Monday, December 31, 2012

Grief

(This was written in June, around the Alysia's birthday. Don't know why I didn't publish it then.)

I was reading about John Travolta and his wife Kelly,and how they lost their son to a seizure, and John described the feeling as being covered by a wet blanket. I know how that is. For most of the first year after Alysia's death, I oscillated between numbness and exquisite pain, pain that was actually physical as well as emotional. I described it as, "feeling like my skin was going to split open and peel off." It is a common theme among parents that the absence of their child is felt throughout their body as well as in their hearts. And the pendulum swing to numbness isn't actually any better, though it is less painful: being absent from those you love and who would reach out to you brings feelings of guilt and despair. You would like to be comforted, but all the attempts do is highlight what you have lost. The natural result is to push away the out-reaching hand, which then leads to more loneliness and guilt. It is a death-spiral of emotions.

A commenter on a friend's blog mentioned a friend who had lost a child and that 5 years later, he was still in the fog. That fog is the result of emotional overload, combined with a complete loss of life direction. When you lose a child, all the things you had planned, consciously and not, are blown up. And it is not clear at first, and maybe not for a long time, just how deeply committed you were to the direction you thought your life was going. I re-wrote some of the lines from "American Pie" in the months following Alysia's death:

"And the three things we had hoped to see,

College, a marriage and a grand-baby

We realized were not to be,

the day Alysia died."

Not Grammy material, I grant you, but an indicator of the direction we had planned. Would we have been willing for her to change? Of course. But that doesn't change the reality that we HAD the plans, and our lives were thrown into turmoil and we felt ungrounded, adrift. That feeling is a big part of the fog, because you suddenly don't know what to count on. Never mind that it was all made up in the first place, it was a plan. And we do have plans for our kids, don't we? Even if we are enlightened enough as parents to say to them, "Find your passion", we still think we know what's best or at least what will work well for them. And by extension, that means for ourselves as well. Their lives help define ours, and when they leave, we are left rudderless for a time, longer or shorter. Recently, I was looking at our granny unit, (we call it the cottage) which is where Alysia and Sean had stayed when they came home. We redid it last year, took it down to the studs and rebuilt it, and it is beautiful. But I was suddenly struck by the fact that the kids would never stay there, and the grief burst over me: who was I doing this for, now? Why should I bother? And it took quite a while before I could think that maybe I could do it for myself. That's how deep it runs.

When parents don't speak about this, when they don't acknowledge with each other the degree to which they feel that they have lost their purpose, they drift apart. It seems to me to be why so many marriages break up following the loss of a child: the parents don't realize that they need to reaffirm their commitment to each other and to the family direction, and so they head off in different directions. This is exacerbated by the differing grieving styles that men and women often have: men moving outside, and women going within. As usual, Frost was there first, in the poem "Home Burial", where the wife berates the husband for cleaning the shovel he has just used to bury their child, and he in turn chides her for not facing life going forward. He thinks he's just doing his duty and then going on, and she understands that the ship has hit an iceberg and needs the captains to direct the action. But he just sees it as more talking, because it hits deeply into his view of himself as the leader, the patriarch, for his family to be directionless.

Most of the books we read about dealing with the loss of a child focus on the distinct style difference in grieving between men and women. But from a spiritual perspective, men and women are the same, and the soul cries the same way regardless of the body it is attached to. Focusing on our spiritual selves, meant that we could leave the notion of "What are we going to DO?" out of the conversation, as the answer for us is something to the effect that we are not directed to a single end point, we are here to work on ourselves in whatever way presents itself. And if that way is to learn about grief, then so be it. It is true that 5 minutes later, we wept again and were bereft and distraught and caught up in the crap, but those few minutes gave us common ground to work with, and so we never were seriously in danger of splitting the family. There were, however, some windows and a camera that bore the brunt of our grief, and still now, more than 2 years later, I can be caught by an upwelling of emotion that can really flare into anger and lashing out at the physical world.

Another thing that our practice has given us is ownership of our own feelings. When one of us was really in the pits, the other doesn't try to jolly them out, or make them wrong, or any of the other ways of not dealing with our own pain that we know. When we are sad, we're sad. Happy, happy. No explanation needed nor asked for, and so no defensiveness and no separation. But it took vast amounts of energy to make this work, energy that we had precious little of. I now know why that during the first weeks, while other members of my family and friends tried to comfort us, we could not accept their help. Never mind that it was in fact a way for them to ask us to help them as well, we could neither accept help nor give anything to them, and I know we hurt some people tremendously. People do not know how to deal with their own deep emotions, let alone anyone else's, unless they have examined their own issues around death and dying, and we were no different except that we knew we could not spend any energy helping other folks to deal with their issues around my daughter's death, having gone through it with our older son not 3 years before. My sister asked my why we couldn't get together to commiserate, and I pointed out that the word means "to be miserable together", which I couldn't do. Her misery, coming from both her love for my daughter and for me and my family, as well as her guilt around Alysia, was too much for me to deal with. There were other friends and family that Joy and I also had to push them away, as their expectation was that we would all grieve together and that we would help them heal. But Joy and I couldn't spare the few clear moments for anyone but our younger daughter and our son, and ourselves. It was very selfish, and, I believe, totally appropriate.

But, as I am fond of saying, we have freedom of choice, not freedom from consequences. And so we find ourselves without some of the friends we used to be close to, a collateral damage that none of us could have foreseen. And that is another layer of sadness. I hope that we can recover together, though I know that there is no stepping twice into the same river.





Happy Belated Birthday, Sean

(I first met Sean when he was 17. It was not an auspicious meeting: he was in Juvenile Hall, where he had been for a large part of the previous 4 years, and I was newly involved with his mother. I had worked with homeless kids at one point, and arrogantly felt that I would be able to relate to him right from the get-go. When we met, I believed I had met a younger version of myself, and it was many years before I understood that this was his version of Steve Jobs' "Reality Distortion Field": an ability to make people think he and you connected and that therefore he was receptive to your advice. In reality, that didn't happen until much, much later in our relationship. He would have been 43 in May. Alysia, my daughter, was his oldest daughter, whom we adopted.
(I put this in drafts back in May and didn't publish it for some reason, but yesterday was the 5th anniversary of his death, and I want him to know how I felt.)

 Hey Sean, it's Yogi. Man, I hope you're doing OK, wherever you are and what ever you're doing. We got some bad news today: Jamie Rodriquez passed yesterday or today. Sucks big time, I know. You and he were so close and he really never got over your death, even though a lot of people tried to help. Kind of like Alysia, but more out front, I think. She really took it hard that you two didn't reconcile: she kept waiting for you to reach out to her, and I couldn't help her see that you really couldn't do it, but that if she would, you would meet her. But your sense of manhood wouldn't let that happen and that's too bad too. Anyway, the better news is that the family is doing pretty well. We miss you, of course, especially your Mom and Michael. He's growing up to be a good man, even though he's still got some ways to go to get out of the holes he's dug for himself. But mostly he's just getting by, he's got a girlfriend and we're helping when we can and when it's appropriate. Mom is still pretty broken up about your and Alysia's deaths. So close together just whacked her hard, and it still creeps up on her pretty often. We wonder what would have happened if you were still here, and of course she has her "If only"s and "Why did I?"s, like you'd expect, and just like I do. I don't think we know the real story of your death, and I doubt we ever will. I don't entirely believe the trial testimony: there are holes in the narrative, and some explanations missing. But that's done now, and we have now to deal with, right? You always did live for the moment, and for the people around you, even if it did piss off your parents, the courts and anyone else. You were always your own person. Alysia saw that in you, and tried to emulate it sometimes. You both has such big hearts. And such little care for consequences! I try not to be too angry with the two of you, but sometimes it just guts me that you both could risk everything without any qualms, or considerations of what might result. And boy, did we all pay for that.
Anyway, your girls are fine, I believe. We talked to the oldest, H, a few times in the last year. She wants to go to private culinary school and then open a B&B, at 18. We're trying to work with her, but she wants what she wants, and won't hear that there might be another way. Sound familiar? Your ex is still just as she has always been, so we don't speak. Maybe one day she'll figure things out, apologize and try to make amends, but I won't hold my breath. We are going to help H with college, and the others as well when they get older. We're up in Sacramento, tomorrow we're going to pick up a new puppy for Aliana and then drive home. We had dinner with K and a friend of hers and another friend of Mom's, and now we're back at the hotel, getting ready to hit the sack. But I wanted to wish you a happy birthday before I went to bed, so here it is. I love you, son. I hope you've always known that. Your other step-dad, Yogi

Out of the Mouths of Children, part 3

"Mom, would it be weird if I described myself as "kinky"?"
"Umm, yeah, a little bit. (hack cough choke) Why, honey?"
"Well, one of the teachers asked me what the problem was with my leg, and I said nothing much, but that I was a little kinky. And she got this really funny look on her face!"
"Uh, did you mean you had a kink in your leg?"
"Uh, huh. Isn't that what I said?"

Too much fun.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Thanks

I've been thinking about what I wrote the other day, the birthday letter to Alysia and the Unfinished Story. I spoke from my heart in both of those pieces, but they are only one side of my life. I feel, and have felt for many years, that I am among the most blessed of men, fathers and husbands. I did nothing exceptional that I know of to deserve this bounty, both material and not, but it follows me like an interested puppy.

Even after losing the kids, both my Love and I feel that we are luckier than we have any right to be. Financially stable, relationshiply stable, 2 loving kids, grandkids, family and friends, we are unbelievably grateful for the life we have. A lot goes on, weirdnesses abound, people are people even (and maybe especially) when you're related to them, but we sail on. I can work up some serious complaints from time to time, but they are really just mostly noise, with a good helping of butthurt.

So I want to take this father's day to thank my kids, my wife, my parents, my family and my friends. I have the life I have in part because of each of you. I learn and grow because of you. (Yes, even you, you lurker. Call me, we'll have coffee.) Yes, I get arrogant. Yes, I can be unbearable. But even at my worst, I do remember that I love you, and sometimes even like you, and that keeps me from becoming SO totally insufferable that you never speak to me again. (Which would be a shame: I have so much to tell you! :-))

So, to my kids, I thank you for trusting me to advise you and sometimes even guide you. More to the left, dammit! The other left!

To my beloved, thank you for putting up with my noise and nonsense, and for believing even more than I do that on this funny path we tread, it is better together.

To my parents, all 3 of you, thank you for demonstrating how not to. Seriously, parenting wasn't any of your strong suits. But your love always came through and now I know how difficult a difficult child can be, and I have lost my illusions that I was anything but a really tough kid to raise. I like to think I was worth it though, and since you're all gone, I get to keep my illusions opinions.

Brothers and sisters, thank you for being endlessly entertaining especially when that wasn't your intention. Thank you for reaching out to us when we were drowning. You have no idea how important you were and still are to us both.

Friends, both online and in person, thank you for being there. Sometimes I feel like I need to reach out to someone I'm not completely involved with, just because it is so much less drama. And the comments and letters mean a lot. Santa Monica girls, you are the awesome sauce of my life.

A special thank you from the bottom of my heart to my Other Daughter. Alysia's love shines through you to us, and I cannot think of what it would have been like to live these last 2 years without you and your strength. You lost your whole future in that moment, and have recovered while reaching out to help us. I cannot thank you enough. Know that I love you dearly.

What's next? We're heading off to NY, to the Adirondacks for few weeks. I have some thoughts about grief and grieving and about relationships I'd like to get down. We'll see what I can get to, between waterskiing, fishing, cooking, boating, jigsaw puzzles, Mexican Train, and assorted lazing around. (Quit bragging, Yogi.)

 

 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Happy 23rd Birthday, Alysia

I'll love you forever, I'll love you for always, as long as I'm living my baby you'll be.

Happy Birthday, Alysia

Monday, May 21, 2012

On the occasion of Alysia's 2nd Memorial Lunch


Gabrielle Bouliane:

"When you hear that I have died, think of this.

"Think of cool nights breezes while you walk to meet your friends for a beer on a Thursday. Think of waking up in flannel sheets on a snowy morning and kissing someone you love. Think of hung-over diner breakfasts and the best cup of coffee in the world. Think of the sound of tires on seamed highways while you travel, think of French kissing and leather jackets and push-up bras and bourbon, think of the joy of hard work with friends. Then think of me.

"Not sad, not the melancholy solitude of empty skies, but the full days and crowded bars and signed contracts, a smile too big for my face, remember I said I stay busy enough to fit three lives into one. When you hear that I have died, know that I want laughter, and dancing, real dancing, to music that makes you move with out thinking, you’re wearing boots and jeans and a great t-shirt and wondering if the girl at the edge thinks you’re cute. And you motherfuckers had best DANCE, none of this bull­shit rock-nod hands-in-the-pockets shoegazer nonsense. No, make an ass out of yourself, feel your hips, kick off the high heels and sway on the shoulder of a stranger. When I die, you’d better be laughing your ass off on sidewalks, eating deliciously unhealthy food, drinking shots and tipping your bartender well no matter how much money you make.

"When you hear that I have died, the best thing you can do is to get laid that night with a comfortable stranger, use my story to get their sympathy, and when you kiss them for the first time, think of me then.

"When you hear that I have died, and you will, remember your best revenge is to live well, take risks, save up money and chase your perfect happiness. Beat the system and learn to make your art really support you, craft into something your audience can’t live without. Then make the world an even slightly better place ― stop throwing your cigarettes on the ground, vote in the next election, graffiti your life on the eyes of the hungry.

"Then just do me one last favor. Please. Love some thing. Anything. Start with your self, but find passion in everything, from an apple pie to a novel, make a family, get a degree, walk what ever path is yours with your chin up and feet planted firmly. Have the best stories to tell in the old folk’s home, about life long friendships and epic love affairs, about the time you lost every thing and yet found yourself happier than when you began.. and remember that time we got in SO much trouble...

"Poets, remember: This is the story that never ends. When one of us leaves, another walks through the door. The pages turn, the sun keeps rising. All you can do in the meanwhile...is to speak for yourself. Raise your voice high, tell your story, join hands against the dark and sing our souls to the sky. Know the best in me comes from the best in you, that as you tell your story, you will be telling mine, and our lives will be linked together for ever, and every one who hears you will become a part of the change we make.

"So when you hear that I have died...
just …live."





Wednesday, April 4, 2012

25 hours, door to door

We were 15 minutes from leaving the house when my phone burped, and spat out a text message: "Your flight has been cancelled. If you need help, please call us. Have a nice day." What the fuck? A quick peek on the Air France site confrmed it: Our first leg, LAX to Paris, had been cancelled. OK, kick into gear, call Orbitz and fix the problem. Phone tag, hold on sir, I'll find the right person, hold on please, where are you going? Where's Catania? Sicily? OK, let's fix it. Hold on, please. Just a few minutes more, please. 45 ninutes later: OK, you're rebooked all the way through. Have a great flight. Off to the airport. Check bags, clear TSA stupidity, go have some lunch, wait a bit more, confirm the flights, wait some more. Soon enough it's time and we're off! Only 3 1/2 hours behind. Not a problem, we were due into Catania (on the east coast of Sicily) after 6PM local time, so arriving later just means we hit the hotel and pass out instead of hitting the hotel and waiting to pass out, fine. 10 1/2 hours later, a reasonable airline meal, plenty of wine and a restless sleep later, land in Paris. Always enjoy landing here, the countryside is so pretty, and the roads with their endless roundabouts make me giggle nervously at the memory of figuring out how to use them without getting run over by a truck. Good times. Exit to the endless concrete tunnels that connect the various parts of Charles De Gaulle airport, pass through immigration and security with only a minor glitch: Aliana's treasured bracelet kept setting off the metal detector and it's really tough to remove, but she managed. Now, where's the flight to Rome? Delayed. OK, hang in there. When will we leave? And arrive? I thnk that'll be too close for comfort for our last leg? Check with the gate agent. We're OK? Fine, have a nap while we wait. Ahh, boarding time. Delayed. Don't Panic, you have a towel :-) Breathe. Get inline to talk to the agent. Think about kicking the German passenger in front of you who seems to think that abusing the staff will make the plane magically appear. Watch the agent's smile become fixed to her face as she repeats herself again. Finally he stomps off and I smile at her and give her the raised eyebrow and shrug that means, What can you do with an idiot? and we're friends. The incoming plane is delayed, a fresh crew is on its way, your booking is still fine, don't worry. When you get to Rome, your outbound flight is only 100 feet from the incoming gate. May I see your luggage tags? Your bags are correctly checked. May I give you a voucher? We're so sorry, but I think it will all work out. Merci, have a nice flight. Well, OK, then. Get a sandwich, get on board, Off we go, only an hour to Catania. Hey, we're here! Remember I don't speak Italian until we're past customs etc. (My Italian is good enough to get us into trouble, but not good enough to get us out. Better to just speak English.) Here are the bags! It's a miracle! Out the door, find a cab, off to the hotel. 10 minute bumpity-bump with a taciturn driver, clearly not an Italian and we're here. Look! It's my sister and her family: they made it down from Venice and we are now all together. Phew. A quick snack of left-over sandwiches and some prosciutto from the bar menu, and it's time for lights out. What time is it? 1AM local, 4PM yesterday in LA, who cares, we're here.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Equality

If you are allowed have health insurance because of who you are married to, and I can't, you have special rights, not me.

If you can sit at a lunch counter with your spouse and not be ridiculed, and I am forbidden to speak about it on pain of a beating, we do not have equal rights, you have special rights.

If you can go to school without being mugged for the way you dress or speak and I can't, we aren't equal.

If your taxes are calculated by averaging your spouse's pay with yours, and by law mine cannot be, we are not equal.

If you can get married by signing a piece of paper, and I have to pass a law to live unmolested with my chosen partner, you have special rights, not me.

If you can go to the hospital, and decide on the treatment for your spouse because you are of the opposite gender from them, you have special rights, not me.

If you demand that we let you keep your special rights, by calling our demand for equality a "Special Right", then you are blind, and mean-spirited, not me.

If you try to keep us from having equality, by hiding your mean-spirited behavior behind a religious curtain, you are a hypocrite when you claim that we are looking for special rights, because in fact you are seeking nothing less than special consideration of your religious beliefs.

Every human being, gay, straight, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgender, undecided, decline-to-state, every single human being on this planet deserves nothing less than legal equality. And nothing more. This world is too damn tough to have to fight each other just to have one's basic rights not be limited. "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal" is not empty rhetoric, but the reality that this country was founded on, the first country in the world founded so.

For those who believe that allowing others to behave in ways that they disagree with will result in the destruction of society, I cannot tell you how intensely I desire the destruction of that "society." When my friends, my children, my family are attacked because of who they love, and you stand there and give your approval, it's time for your way of life to end.

I grew up surrounded by men and women with same-sex and opposite-sex partners. They were and are my family. I cannot fathom the hatred and sheer meanness of a group of people in Washington State and California who would deny their fellow humans the right to have the family of their choice, and still describe themselves as having "pro-family values." I know it is a dog-whistle for right-wing christianity, but I cannot wrap my head around it. How small must your heart be to do this?

In a couple of weeks, I am going to visit a dear friend in the heart of Michelle Bachman territory. Recently, several gay teenage children have committed suicide in a suburb close to where I'll be. (It's in the current Rolling Stone, if you have the stomach for it.) Part of my work is to make sure that the GBLT and questioning teens I meet know that there are adults who will protect them, unlike the cowardly teachers and administration of their schools, who piously defended their inactions. I don't seek confrontation, but I will not back away from it.

The Happiest Dog



He was born in September, 2007, amid the smoke and fumes from the Southlands’ worst fires in decades. His sire was a decorated rescue dog from Germany; his dam, a future champion herder. The kennel recorded the litter with the letter, “S”, and all the pups were christened with “Smokin’ ” as their middle name.

I wanted an Australian Cattle Dog (aka Blue Heeler), as enough time had passed since a tumor punctured the heart of my beloved heeler Chelsea (and soon after my heart as well) for me to be ready for a new dog. We wanted a male as in this breed they tend to be less intense than the females, and either a red merle or a red/blue mix. Joy found Wallaby Kennel down in Bonsall, and they had a recent litter that would be ready in late November. But the only pup left when we arrived was a little red bitch, who was cute, but not the right dog for us.

2 weeks later, the kennel called to ask if were still interested in a mixed-color male who had been returned from his prospective family. Apparently, the new parents had just let him out into their (unfenced) yard, and the neighbor’s German Shepard had taken a strong dislike to the little guy. Unwilling or unable to deal, they returned him to the kennel. We were next on the wait list and in December we became his new family. On the way home, searching for a name, I came up with “Tucker”, Aussie slang for food, and given his delight in his meals, it was an appropriate choice, and “Wallaby’s Smokin’ Tucker” it was.

He was supposed to be my dog, but once he got home, it became obvious that this was not to be. Aliana took one look at him, and that was that: she loved him and he loved her back. “My fuzzy teddy bear”, she called him, and he showered her with licks and snuggles. He looked like a furry cross between a Corgi and a pot-bellied pig, swayed like J-Lo when he walked and shed like there was no tomorrow, and she could not have cared less.
Ana & Tucker

Oh, he was a cute little boy: pudgy and happy, into everything the way puppies are. Oliver, our 3-year-old Golden Doodle, was delighted to have a playmate at first, but as time went on and Tucker’s natural dominance grew, Oliver stepped into the back-ground to avoid being run over by Tucker on his way to a tennis ball. We got used to the sound of snapping jaws as his mouth closed on thin air (he wasn’t a very good catcher), and gradually the gnawing on everything in sight slowed, though not before the piano bench and several chairs bore scars.

Oliver & Tucker
Around the time we got Tucker, our older daughter Alysia adopted a cute little mutt named Bella from a shelter in San Francisco, and when she came to visit, the two pups became fast friends. In fact the three of them became a pack, and the rough-housing wouldn’t stop until parents intervened, and sent one or another to bed. It was like being with 3 4-year-old boys, who just happened to be wearing fur coats and liked to snap at each other.

Tucker, Bella & Oliver

And sniff cat butts. In fact, it was not uncommon to see Tucker walking around the house with his nose pressed deep into a cat behind. Our grey tabby, Gracie, enjoyed this so much we were often tempted to offer her a cigarette when they were done. And so, one night we were treated to the spectacle of Tucker, with his nose pressed against Gracie’s hind end, while Oliver humped Tucker, and Bella (not to be left out) tried to hump Oliver. Yes, folks, it was an interspecies gay orgy, right there in the living room. My regret is that I couldn’t get it on film to send to Pat Robertson.

When Tucker was 18 months, he decided that he wanted the ball so badly, he learned to swim. At first, his coat soaked up the water so much that he swam essentially vertically. But as time went on, he learned to motor very efficiently and quickly retrieve the “errant” throw, bring the ball back to us, and crouch in the ready position, tail flicking back and forth, and barking if we didn’t throw quickly enough for him.
His favorite resting spot: we call it, "monorail dog."
He would sometimes patrol the patio by walking back and forth along the wall.
About that bark. I took him to agility training at the Humane Society, and we had a great time. Until he decided that he wanted one of the other dog’s attention, and let loose with one of his “stun the cow” barks. This noise, so high pitched it was actually painful, cause the entire class to stop and see what or who was torturing an alien being. At which point Tucker went over and sat next to his new best friend, smiling and wagging his tail to beat the band. And then barked again, which led to the leader asking if everything was all right? And, except for bleeding ears, it was.

Then, last year in March, the animals were passing some sort of upper respiratory virus around, first with the cats hacking and sneezing, then Oliver, and finally it seemed to be Tucker’s turn and so we didn’t worry too much. But it never got better, and so off to the vet we went. And, from there things got worse, until we ended up with a diagnosis of Lymphoma, Stage 5b. Oof.

Even through the chemo, we had good days, lots of them. Right to the very end, he was never unhappy, going off with the techs to get his next dose even when it made him sick. But there is no cure for animal lymphoma, only palliation, and 10 months later it was time to say good-bye. And then, there were no more words.
Wallaby's Smokin' Tucker
9/2007 - 1/2012
May you chase and catch all the balls your big, furry heart desires.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Susanna Photos

OK, so I didn't finish any of the summer/falls stuff, but I'm going to. Really. I promise.

Let's start with a couple of photos of the Good Ship s/v Susanna.


That's her, in the foreground. There's another boat right behind her, with a green and white spinnaker, named Gentian. We're in the Deer Isle Thorofare, in Maine. We're winning. :-)


In harbor, near Camden, ME.


My Mom, in 2009, I think. She was never happier than aboard Susanna. Sleep well, dear.


On the flatbed which brought her from Maine. That's another story in itself, as she's almost 14 feet tall, and if they couldn't have kept her low, we would have needed to send a pair of escort vehicles to move power lines to let her under.



In the water at last, in Ventura.


And finally, ready to go.

I've sailed with my brother a couple of times now, once just the two of us, and it is a lot of fun. But boy oh boy, am I glad it's him thinking about taking care of her and not me! It's a LOT of work.


OK, one down, a few more to go.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Chili con carne for a Super Bowl crowd


So, a week from Sunday, 1/2 the country will eat itself into a coma, while watching grown men hurl themselves around a field. I will be one of them, rooting with my wife for the Giants :-)

Before that, however, we will host a tailgate party, and this is part of what I'm cooking up.

Chili for a small crowd.
Makes about 4 quarts, easily doubled or tripled.

Base:

1 large yellow onion
1 head garlic
1 large can diced green chilis, hot or mild
3 bottles or cans dark beer, like Negro Modelo
3 # ground beef
1 large or 2 small cans diced tomatoes (I use the fire-roasted ones for more flavor)

Spices:

10-15 dried Ancho Chilis, prepared as below (most authentic, most delicious and most time consuming)
or
2 packages Carroll Shelby's Chili fixings (my favorite, easiest, flavorful, straighforward)
or
1/4 - 1/2 cup Penzey's Chili 9000 mix (tasty choice, order now)
or
a large amount of your favorite chili blend (most comfortable)
(if you are using the Anchos, you will also need 2 tsp cumin, 1 tsp ground coriander, 1/4 tsp cinnamon, 1TBS dried oregano, and 1 TBS adobo seasoning)

2 whole Habanero peppers
2 TBS creamy peanut butter
1/4 cup masa harina (corn flour for tortillas, which comes with the Shelby mix, but is available at most supermarkets in our area.)

For Serving:

Red skin or dry roasted peanuts
Chopped jalapenos
Chopped habaneros
Grated cheddar cheese
Sour Cream
Chopped red onion
Chopped cilantro
Corn and/or flour tortillas

Taste the beer. Seriously, just taste it. You'll want to know later how much to add.

If you're going to go whole hog and make the chili base from scratch, start by heating a large skillet over med-high heat, and toast the ancho chilis (not the green chilis!) a few at a time until they are browned. Remove them to a plate and let cool, then cut them open with a pair of scissors, and remove some or all of the seeds and veins, which is where the heat is. Put the prepared chilis in a bowl, and cover with warm water to soften, 30 minutes. Then puree the chilis in a blender, adding more warm water if necessary to get a thick sauce. Strain the mixture into a bowl, stir in the spices and set aside.

Taste the beer again. Make sure you have at least a 1/2 bottle left or open another.

Finely chop the onions and garlic, and saute the onions in peanut oil or vegetable oil over low heat in a dutch oven or large pot until very soft, 15-20 minutes, then add the diced green chilis and the garlic and saute until very fragrant and softened.  Remove the veggies, and add 2 TBS oil and turn the heat to high. Brown the meat in batches, removing it when ready and adding the next batch, taking care not to burn the pan. When all the meat has been browned, pour in (up to) 1/2 bottle beer, and scrape the pan to get up the flavorful bits that stuck to the bottom. Let the beer cook for a bit to burn off some of the alcohol, and then add the meat and veggies back to the pan and stir to blend. Add the chili and its spices if you're going that route, or the packaged spices, and stir well. Add the tomatoes, and stir again. If the chili looks thick at this point, add a can or two of water (if you use the Shelby's, you will need the water.) Lower the heat to medium and bring to a simmer, then turn the heat right down, add the peanut butter and stir until blended, and then drop in the whole habaneros, which will add a lot of flavor, but not a lot of heat unless they are cut open. <--- WARNING

Now, put the whole thing in a 250 degree oven for 4-6 hours, which makes sure nothing burns. You could use a crock pot, or a flame tamer and leave it on the stove, but whichever way you cook it, you do need to check a couple of times for spiciness, and fish out the habaneros if the chili is getting too hot. Use the beer to cool your mouth.

When the chili has cooked for a couple of hours, taste for salt by spooning out a couple of tablespoons, and adding a little salt to that first. (Salt changes the way food tastes, so it's best to check on the side before adding it to the whole pot.) Now you can mess with the flavor by adding more spices, a little brown sugar, etc. The chili should cook for at least 4 hours. There will probably be a puddle of red oil floating on top: don't get rid of it! Or, at least not all of it, because it's where a lot of the oil-soluble flavors are! Instead, mix 1/4 cup masa harina with enough COLD water to make a thin, pourable batter, and add 1/2 slowly to the chili. Mix well, and add more if it's not thick enough.

Done. Now open another beer (you did save ONE, didn't you?) and enjoy. If the chili will be served cool or at room temp, it will SEEM less spicy, but the next day your lower body will know exactly how spicy it was, so be careful.

Bonus tip: when you chop spicy peppers, you inevitably get pepper juice on your hands, which is tough to get off before you do something silly like pick your nose or go to the bathroom. So, before you have an emergency which will cause your spouse/friends/rommies to fall around the room laughing at you, when you are done chopping the peppers, rub a teaspoon or two or vegetable oil on your hands, and thoroughly rub the oil in, paying special attention to the places that the pepper juice could get into. Then wash your hands well with soap and hot water, and still be careful for a while. (Until your next shower, anyway.) OK? OK!




Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A Motley Fool is still a Fool

God, it hurts to give the idiots any link love at all, but if you are using Motley Fool as a tool to help you learn to invest, you deserve all you lose.

http://www.fool.com/investing/general/2012/01/25/what-were-154-million-apple-fans-thinking.aspx

The basic idea is that you should wait to buy a new product until just before the new one comes out, thereby saving yourself some money. It apparently has never occurred to this fool that if everyone did that, there would be no new products.


And he proudly calls himself Aristotle. Un-fucking-believable.