No dress rehearsal, this is our life

We got back from Michigan a week ago, after a very short, very sweet visit with my grandma. Two days of driving for two days of sitting, talking, just enjoying being in her presence. It was lovely. 

The kids handled the long drive surprisingly well, and were smitten with their Gigi, and I was thrilled just to be with her again for a while after nearly 3 years away. I’d do it again in a heartbeat, given the chance.

She’s 95 years old, so “next time” is not a given. But we hope.

I’ve had a whole lot of feelings to unpack around this trip, around family and life and balance and priorities, and not a lot of time or opportunity to do so until now. I jumped right back into work when we got back to Virginia, assisting with a trial and trying to tame a furious flurry of stuff that had come through on my other cases in my absence. I missed some bedtimes and morning kisses, but overall we got through fine. 

It’s funny to think that after a year here, we are still adjusting to our new normal, but here we are.

And it has now been a whole year. That anniversary came and went this week, with memories popping up on social media of our Brooklyn goodbyes, our one-year younger kids curled up like kittens in the giant hotel bed, our stressed-out rants and the comforting words of family and friends, and then, the quiet slog of settling-in.

And now we are in September, which always feels big and important for the endings and beginnings contained therein, but which feels even more so this year. We’re on the cusp of one of the biggest transitions of our lives as a family:  Kindergarten, the start less then a week away now. We have bus schedules and supply lists and weekly folders to pay attention to now, we will plan our lives around school schedules for years to come. 

I’m thrilled for our boy but I’m desperately sad to be losing him to the education-industrial complex so soon. It feels like we held him for the first time just yesterday. I feel like I’ve missed too much of his life already. I want more time. 

Our arrival in Detroit happened to coincide with the last show of the farewell tour of a longtime favorite band of mine. (One thing some of you may not know about growing up in Michigan, is that you learn to love a lot of Canadian music.) So after Mike and the kids were asleep, I sat on the edge of the bed in our darkened hotel room, listening through headphones as Gord closed out the show in perfect fashion:

First we’d climb a tree
And maybe then we’d talk
Or sit silently
And listen to our thoughts
With illusions of someday
Casting a golden light
No dress rehearsal,
This is our life

***

That song has always been a favorite, but it feels particularly resonant right now. I haven’t been able to get it out of my head since that night. 

You never want to think that any given time that you see someone, when you hold their hand or laugh with them or eat a meal they’ve lovingly prepared for you, that that might be the last time. But last times are sneaky like that. You just don’t know when you’re in one until the moment has passed, and then it’s too late to do anything about it.

This was the first time in my life that I can recall that I visited my grandma and she didn’t cook for us. And at age 95, she has absolutely earned that right – I’m not mad or upset in the slightest. But I am sad that the “last time,” the moment, has passed, and we missed it.

When we visited 3 years ago, Julian gleefully tucked into a plate of grandma’s migas. Mirabelle has never tasted my grandma’s cooking, and likely never will. 

So I am sad about that. And I’m sad that my biggest cooking inspiration and teacher, the person who taught me how to toast the rice in the pan before adding any liquid, and to cook the chicken until it looks drier than you think it should be because if you don’t, the tacos will be soggy, the woman who taught me the importance of sitting around a table and sharing a meal together, and who helped me realize the joy that could be found in the simple act of feeding people, has, for the most part, stepped out of the kitchen. She doesn’t have the energy to cook anymore, and she can’t eat a lot of the things she used to love, and I’m sad about that, too.

When we got back to Virginia, all I wanted to do was cook her food. I wanted to fill our kitchen with the smell of frying tortillas, onions and garlic toasting, chiles roasted until charred, their blackened skins rubbed away to reveal tender flesh. Pinto beans cooked in bacon fat in a black iron skillet, mashed to creaminess and dotted with cheese. Guacamole and pico de gallo and salty corn chips. 

Beer to wash them down. Bourbon to numb my sorrow. 

I often joke that my ability to cut onions without crying is my superpower, but that night, I was powerless to stop my tears. I tried hard not to let the kids see or hear me. I want the memories they associate with this food to be happy ones, of a table full of family, boisterous conversation, laughter, animated discussion, security, and love, not of mommy standing in the kitchen mourning someone who is not even gone. 

I want to figure out how to find time to cook again. I need to keep her food alive. 

I want my kids to grow up knowing this food, I want them to share this food with the people they care about, like grandma taught me to do.

I want more time to climb trees with them, to talk, or sit silently, or both. 

I want them to hear the music that kept me going through my darkest times, and that I celebrated my triumphs and joys with.

I want us all to spend more time with the people we love while they are still here, while we still can.  To appreciate the moments before they pass. 

No dress rehearsal. This is our life.

What kind of life do I want it to be? And how do I make it happen? 

(This post was originally published on jenblossom.com)

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back to my roots

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Long before LND was a blog, it was a photo chronology of what Mike and I were cooking and eating in the earliest days of our relationship. My photography skills were even worse than they are now, but I didn’t care – I wasn’t taking pictures to share them, just to catalog our meals. It was casual and fun, totally low-pressure. I’ve missed those days.

In the years since I started taking pictures of my food, Mike and I shacked up, got married, moved from Brooklyn to Providence and back again, said goodbye to two beloved kitties, got published, ate high-end truck food on camera, welcomed two beloved children into the world, and worked on a book that is going to be out in a little over a month. That’s a whole lot of living, and a whole lot of meals that may or may not have made their way to these pages.

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There have been plenty of fallow periods here as we went through various life adjustments, and I’ve often wondered if I should just let this space fade away. It has felt like too much of a burden, a drain on my (increasingly limited) time, and frankly, the blogging world is very different now than it was when I started. I don’t know squat about SEO (nor do I care), I don’t have the time or money to go to conferences, and so many of my favorite food bloggers stopped posting ages ago… but something has kept me from walking away.

I was reminded last week, amid all of the ugly news in our country and the world, of this essay. Amanda Hesser begins with these words:

We eat for many reasons other than hunger. But there is only one reason we gather at the table. To be with one another.

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This virtual table is important to me. The sense of community and connection I have felt with the people I’ve interacted with via this space has sustained me through so many ups and downs over the last seven years, and I’m not ready to give that up. So instead of feeling some totally internal pressure to post more frequently, or to keep up with what others are doing, or to conform to someone else’s idea about the “right way” to write a food blog, I’m just gonna do me. There may be a recipe from time to time, if I’ve got the time and the space to create one, but mostly I want to go back to my roots, to post a crappy photo of a meal that we cooked in our tiny Brooklyn kitchen, and shared at our table.

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Speaking of gathering together, in the coming months we’ll be traveling to Boston and Providence, to Central PA, and more to promote SHRUBS. We’d love to get a chance to meet some of you. We’ll be posting updates and tour information over on the SHRUBS Facebook page.