Something I found in quarantine

I miss my grandfather. He was a handsome Austrian fellow with piercing blue eyes and a mischievous grin. He died when I was 17 years old and I miss him. Here are some of the things that made him cool. He was a veteran of World War 2. He fought in the Pacific and looked better in a sailor uniform than Frank Sinatra. He taught me how to play poker. That was family game night. He was married to my grandmother for over 65 years. He used to sometimes swear in broken German. My grandmother would swear back in broken Italian. His name was Nick Sigl, but spelled Nicolaus. Isn’t that the coolest spelling? Nicolaus Sigl. Just try spelling it without looking at it.

He used to make this dish called Grout Fleckla. For years I have been haunted by the fact that I don’t remember much about the dish except that I loved it. It was savory, I think it involved noodles, and maybe onions? In addition to my frequent requests for it at family dinners, I asked him to make Grout Fleckla for me whenever there was any kind of cultural event at my school. All the families would bring their traditions and foods to share, and I can’t say I’ve ever had a strong sense of cultural identity, but there was Grout Fleckla. It was distinctly German, and distinctly Sigl.

I have known for some time that it could not have actually been called Grout Fleckla, but that was the phonetic experience of my young brain when met with my grandfather’s thick German accent (only employed when he actually spoke German). His command of the language may have declined over the years, but his commitment to the accent never wavered. It never occurred to me that in this, the year 2020, I now have any number of ways to look up the correct name of the dish. I don’t know why that is, except maybe the feeling of having lost something takes a stronger hold in our brains than the possibility it could be found, so when something like Google was invented, I never entertained the notion that I could sleuth out my grandfather’s dish. I think I also assumed it was unique to us, his invention. I had decided some time before that the recipe—whatever it was called—died with him, and I’ve mourned it ever since.

A few weeks ago, in the beginning of this quarantine, I decided to make a frittata. I don’t cook much, but this quarantine has made some kind of a chef of all of us. Frittatas are usually my husband’s specialty, but he was playing with the baby so I was on frittata duty. Frittatas in our house aren’t just crust-less quiches; they involve noodles. We will not go carbless in the Light house. Frittatas come about when we have leftover pasta and the next morning we put them in a cast iron skillet with a bunch of eggs, cheese, and veggies. I started by sautéing a ton of onions and garlic. While those caramelized, I rifled through the fridge in search of veggies and saw we had a head of cabbage. I chopped that up and threw it in. Once the cabbage softened, I added the noodles.

And that’s when it happened. I’m getting all flustered thinking about it. Something happened in my nose. The smell of sautéed onions and garlic mingling with the cabbage and noodles sent me into an overwhelming sense memory of being with my grandfather and eating Grout Fleckla. Oh my God. It wasn’t Grout. It was Kraut. Cabbage. And for the first time in nearly twenty years it dawned on me, I can look this up. I could have, for years, found a way to look this up. I’ve stalked old boyfriends with less information to go by, but now, I had cabbage.

Opens Google.
Search: German noodle dish kraut…

I didn’t even have to type kraut, actually. As soon as I entered German noodle dish my results came up. Krautfleckerl. “An Austrian pasta with caramelized cabbage.” I felt like I found my grandfather. I thought he was lost. Now I can visit him in more than just a dream. I can taste this dish again and memories are so much easier to access with your mouth and your nose than with your brain.

I finished the frittata, but the next night I looked up a recipe and made Krautfleckerl. As I served it to my family, I could picture my grandfather holding a large aluminum tray full of the savory noodles, wearing a bomber jacket with a fur trim, and polyester pants, helping me bring a bit of Austrian, a bit of Sigl, to share with whomever might be interested. 

If that’s you, if you’re interested, here is the recipe for Krautfleckerl. Though I might always call it Grout Fleckla.

I pulled this specific recipe from a restaurant in Vienna, but you could vary it. As long as you’ve got noodles, cabbage, onions, garlic, and caraway seeds, you’ll get the flavor.

Ingredients:

  • 1 white Onion
  • 1 (head of) cabbage
  • 2 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp. of caraway seeds
  • 1/2 c butter
  • Pasta, your choice on the shape but I think goes best with a Papardelle or Campanelle, or even an egg noodle
  • 1 bunch of parsley
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 2 cloves of garlic

Preparation:

Cut the cabbage (white, without stalk) into squares, cut onion finely and chop garlic. Let the sugar and the caraway caramelize in a big pot. Now add the half of the butter, the onion and the garlic, stir. Add the cabbage, salt and stir again. Let it steam for about 30 minutes with a closed lid.
Bring sufficient water to a boil, add salt and cook the pasta until al dente. Strain, rinse in cold water and allow it to drain well. Chop parsley. Mix the pasta with the cabbage and stir. Add the rest of the butter and season with parsley and pepper. Serve while warm.

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Pandemic Day: I have no idea

I was having a panic attack just now, so I went out on my balcony to breathe. I am very lucky to have a balcony, especially one that overlooks the ocean. I said the following words, which kind of look like a poem all put together, but really they’re just words that helped me. Maybe that’s all poems really are. I thought I’d write them down. They’re pretty sentimental, but sometimes those are the words that help the most. Sometimes.

The sky is still up there
Catalina still floats in the Sea.
This tree is here
Still stands.
The birds still fly
The birds still have to eat lizards
The lizards must still avoid the birds
I wish I was a bird
But I am not a lizard.
The flowers are blooming

Right now

And Catalina still floats in the Sea

The sun is there
Pushing
Pushing out, further way, from something
We still spin around it for some reason.
The wind is merciful
The Sea is in us
And Catalina still floats.

But it’s not floating at all.
It’s not going anywhere.
It’s right there still.
As far as I’ll know, always.

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Pandemic – Day 7

The nighttime is the hardest. That is when my child goes to bed and I don’t have her joyful ignorance to anchor me in the present moment. It’s when I read news, and fret. It’s when I try to write. Then I think about the futility of what I’m writing. It’s trite, meaningless. I think about the possibility that there may not be a publishing industry to return to. Or perhaps the world will be more thirsty than ever for books, if we spend so much of our lives socially distant from one another. But my book? Still not my book, surely. It’s too stupid.

I thought that I better write these things down. I thought that might be important.

Everything feels enormous today. It’s unnerving for the entire world to be talking about the same thing. We’re not meant to be that unified, I don’t think. A little diversity of interests, conversation, that’s what made social media a pleasant distraction. Not the hammer on my psyche that it is now.

Even the cool shit that people are making is heavy. The live-streamed concerts, and poetry readings, and creative videos are heavy–no matter how joyful–because of the need from which they spring. We need art more than ever, but my God, I was never prepared for my art to matter that much.

I’m worried that this will change the world beyond recognition or repair.

I’m worried that it won’t, and what the fuck was this all for?

I’m worried that industries will become obsolete. That we’ll slip into a Depression. That most of my friends, and I, will be destitute. I’m worried about finances, okay? It sucks.

I’m worried for my daughter. That our little ship of isolation, her mom and her dad, won’t be enough to keep her stimulated. She was thriving in daycare. She is so social. I’m worried that she won’t get to play with other kids for so long. Too long.

I’m worried about my parents, all of whom are immuno-compromised.

I’m worried that my dreams don’t matter any more.

I’m worried that there are certain people I may never see again.

I’m worried that not enough people will take this seriously and too many people will get sick.

I’m worried for our doctors, nurses, first responders. Everyone out there.

I’m worried we won’t get a general election.

I’m worried that that fucking volcano in Yellowstone is going to erupt.

There it is, a short list. But you know what? I can breathe through all of that, for now. I can take it day by day. What I can’t take are these days. I love my little family. I miss other humans. I took for granted my social spirit. I miss people. I miss you. How long will we last like this? Who will break first? The economy? Our spirits? The fever?

The only way I’ve ever known how to get through anything is to really go through it. Deep into it. So, sorry, I can’t look on the bright side right now. I have to make my way through the deep end. Words have been a trusty tool. Words bring me comfort. Always. So I just keep writing. Writing into the darkest parts of this. Like one day it will matter. If it ever did.

Peace.

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Motherhood at 4:00 AM

If there’s a difference between God and man, it must have something to do with patience. God would not get angry at his 18-month-old child for waking up in the middle of the night and refusing to go back to sleep. Then again, God invented 18-month-old children. And so, perhaps God is rather cruel. God also invented teeth. Teeth that must pierce through solid flesh at that very same age when emotions are new and the world is overwhelming and neither emotions nor the world can help the other feel manageable. God is a psychopath.

I should not have worn mascara today. I should have known better.

My child has the sweetest face, the sweetest disposition, and a strong will. She has a zest for life. We have worked hard from early on to teach her that, however much she loves to be awake, sleep is important. Over time she has—reluctantly at first—gotten very good at sleeping through the night. Every once in a while things happen. A nightmare, or a cold, or a tooth, or sometimes all three. And I should not have worn mascara today.

I’m very grateful that I am generally a happy person. I don’t suffer from depression, but I do dabble in anxiety. I have two reliable triggers. The first is the phone—making and receiving phone calls. I’ve gotten better at it, but it’s still instantly panic-inducing. The second is being awake in the middle of the night. I am not good at this. The wee small hours of the morning take me to a dark place. I don’t know how I survived having a newborn, except that I just did. Something worked. I don’t know if it was hormones, or some other kind of biological imperative that made it palatable to live with interrupted sleep for over a year, but I would wake up at whatever hour, nurse the baby and go back to bed. I was tired, but it was fine. It sucked, but did not trigger anxiety. It was actually kind of peaceful sometimes, to be awake with her when the world was quiet. As soon as Zelda started sleeping through the night, well, I got used to it. A mom could get used to this sleeping through the night thing. In fact, the year and a half of poor sleep (two years if I count what pregnancy did to me), has made me very greedy with my sleep. Now when we have a bad night, it’s so hard to get up, so hard in fact that it is the number one thing that gives me pause about having a second child. Not finances, or logistics, or pregnancy. Sleep. It’s like having been tortured and then choosing to go back to your torture chamber. I survived, but I can’t go back to that. Now that the hormones, and whatever other biological magic that made unreliable sleep okay, now that that has worn off, I can’t stomach it again. So when my child woke up screaming at 4:00 in the morning after I’d only had a fitful and measly three hours of sleep, I made a rapid descent to a dark place.

Why the fuck did I wear mascara today?

The only thing worse than feeling anxious in the middle of the night is blaming your baby for it. And the only thing worse than blaming your baby for being anxious in the middle of the night is the guilt you feel for blaming your baby for being anxious in the middle of the night. And that’s where it stops. There is not much worse than that crushing guilt. My sweet angel-faced baby, to whom I directed white hot rage for waking me up in the middle of a sleep cycle, how dare she? How dare she call out mommy from her crib. How dare she need me in the night?

If there is a difference between God and man, God would go to his baby’s crib and hold her, however long it took until she drifted back to sleep. All night, if that’s what was necessary. God would not let her cry with pain in her gums and nightmares in her head, and just cross his fingers that she’ll get over it and go back to sleep. God would not bitterly go into her room, pick her up with stiff arms, rock her for four minutes, and then put her back in her crib to figure it out. God would not then send in his husband to do what he was too angry to do. God would not weep into his pillow, for reasons he could not even articulate except to say that the middle of the night was too dark. And God would not be stupid enough to wear mascara the next day.

No, she did not go back to sleep. She had a luxurious, long morning of crying and play from 4:00 am until 7:45 when we left to take her to daycare. She instantly fell asleep on the 20-minute car ride. God would not begrudge his child that nap. God would not expect his baby to understand why Mommy was mad when his baby had a grasp on language that totaled perhaps 40 words, mostly animals. My face flushed as I sat in my anger, baby asleep in the back seat. I turned off the heater in the car. I didn’t deserve warmth. I pulled up to her school. Now the overtired child would be their problem for the day. God would not be giddy to drop his child off at daycare.

And as I left the building, Zelda happy and safe in her teacher’s arms, I waited for it to hit me. I knew it was coming, like a wave. It would topple me as soon as I left her. There it was…

I hated myself.

I hated myself for being angry.

I hated myself for not being able to control that anger.

I hated myself for paying other people to raise my child.

I hated myself, because what if something I had done that morning sent a message to my child that she couldn’t count on me when she was upset. What if the way that I had looked at her signaled that I was not a safe place for her feelings. She asked me to pick her up as I made her breakfast. “Uppatio,” she said, reaching for me. Her word for up. And I let her reach. I stood there like a dead ice queen, and made her oatmeal, and let her reach. And then I let her go find her dad, who picked her up and held her close. What if she remembers that for the rest of her life? I take for granted that she has been a baby and memories for her are temporary, but one day soon a memory will stick. And what if that was the one?

I am clearly not God. I am deeply flawed, but I will focus on one thing. My child shows me how I could be better. Every time she challenges me, she shows me where I could stand to grow. And so God is present in her face. And in our relationship. And in my very imperfect attempt at motherhood.

Thank you, God, for inventing coffee. Thank you for inventing husbands like mine, who get up at 4:00 in the morning when I can’t, to entertain a grumpy teething toddler for three hours and then go to work for a full day like I have to do. Thank you, God, for my sweet child, and for all of her big feelings. Thank you for the way she reaches for me, and leans in to kiss me. Thank you for her giggles, and for the way her little bum rocks back and forth when she dances. For the way she tilts her head when she’s trying to understand something. For the way she needs me right now. Thank you for this guilt, which is unbearable, but reminds me that I’m not a psychopath — like you might be.

And I am so sorry. I will try to be better. Please wipe the stiffness of my arms and my stoic expression from my child’s memory. Please, I beg you.

Thank you, God, for waterproof mascara that prevents raccoon eyes like I have now. Please remind me to buy some the next time I’m at the store.

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I Used to be a Runner

Am I even allowed to call this a running blog anymore if I’ve only run once since December? Maybe not. Dang, this whole working full-time/being a mom/creative/person with a clean house thing is tough. I have zero time to run. I could let other things go, but I don’t want to. Here’s what my day looks like. Maybe you can help me figure out where to fit it in:

7:00 AM – Wake up, get ready, get Z ready for daycare

7:45 AM – Drive Z to daycare, myself to work

9:00 AM – 5:30 PM – Werk

5:30 PM – 6:30 PM – Drive home

6:30 PM – 8:30 PM – Spend precious time with baby and husband, have dinner, get baby to bed

8:30 PM – 9:00 PM – Clean up the food hurricane that the baby caused in the kitchen

9:00 PM – 9:30 PM – Veg out on the couch a bit

9:30 PM – 11:00 PM – Either write, or watch TV, or catch up with husband

11:00 PM – Bed

Start it all up again the next day.

Where does running fit into this? I know you’re going to say I need to get up earlier. I know I do. It’s hard though. I do not do well on less than eight hours of sleep which means I would need to go to bed earlier which means I will have less time to write/veg/talk. And maybe that’s what I need to do, but like I said at the top, I don’t really want to trim anything off this schedule that already provides so little time for relaxing, decompressing, being creative. What I need is another half hour added to the day. Who do I talk to about that?

 

The only running I do lately is running after her. Maybe, for this season of life, that can be enough.

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How to be Honest

I am writing a personal book, the most personal thing I’ve written besides some things I’ve written on this blog. I went back to read old posts to get somehow in touch with past feelings, but I mostly cringed and hid a lot of this blog’s history from view. Here’s what I learned about writing, from the horror of reading one’s early attempts:

  • Be honest. If it’s untrue, it will suck.
  • Don’t try to be clever. If you try to be clever, then you’re not clever. Cleverness is something that you might stumble upon in service of a story but it should never be something you’re trying to achieve. See bullet point one.
  • If it can be more simple, it should be.
  • If in reviewing your writing something bothers you more than one time, it will always bother you. Change it.
  • You almost never need to use an exclamation point. Stop yelling.
  • If you don’t know what you meant by something, your audience sure as hell won’t either. Change it.
  • Sometimes something sounds really good in your head and it’s shit on paper. I don’t have a solution for this, except maybe keep evaluating if it fulfills bullet point one.
  • You rarely need an adverb. Find a better verb. This is also true for adjectives. Trust the noun.
  • Writers stress about commas much more than readers I think, but you probably don’t need them as much you as you think you do.
  • You probably overuse the words just and very.
  • Once you figure out how to use a semicolon or an em dash, you’ll be tempted to use them all the time, and then you’ll read like a pretentious fool. It’s not the 19th century; cool it with the punctuation.
  • You’ll have a hard time taking your own advice.
  • The sentences that you feel the most attached to, the most precious with, are the ones that will make you cringe the most when you read them a year later. Therefore:
  • Don’t be precious with anything.
  • No matter how good and seasoned a writer you are, you will occasionally mix up your and you’re. Be kind to yourself.
  • If you keep writing, you will get better at it. So keep writing.

Zelda’s Teeth

For this brief, tiny, delicate moment in time, you smile at me with bare gums. They are so sweet.

Then you have two teeth. And you will never smile at me with a toothless grin ever again.

Huh.

For this next brief moment you have only two tiny bottom teeth, but soon it will be three. Teeth move on.

You can do nothing but kick, smile, cry, sleep, or laugh when placed down on your back. You are stuck, not always happy about it.

But now you can roll.

Now you can scoot.

Now you can crawl.

Now you can climb up onto my legs and look me in the eyes. You are so proud of yourself every time that you do. I’m proud too, but also a little bit sad.

For a tiny window longer, you can’t yet walk beside me. You are still in baby position. You are in my arms.

You have no words. For only a second more, you tell me how you feel with coos, laughs, shouts, cries, and the occasional consonant. Tomorrow you’ll have words, and we’ll never communicate like this again. We’ll have new ways of talking to each other that we’ll love, but it won’t be like this.

You don’t always sleep through the night. Some nights you do. Some nights will soon be all nights, and there will be a last time we cuddle in the dark in the quiet hours, just you and me, and the bubbling fish tank. Soon you will sleep in your own room, with your things, and your own dreams.

We nurse. My body grew your body, and it still does. In the blink of an eye you will be done. But thank God it’s not today. Thank God my breast still comforts you. I thank God, I really do, for the bundle of your little body curled into mine as you stare into my eyes and play with my hair, drinking milk and loving each other. I’m not ready for the tomorrow when that ends. I never will be.

Today you had apples for the first time.

And broccoli.

And shrimp.

And mango.

You do not like cottage cheese.

We have ice cream in our future. You still possess a brain that has never experienced the wonder of ice cream. I can’t wait for that tomorrow.

Your teeth are coming in. They hurt you. The newness hurts; I know, baby. But soon they won’t hurt anymore. Soon you’ll have all your teeth, like me. And one day they will hurt again but not from their newness. From their oldness. From something called a cavity, which is a kind of hole that rots. Try not to let that happen. You do have some control over it.

Zelda, everything you are as a baby is like lightning. So bright, stunning, then it’s gone. I’m writing it down for you. To catch it in a bottle. It’s a bottle you might be interested in someday. I always will be.

I love the you of tomorrow. I love watching you learn, but I’ll miss your crawling, your coos, your milky breath, your whole body in my arms. I don’t want to go back, Zelda, but I wouldn’t mind the chance to relive a few of these moments. Just for a second. I’ll miss those two little front teeth featured solo on your sweet, perfect, baby gums.

Oh. There’s tooth number three. And the moment is gone.

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