Monday, March 23, 2015

Joy

Thank you all so much for your comments and emails after my last post - they mean so much to me. I'm nowhere near caught up and I'm still feeling a bit confused and lost and I'm accepting that the feeling probably won't go away for a while.

But right now I'm up north and mildly sleep deprived for the happiest reason - my sister had her baby last week! We're overwhelmed with joy and I'm getting as much time with my little niece as I can before I have to head back home. I know our dad was beyond excited to meet his first grandchild and it feels a little bittersweet as we cuddle her on his old couch, telling her about him. But mostly just sweet, because we know how happy this would have made him. As distractions go, you can't do much better than a baby. I have a few photos on the camera but god knows how long it'll take me to get them off the camera, so I've been relying heavily on my phone. Here are a few tiny snippets.

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{baby feet!}

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{birthday celebration}

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{because hospital meals suck}

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{flowers and citrus}

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{big sister}


Monday, March 9, 2015

Dad


off-shore rig in Dubai
{dad in dubai, circa 1983}

My amazing, indomitable father died on Tuesday, February 24th, after living with cancer for five years. We thought it was just a flare up of the same issues that landed him in the hospital last month, until it got worse, quickly. I drove straight to the hospital from a work meeting on Friday night, crying as I crawled through LA traffic. My sister got permission to fly down and on Saturday our family made the difficult decision to stop all medical interventions. The next four days were physically and emotionally exhausting. Watching my father die was the hardest thing I've ever done. We spent a week planning the memorial service and I existed out of time, wading through memories, wholly focused on honoring him and his life. And now it's over and I feel small and lost. Last week I went back to my normal life and it's just hard to understand how everything keeps moving along as if nothing has happened when there is this huge, gaping hole in the world. I'm trying to figure out how to keep going when just doing the usual things - showering, buying groceries, going to work - leaves me feeling exhausted and worn thin.

I had a post in my drafts that I had been writing for a while, just to help me process everything that was happening. I wasn't sure if I was going to share it or not but I think it's important, to me, maybe to anyone else who is living in this state of uncertainty.

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My dad was diagnosed with advanced liver cancer just a few weeks after Dustin and I announced our engagement. We spent the week before Christmas that year in the hospital, where they told us we'd be lucky to have six months together. It was more than any of us could handle, this news. And then we were lucky, unbelievably lucky. We got more than six months. We had our wedding and my dad was there to dance with me. We had four more Christmases. My sister announced her pregnancy and my dad was over the moon, expecting his first grandchild. The doctors had agreed on an unusual treatment and it worked better than they expected. We always knew it wasn't a cure. In the beginning we jumped through hoops, did weeks of testing, waited by the phone for days, to get my dad on the liver transplant list despite the size of his tumors. We stayed on the transplant list for a few months and felt hopeful. We explored temporarily relocating to another state with lower demand so that the transplant could come sooner. We cried when the tumor growth outpaced the treatments and we no longer qualified for the transplant list.

None of this is on the blog. There are lots of reasons that I don't write regularly about some of our family health issues. There's privacy, for one thing. My dad is a private person and these issues aren't mine alone and I'm not comfortable sharing in real time. There's avoidance, on my part. I prefer sharing the good bits here and not constantly re-hashing the disappointments. I try to avoid over thinking in person as well, but I'm not as successful.

So I've been quiet. But now we are at this point, the point where we are forced to admit that we're out of options. We've fought hard and we've tried everything we could. My dad has endured with good grace the endless rounds of appointments and scans, the painful treatments and long recoveries. We've endured living with death in the room for the last five years. It is wearing.

My dad was diagnosed with cirrhosis years ago, when I was in high school. He's an odd case, with no hepatitis, no alcohol use, none of the usual risk factors. They aren't sure why his liver is having so much trouble. Not having a reason is frustrating, which seems odd since the end result is the same.

We have spent five years in this limbo. Once our options ran out, it got harder. I dread every appointment, knowing that we have no chance of good news and a high chance of bad news. I'm relieved when there is no news, when we are on a plateau. We ask for timelines, percentages, chances. The doctors hedge, as we know they will, because predicting the progression of cancer in any given individual isn't just difficult, it's impossible. I know that but I still have to ask. My family is blunt, we do not dance around medical decisions, the doctors appreciate how comfortable we are with these discussions. My dad and stepmom make funeral arrangements, because it is practical. We go over memorial services. We make off color jokes about cremation.

I cry, not at the doctor's office, not in meetings, not in front of my dad. I cry in the shower, during TV commercials, on my bus ride home. I carry tissues everywhere. I finally accept that maybe I should try seeing a therapist and it's the right decision, but I cry even more. Apparently that's a good thing. I learn to stop telling myself that I'm doing a bad job dealing with this and just tell myself that yes, this is a shitty thing to have to deal with. I try to be nicer to myself. I fail a lot.

I am terrified. Liver failure can end particularly badly, not with bedside reminisces, but with an elevation in the ammonia levels in the brain that leave the patient paranoid, angry and often violent. I'm terrified that in his last moments my dad will be convinced that he hates us. I try to prepare myself to erase those moments but I'm not sure I can do it.

We exist in a tug of war, my dad and I. We talk about lots of things but avoid feelings as much as possible. We are trapped. I know that he needs comfort and care but he wants to be the one taking care of me. I want him to take care of me. I am an adult in every way, taking notes, researching medications, calling doctors. Inside I want to stay a child. I want my dad to fix things.

My dad tells me he has a savings account for his dog, to manage her expenses once he's gone. I cry every time I think about it.

There are so many different ways to lose someone. This drawn out loss is a blessing in some ways, the chance to prepare, to say things you want to say, and a curse in others. We are living with no hope* and it gets harder as every day goes by and the chances of bad news mount. I'm not sure I can handle it. I try to balance my time, seeing my dad as often as possible while still seeing my mom and my stepdad, D's parents, our friends. I feel guilty nearly all the time. There isn't enough of me to go around.

I save all my sick time, hoard my vacation days. I feel guilty because we still haven't decided if we will have kids and now it's too late for my dad to ever meet our theoretical children. I feel like I can't have kids because I know he'll never meet them and it seems too unfair.

I think about my dad's eulogy, about what needs to be said. My dad is a towering presence in my life. He's a soft spoken, over-sized cowboy philosopher. A woodworker, an oil rig engineer, a man who loves logic and cares more about animals and children than the majority of adults. I run out of words, because I still don't really believe that this is happening.

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My dad didn't become angry at the end, and for that I am eternally grateful. There wasn't even a long decline, other than the uptick in hospitalizations the last few months. He was vital and wholly himself, making plans, listening to me agonize over whether or not to move, talking about our dogs, speculating endlessly about whether my sister was eating enough protein. In those last few days he was aware of our presence until he wasn't, and we were able to stay at his side the whole time, caring for him as best we could. His memorial was beautiful, a testament to his life, filled with family and friends and neighbors and the receptionist from the vet's office. This should all give me comfort, and it does, I promise. It's just that it isn't enough. My dad was the strongest person I've ever known, and I carry some of that strength in me, and I know I can go on. I'm just not sure how right now.

dad, rena, me 2011
{dad, rena, me, 2011}


*Edited to add - I was re-reading this and realized that I thought we were living with no hope, but hope is a sneaky bastard and gets in there even when you don't realize it. I had hope, this whole time, even when it wasn't justified, even when I thought I'd accepted our situation. I had hope that we could continue on this plateau forever, like we had been the last few years. I had hope even in the end, after we'd taken him off fluids and had been told repeatedly that it was just a matter of hours. There is always that tiny sliver of hope and in some ways it's the most difficult part. Because you can't completely convince yourself there is no hope, even when you think you have, and then you are broken all over again when you lose it. But I can't regret it because it speaks to something beautiful - love, resilience, desire. And I don't want to be someone who decides to live without hope, no matter how misplaced it might be.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

January, etc.

I was going to start this post with the phrase where did January go? and then I looked at my calendar and realized it's nearly halfway into February, so .... scratch that.

January was rough. My parents were taking turns bouncing in and out of the hospital (everyone is home now!) and I was juggling work and family and just general life maintenance, which sounds efficient, if tiring, but actually means that I feel stressed when I'm with my parents instead of at work, guilty when I'm at work instead of with my parents, and nothing in our apartment has been properly cleaned in so long that I'm starting to view it as a lifestyle choice.

Needless to say, there has not been a lot of picture taking.

Random updates:

Circe continues to behave oddly when she's left at home during the day, despite enjoying her adventures with her dog walker.* We finally gave up on trying to prevent her from jumping on our credenza and instead just focused on teaching her how to jump off of it. Success? I feel 50% less guilty now that I don't have to worry about her stranding herself without food or water for hours on end. She still opts to spend most of her day scratching up our credenza.

We're contemplating another move, mostly so that Circe either has some outdoor space or is close enough to one of our offices that we can slip out and walk her at lunch. Also to try to reduce my commute, which has slowly been draining the life out of me. Apartment hunting is just as discouraging as it was a year ago, I'm sorry to report. I gnash my teeth and look at our budget and try to figure out how to quantify "quality of life" amenities. Let me tell you, this time I am not going to opt for an apartment building that doesn't have a washer and dryer somewhere on the premises. The privilege of being able to throw a load of laundry in while you make dinner on a random Tuesday night cannot be overstated. We've only been in our current place for a little over a year and part of me hates to leave because it's cute and we've put a lot of work into it, but it just isn't working for us now. There's no point in living in a great neighborhood if you're exhausted by the time you get home and then you just have to go sit in the laundromat anyways.

I did a two week gluten/sugar/dairy free thing to try to get rid of the insane sugar cravings I was having after seriously overdoing it during the holidays. Don't worry - there was no juice involved! I'm not that crazy. I don't normally eat much sugar on a day to day basis, but if I get into a bad cycle it's bad. I think the two weeks off helped, but then again, I did eat a giant slice of pie last night, so who knows? I think I'm just going to blame January for this situation (mental note - it's February now, get it straight).

We purchased pricey yoga memberships back in November, when we were on a high following a very successful one-month-unlimited Groupon situation. We were going 3 - 4 times a week! Obviously we could sustain this forever! We should invest in our health! You know how this story goes. I've been to exactly one yoga class in the last two months. So now I get to feel guilty about not working out and guilty about the wasted money. If guilt burned calories and stretched out my lower back, I'd be golden. I will go to at least one yoga class this week even if it kills me.

Super excited that Broad City is back.




*Circe's dog walker leaves us a report card every day describing what they did. Dustin and I both lunge for it the second we walk in the door each evening because it's basically the cutest thing ever. This is actually pretty low key for dog walking services around here. One of the ones I was looking at will actually put a camera on your dog so you can see everything they did on their walk (even as person deeply obsessed with my dog, this sounds like the most boring footage I can imagine). Another one uses a little GPS device so you can check on your computer and see exactly where they walk each day. Things are crazy out there, guys.




Friday, January 16, 2015

The plants are multiplying


plants, multiplying

I think D has been sneaking plants into our apartment when I'm not looking. And I don't mind. I guess houseplants are finally growing on me. (You see what I did there?)

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Crispy shallots


One of the deviled egg recipes for last weekend included crispy shallots, which meant I had to conquer my fear of deep frying. I've never done it because I've always been afraid that I'll catch the kitchen on fire.

But look! Success!

crispy shallots

Full disclosure - there was a tiny fire. But I think I could prevent that in the future.

I used this recipe and it was perfect, except for the part about the "small saucepan," which worked great for the initial cooking, but immediately boiled over on the second round. This is when the fire occurred. Luckily I was able to turn the flame off, pour the shallots into the prepared sieve and set the oil coated saucepan down on another counter. I almost considered giving up at this point but realized that the small saucepan was giving me a tiny surface area, which is basically the last thing you want when you're trying to quickly cook something. So I poured the oil into my favorite large pan*, got the oil back up to temp, dropped the shallots in, and BOOM - magic. The final product is so delicious that it was hard not to eat all of them before I got to the party.

One other modification - the recipe tells you to use a slotted spoon to transfer the shallots after the first cooking. But since you're already going to use a mesh sieve for the second transfer, it makes more sense to use it the whole time. I just set a small mesh sieve up over a large 2 quart glass measuring cup and poured the oil right into it. It was easy to pour the oil back in the pan to get it up to the higher temperature, and a lot less messy than trying to spoon a bunch of shallots out of hot oil.

Turns out there are tons of different methods for making crispy shallots and now I'm curious about them. The one I used was essentially a double fry method - you do a long slow cook at a lower temperature and then bump up the heat for a flash fry to crisp them up. But this Ina Garten recipe does a really long, slow cooking with no flash fry at the end. I'm curious how that would work.

Small note about frying and oils - I'm obviously a frying novice, but I'd like to point out that you want to make sure you're working with an oil that has a high enough smoke point. This recipe gets you up to 350 degrees. Canola oil is usually a safe bet, but if you want to make them paleo friendly you can use refined coconut oil. It's important that it's refined! Refined coconut oil can safely get up to 350 degrees, which doesn't leave you much wiggle room so make sure you're watching the thermometer. The temp drops down as soon as you add the shallots and never gets back up to 350, so you don't need to maintain it long. The oils I looked at in Whole Foods all had labels with the smoke point on them, which made it much easier to figure out.

Save your jar, because you can pour the oil back in after the frying and use it. It'll be flavored like shallots, and it will be delicious.

* I'm still deeply obsessed with our stainless steel pans, which have held up to daily abuse for the last five years. Of course, it's been so long that the original set isn't sold anymore, which makes me sad. But if you are going to have just one amazing pan, let it be a straight sided stainless steel braising pan, about 12 inches across and 2 - 3 inches deep (it holds about 3 quarts). I had the Emeril version, which I think was just a slightly less expensive model from All-Clad. But if I had to, I'd splurge on the All-Clad high end version, or see if they have any other slightly lower end options available. This one looks most similar to what I have.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Kristin's nautical sip and see

My dear friend Kristin had her second baby in December and instead of a baby shower we had an open house where people could drop by and meet the baby. I was cohosting, so I only had to focus on the food. Specifically, paleo food! Kris and her family are paleo and we wanted to make sure most of the food options were compatible. As is par for the course lately, I failed to get many pictures but it was a really wonderful afternoon of eating and passing around the sleepy new baby. Welcome Matteo!

bites

cookies!

main table

I have enough friends who are paleo that I was pretty familiar with the restrictions (at the most basic - no grains, no dairy, no vegetable oils, no sugar) and it's really easy to find good recipes that meet those criteria online. I think that most people wouldn't have noticed that any of the savory food was paleo specifically.

For savory bites I made:
- bacon wrapped dates stuffed with pistachios (stuffed and wrapped a day ahead of time, baked the morning of, served room temp) - with uncured bacon instead of lamb bacon
- asian-style meatballs (made and baked the day before, served cool)
- deviled eggs three ways (eggs boiled three days ahead using this method, peeled one day ahead, fillings made one day ahead and stored in ziploc bags, filled the morning of by cutting off one corner of each bag and using them like pastry bags, except for the tuna one which had to be spooned) - with crispy shallots and jalapenos*, with tuna confit, and guacamole style.

I have never made grain free baked goods, so I made sure I picked a well reviewed recipe. These paleo chocolate chip cookies are a definite treat, but they feel healthier and fill you right up (probably because of the almond flour). Bonus - they're basically the easiest cookies you could possibly make. They were best fresh out of the oven, but alas, that wouldn't work for a party. They were still very good the next day and we're actually just finishing up the last of them today and they've gone down well with paleo and non-paleo people alike. The texture is not cookie like - it's more like a muffin top - but they're tasty.

Since not everyone has exactly the same paleo rules, I included food tags slightly more detailed than usual, listing the ingredients for each dish.

To please any carb hungry guests one of our other friends made beautiful sugar cookies, big platters of non-paleo sandwiches, hummus and vegetables and we also had a giant batch of guacamole (paleo) and tortilla chips (not paleo, I think). I also made non-paleo chocolate toffee cookies.

I wasn't in charge of the decorations but I wanted to add a bit of nautical flair to the food platters, so I cut blue cardstock into strips about 1" wide and freehand cut waves. D saw me doing it and asked if he could try and he ended up being so much better at it that I asked him to cut the rest (benefits of having an architect for a partner!). I packed them flat and then attached them to the edge of the cake stands and platters with Zots once I arrived. Easy-peasy.

It was such a lovely, low key way to celebrate with the family and I'm honored that I was able to be a part of it. Congratulations, Kris!



*Because regular mayo is usually made with canola oil and isn't paleo compliant, I tried making homemade mayo with avocado oil. And failed, four times, even after frantically googling several different recipes. I was starting with Nom Nom's recipe and it just didn't work for me. I managed to salvage a small batch of mayo by re-emulsifying it with another egg yolk and it was enough for the eggs, but I seriously don't know what was happening. I think the avocado oil might be more temperamental because I've never had a problem getting my Caesar salad dressing to emulsify, even when I'm being much lazier.


Thursday, January 8, 2015

Rena's baby shower


eucalyptus three ways

mini arrangements

wreaths

frosting tints

Packed

centerpiece

sweets

savories

My little sister is due in March and I was so excited to throw this shower. It was fairly large - about 35 people - and incredibly joyful. I wanted to make sure that it had some personal details while still being manageable for me to host.

January can be a rough month for flowers, especially if you are looking for them the weekend AFTER the holidays. When I went to the flower mart on Friday a lot of the vendors weren't even there. Luckily I'd planned on using tons of eucalyptus, which is easy to get (and inexpensive!). I knew I wanted a few real flowers for color, but I wasn't wedded to anything in particular, which is good because all I could get was roses. So I ended up with three dozen roses (I was lucky and they had some that were reduced in price because they were fully blown, which is how I like them anyways, so they were just $4.75 per dozen) and huge bundles of three types of eucalyptus. All told, I only spent $45 on foliage.

Our seating was 60" rounds, which are kind of beasts in terms of decoration. A small arrangement can get marooned. Instead I picked up 18" wire wreath forms from Joann's and made large eucalyptus wreaths. This was definitely a move born of ignorance. I'd never made a wreath before, so I had no idea how time consuming it would be. Fun, but time consuming. I think I spent at least an hour per wreath. Luckily I only had to make five and I could watch mindless television. The wreaths looked full and gorgeous on Friday, but were definitely slightly wilted and dried by Sunday. It's fine, because eucalyptus dries well, you just lose a bit of fullness. I made a few small vase arrangements and ended up using them in the center of the wreaths. I didn't add the roses to the wreaths until they were already in place at the shower because I didn't want to deal with them getting wilted and crushed in transport. I 100% could not have done this project if I had to work a full schedule the week before the shower.

I had originally planned to do a baby photo guessing game with pictures from the guests, but realized that it was too difficult with two large families. Instead I just printed them and used them as part of the centerpieces. Each table had photos of the guests seated there plus one of Rena. It was a fun little detail, especially when you could spot the family resemblances. And yes, I did assign seats. I feel pretty strongly about this in general, but at a large party where not everyone knows each other I wanted to make sure that no one felt like the new kid in the cafeteria. I tried to leave an empty seat at each table to facilitate mingling (especially because I knew Rena would want to spend some time at each table).

I knew I couldn't do all the food myself but I also couldn't afford to fully cater it. I did a hybrid instead, making the desserts (because I love them) and two enormous salads and purchasing sandwiches from Lee's. Rena loves Lee's vegetarian bahn mi, so this was an easy choice. I think Lee's is mostly a So Cal thing, although it looks like they might have locations elsewhere? Instead of ordering party platters I just ordered a ton of sandwiches and cut them up. I got about half and half traditional European style and bahn mi. I picked up chips and dip from Costco to round the whole thing out. Don't worry - I took that photo before all the sandwiches were out - there was more food. (Per usual - I had to go boxes for the leftover food to be sent home with guests)

I underestimated the drink situation, which is a mistake I won't make again. I think we had just enough to squeak through the party, which horrified me because unless there's plenty left over I worry that people didn't have enough. I had purchased 6 bottles of sparkling lemonade, 3 bottles of wine and 3 bottles of champagne (plus copious amounts of sparkling water - we didn't run out of water) and there were just two measly glasses of champagne left at the end. I hope no one went thirsty. I probably should have done 10 bottles of lemonade and 8 bottles of alcohol. I normally use one of those drink calculators to figure out what to buy but I was frazzled and 6 seemed like a nice round number. Live and learn.

The party was too large for anyone's house but luckily D's grandmother has a clubhouse in her community that we could use for free and they had the tables and chairs, which meant I only had to rent linens. It was amazing, even if the large space was a little harder to work with than a home. And you know what makes up for green upholstered chairs and green carpet? Enormous refrigerators in the fully concealed back kitchen. I'm so lucky that we had this option because otherwise I was looking at a renting a space in a community center and it's a bit pricey and also more restrictive.

Whew. The list of logistics makes it sound much less fun than it actually was. Once the party was underway it was wonderful. Rena looked adorable (sorry - I neglected to get any of my signature no-head blog photos and I'm a bit squeamish about putting innocent people's faces front and center on the blog) and it was lovely to get the chance to catch up with everyone in the lull after the holidays.

I can't wait to meet my niece in March! Hoping I can take a little time off and make a trip up there around the due date. Fingers crossed!