Every week I listen to the Slate Gabfest podcast, usually on a Friday morning, much like today. Todayās episode featured a third topic slightly off from the standard insightful political discussion: instead the panel spoke about a recent photo feature in the New York Times illustrating Beastie Boy Mike Dās lavish new Brooklyn townhome. Did it, they wondered, verge on the obscene – the too-loving details picked out in a home most of us could never dream of owning or creating.
In the midst of the conversation, which also turned to social media and the āovershareā philosophy that lots of people have about every item in their lives, John Dickerson mentioned sending a tweet with a picture of his music room. Emily Bazelon countered with a remark that basically said, why does anyone care about that sort of thing who is not directly your mother?
Then she scrambled to apologize. John Dickersonās mother is a fairly famous person, and also somewhat famously deceased (not that her death was a news story in itself, but she passed away in 1997 and Dickerson has since written a book about her life and legacy). He made a joke, and she made a joke, and they moved on. The three journalists are also obviously on friendly terms and share a good rapport, so it was folded in easily enough.
What happened here was an excellent example of the lines we each draw, and how we react when others step over them. Podcast moderator David Plotz introduced the third topic and placed himself firmly on the side of those offended by the ostentation of the townhome photo-shoot. He also firmly established he realized this as a flaw in himself: the concern with space, object, and their interrelation bothered him specifically because it went a step beyond his own concern for same. At his levels, it was a concern. For someone more invested, it was (to him) a fetishization. That was his line: caring about this is okay unless you take it further than I do, then itās not. Plotz admitted this made him kind of an asshole about it.
We all draw lines. We all have our things about which weāll be assholes. They help us define ourselves, protect ourselves, determine our relation to others. If we mapped it all out it would be a Venn diagram so elaborate it would probably drive you mad to look at it. Listening to the podcast this morning, both the whole third-topic discussion and the little potentially-awkward bobble between Bazelon and Dickerson, it reminded me of one of my own lines that has felt constraining lately.
Since my father passed away in 2009, I have become far more aware of and sensitive to Fatherās Day ads than I ever was when he was alive. Frankly, when Dad was still around we all knew Fatherās Day to be a pure Hallmark holiday and it was usually an occasion for some funny cards and gift certificates and not much in the way of fuss or bother. I trashed every āDads and Grads!!ā ad without a second thought. The first year or two after Dad died, I noticed how very early those ads start – usually right after Motherās Day, sometimes even earlier. And every possible advertiser has some sort of Fatherās Day spin, from restaurants to day spas to charities to florists. āSurprise Dad with Two-For-One Chalupas!ā āAIGH NO!ā I would shout as I hit ādeleteā on each ad that rolled into my inbox.
It was a line. One of the circles in my personal Venn diagram, one population segment I joined, was āpeople who have lost a parent.ā There is no real way for anyone to see this line if they donāt know me. And so of course, it stands to reason that there is no possible way for advertisers to filter me out, to move me onto a list of People Whose Dads Are Dead, Or Are Abusive, Or Are Huge Douchebags, Or Who Are Just Plain Not Around. Nope, everybody that ever bought anything from Amazon is gonna get some āDads and Gradsā stuff in their inbox, and thatās it. No reason to take personal offense.
Those first few years, though, I did. Itās understandable. It was still pretty new, my feelings still closer to the surface. And one thing about grief is, you never know what will bring it up. Now, four years on, most of the ads donāt bother me. But sometimes, oh sometimes, they really really do.
If I canāt know when my own line will be crossed, how can I rage when someone crosses it? I guess what Iām trying to figure out for myself is, how to deal with people and things that have inadvertently crossed one of my lines without actually turning into an asshole about it. Thereās a lot of leeway in the case of grief, because of the tricky way it hides and resurfaces sometimes for no reason whatsoever.
But there are lines about other things, like about ostentation in design, or bumper-sticker choice, or People Who Feel Entitled To Drive Like Flaming Maniacs Because They Are So Obviously Much More Important Than You Are and…. well. I am sure you see my point. And part of this exercise is also learning to be aware of other peopleās lines. Of course I donāt mean āawareā in the sense of having psychic knowledge of precisely what they are without being told. I mean respecting them when they show up. If I donāt know you, or havenāt seen you in a while, and you have a line that I cross, a boundary I overstep…I owe it to you to respect that. If I remember that, if I try both to be less an asshole when someone crosses my own lines AND when Iāve maybe raised some hackles by crossing someone elseās, then I hope I can make a little compassionate progress. And keep a sense of humor about it too. My Dad would have laughed his ass off about two-for-one chalupas.
In a way itās become sort of a backbeat to all our lives, hashtaggable now that that is a thing – āFuck Cancer.ā As we watch beloved actors, writers, public figures laid low by the disease. As we lose our friends, our family, our beloved pets. As we watch the struggles all these loved and admired people go through fighting the damn thing when it shows up, all we can think is an incoherent āDamn you.ā Why canāt we stop you? Why canāt we find you in time? Why canāt we understand you?
As noted recently, in the past not-quite-four years Iāve lost two beloved pets to cancer in addition to the profound loss of my wonderful father, the grief of which I feel I am only beginning to carry with any dignity.
However, as I havenāt personally noted recently, my community – Howard County in general and the bloggers of Howard County specifically – suffered a loss. Not at the hands of cancer, this time, but something else inexplicable, sad, unbelievable. Dennis Lane was a strong and friendly voice for the community we are building here in what way we can. Iāve never been much of a local blogger but I have admired and enjoyed the local blog community, and Dennis was at its heart. I met him briefly, once, at a blogger cocktail party, but more importantly I read and enjoyed his blog daily, even when I didnāt agree with him. (If you are interested, details on the memorial celebration of his life are here.)
Coming to be a member of this community, where I have lived for nine years, longer than Iāve lived in any one town than the one I grew up in, has been a slow process. There are certain ways in which renters are somewhat …ignored? Misunderstood? Shunted aside? Those all seem a little strong, but when I voted in Aprilās Columbia Association election – the first time Iāve done so since I moved here, Iām ashamed to admit – I felt a tiny bit like an interesting specimen in a petri dish when I explained that I was a renter, an apartment-dweller even. But when I read the local blogs and participate in exchanges, I know there is something good here. This community, these people, do want to connect, to exchange ideas, to take steps toward dialogue.
So there are sort of two prongs to this blog post, that I am writing at the tail end of a Friday workday because my home laptop has decided I donāt particularly need to use a keyboard ever: They are Community, and Cancer. What could they have to do with one another?
This June, which starts tomorrow (holy crap itās almost June!), the American Cancer Society is launching a long-term Cancer Prevention Study in Howard County. Any county resident who is between the ages of 30 and 65 and who has never been diagnosed with a cancer (other than basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma, so Iām good) can participate. There is an initial questionnaire and interview, then you will be asked to fill out follow-up questionnaires periodically across the next 20 or 30 years.
What can our community do? We can give a few minutes of our time, and a vial of our blood, and try to help scientists find the answers we all want so badly. If thereās anything I can do to kick cancer to the curb, I want to do it. And if we can build a few community links along the way, we will all be stronger for it.
When I found out, on May 8, that my younger cat Katie had developed aggressive lymphoma before she even turned four, I was staggered. Stunned, shocked, heartbroken. Always a finicky eater, in the week or so before I took her to the vet sheād stopped eating wet food entirely, though she still ate (some) dry food and treats. She was losing weight, though, and in a tiny cat it was really noticeable.
Never did I expect something like this, though. A vitamin deficiency, I thought, or maybe a virus. As I sat in the exam room while Katie was in the back being X-rayed and ultrasounded, I kept going over what the vet had said about the mass sheād felt: āIt could also be a foreign object, like a button!ā Yes, surely that was it. Surely, my finicky little cat who didnāt even care for seafood-based cat foods had eaten a button. There would be surgery, then healing, then… then the vet arrived to show me the films and tell me the ugly truth.
Cancer, you guys. Fucking cancer. This is two cats in two years, now, cancer. And letās not even GO INTO my father.
But all the fist-shaking and fuck-cancer in the world doesnāt actually stop it. And in the week I had Katie after the diagnosis I tried to take stock. For the first 24 hours I couldnāt stop crying. From Wednesday night until Friday morning I was wracked with the unfairness of it, even though I know cancer has nothing to do with āfairness.ā When I woke up Friday morning, preparing to pick up the steroids that would give Katie that one last relatively happy and comfortable week, I felt worlds better.
Cancer robs us, it does. It takes away the people and creatures we love. But it canāt actually take away what matters most about them: the love we have for them, and they for us. Cancer cackles like a demon but cannot take away that which built the joy we are losing. And since it is impartial, there is no self-blame. No guilt. Nothing I did gave my cat cancer. Hell, I saved my cat from cancer in the first place, sort of. The whole reason she was at the animal shelter when I adopted her was that her original owner got cancer and had to surrender her pets because she couldnāt care for them. Katie, a cancer orphan, came into my life and helped me thumb my nose at cancer in that little way.
But that little way is what matters. Every time, in that last week with her, that she rubbed noses with Desmond or gave me a head-bonk or slept curled up next to me, that was thumbing our noses at cancer. Cancer, you may take this sweet kitty away, but you wonāt take away the two lovely years I had with her. And you canāt take away the love I could give her right up until the end, when the wonderful hospice vet arrived to do the at-home euthanasia. It was comfortable and kind and stress-free, and it released her from suffering. It released her from cancer, and she still remains the loving little cat I got to spend all that lovely time with. I wish there had been more of it, but I know we made the very best of it we could.
The last time I went on retreat at Holy Cross Abbey in Berryville, VA, it was the tenth anniversary of 9/11. This time, the day after I returned from my retreat two bombs were detonated at the finish line of the Boston Marathon.
Itās inauspicious, but in a strange way the retreat prepared me for both situations. In 2011, I was concerned about there being too much heaped on the anniversary, too much poking of wounds, too much use of the ghost of the attacks as a reason to stir up jingoistic sentiments that make me deeply uncomfortable. Instead of focusing on what the world wanted me to focus on, that anniversary day, I could focus on what I wanted to focus on. That was forgiveness.
On Monday the 15th, when the attack happened in Boston, once again I found that my retreat experience allowed me to remain calm and responsive in what I felt was a more productive way. Sympathy, sadness, yes – but I looked away from links labeled āWARNING GRISLY PHOTOSā and was able to take a deep breath in the face of the stare-at-the-car-wreck mentality that often takes over. My main window to the events that Monday was the internet, and the internet is very, very good at the car wreck mentality.
It is also very good at communication, and humanizing, and opening doors, if you let it. It was important to me to keep a measured, calm perspective on the events. Not to diminish them or their seriousness, rather to diminish my own sense of helplessness.
At the monastery they now offer green burial. I spent a lot of time walking around the grounds, picking my way down to the banks of the Shenandoah and thinking that if my life, whenever it ends, could be lifted away on a breeze in a place that beautiful, then that would be all right. We all go. None of us get to stay. It is a terrible shame when anyone does not get what we consider a full measure of life; to have the measure of our life shortened by the hatred of another is absolutely one of the worst sins and horrors that any human can commit. But there is still beauty in life, absolutely everywhere. In people extending hands of help and healing in a time of crisis. In flowers growing in a still wood. It is harder to see in dirty tears on frightened faces, but somewhere, it is there. I didnāt know anyone personally affected by what happened in Boston. But it is a comfort that it affected so many, because it affected our common human bond. The worst part of cowardly acts such as planting a bomb and walking away is the utter disregard it shows for the common family of humanity.
Maybe my retreat weekends are a good spiritual shelter-in-place. Not to keep out anything that may harm but to reinforce the strength we all can draw on from inside. When I came back, I felt rested and renewed and ready to deal with those most human bonds.
This weekend I reached a milestone. Iāve written before about the fact that Iāve always been heavy. Iāve written before about the circuitous illogic I have used in the past to keep from pressuring myself to lose weight, or even just to take better care of myself. From those known quantities, I avoided …well, quantification for a long time. I didnāt own a scale and back in the day I didnāt go to doctors all that much, so I got weighed maybe once a year or so tops. At some point, and I donāt remember when, but it was slightly pre-2000 (when health issues started me on the long march of much more frequent doctor visits), I tipped the scale at 275 pounds.
The thing is, I donāt want to focus just on number of pounds lost. Thatās obfuscating and frustrating and can be a trigger for some people. And yet. I was tired, and when I got sick I was that too. As treatment made me feel better I started, for some reason, doing Tae-Bo in the mornings. There was an 8-minute tape, the quick morning workout, and I would do it maybe three days a week. Eight minutes. Three days a week. 24 minutes total. And even that little bit helped, so out of shape was I.
That was the start of my way out – of my own head, and my own weird issues about weight and numbers. I didnāt have to take anything away, I thought. I merely had to add exercise. And so for a few years thatās what I did. And it worked! I didnāt really get into weighing myself so I donāt really know quite how quickly pounds went, but they did. Eventually.
In 2007 I was diagnosed with Type II diabetes. The time had come, the nutritionist said, to change the way I ate. (Actually if the time had come a few years earlier I might have put off this diagnosis, but that is not what happened and not worth fussing over at this point.) At that time I believe I weighed around 240. I got more serious about exercise, making sure I was going to the fitness room every morning, and I did change my diet. Mainly by cutting carbs, but it was something. And to make up for the cut carbs I had to eat something, so at last I turned to more fruits and vegetables. Grudgingly, sure, but I did it.
After a couple years I got down into the 180s pretty consistently. Then in 2009, when my father passed away, I gained about 10, maybe 15 pounds back. I didnāt worry about it too much. I hovered in the 190s. Then I hovered around 200. Then this summer I realized I was over 200 as often as I was under. And I was tired of it. There is so much that is harder to change, I realized.
Understanding Iām worth the effort. Understanding all my problems wonāt be solved by losing weight. Understanding that working on this doesnāt excuse me from working on other things. Understanding that all of this change takes time. Understanding that itās not fair that I have to write down everything I eat and measure stuff. Understanding that it is not about ānot fair,ā itās about doing the things that even the field. That make up for what nature didnāt give me.
This morning, and yesterday morning, and two days is a trend, I weighed 174.6. Iām not skinny and I never will be. I love every stupid frustrating minute – month – year this took, and I realize itās not over. I realize the effort has to be habit. I realize the habit pays off.
I wanted to post a ābeforeā and āafterā picture, but I had trouble finding a decent picture of me from the pre-digital era. I got my first digital camera in 2003, and didnāt realize how much easier (and less stupidly self-indulgent) it made self-portraits. Anyway, so I have no idea what the hell I am wearing on my head in the ābeforeā picture. It is from Christmas 1998. It is kind of ridiculous, but Iām not here to ridicule. Somewhere in me then was the seed of who I am now, and Iām thankful for that. Hereās to you and your absurd sense of haberdashery, 1998 Me! And 2013 me…it really probably is about time you got a full-length mirror. Sometimes it is honestly okay to be able to see if your shoes match your shirt.
Earlier this afternoon I saw a fox fight. I saw a good number of other natural, outdoorsy-type things as well, but I have to say the fox fight was the coolest.
Itās been another strangely un-snowy winter here, maybe still making up for the ridiculous Snowmageddon winter four years ago. Or maybe just because the proper low-pressure systems arenāt meeting up with the right solid-frigid high-pressure systems. At any rate, when we got an inch of powder on Wednesday night with promises of another inch or so on Friday, I hatched a plan. Last week, while volunteering for the National Day of Service, I went to the Howard County Conservancy for the first time. Iāve lived in Howard County for nine years now, and I had no idea it existed until I signed up for the volunteer gig. We had a beautiful sunny day out attacking invasive plant species (futile, but necessary) and I was impressed with the facility, most of all the 232 beautiful acres I hadnāt known about in my more-or-less backyard.
My plan, with our few inches of powdery snow, was to go for a sunny, snowy tromp. Today, a blank-slate Saturday, would be the day. I let myself sleep until I was done (a luxury!), then got up, ate breakfast, showered, and headed out. I wore leggings under my jeans which turned out to be a brilliant idea. When I pulled into the parking lot, there was only one other car there (the Conservancy is not actually open on Saturdays in winter – you can walk the grounds, but there are no open buildings, programs, restrooms, etc.). I took only my car keys and my phone, in case I wanted to snap a picture or something. The snow was already melting under the bright sun, though it was but 29 degrees outside. The sound under my boots was still satisfyingly crunchy as I headed for the woods.
I tried to identify tracks in the snow. Some of them were easy: rabbits, squirrels, deer. A few other people had already been there, along with at least one dog. There were tiny trails that probably belonged to field mice. There were delicate bird trails. There was some kind of three-pronged track that I was utterly unable to identify, and my hazarded guesses were pretty slapdash. (āSome sort of overgrown emu?ā) The week before, working near a stream, Iād seen some unusual prints in the mud on the bank. āDo we know what these tracks might be?ā I yelled to anyone in my vicinity. They werenāt deer tracks, that was for sure. Our volunteer guide looked and said, āMight be someoneās dog.ā When he saw my crestfallen look, he said, āOr it could be a coyote. We do get coyotes here.ā I perked right up. A coyote track was much more interesting than a dog track.
This morning, I walked and walked, only occasionally puzzling over those three-pronged tracks (which I saw over and over). It was quiet and still. Eventually I ran into the one other human there, who had come in the lone other car. He had a fancy camera and tripod set up near an eagle observation point. We exchanged pleasantries, and I walked on as he fussed with his gear. I rounded a corner, turning onto the leg back towards where Iād started, and a bunch of birds lit up from a stream-bed in an alarmed fashion. āItās cool, guys,ā I said quietly as I stood still and watched them light on branches. The birds were all robins, which was a little startling to see in January, but nice. I watched them for a few minutes and got distracted by a gentle tapping, which was caused by another bird pecking determinedly at a small branch. I suppose it was a woodpecker, but tapping on a tiny branch like that seemed somewhat futile. Maybe it was another type of bird tapping for a non-food purpose? I made a mental note to check when the local birding organization took walks at the Conservancy, and moved on.
Near the end, in sight of the parking lot, there was another trail off to my left. The marker said āHawkās Nest Trail, 0.3 mi.ā That didnāt sound daunting. I started walking up that trail and hadnāt gotten 50 feet when I heard a horrible scream. It was one of the weirdest sounds I have ever heard in nature, although as a lifelong suburbanite itās not exactly as though Iāve heard lots of weird nature sounds that werenāt in zoos. Then more loud, quavering sorts of shouts. My first thought was, cat fight. But I didnāt think there were any types of cats there, and after hearing a few more awful yelps and yowls, I realized they were not feline. I had frozen in place when it started, and now that I was alert I heard the crashes in the underbrush. They were up a hill, then rounding down closer. Something, several somethings, were very angry and moving closer to me. For a minute I felt fear, then I remembered that I have already been vaccinated for rabies. (Comes in handy sometimes, that does. Like when I take trash out and thereās a raccoon hanging out by the dumpster, and Iām like, āYo, what up, raccoon?ā instead of worrying if he or she is out in a little too much daylight for comfort.) I stood still listening to the horrible guttural sounds for a few more moments, then the rustlings in the underbrush turned to actual, enormous, gorgeous, bright red, very angry foxes. Foxes! FOX FIGHT! I was fascinated. There were at least three, but I only got good looks at two. They ranged down the hill and back up, over to the path Iād just turned off of and back into the brush, making a godawful racket the whole time. While I craned my neck off to the left to try to track one, I didnāt notice another one had stopped to notice me. Less than 20 feet away, there he or possibly she was, staring at me. I looked back at the fox for a minute then it trotted away. I didnāt hear any more shouting. The rustlings diminished. Whatever got those foxes all fired up, it was over. I waited a few more minutes to see if anything else exciting would happen, but all was quiet again. I decided to leave the rest of Hawkās Nest Trail for another time. I turned to go back, and ran into the photographer from earlier.
Fully out of nature suddenly, talking with another human being, laughing about whatever I must have done to cause the fox fight, I happily seized on a chance to tell the rabies-shots story, because that one never gets old. But I never stopped being thankful Iād gotten to see that, even if I never thought to get my phone, with its camera, out of my pocket.
Hello, 2013. Iāve been utterly at a loss as to what to write or say in here, as it always seems there is So! Much! Going! On! And so there is, always, somewhere, for someone. Thereās no reason to stop writing, though. Even if I canāt quite figure out what to say. Sometimes itās enough to say, I took a beautiful walk and saw three foxes fighting, and they screamed fair to bring down the sky.
I have another recipe to share!
Itās not my intention to have a cooking blog, though sometimes I clasp my hands dramatically and lift my too-wide eyes to the heavens with the hearty wish that I had picked a damn theme for the blog. But I didnāt. So you get what you get! Today it is a recipe!
A few weeks ago I came home from work one evening to a wonderful smell filling the hallway in my apartment building. Apartments have their share of upsides and downsides, and smelling-what-everyone-else-is-cooking can honestly fall on either side. On the upside, Sunday brunch of bacon and eggs! A delicious cake! On the downside, organ meats. Smelling something delicious can be an upside and a downside simultaneously, as demonstrated by my inner monologue:
SMART HALF OF MY BRAIN: Boy, that Sunday brunch someone is making smells delicious!
DUMB HALF OF MY BRAIN: It sure does! Letās make waffles!
SHOMB: No, no. We donāt have time, and we donāt need waffles.
DHOMB: Sure we do! They smell so good!
SHOMB: They do. Theyāre delicious, but we totally do not need the carbs and piles of sugar.
DHOMB: Those wonāt be a problem.
SHOMB: Of course they will.
DHOMB: Nope. Got a thing going. With the pancreas. Weāre cool.
MY PANCREAS: What?
DHOMB: Our deal! If we eat waffles, remember? Mmm, slathered in maple syrup.
SHOMB: Great. You made our pancreas faint dead away. Also, do I need to remind you that we just ate a delicious breakfast?
DHOMB: It was okay.
SHOMB: It was more than okay. It was great. It was the finest breakfast ever concocted by humankind. The mere thought of that breakfast should keep other food-thoughts away for days.
DHOMB: Donāt forget to add maple syrup to the shopping list.
SHOMB: Got it.
But sometimes I come home and smell something delicious being cooked by a neighbor, and it reminds me there are delicious things that I can cook, too! For myself! That wonāt cause various body parts to revolt!
The other week it was spaghetti sauce. One of three recipes passed down to me by my father, a man of many fine qualities but usually no skill or patience or grace in the kitchen whatsoever. I donāt know what about these few dishes distinguished them to the point where my father would not just consent to making them but enjoy making them, but Iām grateful for it.
But enough chitchat. You guys want spaghetti sauce! Let me say right up front that we are not Italian. As far as I know we have zero Italian heritage whatsoever. And I donāt think this sauce is genuine…anything, really. Other than delicious! This is not a recipe that my father ever wrote down. (Like most of his, it probably came from the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook originally, but changed over time.) When I moved out, I told him I wanted to learn how to make it, so he had me watch/help him make it. Itās dead easy. Here it is!
Note One: I have actually changed it a lot since Dad taught it to me, but the basic idea is the same.
Note Two: The last recipe I posted also had a vegan version. This SO doesnāt.
1 lb ground turkey
turkey pepperoni (to taste, I use a little more than what they call āa servingā on the package)
2 tbs olive oil
Garlic (minced, diced, powdered, smashed, I donāt care, just get lots of it!)
1 32 oz can tomato sauce (is it 32 oz? The big can. You know.)
1 6 oz can tomato paste (The little can)
Cut up your onion and get a big olā stewpot or saucepan heating up over mediumish heat. Dump the olive oil in there (all amounts are guesses on my part except the one-pound-of-meat thing) (and canned stuff) (obviously). Soon as theyāre chopped, throw in the onions. Then grab your trusty Worcestershire sauce (I use Lea & Perrins because I am an enormous snob) (Also I bought it like six years ago) and dump some on in there. I have no idea how much. A goodly amount – several tablespoonsā worth. It will start smelling awesome almost immediately. Add the ground turkey and let the whole thing brown nicely. While thatās browning, cut up the turkey pepperoni. I just pile up the pre-sliced pieces and cut them into small strips. Dump those into the pot. Also dump in a bunch of garlic. I tend to have jars of minced garlic and powdered garlic, so I use both of those. Once everything is happily browned and the ground meat shows no more pink, open your cans of tomato substances and dump āem on in. Stir the whole mess real good and lower the heat about as low as you can. Once itās stirred together, taste a tiny bit. Figure out how much more garlic you need (duh of course you need more garlic) and also salt, if any. Usually I do add a little bit. Itās rare for me to add salt to anything but even just a little bit helps kick this up to the right degree of tanginess. If youāre not sure, just donāt add it. It can be added later after all. Anyway, then leave it on low and walk away for a few hours. Donāt actually walk far, I mean, this is a stove. Stir it every so often, especially if you have a gas stove like me and tend to have a little concentrated ring of heat where stuff sticks to the bottom of the pot.
Anyway, when itās done, which is two hours/until you canāt stand it anymore, turn off the heat and stir. Dump over whatever type of pasta floats your boat. It has so much meat in the sauce you donāt really need an alternate protein source. If you want a yummy one-bowl meal, steam up a little broccoli and dump it in with the pasta and sauce.
This recipe makes a whack-ton of sauce but it freezes really well. Put some up in the freezer for later chowing down!
When I was a child my mind would wander during church. Mostly it wandered towards earthly things, but I have a fairly distinct memory of a particular daydream Iād return to again and again. I would close my eyes during some part of the service, one of the long stretches of sitting or kneeling. I would think about all of those people in that one place, all praying. Iād get a sort of visualization, an image of some visible type of spirit rising up from out of all of us, coming together over our heads, somehow elevating or lifting each little prayer into one larger voice.
Mostly as a child I had the faith of a child, of course. I loved the Catholic church very deeply because it was a place of rules and order, a place that had an answer for almost anything my questioning mind would ask. The expectations of my church, what I perceived as my God, were clear. Nowhere did they say I should sit and visualize the power of human spirits acting together.
But then again, they didnāt say that I shouldnāt. As I grew and struggled – with the church, with God, with expectations – what kept me interested in the struggle was that overarching feeling that I sometimes got in church. That feeling of being part of something larger. When I was a child, I thought that was God. When I got older, I thought it was human energy. I just knew I felt a connection and peace in prayer, even in the midst of my struggles, providing I could clear my head and heart enough to pray.
When I left the Catholic church the first time, I distinctly remember saying that I would still have a spiritual practice. I would go in the woods, and experience holiness directly! I would be attune to the wonder in the beauty of the world! I would tend my struggling spirit!
Right, sure. I didnāt do that at all. Not for years. Not that I was incapable of appreciating beauty, or of having a sense of wonder, but I never thought about that strange sense of overarching connection. I studied mythology and folklore in college. I was fascinated by the idea that all human societies invented gods and religions. With the arrogance of youth buoyed up by stuff straight out of textbooks, I declared that impulse all of God there was. Just a striving in us for answers, I thought. Probably a biological imperative. Obviously its final pathway was science, and eventually weād all just evolve out of needing religion and be terribly brilliant and enlightened. While shunning the idea of enlightenment.
Enlightenment is such a wonderful term, for a wonderful idea. Yesterday I attended a new member class at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia, a valuable experience. We talked about many things in a wide-ranging conversation on faith, including an exercise where we were to write down our own beliefs. When we talked about the ideas we had behind various āloadedā religious words, we got to āsoul,ā which I found simple. Light, I thought (and said). The light, the spark, the divine in us all. The light we seek. That biological imperative. The questions we ask. The joy that lights our faces at a beautiful song or an amazing view or a stunning new scientific discovery.
Iāve been attending UUCC for about two months, and I can already feel the ways I am changing in response to finding a faith community that honors that light in everyone. My struggling spirit will likely never cease its struggle until it ceases to be. Despite my many positive experiences since returning to the Catholic church 8 years ago, that struggle never fit. I didnāt feel that overarching bond very much. There was light, yes. That light is everywhere. But it was hard to find, harder than it should be. It was growing increasingly difficult to find within myself. The first time I attended a service at the Unitarian Universalist community, I found myself weeping, experiencing the kind of joy I havenāt felt in church in a long, long time.
Lately I know Iāve been pretty quiet here on the blog. Part of it has to do with all the inward-looking stuff Iāve been doing in the past two months since joining this new community. Part of it has to do with all the changes that were happening in order for me to see my path to that community. Part of it has to do with never knowing quite how to present these Big Ideas. Part of has to do with the fact that so much has been going on I have no idea how to cover it all. Anyway, I hope I can start sharing more stuff here, big and small. Maybe Iāll focus on small.
But in the meantime, you know, here is the next enormous step on my lifetime spiritual journey! Next, a funny story about work! Or the cats! Or this hurricane!
My parents werenāt good cooks. They were very good providers, certainly, and we never worried about having our basic needs met. There was always breakfast, lunch, and dinner and Iām grateful for it. But they had no love of food, no creative spark. It really wasnāt cooking, what they did. It was heating food. The menu from week to week was dishearteningly similar, and as such it took me a long time to get more adventurous with food and cooking.
Or maybe I learned to do it because man do I ever love baked goods. Cookies, muffins, cake. I would happily eat a fresh-baked brownie sooner than almost anything else in the world. Once I figured out that baking wasnāt so hard really, it just required strict attention to detail, I began doing it more and more.
Unlike cooking, which often rewards improvisation, baking really doesnāt support it unless you know what youāre doing. On a food science level, for a long time, I did not. So I never altered a recipe, just found ones I liked and made them over and over again. Over time, as I learned more about what ingredients played what roles, I got interested. I couldnāt see making up a recipe out of whole cloth, exactly, but I could see playing with one.
And so I did! In fact I turned this recipe around so much I could almost call it entirely my own. Itās pumpkin pound cake and despite a few things Iād still like to work out regarding texture, Iām proud of it. Iām especially proud because I experimented and made stuff up without fear of failure. Maybe the kitchen is a good ground for that, because I am fortunate enough to be able to afford to make some mistakes.
For health reasons, I removed the eggs. For a friend with a few dietary restrictions, I came up with the vegan version. Both are yummy! I will present the main recipe then afterward I will note the vegan substitutions I made.
PUMPKIN POUND CAKE
Preheat oven to 325 F and grease and flour a Bundt or tube pan (10ā).
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 cups pumpkin
2 3/4 cups flour
1/2 cup sour cream
2 3/4 cups sugar
1/2 pound (2 sticks) butter
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
(or whatever spice mixture you prefer for pumpkin flavored things)
In a stand mixer or with a hand mixer in a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter, sugar, and sour cream. Sift the baking soda and flour together in a separate bowl. Gradually add the sifted flour to the creamed mixture alternating with heaping tablespoons of pumpkin. Add the vanilla and the spices, mix, and pour the mixture into your prepared Bundt or tube pan. Bake for 1 hour 20 minutes.
Earth Balance buttery spread instead of butter, maintain proportions
Vegan sour cream (I used Tofutti), maintain proportions
Ensure vegan sugar – turbinado or another āevaporated caneā process, not the kind that uses bones or horseās hooves or whatever.
Iāve made this twice now and tweaked it each time. This is a heavy cake – to be expected, itās pound cake! I believe that the next time I make it I will increase the baking soda to a full teaspoon, since it is the only leavening agent left in without eggs to help give it a lighter texture. The calorie content doesnāt change significantly with the vegan substitutes, and itās a whopper cake – approximately 480 calories for 1/12th of a cake (a respectable-sized slice out of my Bundt pan). But without egg and, in the vegan version, dairy, the cholesterol and fat are definitely cut.
Because it is pound cake and thatās what I do with pound cake, I slather mine with chocolate syrup. If you are fond of pound cake but not so much pumpkin, you can substitute unsweetened applesauce for the pumpkin. The proportions are unlikely exactly the same as applesauce is wetter and sweeter than canned pumpkin. If I made a āplainā version I would probably experiment with one cup of applesauce and maybe a little less actual sugar.
Enjoy in good health! If I come up with anything else non-deadly, I will share.
Itās been another year, and I was thinking it would be a good time to share another Dad story. I got kind of caught up inside my own brain for a while, thinking of recent changes in my life, the way Dadās memory influences me and affects me still. Iāve been doing a lot of thinking about how his calling affected my own spirituality, for instance, and the nature of reconciliation and forgiveness.
Honestly, though? This is a blog. Itās a public place for sharing, and all that stuff is stuff I feel Iāve barely begun to figure out. What Iād prefer to do is celebrate the joy of his life, not the pain of his loss. What Iād really like to do is share something fun.
I will tell you how my father taught me that jokes never, ever have to die.
In the early ā80s, Trivial Pursuit was a huge trendy thing, so I really have no idea how my family ever stumbled across it. But we did, and we embraced it with gusto. A fun game the whole family could play! That wasnāt UNO! (We played A LOT of UNO over the years. We about wore the fur off the cards.) At first weād play with mixed-age teams, meaning one parent and one child on each team. But my brother is nine years older than me and was legally an adult by the time the game came out, so in short order we figured out the preferred pairing was kids vs. parents. Sure, being young and hip we had certain advantages, but my parents, being old and wily, had their own.
We had our strong and weak categories, which we of course learned to use against each other when selecting the final question. Watching our parents try to tackle an Arts and Entertainment question that focused on anything post-1960 was hilarious! As, Iām sure, was watching my brother and I tackle any professional-sports-based question. One evening, we were having a rousing game. My parents landed on Arts and Entertainment. I am fairly certain it was for a pie wedge, too. My brother and I took turns reading the questions. I can no longer remember whose turn it was to read, but I know that whoever-it-was turned to the other to share the question. We giggled madly. No WAY would they get this. I wish I could remember the exact question but that was nearly 30 years ago. The gist was: āWhat British band made the album āThe Dark Side of the Moonā?ā
My brother and I grinned. I sat on my hands to keep from clapping them in glee. In my head, I thought āLED ZEPPELINā over and over again, forming a steady psychic stream of misinformation. No way were they using any hoodoo to get the answer out of my head! Mom and Dad rolled their eyes at each other. They quickly eliminated The Beatles. My brother and I grinned wider. At last my father threw up his hands and said, āPink Floyd.ā
Stunned silence. My brother and I stared at each other. My Dad knew right away heād gotten it right, because we werenāt openly cackling at his wrong answer. He could not stop crowing about it.
I want to say that this happened no later than 1984 or 1985. For the remaining 25 or so years of his life, my father would NOT let that go. He made Pink Floyd jokes at any opportunity. The default thing to guess for any Trivial Pursuit question that we did not know was Pink Floyd. We gave him a Pink Floyd album as a joke. My brother gave him a Pink Floyd t-shirt as a Christmas gag gift. And my father wore it proudly, even on vacation in Greece. When he opened the box containing the t-shirt, he exclaimed, as he so often found (or made up) reason to: āAll right! My man Pink!ā
Though I am fairly certain that whatever afterlife there may or may not be doesnāt involve our spirits sitting around and chit-chatting with other deceased persons, thereās a part of me that gets a kick out of the idea of my Dad telling that story to Syd Barrett. Or whoever will listen, frankly. Just like I just told it to you.
Love you and miss you always, Dad. Give my best to Syd.