Sunday, November 27, 2016

Ten things

The waiting continues...and I've been working hard at practicing meticulous mindfulness. It's been going pretty well, aside from a couple of weeks where the US election combined with solo parenting to send me into an anxiety tailspin. (The election was one of the things I was waiting for, and to say I was not happy with the outcome would be an understatement on the order of describing Australia as a place with one or two possibly harmful critters.)

But. Life marches on, and I must focus on the things I can do even in the midst of feeling helpless and at the mercy of events over which I have no control. So in that spirit, here's an update of recent-ish happenings.

Going back to early September - a tiny birthday cake for a visiting colleague of DP's who has become a family friend. He made the long trek to Australia for the second year running to guest lecture in DP's program, and I found out that his first full day in town was his 66th birthday. So we surprised him when he came over for dinner.

In late September, we went to the US for our planned family visit; for me it was five cities in just under three weeks. One of the highlights of my trip (and my year) was a long-planned sisters' weekend in New York, with all of us together on our own on a trip for the first time in a very long time. It was a memorable and spectacular trip, in part because of visiting places like The Frick Collection.

Our final city in the US was a 36-hour stopover in Dallas to visit our good friends who live there. We really enjoyed visiting the Dallas Arboretum's Pumpkin Village - a clever and creative use of winter squash, and I couldn't stop giggling most of the time for thinking about this. (Warning: NSFW language!)

Then back to Canberra, swapping autumn color for spring in bloom and harvesting lemons and rosemary from the garden.

Two weeks after we got back from the US, I was off again - this time to Seoul for my organization's annual meeting. It was a productive and positive week overall, but it makes me a little sad that this is pretty much the only picture I managed to take outside of the conference (it's a little mall made up entirely of small shops run by local craftswomen and -men).

Back again for the tail end of October; settling in to nearly three months with no overseas trips scheduled, and starting to see some real signs of spring - encouraging enough that I have revived my cold brew coffee habit, making it in my French press and then storing in a repurposed Chianti bottle. (Classy, no?) My standard ratio for coffee (hot or cold) is 7g of coffee per 100ml of water; cold water for cold brew, and let it brew for at least a couple of hours. Chill in the fridge overnight, then serve over ice with a hefty splash of milk and a dollop of maple syrup to sweeten.

The end of October also means Halloween, and a sweet treat to celebrate it. This year I made ghost cakes for Miss B - basically a chocolate cupcake, topped with a gloopy pile of vanilla buttercream frosting and suitably decorated.

Moving into November and real spring weather - a good opportunity to host our first outdoor Sunday lunch of the season and invite a few friends over to share it with us.

And speaking of a few friends: this weekend we celebrated Thanksgiving in Australia, with a buffet turkey dinner for 60+ friends, colleagues, students and their families. An epic undertaking achieved with a lot of lists and a lot of help, and one to make me remember to be grateful for all the things I have.

Which today include the luxury of having to do not much of anything except eat pie, bask in the afterglow of yesterday, and figure out what the heck to do with all these leftovers.

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.

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