes I pretend I never buried 2 kids, and answer "Two", which leaves me feeling like Judas.

6 months after Alysia died, I found an old friend online. When he asked me about kids, I couldn't answer. A year has gone by. Now what do I say when I try again to reconnect?

Four. I fucking well have four kids. Just because you can't see two of them, doesn't mean they're not there.

But I still don't know how to answer.

Monday, November 14, 2011

It's not up to us

to decide when others are ready to heal.

"There will now be a decade or more of criminal trials, and perhaps a quarter-century or more of civil actions, as a result of what went on at Penn State. These things cannot be prayed away. Let us hear nothing about "closure" or about "moving on." And God help us, let us not hear a single mumbling word about how football can help the university "heal." (Lord, let the Alamo Bowl be an instrument of your peace.) This wound should be left open and gaping and raw until the very last of the children that Jerry Sandusky is accused of raping somehow gets whatever modicum of peace and retribution can possibly be granted to him. This wound should be left open and gaping and raw in the bright sunlight where everybody can see it, for years and years and years, until the raped children themselves decide that justice has been done. When they're done healing — if they're ever done healing — then they and their families can give Penn State permission to start."

Right to the point, and right on.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Death and Living

I posted a quote on my facebook status:

"How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on, when in your heart you begin to understand... there is no going back? There are some things that time cannot mend, some hurts that go too deep, that have taken hold." Frodo Baggins, "The Lord of the Rings"

A friend posted a reply:
"There is no going back, only moving forward. Not always easy, and healing nonetheless."

Another friend said, "One day you will notice that acceptance has replaced today's grief, and that you are fully engaged in this day, this life."

I love my friends, and I have to disagree with them. This post is my reply. It's far to long to go on facebook, and I wanted time to think before I answered.

Some background on the original quote, for those who haven't memorized large portions of the book or movies. Frodo, a hobbit (who is an avatar, essentially, for everyman), inherited a ring of great power and evil. He undertook the year-long journey to destroy it, nearly dying in the process, and at the end of the story is once again living in his old home. But not everything is the same: HE is not the same, and so everything around him is different. His wounds pain him, the memories of death and dying haunt him, the burden he bore changed him fundamentally, and while he knows that what he did was the right thing, he also paid a dear price for doing it. In time he realizes that he is permanently changed, damaged beyond repair by the events of the journey.

Joy and I decided over the summer to let our daughter watch the Lord of the Rings, and that I would watch it with her, to answer the inevitable "WTF just happened!?!" questions, and to pace it. So we watched the extended versions, all 13+ hours of it, in 3 chunks over 6 weekends. And I was struck once again at how sad a story it is. No one is unchanged, nothing will remain the same, some things better, others worse, everything different. And that quote just jumped out at me.

This is what I was trying to say: that no matter what, there are things from which there are no return. Acceptance is wonderful, healing is necessary, but neither healing nor acceptance change the raw facts, nor do they magically wash away the pain. Ask a man who has lost a limb, and they will tell you of acceptance and healing, and of the fact that there is never a moment when they are what they once were. It is the same with the loss of a child: it is fundamentally a different experience from other losses. I can speak authoritatively from my own experience, as in the last 4 years I have lost a step-son, both my parents, one of my sisters, and yes, my daughter. There is simply no comparison, and if you have not gone through it, you cannot comprehend the difference. I could not, when my beloved wife lost her oldest son Sean, at the end of 2007. I knew Sean well, loved him dearly, had been his step-father for nearly 20 years. I had held him when he cried, knew as much of him as any parent could of a teenager who had grown up. And still, it was a qualitative difference when Alysia died.

What I am saying is that the common notions of healing and acceptance don't cover the right ground: they are orthogonal to the pain, a separate part of the Venn diagram.

(If you are interested in a couple of different views of death and dying and grieving, I highly recommend Pema Chodron's book, "When Things Fall Apart" and also "A Year to Live", by Steven Levine. When my stepson Sean died, I found work in those books that I could take on to understand myself better. I have returned to them many times since.)

I have been having harder days, now that we have begun our Christmas preparations, always a special time for family, and one of Alysia's favorite times of the year, a time to be with family and connections. Alysia is very present in my life, as are my Mom and Dad. But just because the times are harder doesn't imply that I am not accepting of the reality of my life: sometimes accepting reality can be quite painful. When Ramesh Balsekar's son died, a disciple informed the father, who dropped to the ground weeping. The stunned acolyte stammered, "Master, haven't you told us that this is all illusion? Why do you weep?" The master turned gently to the man, and answered, "Yes, this is indeed all illusion. And this is the most painful part." Illusory or not, accepting or not, pain is there. I believe we must accept the pain as well as the joy, with the knowledge and understanding that it all ends eventually.

And moving forward? Towards what? We are in the day today, I am who I am today, my pain and my joys are real now. To believe that acceptance will come tomorrow is to NOT live today, with whatever is here. I have spent much of the last 40 years learning to be present, and I thank whatever deities there are that I did so: I think that otherwise, the pain would have unhinged me (further, OK?). Same for Joy: losing 2 children, less than 3 years apart, and she's still standing. Why? Preparation in the form of meditation, therapy, whatever you want to call it. We are sometimes miserable, often happy, excited by our children, loving both the living and the dead, just making it through. So don't worry when I get a little dark: it's just another part of me, needing expressing.

At the end of the summer, I went to a retreat at the Omega Institute, in Rhinebeck, NY. I had discovered that my grief had begun to harden, to stagnate. I really have no other words for the feeling of stiffness in my metaphorical heart, my 3rd chakra, so that'll have to do. Eventually I figured out that I wanted to do some type of retreat, but had no idea where or when. My wife asked me what type of retreat I thought would be good for me, and I answered, "Music and silence." The next day, an email link from Deva Premal and Miten (singers and writers of wonderful mantra music) led me to a weekend retreat of chanting and silence.

I sang, I danced, I chanted, I did everything but sleep for 3 days (well, OK, I did sleep a little.) It was one of the most intense, painful, hopeful, joyful, special times. At some point in that wonderful, magical time, I realized that I would always have the pain of losing my daughter in my heart. At the same time, I understood that this wouldn't block the way for me to have a wonderful life: I could go forward with both feelings simultaneously, embracing them both, however painful it was. This was both the beginning of my healing, and of my acceptance. But it also was the beginning of understanding that the pain would never really leave, even if there were days that I would pay little attention to it, for there is a piece of me that I willingly gave up, and now can never reclaim. So all joy is tempered by the knowledge of my loss. And all hardship is also tempered by the understanding that I can survive regardless.

Love to all, Yogi

Out of the Mouth of Babes, Part 2

So, we're driving somewhere, me, my wife and our daughter, when we hear piping up from the back seat,

"You know what I want? A Brazilian blow job."

"Uhhhhhh..OK? What's that, honey?"

"That's where they do some fancy hair-drying thing to make your hair all cool."

"Right. Got it. Brazilian blow OUT."

"Is there a difference?"

It means something different when >I< say it, that's for sure.

Out of the Mouth of Babes, Part 1

So, we're sitting at the dinner table,  finishing up, when our daughter announces, "When I grow up, I want a condom."


Finally, I ask, "What do you want to do with a condom, honey?"
"Oh, decorate it the way I want to, get some furniture, a dog, have all my own stuff."
"Oh, you mean a >condo
"Yeah, won't it be great!"

Yes, darling, it really will be. But I'll miss the Gracie Allen moments.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Good days, and Bad Days

The path of grief is not straight, nor does every person walk it the same way. Some days are easier, others difficult.
Today, we bought Xmas decorations. Alysia always loved the decorating of the house and tree for the Fall holidays, it didn't matter which one: Christmas, Thanksgiving, Hannukah, whatever. Presents, she loved indeed. and I loved giving them to her.
And now that is no more. and I still decorate, and I still buy presents, and I'm sure I'll be OK, eventually, but today is a Bad Day.
I'll talk to you all soon.