Sunday, October 9, 2016

While you wait

Nearly four years ago I wrote a post about how stressful I find waiting, at a time when I found myself in a state of limbo, awaiting significant outcomes over which I had no control in my personal, professional, and national life.

Well, here I am again - and it doesn't feel as though I've gotten any better at being zen about waiting. Possibly even worse, at least at the moment, compounded as it is by grief. My current strategy is something I call "meticulous mindfulness" (or would "mindful meticulousness" be better? I can't decide), by which I mean that I am trying to focus on the things that I want to accomplish each day, and then trying to give each of those things my full attention. In the short term, when I can accomplish it, it stops the hamster wheel in my brain from spinning; and in the long term, I hope it adds up to a period of sustained accomplishment and satisfaction, rather than one of fruitless frustration.

So: this morning, I woke up early for Sunday, slightly jetlagged after returning from my second trip to the US in two months (this one, a family trip, was the one I had been planning to take this year). I lay in bed and thought about what I wanted to do with this unexpected block of time. Did I want to stay in bed and read, enjoying having nothing to do after three weeks of non-stop activity (including stops in five cities)? Or did I want to tackle some task on my monster To Do list?

I split the difference - I read for a while, and then I got up to bring my blog up to date. Here's some recent happenings, aside from what I've already told:

An impromptu family trip to Perth and the southwest corner of Western Australia during July school holidays that almost didn't happen, between DP's travel schedule and my father's hospitalization. But it did, and I'm glad we managed it - as well as this, which was on Miss B's must-see list: sunset over the Indian Ocean. Our last night before we flew back east, we went down to the beach in Fremantle and sat there to watch it happen.

The saying goes that in the midst of life we are in death, but the reverse is also true. My father died five days before Miss B's twelfth birthday, and I flew to Boston the day after. We had a family dinner and cake on the day with a few close friends, and with the help of some of the aforementioned meticulous mindfulness I was able to give Miss B the cake of her twelve-year-old dreams, even if I didn't manage a birthday post.

And to continue the theme: my oldest sister's birthday was the day after my father's funeral, and for my gift I made a birthday dinner, for her and all available family members. For dinner we had spaghetti al'amitriciana three ways: the standard version, as outlined in this post; a batch made with gluten-free pasta, for the GF contingent; and a vegetarian version for the birthday girl, substituting fried halloumi for the bacon. For dessert we had her favorite treat: birthday pie. I tested out Nigella's GF Pie Crust (a smashing success, even made under sub-optimal conditions in someone else's kitchen) and made maple-blueberry for the birthday girl (who doesn't eat refined sugar), and peach-raspberry for the non-blueberry fans.

That takes us up to early August...more to follow soon.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Vale Pater

One of the things that was weighing on me when I last wrote was that my father had been hospitalized in May, and that his condition didn't seem to be improving. I haven't written since because, as it turned out, it wasn't, and he died in late July.

My father was 88. He'd had a long, full life, and had been dealing with a number of medical conditions that had caused his physical health, emotional wellbeing, and quality of life to deteriorate steadily and significantly over the last decade. It turns out none of that prepares you when the time comes to say goodbye.

I went back to Boston to be with my family for the wake and funeral. My sisters and I spent hours composing an 8-page eulogy in which we tried to distill his essence - his kindness, his steadfast reliability, his sense of humor and enjoyment of life, his love of sports and music, his devotion to our mother and all of us. The priest who said his funeral mass - who also married DP and me 20 years ago and has known my family even longer - described him as a man whose "true vocation was fatherhood."

Our Boston community of family, friends, and colleagues turned out in force to commemorate him and condole with us. I've heard so many people say how much it means to have that support when someone you love dies, and now I know how true it is. I will always be grateful for that solace and care.

My father was a romantic but not sentimental, and couldn't abide most of the traditional choices for father-daughter wedding dances. All of us who got married chose instead to dance with him to songs that were his favorites, and that are bound up with our memories of him. This is mine.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Ten things

Multiple aspects of life are not great at the moment – not anything I can discuss here, and not anything earth-shattering. Just things that suck some of the joy out of life. (To say nothing of what's been happening in my home and first adopted countries....) So I’m trying to focus on good things where I can. Here are some recent ones:

1. I got to go to Tokyo on a work trip last month! Just for long enough to whet my appetite for more, and with most of that spent inside a hotel, but I did get in a bit of sightseeing here and there - this is sunset in Shinjuku, which was my home base while I was there.

2. I also found time to track down the one thing that Miss B wanted most from Tokyo - a stuffed Totoro. (For those of you in the know - she already had the small white and blue ones, but has been longing for this one for ages. For those of you not in the know - if you have children or love animated movies, find and watch this film. It is utterly wonderful, and I say that as someone who has seen it dozens of times.)

3. Watching autumn turn to winter in Canberra - always beautiful, and familiar and strange at the same time. Red maple leaves are a lifelong sign of autumn, but finding them in the garden in May, amidst eucalyptus and other native Australian flora? Still getting used to that.

4. It only took 10 months, but our guest room is sorted and habitable at last. (Just in time, by the sounds of it, given the sudden uptick in requests following recent events in the US and UK.)

5. Celebrating DP's birthday - a perfect excuse to make a metric ton of buttercream frosting and get crazy with food coloring and piping bags. (You're never too old or too manly for frosting roses.)

6. Dropped by to meet our friends' new baby (and deliver a reheatable meal to his exhausted parents and exuberant big sister - I made this pasta bake, a loaf of bread, and a mini cake made from the birthday leftovers).

7. Went to Melbourne for the weekend to visit friends who have bought a Victorian hill station on a mountainside outside of town, and are in the midst of renovating house and garden. This is a glimpse of Miss B on our tour of the grounds. (Fun fact: did you know that the temperature drops 1C for every 100m you travel above sea level?)

8. Speaking of learning things, our conversations over the course of the visit inspired me to start listening to BBC Radio 4's History of the World in 100 Objects podcast - it's instructive and fascinating, and for those of you based in Canberra, timely, because the exhibition is coming to the National Museum later this year!

9. I also came down with a cold while there, which got a lot worse after I got back and which I'm still recovering from more than 2 weeks later. There's nothing like feeling abjectly awful physically to remind one to be grateful for feeling healthy and energetic most of the time.

10. And finally, a small thing which has improved my working life significantly in the last couple of months, after I gave up and admitted that I couldn't manage to keep track of my work just with digital tools - I admitted I needed a pen-and-paper system and as soon as I did, I came across a glowing recommendation for bullet journaling. If you're a similar devotee of analog tools, I whole-heartedly recommend it. It really has changed the way I work in some simple but effective ways, and I've already converted one skeptical friend, so do check it out if you're looking for a new way to get on top of things. I promise you don't need anything other than a notebook and pen!

Hope all is well where you are, and that you're keeping warm - or cool, as the case may be!

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