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Thursday, August 27, 2009

It All Began with Bean Salad

Hello, KuKd'ers and Inquisitive Guests!

First, let me reassure (or disappoint?) you: despite the title, this post is not about farting.

According to a smudged red-ink blurb on our calendar, Kevin and I are scheduled to fly to Ireland with our bikes in...oh...seventeen hours. And what have we done to prepare for this trip? Zero. Zilch. Nada.

It's an embarrassment, really, how little thought I've given to this trip. I'm a Murphy, for fuck's sake, born and bred! Kevin is 99% Irish too, with a tiny sliver of French "LeMoine" sperm thrown in the mix several generations ago - nobody knows how or where that occurred. Shouldn't we take this "grand return to the Irish homeland" a bit more seriously? I'm sure I'm the first American-born "Murphy" who has EVER bumbled eagerly around County Cork in search of long lost relatives from ten generations ago, right? I ought to be prepared for the fanfare with which I am sure to be greeted by my weathered ancestors still living in stone houses nestled in the emerald hillside.

The thing is, our bags from our recent 10-day east-coast bike trip are still unpacked, it having been just a few short days ago that returned bleary-eyed and bruised-arsed from THAT trip. Nobody in this household, except for maybe our dog Tebow who is currently snoozing and farting contentedly on the futon, has time to do things like dig around for passports, reserve a hotel in Dublin, make some sort of "plan" for this Ireland trip. So the "plan" for now is to stuff a bunch of still-dirty clothing into backpacks, arrive in Dublin jet-lagged and dazed, and hop a train immediately to somewhere else.

County Cork, probably. You know, where all the weathered-faced Murphy ancestors will be waiting for me outside their stone houses.

BUT, before I traverse the Atlantic Ocean, a few thoughts from our last sojourn, during which we cycled for 7 days from Washington, D.C. to Pittsburgh along a bumpy, butt-busting bike path dotted with trees and primitive campsites.

First, let me start with the subject that dominated my thoughts for much of the trip, and continues to haunt me as I sit here sipping Dark Elixir, its caffeinated goodness making my blood veins vibrate. It all began with an innocent jar of bean salad:

The bean salad itself, which I purchased giddily from a local farm market along the Allegheny bike trail, was ho-hum (as Kevin grumpily predicted it would be). I wanted it to be much more than it was. But I quickly forgot about the mediocre taste, for it was more the label that drew me in, causing all sorts of harebrained schemes to swirl around in my head as we bumped along the rest of our week-long, ass-bruising bike journey. These thoughts still haunt me to this very day.

Now, notice the two strapping, healthy young hunks on the front of the jar: Jake and Amos, each with a hefty basket of produce on his arm, their fresh-scrubbed faces bright against a sunlit backdrop. Definitely an Amish gay couple. Just look at them. What else could they be?

I've always had a deep fascination with people of that ilk - religious groups who wear starchy, old-fashioned clothing and live a traditional, farming, bread-baking, cow-milking, bonnet-wearing, horse-n-carriage-driving lifestyle. That would include Amish folks and "ites" of various sorts, like Mennonites and "Hutterites," who apparently live in colonies in parts of eastern Washington (I only recently found out about the latter from my friend M).

Here is a picture of some Hutterites:

Aren't they awesome?

The thing that fascinates me is the lifestyle, not the religious aspect of these groups of people. The flat-out, in-your-face rejection of many modern advancements of the digital age. I like that they make their food from scratch, and do so many things the old-fashioned way. Something about this sort of existence seems so refreshingly, romantically... real compared to the totally easy, order-everything-online sort of life that I and most of my friends have.

I grew up in various suburbs of various cities. Just a regular, mainstream life. But starting back in high school, I began constantly seeking out rustic-lifestyle, farm-ish experiences, because I somehow developed this notion of that as something real and want-worthy. In college, I spent a summer on a communal farm in West Virginia, and later as a sheep-herder in Switzerland. In Uzbekistan, I got to help my host father feed the family flock of sheep, which I enjoyed. After moving to Seattle, I began volunteering at a farm for abused animals. I stopped doing that when I was well into my pregnancy with Zachary, for fear that I might get head-butted in the belly by a pygmie goat.

Here's Oliver, the piglet who was under my care every Saturday morning:

Anyway, inertia takes over eventually, and sucks most of us non-farmers back into a non-farming life, even if we think frequently about things like animals and bread-baking and cow-milking and rubber-boot wearing fun. I live in a city neighborhood, and drive to work and back. I go to bars and restaurants. Seattle is surrounded by fantastically gorgeous nature - including awesome farmlands hemmed in by mountains - and yet I find it all oddly inaccessible at times, myself locked down into city life by imaginary constraints. I don't get out into the mountains nearly as much as I'd like, and not for any tangible reason that I can think of other than little mental excuses that crop up.

So, back to the label of bean salad.

When you're on a 7-day bike trip along a nature trail, you have a lot of time to talk, and think, and talk, and think. So this label on the bean salad got me thinking about something that I occasionally think about with great passion and fervor, about once every six months or so:

I want to live on a farm.

I don't know how to be a real farmer, the kind who relies on farming as a sole source of income. I want to be hobby-farmer, if such a thing is possible: to live on a piece of land that inspires me, somewhere quiet and earthy and green, and to live a semi-Mennonite-ish, Hutterite-ish, Amish-ish lifestyle, minus the religion. I want to keep chickens and collect their eggs, and kill one or two of them each year and have a big stuffed-bird eating fest with all my friends around our wooden farm table. I want a cow to milk, more maybe two cows, to make my own yogurt and cream. I want to plant a small garden and learn how to jar and can stuff. That's about it.

At the same time, I love my teaching job, and don't want to give that up - not now anyway. So I want both things: my real-life job, and my farm-life life.

As I said, this mode of thinking is cyclical for me, and lasts for about a week of mad-talking with Kevin, searching on real estate listings, and making lists of things on cocktail napkins in hopes of devising a plan to realize this teenage-girlhood dream. So we talked about it on this trip, whether it's possible (it isn't, concluded Kevin - at least not at the moment).

Still, upon arriving home (indeed, one of the reasons why I still haven't unpacked from our last trip or given much thought ot Ireland) is that I spend half the day on Monday searching, yes, real-estate adds. And it just so happened that I found the PERFECT HOBBY FARM:

There's a 1940s house here too, but it's not as interesting as the land itself. This particular farm is perfect because it's 40 minutes from the school where I teach, so I could technically keep my current job, AND it's closer to Mount Rainer than we are now, so we could do more hiking than we normally do! See? Perfect!

Oh, I forgot to mention that it's $380,000 in money that we, um, don't exactly have. Minor detail - but certainly not one that escaped Kevin's financially-minded, marine-corps mind.

"Money shmoney!" I argued. "Who ever said you need MONEY to buy a farm?"

"Not now, Mon. Won't work. Plus, I guarantee you're going to hate having a 40-minute drive to work AND being away from all your friends, who aren't going to be as eager to make the hour-and-a-half drive from Seattle to come to your country-farm-disco-parties as you might think."

He's right, I know. Disco parties at the farm house was definitely a part of the picture (the non-Amish part), and yeah. Can't have a disco party if nobody comes. Still, I felt crestfallen. It was mildly consoling when he then said, "let's revisit the farm-concept in five years or so."

Oh, all right. I'm not good at waiting. I get petulant at certain times. This is one of those times. Luckily, I'm married to a man who listens, thinks, and THEN says "it won't work" - instead of just immediately jumping to the "no" part. At least there's that. And besides, I'm going to Ireland tomorrow, where I'm sure to get a good dose of sheepy, farmy goodness.

* * *

A few more quick updates before I think about thinking about thinking about packing for Ireland.

First, a bit of rash footage, for any doubters out there. I figured the top-inch of my butt crack has already made its way into this public space, so why be shy:

Here's me with my classy cinched-shirt outfit, giving Kevin that cranky-wife look: "Dude, you'd better not be including any of my midsection in this picture" (he KNEW the white mid-section was off photographic limits, but that didn't seem to matter):

The rash is basically gone now, thank the lord.

Next, the ice cream cake. Now look, nobody ever said that it would be decorated in a professional manner. "Yay" exclaimed the cake, in celebration to our friend G's successful completion of a triathalon AND his EMT-training course:

A cake-toast: to G!

Cuttin' it up.

The cake was of perfect, Baskin-Robbins-like consistency. I'm not sure if I'd do the organic cake next time, though: chemically Duncan Hines ultimately tastes better, in my opinion. Next time I'm doing vanilla cake with strawberry ice cream. The possibilities are endless!

OK, next post will be from the Land-o-the-Irish. Adios!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Glad I Have ______!

Greetings, KuKd-ers and Inquisitive Guests!

So much to say, so little Internet speed in my pleasantly air-conditioned airport hotel outside of Pittsburgh, where K and I are preparing for our return flight to Seattle. Bikes are packed up, legs finally shaven, hair washed, bruised arse still bruised, mandatory post-shaving-post-showering hotel-sex had, supposedly canned- ravioli-induced rash still present but less noticeable (honestly, I don't think it was the ravioli; what could possibly be harmful about ingesting the mass quantities of things like disodium guan-itch-icide and monosodium glut-a-rash that Chef Boy-R-Dee can't seem to leave out of his recipes?).

I have some pictures of certain things I want to highlight about our trip - such as a close-up shot of a jar of bean salad with two cartoon Amish men on the front, picked up at a farmers market off the bike trail. But I'm going to leap backward instead, and talk about the little psychological "game" I found myself playing at the start of our trip. Gotta process this now before it disappears like a foggy dream.

It's called: "Glad I Have ____."

Some necessary background: we began this trip in Washington, D.C. at an annual reunion of friends who were all in Peace Corps Uzbekistan with us over a decade ago. Which is to say that for 2.5 years we all got really dirty together, taught Uzbek youngsters how to say "book" and "tree" in English (for the humanitarian betterment of the entire world, of course), got drunk on vodka made of fermented onions and motor oil and did lots of subsequent hooking up, learned a strange Turkic language that never ever comes in handy in the real world, and grimly ate foul-tasting sheep-ass cooked in sheep-ass fat. All funded by American tax-payers. Woo-hoo!

As with any reunion, there was a lot of catching up to do. Lots of questions asked and answered about work and family status. Of course, there were pregnant women and lots of formerly-infant kids running around, too, and with that came some internal musing about my own "status," if you will, juxtaposed against everyone else's. So who/where/what/how am I now, eleven years after returning hairy, dirty, broke, and unemployed from Uzbekistan? What's this life that I have?

Which brings me to the dialogue I found myself having inside my head as I chewed thoughtfully on nan-bread with butter while conversing with others. Not so much of a dialogue, really, but more a bold new assertion that kept swinging itself out of my mind and back to me, like a boomerang: "Glad I have ____."

* * *

Not long ago, oh...say...a year or more ago, I was in a distinct place of longing for something better. It wasn't about "glad I have." It was about: "wish I had." I recall there being a little kernel of bitterness lodged in my brain, flashing a single toxic statement across my frontal lobe whenever I was near women expressing their pregnancy/parenthood-related complaints: sure, your nipples might be sore and what-not, BUT I WISH I HAD WHAT YOU HAVE. A terrible and bitchy and unfair thing to think, but I'm embarrassed to say, I thought such vile things anyway.

Sometimes this"wish I had" mode of thinking (well...pining, actually) even spilled over into other areas of life. At least you make six-figures. At least you have a big kitchen. At least you didn't stupidly buy your home at the peak of its market value. At least you know how to bake good bread. At least your spouse makes so much money that you don't have to work. At least you know five different languages fluently. At least you can eat as much fried chicken as you want and never gain a pound. At least you have a Harvard degree. At least you get to live on a farm, in a farm house, with farm animals, and do farm-like things.

Got all that? Well get this: reasons unbeknownst to man, THIS trip was different somehow. Don't ask me why. Passage of time, maybe? East-coast coffee instead of west-coast? Even with the pregnant bellies popping out, the growing children racing around everyone's legs and squealing - things that should have cast that cloud of gloom over my soul - that little phrase "wish I had" instead became, barely perceptibly even to myself: "Glad I have______."

* * *

Let's start with the phenomenon of being a single, intelligent, thirty-something person who may WANT a child, but hasn't met Mr. or Mrs. Right yet to shoot / soak-up the spooge respectively. Or maybe not thinking about kids at all - just wanting a long-term relationship with a loved best friend who has sex with you on demand. Not a bad or outlandish thing to want, is it? You might be one of those very people, or know people like that.

I have a lot of very good friends who fit into that exact category - several of whom attended this very reunion, and at least one of whom I happen to know would like a child. It's just the man-component of the equation that's missing. This makes me terribly sad, and I don't mean to sound condescending about this; these friends of mine are all brilliant people, doing fine and living productive and amazing lives. It's just that being with someone you love is so...rewarding....and of course, you want the best for your friends. You want them to reap the relationship-rewards that you've already discovered - kind of like sharing your favorite recipe or restaurant. It makes me wish there were some magical marriage-making ravioli that people could eat from a can and POOF - meet the sexy person of their dreams.

But even more than that, it makes me grateful for what I've got. I'm talking consciously, viscerally grateful - more than I've been in some time. Several time during the course of this gathering with friends, the sentence shot through my frontal lobe like a message dragged by a small airplane:

I'm glad I have Kevin.

For as uncannily shitty luck I've had with creating a child, my fortune has been equally awesome in falling into a relationship that works. Kids or no kids, house or no house, farm or no farm, money or none, I'm just glad I have Kevin. And not for anything that I did better than anyone else; no real reason other than happening to have been in the right place, right time, with a man whose needs and wants and values matched mine in precisely the right way. (Please don't tell him I said that or his cheeks will turn red; he hates this sort of talk.)

* * *

It didn't stop there, this onslaught of unforeseen gladness. There were friends with kids ages two-and-up, all the way to one couple with a seven-year-old daughter. Most haven't traveled overseas in years, or even gotten any alone time away from their offspring to just cuddle and screw and eat French onion soup in candle-lit restaurants and drink wine and take road-trips and do other romantic couple-stuff (not that there's much more romantic than the three things I just mentioned). Not that they were complaining about this overtly; it just came up in conversation. And for the first time, instead of thinking I WANT WHAT YOU HAVE, my dominant thought was:

I'm glad I've gotten to do everything I just mentioned - and a lot of it - over this past decade. And I'm not sensing an end to it anytime soon.

* * *

There was more, much more. I'm glad I'm basically healthy, and that all of my terminal ailments until this point seem to exist primarily in my head. I'm glad I live in a city surrounded by mountains - I mean, real West-coast mountains- and water. I'm glad I have a basically awesome, sane, intelligent, joke-making family AND family-in-law (see? luck-o-the-Irish!). I'm glad I have a dog who supports me, and who loves me even when I'm gassy and burpy. I'm glad I love my job.

Now, none of this is to brag or boast about how my life is better than anyone else's. There are still plenty of things about my life that I wish were different, gaps that I'd like to fill.

It simply came as a refreshing shock to me that I could suddenly see, without the haze of grief that weighs a person down so hard and fiercely, what I have. I'm going to be bold here and put a generalization out there: losing something - not getting what we want so badly - makes us wiser in some ways, but blind in others. At least, for me it's done that at certain times in my life: made the deaths themselves eclipse the good parts of life like a big, black round moon - making me lose sight of what I have that others might be mourning themselves, the very "I WISH I HAD WHAT YOU HAVE" mantra that could be going through my own friends' minds when they look at me, those thoughts unspoken because we never really say such things out loud.

Maybe we all have things that others wish they had; we just sort of forget to think about those things. It's much easier to focus on what we're missing.

OK, I'd better sign off before I accidentally give the false impression that I actually know what I'm talking about, that I'm not just the bumbling, babbling gnome in a forest trying to navigate my way around. Oh, it's also time to lift up my shirt and demand that Kevin examine my rash and assert that it's still there, and that it "looks like it's really uncomfortable." That's been our twice-daily routine since this whole rash-brouhaha started.

And why break a good routine.

(For the record, I AM NOT GLAD about this rash).

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

I'm Not Really Here, But...

Hello, Ice Cream Cake Enthusiasts:

I'm out of the web-o-sphere through early next week due to being sequestered for a week in the Allegheny "Mountains" of Pennsylvania (well, except for right now, as I managed to drag Kevin to bed-and-breakfast in rural Maryland for a single evening), so I apologize for slacking in the blog-visiting and blog-updating department. More on this later. A few deets in the meantime:

1) Riding a bike and pulling a 50-lb. trailer for 50 miles a day = my ass feels like a Ichiro tried to spank me with a baseball bat all night.

2) Kevin and I ate unheated Chef Boy-R-Dee beef ravioli straight from a can last night. First time I've eaten that since I was about 12. Goddamn, that stuff is good.

3) Today I broke out in a mysterious rash on my back that stings whenever anything comes into contact with it. As a result, I have to ride with my blue tank top cinched up around my boobs and tied into a knot (not pretty), feeling like a pasty flabby white-trash Confederate-flag-toting biker as I ride along. OH - and I'm wearing a fanny pack around my waste, too. Classy! Goes great with the belly folds.

4) A lot of people have Confederate flags on display around here. Weird. Isn't 1800s? Aren't there better causes to join, more relevant and current things to wave flags for?

5) Kevin and I jumped in a river, swam around, and then had good tent-sex last night. I think some 12-year-old boys from the next campsite over - plus a couple of groundhogs nesting nearby - might have been eavesdropping, but I didn't care. They'll never see me again, the little rascals. That was before I got the rash this morning. Blegh.

6) Oh, and today is...what...the 18th? Today or tomorrow is the 2-year anniversary of Zachary's dirth. Not sure what to do with that information inside my mind, except look up at the big black star-filled sky from my campsite, listen to wind rustling in the trees, squeeze Kevin's hand because we're both thinking the same thing, and remember. Sadly, fondly, with wonderment of what's comprised our shared history.

And gratefully - grateful for what we do have, and for how quiet and huge the earth is around us. Bigger than ourselves, bigger than we'll ever be - just like pregnancy and birth and death and everything else made by nature.

That's all the deep thoughts I can dredge up for now - "see" you next week. Time to go see if I can score some more sympathy points from Kevin for this dang rash! OH - and I had MEATLOAF for dinner tonight! At a restaurant! It was like canned ravioli times 20 on the scale of culinary delight.

Over and out.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Inner-Kid Moment

Greetings, Inner-Kiddies!

First, one day left to vote on this summer's Knocked Down Hunk Contest. Quick: send me your man's (or your self's) pics for our next contest, which will happen as soon as I've amassed sufficient mouthwatering male images. As for the current race, looks like our man Double-D is still in the lead. Which isn't surprising, because let's face it: there's something automatically sexy about soldiers, cops, fire fighters, anyone who engages in activities that involve physical activity and putting one's own life in danger. Pro-sports players also count as combatant hunks of man, as evidenced by Tuesday's bench-clearing, mouthwatering brawl between Boston's Kevin Youkilis and Detroit's scrawny ball-beaning pitcher Porcello (probably just grumpy that he has to live in Detroit). I've watched a crappy homemade replay of that I'm not sure how many times, marveling at this festival of chaotic manly hotness.

ANYWAY, just because I put a link there doesn't mean you should click on it. Stay here! I've got more important things to discuss.

As the current, self-proclaimed reigning Thinker-Upper-of-Snooty-Snobby-Reasons-Why-I'm-Better-Off-Without-Poopy-Barfy-Kids, I still have moments (plenty of them, actually) when I wistfully think: DAMN. Having a child of my own, poop and barf and all, would be / could be / might be actually enjoyable. Moments of looking back at the time when, during the acid-trippy months after Zach's dirth, I frantically gathered packets on international adoption and foster care, nail-chompingly desperate to be a mother. Didn't care how it happened, or how much cash it took, or how out-there my kid-acquisition measures might seem to others (including my own husband).

I wanted offspring, and I wanted it now.

Thank god, though: that feeling of maternal desperation passed for the most part. Keep in mind, folks, I've got nearly two years of Dead-Baby Mommahood under my belt to smooth out (some of) those rough edges of insanity.

Even still, I've got longings sometimes, reasons for multiplying that sometimes express themselves in the form of little conversations inside my head. And one of those reasons, among others, is: having a kid means getting to do, and get excited about, those things I used to do, and get excited about as a kid. Things like Christmas, for example. Getting a tree. Having sing-alongs. Going to the pumpkin patch. Jumping into a pile of red and orange leaves. Watching Saturday morning cartoons. Getting dressed up in a pink frilly dress and going to fancy Easter brunch with my grandparents.

Ann and Lis have kids, and they do fun stuff with them. And ya know what? Much of it is the kind of stuff that, if you were to attempt it with a handful of your adult thirty- or forty-something buddies, you'd eventually stop and look at each other and go, "Why the hell are we doing this? Let's go hit the tavern. " On the other hand, imagine if you have child with you, a giddily enthusiastic child enjoying these things! Then you might change your stick-in-the-mud, grown-up-old-scroogy attitude, now wouldn't you. I certainly would. At least I think I would.

Anyway, lately I've had several conversations with friends about "foods that remind me of childhood." That is: foods that taste EXACTLY the way they did when I was seven or eight years old, and that I sometimes ate, and that I loved. The main ones I can think of are:

1) grape Kool-Aid
2) McDonald's cheeseburgers (just the simple basic ones without any lettuce and tomato)
3) Baskin-Robbins ice cream cake

We never, ever had these things in the house, of course. They were all reserved for special occasions like birthdays and such.

In the course of remembering these delicious food-items, I got fixated on the Baskin-Robbins ice cream cake. Now, the ones I ate as a child never were this fancy, but here's a contemporary example of one:

See that top one? Layer of chocolate cake. Layer of ice cream. Layer of frosting.

I decided to do something which, if I were a child, I would simply go ga-ga over: attempt to make a home-made Baskin Robbins ice cream cake. Now look. I know that "mom's homemade replicas of chain-restaurant food items" are NEVER as good as the chain-restaurant food-items. Sorry, but mom's pan-fried cheese burger simply isn't a McDonald's one, not even if the ingredients are technically the same. Still, I had this sudden inexplicible longing to do something fun and nostalgic to make in the kitchen, something which I would have gotten excited about if my own mother had tried it. And if I HAD a child, that child would certainly stand on a chair beside me and "help."

It went like this:

First, I started with boxed vanilla cake. Sorry, but this DB-Momma is way too lazy to make the real thing from scratch. I used organic, for what it's worth, and not chocolate, because it seemed like that might be chocolate overkill. Kevin disagrees, but whatev. This was MY ridiculous, messy endeavor, not his!

Tebow took great interest in the baked, rectangular vanilla cake that emerged from the oven after 30 minutes at 350 degrees. Watch him stare in canine wonderment, unsure of what that steaming rectangle is exactly, but praying to the God of Dogs that a tender morsel will fall directly onto his snout!

After I'd allowed it to cool, it was time to flip the fucker over onto a piece of tin foil. But the fucker wouldn't flip, even though I'd put about...oh...three inches of canola oil on the bottom of the pan. Viktoria, baker betty, if you're reading! I had to go to drastic measures to get the thing out of its firmly ensconced position inside the pan.

Worked like a charm. Nobody would ever know my amature-chef secret cake-transferring method!

NOW, drumroll please, came the BESTEST, FUNNEST, AWESOMEST, KICK-ASSEST, AMAZINGEST, BITCHIN'EST part of the whole thing. Check this out:

You got that right, honey child! Slicing directly through a box of ice cream. Seriously, I get to do this in my adult life? This looks like something we only got to do in kindergarden. Boy oh boy, you should have seen the perma-grin on my face as I sawed through this rectangular-version-of-a-cube (whatever the word for that is) of Cookies-n-Cream ice cream.

Tebow diligently patrolled for falling ice-cream molecules, of course.

TAH-DAH! Tell me how freakin' cool that is! Go on, tell me!

The ice cream was gingerly transferred to the cake-brick level.

Of course, no self-respecting Baskin Robbins ice cream cake would have ledges of cake jutting out from the sides. So I had to do some trimming.

Now, there are probably saint-like people out there who take trimmed cake-slivers and simply throw them into the trash. But not me. No, no, no - not when I paid...what...$3.50 for that box of cake mix! See that great big hunk-o-trimmed-cake, the one closest to the camera? Yeah, that one. I ate that one with a glass of milk, and chased it with salt-n-vinager potato chips. That's what I love about being an adult: you can do that shit, EVEN RIGHT BEFORE DINNERTIME, and nobody's going to chastise you for it.

So, the trimmed cake went into the freezer to... I don't know...just chill for a while. Next, I had to Google what exactly IS the "frosting" that Baskin Robbins uses on its cakes, so that I could precisely duplicate it. Turns out, much to my disbelief (and slight disappointment) that it's nothing but vanilla ice cream! Just plain old vanilla ice cream, which supposedly first gets softened to "frosting consistency." I was skeptical that a cake could be frosted with half-melted ice cream, but had to set my doubts aside if I ever hoped to finish this project.

So I let some vanilla sit on the counter for about a half-hour, and then got to work frantically trying to whip it up into something frosting-like. This was not a leisurely, pause-in-the-middle-to-sip-tea kind of affair. Especially not since the "recipe" online fwarned repeatedly in italics: "WORK FAST SO THAT EVERYTHING DOESN'T MELT INTO A GIGANTIC PUDDLE OF MELTED ICE-CREAMY GOO!"

So I stirred, stirred, stirred. Glad I wore deodorant that day; this was a bit of an arm-workout.

Lo and behold, it DID turn into something frosting-like! I was thrilled. Out came my trimmed icecream cake-rectangle, and on went my vanilla-icecream "frosting."

Then came the final, magical embellishment. No skimping here: this is the first part of the cake that will be viewed by others, and I wasn't about to settle for less than an absolutely fantastic impression! I went with Double Stuff Oreos - no Paul Newman fruit-juice sweetened fake Oreos or single-stuff. It was double or nothin'.

Unexpectedly difficult to chop into rough pieces, these things were. The "stuff" in the middle kept squishing out the sides. But in the end, with perseverance and a positive attitude, I managed. Check out this Oreo-Cookie-scape:

Onto the cake they went. Fast, fast, before everything turned to liquid!

Then boom: the 99%-finalized product. I was proud of my achievement.

Now, this goes into the freezer to get good and frozen and Baskin-Robbins-y, after which it will eventually get adorned with blue swirls from a tube of frosting, and brought to a party for a certain someone.

AHHHH, I love inner-kid moments!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Pulling the Emotional Trigger

Greetings, KuKd'ers and Inquisitive Guests!

Sunday morning: today is a bound to be decent day. The plan (see? making plans again!) is brunch with friends followed by a bike ride along a closed-off section of road near Lake Washington. It's a Pacific Northwest thing: you eat something organicky like free-range bacon from pigs that were hugged at least once a day, and then you do something outdoorsy. Then you come home and take a well-deserved nap.

And then if you're lucky, you get to have a post-nap bout of sex in the bedroom while your mother leaves a lengthy message on the answering machine about the new futon she just bought from Dania. You ignore her sing-songy voice and bite your lower lip, attempting to concentrate on that latest sexual fantasy instead, hoping you're not a bad person for not frantincally disentangling yourself from your partner and running naked into the other room to pick up the phone. It's your own mother, for god's sake! You can have intercourse any old time, but your parents are getting OLD! They might be dead soon! And then, you'll look back and wish you'd taken every opportunity to talk to them in person....

Anyway. Don't ask me where THAT tangent came from. I really am going breakfast-eating and bike-riding with friends today, but sort of made up the sex-and-mother-on-phone bit. I think my brain is on overdrive this morning.

* * *

Moving on to the pre-point point of this post (not the real point):

As a handful of you might vaguely recall, about four months after Zachary's dirth, Kevin and I went to Ecuador to "reconnect with our backpacking, beer-drinking, foreign-travelling" selves (you should see my updated passport photo, which was taken a mere six-weeks after The Death: I look like one of those "after" pictures from Faces of Meth. One of these days I'll scan it and show it to you for laughs).

As all you bloggers out there know, writing is one of the best, most cathartically awesome activities that a person can possibly do when hit with something traumatic. Am I right or am I right? So while in Ecuador, I started keeping a journal-like thingy on a scrap of lined paper. Over the next year, I drank a shit-ton of coffee and wrote more and more. That scrap of paper turned into lots of scraps of paper, which turned into a gigantic Microsoft Word document, which somehow morphed into a full-fledged memoir about dead-baby-motherhood. Astoundingly, somebody thought it was decent, and last week I signed a contract to have it published through Catalyst Press, small publisher in San Fransisco.

The thing with the memoir is, honestly I don't even care if it sells. Well, that's not totally true: if I can make up my cost of replacing laser ink cartridges and bring in enough to take myself and Kevin out to dinner at a fancy restaurant to celebrate - that would be nice. But I didn't write it for money. I wrote it because it felt good to write, and because I needed to generate some raunchy humor about the whole mess before I died of sadness. When the book comes out in 2010, I think I'll like having some closure to that year of highly caffeinated writing, and something to hand over to my parents, who are going to be proud of me.

And ya know, even as we all creep into our 30s and 40s and beyond, isn't making our parents proud of us STILL about the grandest feelings on earth? For me it is.

* * *

Now, here's the REAL point:

I've already got aNOTHER cool book concept up my sleeve (thanks, caffeine!), and I'm going to be tapping your brains about it from time to time. Truthfully, it's not something I can even attempt to do without input from other dead-baby mommas (can I just say DBM from now on?). So it's really going to be more of a collaborative effort, the way I see it. And hey: if you articulate an idea brilliantly, I might even quote you directly in the book, which I can't imagine you not enjoying.

Essentially, my next book idea is a slim, down-and-dirty KuKd survival manual written in a tone and style that "speaks" to a young(ish), smart/savvy/cynical/pissed/saddened audience of women and men (ok fine, mostly women) who have just undergone miscarriage or stillbirth.

Right now, Empty Cradle, Broken Heart is about the closest thing there is these days to a KuKd survival guide. I'm picturing something about half that size, written in a younger, more girl-talky, gritty tone, with a military girl-scout cover like something you'd carry around if you were lost in the woods. Its a book that will require lots of research, and I picture it having some similar sections as Empty Cradle - things like "you may be feeling _______" with various survival tips scattered throughout.

I don't have a catchy title yet, but for now I'm just going to lamely and boringly refer to it as "The KuKd Survival Manual." As I said, you'll likely get tapped for ideas here from time to time. I'm going to need other seasoned, wise DBM's like you to gather quotes for the book and help me sure that what we tell the audience of this book (our poor friends who are JUST NOW going through what we've gone through) isn't completely off the wall.

And guess what: that starts right here, this very Sunday morning! Here we go.

DBMs, put your thinking caps on and help me out: Do you think it's beneficial to expose yourself to sad, even baby-laden situations sometimes during the year or so after KuKd, for the purpose of deliberately opening the crying/feeling floodgates?

As in, is that something you'd ever recommend to a friend who just lost her baby? I know I know I know. It seems like a completely out-there and sadistic idea. But before you scream out NOOOOOO, read on -and then you can still scream out NOOOOO if you want to:

Recently, somebody wrote to me with an Ask a Dead Baby Momma question: "What are some tips for avoiding baby showers?" A perfectly valid question. Why would you ever want to expose yourself to something that's going to be upsetting? As queen of baby-shower avoidance back in the day, I know that feeling well.

Even more recently, fellow blogger Tina pointed out this blurb from Empty Cradle:

"There is research showing that tears are a biologically necessary way of relieving stress-there is evidence that tears remove stress-induced toxins from the body. Holding back tears can induce stress, resulting in a variety of psychological and physical symptoms, including exacerbation of preexisting conditions ..."

So true, isn't it? Crying is good. It's healthy. It feels right. There just isn't anything but a good, hard cry. The problem is - for me at least - there are times when you know you should be crying because you're still sad, but the tears just don't come. One of my DBM friends in Seattle was just lamenting to me about this peculiar condition - when that post-KuKd numb sensation takes over and you just can't seem to...well...feel. It's frustrating to know there's something in there, a great big scary ball of grief, and yet you can't seem to access it in a productive and helpful way.

It made me think of the times when, about eight months after Zachary's dirth, I did - in fact- start reluctantly going to stuff: baby b-day parties, gatherings with babies. Not all the time, just once in a while. Nothing triggered me to feel quite like those events. The drives home from those were always soaked in tears, with me having to pull over to blow my nose on my hair. For all of the obvious reasons, they made me sad. The reminded me of what was lost, what could have been, what wasn't.

But somehow, deep down, I also remember enjoying releasing that floodgate of emotion so easily, that visceral sense of being reminded, poked and prodded, as though Zachary was with me at that moment saying: "Remember me? I was here, and now I'm not."

So I'm wondering, could it be GOOD to expose yourself to shit like that? Four months, eight months, a year after you lose your own child? I mean, not right away, but months later? Or is that so potentially harmful that it isn't worth it? Is it best to skillfully avoid hurtful situations to keep yourself in-tact, or is it OK to let yourself fall apart from time to time?

OK, I'm thinking so hard in circles right now that I need to take a break. Off to change into my biking attire; looking forward to thoughts from the peanut gallery!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Fight! Fight! Fight!

Greeetings, Weepsters!

Goodness, I didn't realize that last post was going to turn on the waterworks for so many readers. Well, what would life be without a good cry every now and again, right? I even watered up while writing that one. It's funny; I showed that post to Kevin (who, incidentally, stopped reading my blog a long time ago - the dastardly bastard), and his response was: "I don't get why this one is making your readers get all sappy and emotional. It's just...a post about my school reunion." Sigh. Men.

Moving on...I was going to talk about something lighthearted and silly this morning in the spirit of balance and contrast. But then good old Stirrup Queen brought my attention to a recent article in the Washington Post, in which staff writer Alan Goldenbach laments society's apparent inability to talk about stillbirth. My gut reaction to this article was surprising even to myself, so I'll share that here and save the fluff for next time.

Here's the thing (sound familiar?): Goldenbach wanted answers about his own son's dirth, but his doctors pretty much dismissed his questions and were reluctant to look more deeply into possible preventable causes. Cord accident or something similarly, unnervingly vague. Shit happens, they basically told him. Goldenbach's point was that everyone, even doctors, are unable to talk about stillbirth and its causes and possible prevention measures, and that this was...well...frustrating to say the least.

But what really caught my attention wasn't the article itself, but the eye-popping comments that were posted by readers in response. Check out these zingers:

"Oh, for pete's sake, people. I'm a mother, so I understand how crushed you all must be if you have lost a fetus or child. Nobody should have to go through it, but surely you realize it is a fact of life that people die at every stage of development and life from causes that are nobody's fault. Some of the bits of this article and the comments are ridiculous. Everyone should be told of all the miniscule risks that nobody can do anything about?"

"Our planet has 7 billion selfish dolts running around on it already, with projections for 9 billion by mid-century. So when Mother Nature occasionally decides to cull or limit our human herd, it's best that we not overanalyze her judgment or resist it to any great degree. Instead, let's learn to embrace Nature's judgment and properly resolve that, when our number is up, we go quickly and courageously for the good of the whole."

"I hate self-indulgent first person pieces like this that have come to define the health section."

Yowsers! Seething, searing verbage! Sounds like some shit is going down, if you ask me. Doesn't that make you want to gather around the hallway in highschool and start shouting FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT!? The Black-Clad, Pierced-Genitalia KuKd Fighters verus Pale-Moon-Faced Anonymous and Insensitive Commenters Who Clearly Don't Get It. Fist-swinging, hair-pulling action:

Let me start by saying that as a (god, I hate this word) blogger (actually, I'd prefer to be on the called a Caffeinated Talkaholic with a Laptop Stuck to the Tops of My Thighs) with a couple of dead babies under my belt, I initially felt this odd sense of reponsibility for "defending the KuKd tribe," so to speak. That is, springing out of my butt-imprinted chair, arms flailing, and screaming out the most obvious response that others might expect:


In fact, we might all feel better if we stood up together and said it. Come on, everybody now. One, two, three: THOSE INSENSITIVE, DICK-HEADED COMMENTERS!

Good. We can all breathe easy now and settle down.

* * *

But I'll be honest here. Philosophically, I agree with the core meaning of those comments. Don't sue me for this; I just do. I think Jesus would agree they're true (and nobody knows Jesus better than I do). I think Mother Theresa and Ghandi and the ancient Greek gods would agree they're true. Those comments could very well be posted by people in my own circle of highly opinionated friends.

Now, do I agree that these things said by commenters are 100% right 100% of the time for 100% of people in the world? No. Do I agree with how/when/where/to whom they were presented? No. Were there about eight million better ways for these commenters to get their points across than sharing them in an irritated tone of voice with a man who has JUST lost his baby? Yes. Are these comments likely to do any good whatsoever in the grand scheme of things, change anyone's mind about anything, make the fact of death any less horrible for anyone? No - not in the way they were channeled. Wrong place, wrong tone, wrong time. Too bad for those commenters, and too bad for Goldenbach who as to suffer through reading them.

* * *

There was a post I did a long ago, back when I first started this blog, when my brain was still like a fragile 1,000-piece puzzle thrown hastily together and not quite in tact. I can't seem to find this old post, probably because I deleted it, fearful that I might offend someone in this emotionally charged, dead-baby blog-o-realm. This post was about the various societies and associations and organizations and what-nots "for the prevention of stillbirth" that I'd come across during my post-stillbirth Googling spree.

They were filled with lots of bold red fonts, grave and terror-inducing warnings about how often the Evil Stillbirth Monster really can be stopped! If only we know what signs to look for! If only our government understood, and would fund the research for this! If only our doctors weren't uncaring jerks, they'd stand behind us on our question for more facts! Join the fight against the evil nameless, faceless Dictator of Stillbirth today! He's up there like Darth Vador, controlling the gears as he looks downward at YOU, innocent and unsuspecting pregnant woman, ready to snatch your infant with the flick of a dark gloved hand!


These sorts of things didn't get me revved up in any way. On the contrary, they made me immediately click the "X" in the top right-hand corner and run into the other room. They seemed like dangerous pitfalls, beckoning me to come in to grope around bits of illusional control: "Moooonnicaaa! You could have done something diffeeerrentlyyyy! If only you'd been counting kiiiicccckkks....asking more questionnnnnss...You could be doing something prevent this in the futureeeee...if you sit here and Google enough shiiiiitttt....if you call your doctor enough tiiiiimmmmesss...."

And why NOT leap right into those websites, start making Excel spreadsheets showing every factor that has ever been correlated with baby-loss in the world so I could ensure I'd do everything right next time, and maybe even pinpoint the cause of Zachary's death - from breathing in urban areas, to petting a stray dog, to washing my hands fewer than 20 times a day, to eating a molecule of Brie cheese, to not instantly calling my doctor in a panic when I didn't feel the baby do at least ten full-on rounds of gymnastics inside my belly? Why not follow my doctors around the hallways and demand that they give me some answers, which they obviously had but were withholding, or simply weren't digging deeply enough to find them on my behalf?

It would have been completely natural for me to do so, to make that spreadsheet, even to start a stillbirth-prevention research group of my own. Just like with Washington Post writer Alan Goldenbach: it's a natural article for him to write, a natural frustration to have about our medical system, where he's looking for answers and not finding any. I looked this up, just to make sure I'm not pulling this out of my arse. Here's what a University of Indiana professor says:

"The bereaved feel a strong need to regain the feeling that their life, somehow, is normal. Unfortunately, the "normal" they now experience is no longer normal as they knew it before. They are caught in a paradox of needing a normalcy that is predictable and understandable while seeing a world that is neither.
One example of the coping that results from this an effort to reclaim normal by actively seeking out and processing information about the loss. It focuses on regaining a sense of structure in the parents' lives, attributing meaning to the loss and events surrounding the loss, and the gathering of information that would provide a context for understanding."

So, regarding Goldenbach. I'm pretty sure that's the psychological place where his article comes from, where a lot of blogs in the KuKd blog-o-sphere come from, where a lot of frantic post-Kukd Googling comes from, where genetic counseling comes from, where switching doctors altogether comes from, where suing doctors for malpractice comes from, where years of infertility treatment comes from, where our incredible urge to research and plan and fix things comes from. And you know, in a lot of ways it's probably good that human brains are programmed to react to trauma like that, because sometimes - not always, but sometimes - all of that answer-seeking and researching and planning does have positive results, right?

That's the part those commenters were obviously not seeing or understanding. They were falling into the classic trap of viewing reality with blinders on, the way we so often do with all kinds of things. Analyzing death and looking for ways to prevent it, as Goldenbach was doing: it's either just plain brilliant or just plain idiotic, totally right or totally wrong, regardless of multiple perspectives or various nuanced sides of the issue. Same with abortion, the Iraq War, choosing plastic bags over paper, or any other political or cultural or social issue on this whole huge planet: people get into this ridgid, righteous mode of claiming that everything can be defined as either right or wrong, good or bad, in a binary way. It gets us in trouble sometimes. It makes us come across as assholes, as these commenters did.

And what a shame - because, as I've said, these commenters make perfectly legitimate points, in my opinion! All that good thought gone to waste because they couldn't step outside their own minds and see things differently, and respect where Goldenbach was coming from, and recognize that their comments wouldn't do any good in the context of this article. They couldn't change their tones a bit into something more helpful and positive for people who are grieving.
* * *

By the way, it's not that I didn't have my frantic-researching bonanza a-la Goldenbach. Calling the docs over at fetal medicine every day, making folders of information on fetal heart calcification, all that helped me initially, giving me this weird illusion that I had control, which somehow soothed me at the time. But I realized soon enough that this was pretty much just eye-candy, or soul-candy, sweet and caloric but not very nutritious, and not any real way to recover in the long-term.

Not to get all hippy-dippy, but in the end I sort of saw myself as a fluttering leaf on a great big maple tree of humanity. My baby was up there too as a leaf on that tree, one baby-leaf out of godtrillions. And when his number came up, his leaf was plucked and poof - he was gone. There were some genetics involved, but nothing conclusive. In the end, I felt OK with that, because to me, this never seemed like a preventable something. It seemed like a part of the cycle of life and death, a meant-to-be sort of occurance. What made me so special as to deserve anything more - more answers, less senseless death - than the hundreds of thousands killed in any given recent disaster? The answer I came up with was: nothing.

That's just me. I'm not saying that my perspective is the be-all and end-all way that everyone should view their own baby-deaths or fetus-deaths or even difficulty making babies in the first place. It was just what was healthy and best for me and my cynical, over-thinking brain.

So, going back to the Washington Post article (you knew I'd return to that, right?): would I go out for coffee with a group of those commenters? Sure. They've got strong opinions that I happen to agree with. I'd be curious to see how they changed their words, their tones, maybe even their viewpoints altogether, while actually sitting face-to-face with someone who has lost a child and not casting out comments from the safe and anonymous world of the Internet. Would I go out for coffee with Goldenbach? Sure. I can sympathize with his situation at the most basic level.

Maybe we could all get together in a park one day - a bunch of people from all sides -and have a potluck/share-a-thon.

Or not. :-)

Saturday, August 1, 2009

A Strange Kind of Daddyhood

Last night, I was Kevin’s date for his grade-school reunion at a fancy-ish restaurant on northern California's rugged coast. This was Kevin's night, not mine: his core group of mostly Hispanic buddies from Catholic school looked up and shouted "KEEVVV!!!" when we walked in fashionably late. These were the old friends he threw spitballs with from the back of Sister Bernice's classroom, shot baskets with, bumped heads with in Pop Warner football, loitered outside the convenience store with in hopes of scoring porn magazines from the immigrant artichoke farmers. I spent much of the evening sitting back, munching thoughtfully on my plateful of crab cakes and roasted artichokes, and just plain listening with amusement to these childhood tales while Kevin did the talking on our behalf.

As with any group that hasn't seen each other in twenty-some-odd years, there was a lot of leaning into the table and summing up the key details that had helped shape the full-fledged adults that these former grade-schoolers had become: marriages, deaths, births, graduations, job status. When inevitably asked: "So what have YOU been up to since age 13,” the version Kevin spun out was that we're a couple of non-church-going, world-traveling college teachers with one dog.

No kids?

When someone asked that reasonable follow-up question, Kevin took a swig of beer and said, simply: “nope.” Verb-tense-wise, it's a perfectly accurate answer: nope. We don't have - present-tense have - kids. I wouldn't say I have a grandfather either, given that both of mine are long gone. And Kevin certainly isn't the type to lower his voice and gratuitously clarify, “Well, we had a son, but he died as a four-month fetus, and another son after that named Zachary, but he was stillborn two years ago.”

No way, Jose.

As the night progressed and the fourth round of strong cocktails came out, the conversation moved beyond mere superficial life summaries, and the deeper tragic, more grown-up dirt began to emerge.
I'm talking about the tear-jerking events that carve us into wiser, more weathered people than the children we were in 5th grade. One example was Sana, the woman sitting across from me: single. No kids. Mother died young of breast cancer when she was 16. Sister died later as a homeless druggie in San Francisco. Everybody nodded and said, “ohhhh. I’m so sorry.”

As it was, Kevin's own story of grown-up dirt never did come up.

But with everyone talking about their kids, their tragedies, marriages and non-marriages, their jobs, their achievements, I felt his grade-school friends should know - and would probably find it interesting if they knew to ask: Kevin did father a full-term baby son who died.
Maybe two, depending on what you call baby - but definitely one. Doesn't this fact of his past make him much more of a complex person than mere kid-free, lanky white dude in jeans and flip-flops with a beer in one hand, other hand resting on brunette wife's knee - the way he appeared last night?

I wanted there to be a place for him to talk about his brief and surreal experience of fatherhood, a way to give this more complete picture of his life loves and losses, his history. But the thing about stillbirth and miscarriage is that there just isn't always a smooth segue, a comfortable and natural opportunity to bring it up, as with born-living humans who developed into thinking, talking people who are known by others. Who would think to ask Kevin, "how's the baby?" when nobody even knows there ever was a baby in the first place?

So it went untold, that piece of Kevin's life, buried beneath like a cherry pit in the ground. He didn't think anything of it, but I drove us home with my brow slightly furrowed, bothered by it, then bothered that I was bothered by it.

* * *

The last bit of Sana's story was that as she sat there holding her dying, still-young mother’s hand, her mom told her not to worry.
She was going off to be with the two babies that had existed before Sana, she said; both late miscarriages from several decades ago.

"I love those two babies as much as you, and it's their turn to be with me now," her mom told her.

I'll admit - this part got me, and I felt my voice catch a bit, tears prick just barely at my eyes.
How amazing, how powerful, that on her death bed, her mother would remember two miscarried babies of all things - that those little children-to-be would be at the forefront of her mind at a god-awful, cancer-ridden, terrifying time on the brink of death.

It made me stare pensively the motel ceiling that night as I tried to fall asleep, thinking about Kevin, about how fatherhood fits in with his history; about our son Zachary himself, floating around somewhere in space. It made me wonder who I'll think of if I'm ever in the unfathomable predicament of consciously dying; if I'll think of Zachary, of the fetus before him, or be instead hoping desperately that there are bacon, coffee, white wine, French food, and decent people to hang out with in the afterlife.

What's more, it made me feel bad that Zachary, our pregnancy with him, hadn't even gotten honorable mention at the dinner table that night. I wanted suddenly and desperately to be able to e-mail him directly. I'd start with Hey Kiddo, and then I'd tell him:

You may have noticed that you didn't come up in conversation at tonight's reunion gathering in which everyone was spilling out major details about their lives. It wasn't because you were not a major recent detail in your father's life, or because your father's spooge was not involved in your creation, or because in the final hours of your life he didn't press the side of his face against my belly to feel your last slow kicks, or because you aren't thought of every waking day by both of us, or because he isn't a tender-hearted man who loves you and me both fiercely.

It's because he'd rather keep you inside of him, safe and protected, and only bring you out among the most special select few people who he really, really knows and trusts. Not a bunch of grown-up kids he threw spitballs with twenty years ago and is only seeing for the first time in two decades. What makes them so special that they should get to hear your story? Take it as a compliment, that your dad has high standards regarding what he discloses to whom, and that he isn't whoring you out to any old gossip-mongers (believe me, I do enough of that).

I hope you're drinking your milk and eating plenty of green leafy vegetables up there.

Love, Mom

I think he would've gotten the point, probably even rolled his eyes at my usual over-thinking. "It's FINE, Mom," he would've called out over his shoulder, already distracted and disappearing out the door to play T-ball, or whatever they play up in infant heaven.