Vegan feast

Once in a while we decide that it’s time to have a feast. The genesis for this idea came from my older brother. On his birthday, he makes food for people he cares about. His feasts are bigger and more elaborate than ours, from what I’ve heard. It’s an excellent idea, though, and since both Xander and I love to cook, it’s a lot of fun for us.

Our latest feast was in June. We had four adults and one other child at the table, so eight people all together. Xander took pictures of almost all the food. He made the majority of it.

Here is the menu, with pictures as available:
Hors d’oeuvres – Artichokes with Tri-Color Dip

The dips were a pesto with pine nuts, a beet dip, and a nut-based dip. All of them were quite good.

Soupe – Bloody Mary Soup with Cashew Horseradish Sauce
This was a nonalcoholic cold soup. The flavors were strong and unexpected; Xander described it as a cold tomato soup, which it was, but it really did taste like a Bloody Mary. The cashew horseradish sauce was quite tasty.

Entree – Portobello Mushrooms, Bell Peppers, and Asparagus with Peanut Sauce
This was really tasty. We love having a good farmer’s market here every Saturday, and the asparagus was perfect. The peanut sauce was good enough that some of it went home with the guests!

Trou Normand – Pickled Ginger and Green Tea
Xander made the pickled ginger. This was a very nice palate cleanser.

Salade – Assorted Hand Rolls
This was my dish. I timed it a little bit badly; you can’t make hand rolls in advance or the nori gets soggy, but I’m not very fast at them. Luckily no one was starving to death. The fillings were avocado with cashews, cucumbers with peanuts, and fried plantains with macadamia nuts. Xander fried the plantains, since I am still not a fan of frying things.

Plat Principale – Injera with Black Eyed Peas and Greens
We didn’t get a picture of this one. Xander has been experimenting with injera for about a month and it was very, very good. We always get a lot of greens with our CSA box, so this was a nice way to share them with people. Katja isn’t big on cooked greens but everyone else seemed to enjoy them.

Fruits et Noix – A Selection of Candied Nuts and Fruits
Xander found plums at the farmer’s market that were wonderfully juicy. The strawberries were quite good, too. There were two kind of candied nuts, one more traditional and one that had some heat to it.

Dessert et Cafe – Almond Milk Ice Cream and Black Tea
No picture for this one. Xander made the ice cream, which had ground-up bits of almond adding a very interesting texture, and the tea was strong.

The company was delightful, the food was good, we had a great time making all of it, and everyone left quite full. Definitely a good night!

In remembrance

A friend of mine died yesterday. She’d been very sick for a very long time. I was lucky enough to get to meet her once; I was even luckier to be able to have her as a friend and be her friend for years. She was a strong, fascinating, intelligent, caring person, and I will miss her very much.

I met her first when Xander was fencing. I did an online search for female fencers who blogged. I was learning some about being an armorer and Elizabeth was a very good fencer. We connected there and continued talking via blog posts, comments, and emails. She eventually became quite ill, but she remained herself, a person to be reckoned with.

One of the most amazing things that I will remember her for (the list is pretty long!) is that even when she felt most alone, she was still reaching out to people. She sent postcards to anyone who asked. She wanted to make sure that other people didn’t have to feel alone, and she was dedicated to this. She created The Postcard Project and sent out several thousand postcards. How long has it been since you got a postcard or a letter from someone? Handwritten, sometimes covered in stamps or stickers, made especially for you – these were the postcards Elizabeth sent out, often with the help of her wife, Linda, and a friend.

I started writing letters and postcards to people a while ago because of how happy I felt when I received one of Elizabeth’s postcards. I sent her a lot (though not nearly as many as she sent me, I’m sure) and it has become a habit; I write letters to certain people once a month at least. These are people who are important to me but are also, for whatever reasons, not people I talk to on the phone or email very much. I ramble about our life, what Katja is up to, what our plans are, and anything interesting going on at the moment that I’m writing. They aren’t fascinating or edgy or, probably, even terribly well-written. They are just a way to keep in touch, to let these people I love see a little slice of our life and know that I am thinking about them.

I have thought a lot since Elizabeth died about the connections I make over the internet. She inspired, challenged, encouraged, and, once or twice, even fought me. We stayed friends throughout, even though I know I seriously ticked her off (and vice versa) a few times. We cared about each other. My friendship with her meant more to me than many people I know “in real life”, as some define it. We chose to stay in touch, worked at it, and enjoyed our discussions. I can’t really express what she meant to me, but she was important.

I have some older relatives who don’t understand how someone from the internet could become such a dear friend. “How can it matter? You’ve only met her once!” That’s true, but I know her voice. I know how she writes, what she cares about, and what makes her laugh. I know that she was my friend and very dear to me. The end of last year I failed her, between moving and people getting sick and my surgery, but her wife wrote an email asking what was going on and I got back in touch. That happens with friends in the physical world, too, sometimes. Life gets busy. It doesn’t mean we stop caring.

I met her on the internet and we became friends. I am lucky to have gotten to know this amazing woman. Her wife, too, is quite incredible, though I don’t know her nearly as well.

One of Katja’s middle names is Elizabeth. That name is for two women: my maternal grandmother, who was funny and acerbic and smart, and this Elizabeth, my friend, the author, the person who cared about everyone, fed squirrels in the park, fenced, boxed, and pushed herself farther than anyone thought she could go. Both women meant a lot to me, and Katja will hear stories of both. Elizabeth McClung was big-F Family.

The world is a lesser place because Elizabeth has died.

Tuesday tidbits

We had a really great weekend, and Katja got to go on her first road trip.

Apparently Katja travels very well. She fussed a little when she got put into her carseat, but she settled down fast and went to sleep. We had to wake her up to be changed and fed. She seemed to enjoy meeting everyone, even though there were a lot of new people.

I was very happy to be able to catch up a little with people who matter to me. These are big-F family, people who have become Family because they are important to me and vice versa. We also got to see quite a few people in Xander’s family, which was nice, and they were all happy to meet Katja. My dad happened to be in the Bay Area during our visit, so we got to see him. I also got to meet one of the other IndieInk editors. None of us live very close to each other, so it was neat to actually be int he same room as one of them. Hopefully she wasn’t too overwhelmed. (Hi, Grace!) My godmother and her husband came, too, and they brought a beautiful, colorful quilt for Katja. It’s on the back of the couch in her room right now, and she often just stares at it, fascinated. I’ll be using it as one of her tummy time blankets soon since she likes the pattern so much.

We didn’t get quite enough sleep, but we managed to avoid getting crabby. I got to go running one morning, which is much easier when there’s some humidity and it isn’t freezing. I love running near the ocean. It’s much easier to run there than it is in the desert. My mouth doesn’t get dry, it’s easier to breathe, and my toes don’t go numb. It was pretty funny that I didn’t see anyone else out on the sidewalks or on a bike, but I suppose 6 AM on a Sunday is not prime time for exercise for most people.

It was a busy weekend, but I came back feeling refreshed and reminded of all of the wonderful people we are lucky enough to have in our life. We will try to get down more often to keep those connections strong.

Our new family member

On October 21, 2011, our daughter, Katja, was born. She had a bit of a hard time for the first five days, since she needed time in the NICU, but she’s fine and healthy now. I am deeply happy that our adoption journey is almost at an end and that we have such an amazing, beautiful little girl in our lives.

Here she is:

This is a picture of her while she was still hooked up to the machines and such; she looks much more like a baby and less like a cyborg now.

We’ll be setting up a private, password protected blog to write about her. If you’d like the link and password, please email me.

Comfort food

Stew sounded good tonight, but we didn’t have anything that seemed perfect to go into a stew, so I decided to skip perfection and just see what came out.

We have friends who hunt, and periodically we trade fresh bread for fresh meat. Some of it ends up in the freezer because we can’t finish all of it at once. One of the packages was elk stew meat, already chopped up into small-ish chunks. That seemed like a good place to start.

We always have stock of one sort or another, so I found beef stock and added that to my idea. Potatoes and carrots, which we generally have, were next, so I peeled the carrots, washed the potatoes, and chopped them. I found a can of stewed tomatoes and chopped those up, too. Oregano, marjoram, thyme, basil, bay, and a few cloves of garlic went in, as did salt and pepper. I decided I wanted more tomato once everything was cooked, so I added in some tomato paste, both as thickener and to get more of a tomato base.

It’s good. It isn’t amazing, but it suits my needs right now. I needed comfort food, and tomato soup is something that generally helps my state of mind. This is more like stew, but it fits. I remember, when I was little, when it rained we would get to go outside and play in the rain. When we came in, we’d dry off and climb into warm clothes, and by the time we came back up there would be tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches waiting for us. I don’t know how many times it happened, but that’s a memory that is comforting on many levels. I wanted a piece of that memory tonight. I didn’t want an exact replica, since I was not in the mood for grilled cheese, but the stew helped.

Sometimes food helps ground me. It reminds me of simple pleasures. Cooking something and then eating what I have cooked makes me happy, too. It is more satisfying than buying soup in a can or at a restaurant. I can spice it exactly to my taste, make as much or as little as I want, and add random things as they strike my fancy. I am still not used to throwing food together without a recipe, but I had fun tonight, and the results were quite good. I have lunch for a few days, too.


This week’s Indie Ink Writing Challenge was a good one for me; I love this subject.

I challenged The Onion, who did a nice job on her challenge, and my challenge this week comes from Jan. “Rain. What does it do to you? Write about a memory or a story that involves some powerful emotions and rain.” I amended it slightly because there isn’t one specific story to tell, but there are several small vignettes.

When it is raining outside, when it is pouring down and thundering through the sky, I sleep better than any other night. Even if it is just a light rain, the water pattering on the roof and the windows lulls me to sleep and holds me there all night until I wake, rested. I don’t always sleep very well, so when the rain comes it is a boon.

I sometimes sit outside and watch the rain fall on the plants that need it so much here. There is little rain, so it feels like the plants expand to catch all they can when it does come. I’m probably anthropomorphizing, but I can live with that.

I grew up in a place where it rained fairly often. It was generally a warm rain, so, when we were very little, our mother would let us go outside in almost no clothes and play in the puddles in the backyard. I would turn my face up and catch rain on my tongue, feeling it sliding over my face and into my hair. When we came inside, she would dry us off, tell us to get dressed, and sometimes, if we were lucky, she would make tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. I still love that as a meal.

I used to ride to school in the rain. I would take off my glasses and just go, everything in my backpack bagged so it wouldn’t get wet, no worries. I felt free, speeding down hills and meandering up them. I could ignore the traffic more easily because of the sound of the rain. I would get to school soggy and dripping, but the pool had warm showers after swimming practice anyway, so by the time I went to class I was warm and happy.

When I separated my shoulder and was impatient for it to heal, the rain would calm me enough that I could sit and read for hours. Some days I would pace, wanting to be moving more than I could, but rainy days I could settle and be glad that my arm had a chance to heal without more damage.

Rain brings me peace. Rain helps me remember spring, something in short supply in the desert. Rain keeps me from feeling lost and alone. Hot chocolate or cider when the day outside is dark and dripping feels cozy and comforting. Sometimes, on very bad days (of which there have been a few lately), a hard rain will come to the desert, and I will go out and stand under our huge maple tree, letting the rain pour down from the sky and pound all of my pain into the ground. I can feel my muscles relax as the water soaks me to the skin. I need the rain to be happy, I think, and sometimes I miss it a lot living here. Someday I will go back to a rainy place and I will remember more of why I love it.

IndieInk Challenge: Week 1

The Indie Ink editors have decided to issue writing challenges to each other every week to stretch our writing abilities. I like the idea. My first challenge was this:

“Best 300 words on how she knew her husband was to be her husband. No more than 300 words.”

To be completely honest, I didn’t have one shining moment, but here’s one that certainly played into it. Also, limiting me to a certain number of words made this much harder!

It was Thanksgiving with his whole family, and he decided it was time for me to be introduced. I had met a few of his siblings and his parents already, but not the cousins, aunts, uncles, or the matriarch. My family is very small, comparatively.

I admit to a certain amount of trepidation. I was head over heels in love with a great guy. I really liked the people in his family that I had already met, and they were very accepting towards me. I was a little worried that I wouldn’t fit in given my capitalistic tendencies and the fact that I’m not terribly artistic, but he said it would be fine.

I walked in to noise, color, and a lot of people. One of the aunts that married in sat me down and asked how much money I made. I managed “Enough!” with a grin, and she accepted it. Another aunt asked innumerable questions about my family. All of the cousins, most about my age, were friendly. Everyone was busy cooking or talking or drinking. I was assigned to get seeds out of pomegranates for a salad. I sat, warmed by the sun, surrounded by people talking and laughing and playing, watching everyone interact, and I felt apart, but not unwelcome.

His immediate family came in a wave of sisters and brothers and parents. His youngest sister jumped into my lap, narrowly missing the bowl of jewel-like seeds. “When are you going to marry my brother?”

I laughed. “We haven’t gotten that far yet!” Less than a year into this relationship, it hadn’t come up.

“We think he should keep you.”

I looked over at the kind, loving man who made me laugh and helped me heal, surrounded by his fascinating family, and thought, “That wouldn’t suck.”

Almost a new year

In 2010, we got the second opinion that confirmed our infertility. My grandmother stopped recognizing people she’d known for years, and when we were visiting she was afraid of Xander, which made me very sad. Worst of all, of course, was that my younger brother died. There are days that I still want to just curl up and make the world go away when I think about that. Last night I said it was a very good thing that we were going out for Chinese food on Christmas because Daniel loved Christmas and if we just stayed home I might have a very hard evening. Chinese food is something to look forward to, though, and we’ll figure out a movie to see so I can relax and enjoy the evening. The final little piece from 2010 (and I’m just going on hope, here, that nothing else will blow up before January 1) was that the first adoption agency we applied to rejected us with no explanation other than a form letter and a general comment about “not enough babies, too many families.” That did not make me very happy, either.

2011 will be better. One way or another. I’m declaring it. I probably shouldn’t, but I feel the need to look forward to the new year rather than be terrified of how much more could go wrong.

At this point, we have been accepted by an adoption agency and we know who will be doing our home study. We can start tentatively moving forward. We have something new to think about and work towards. On some level it would be easier to just go forward as we have been doing, use the income we have to work more on the house, get another car to help with the periodic transportation issues, and let go of the idea of having a child. On the other hand, though, we both want a baby and we’re not willing to give up yet. We’ll keep reassessing, but for the moment we both want to try this avenue.

I’m not expecting the new year to be perfect. In my 35 years so far, no year has been without its challenges, at least not that I remember. No year has been without pieces of good, though, either. This year we became closer friends with several people, I got a teenager involved in belly dancing, I started learning Zumba, Xander graduated and got his teaching credential for what he wants to do, I got my hair cut and it looks good, and I get to spend a lot more time with Xander because I only have one job. It hasn’t been an unrelentingly bad year, just very hard on many levels.

I hope next year will have less hard things to deal with and more happy parts. I can’t expect that, exactly, but I can hope.

I’m cleaning house right now both literally and figuratively. I’m working on what I need and what I don’t, what I want to do and what is habit that doesn’t help. I cleaned my office last weekend and will do more work on it this weekend. The house is very clean right now and I will try to keep it that way. I need to extend that to the yards sometime soon. For the moment, though, walking in to see a clean house, knowing that everything at home, at least, is pretty stable, is a good thing. I can hold onto the work we’ve done, everything we’ve been through, that makes our marriage stable, makes our house a home.

I will move into the next year more confident, more relaxed, more rested, more sad, and more joyful. Life is not simple, but perhaps
next year will be a little easier.

Daniel in pictures

I will almost never talk about dreams while blogging. This is a very minor exception. I dreamed last night about Daniel, about missing something important, and he asked for help with something. I woke up thinking about the various ways I could help get over the hurdle. I had a hard time getting back to sleep, and then I realized what I hadn’t in the dream: he’s dead. I forgot. For about ten minutes I lay in bed trying to think of ways to help him with something and I forgot that I can’t, that he’s dead.

The family put together pictures of Daniel. My sister scanned them and sent out a CD. I’m going to use a few of them as something of an illustration of who he was and why he was so dearly loved by so many.

This is going to be a bit scattered – please bear with me.

Daniel was incredibly cute as a baby and toddler. I know all little kids are cute, and I’m admittedly rather biased, but I think he was adorable.

He really loved dogs and enjoyed training them. He apparently picked that up from being around the rest of us. It certainly wasn’t formal training, but all of the dogs we grew up with were often in obedience classes at one level or another.

He loved to perform for us. He danced, sang, played on instruments, and made people smile.

He loved the musical Cats by Andrew Lloyd Weber. Our mom made him costumes for Mr. Mistoffelees and Skimbleshanks, and he was extremely proud of them and loved them. He knew every part that each cat played in the performance. When he got to go see a performance, he talked about it for a long time, even on the phone. He wasn’t much for talking on the phone, but for that, he’d make an exception and tell me all about it. He would sit down and watch Cats anytime anyone wanted to, and he had the music memorized.

I think the happiest I remember him was the day he graduated high school.

He enjoyed cooking. He didn’t like talking to people he didn’t know, but he was funny and wonderful once he let you in. He was sometimes a pain, as little brothers are. He was more important to me than I know how to express. He had a wonderful smile. He loved baseball and basketball. He liked to eat, too. Here are a few of my favorite pictures of him:

I miss him more than I know how to handle. He was an integral part of our family. He was deeply loved. He was a complicated, interesting, funny, smart, amazing person, and he is and will always be sorely missed. The pictures only capture pieces of who he was, and I wish I had the words to show you more.

Thinking about kids

I recently came across the term “sparents”, people who don’t have children but still have a powerful impact on the lives of children. They can be relatives or friends. They take an interest in the child and provide another safe adult to help get through life.

First of all, I really hate the term. Just because we don’t have kids doesn’t mean that we are spare anythings. It is a cute nickname, but not my style at all.

Secondly, while “It takes a village to raise a child” is an overused cliche at this point, on some level I agree. The more people children have around that they can trust and talk to, the better off they’ll be. It’s important to have different viewpoints and it’s important for children to be able to talk to people other than their parents. Some discussions are just easier if you can have them with another adult or even just try them out before getting it together enough to feel like you can talk to your parents.

Third, though, I really don’t like the insinuation that people aren’t worth anything unless they have something to do with raising children. That’s ridiculous, and it makes me angry.

We’re lucky enough to be honorary aunt and uncle to two children. At some point, we may have nieces and nephews. Hard to tell. I enjoy having children in my life and I look forward to watching them grow up. I like seeing how they see the world and, sometimes, tilting it a little so they see things slightly differently.

That’s me, though. I don’t think that any person who doesn’t have children should be expected to have a drive to be part of the lives of children because otherwise their lives would not have meaning. I don’t think it should be assumed that someone who doesn’t have children automatically yearns for that kind of relationship. I’m pretty sure at least a couple of friends of my parents left our house at times thinking “I’m so glad I don’t have to deal with those on a regular basis!”

I think what I’m trying to say is that it shouldn’t be assumed by anyone that someone else wants to spend time with their kid(s). The two for whom we are honorary aunt/uncle are kids whose parents are very important to us. In the older one’s case, we like her in her own right, too. She’s smart, interesting, and funny, and she has had enough experiences in her life that she loves to learn new things. We don’t know the younger one very well yet, but with parents like hers, she’s bound to be an interesting person.

I’m not really talking about infertility here, but the effects of it. We can’t have kids. I’m mostly all right with that (although mother’s day is not my favorite day of the year!) and I’m looking forward to being part of the lives of other peoples’ children, as much as the parents and the two of us are all comfortable with. I don’t want people (other than those two families) to assume that because we don’t have kids and we did want them that we are automatically going to be happy to be extra babysitters.

Hmm. This is coming out a little bit angrily, and I don’t mean it to. If we offer to babysit, it’s one thing. If, however, someone says, “Oh, you’re good with kids, and you aren’t busy that night anyway, are you? So you could spend the evening chasing after my little perfect peach,” that’s something completely different.

We’re going to continue to have an interesting life. We’re going to be happy to include some children in that life when it works out. I don’t think that anyone should make assumptions about how much we, or any other person who doesn’t have children, should be willing to include children in our lives. The article irritated me on some level because it felt a little like the author was saying that unless people were involved in a child’s life they weren’t really important, and I disagree with that. It may feel true from a parent’s standpoint. It certainly isn’t true from mine.

If you have kids, if I like your kids, if I would enjoy spending time with them, I’ll let you know. I’m pretty sure most people would. I don’t like people making assumptions about me or us just because we did want children and can’t have any.