Monday, August 29, 2011
Sunday, August 21, 2011
Do you have someone you'd like to be when you grow up? For me, it's Susan Branch. If you don't know her, she writes the most beautiful cookbooks, creates gorgeous calendars, develops material for quilters and generally has her creative mojo overflowing. Recently she began a blog and I love it! Take a look and escape into the wonderful world of Susan Branch.
So...I had to steal her little bumper sticker...I just know we would be friends if only I hung out in Martha's Vineyard. :)
Anyway, her bumper sticker got me thinking...if we all lived like Susan Branch, we would create our own islands full of people that are wise and of good will. The grace would happen. We wouldn't need anything fancy. We wouldn't even need a view...just some good will and wisdom. And where can we find that? Here's the big secret that even darling Susan Branch doesn't seem to mention very often: at eye level with kids.
So often, they have that lovely mixture of good will and wisdom.
They give second chances. They love ferociously. They think you're beautiful. They dance. They cuddle when they need to (or if you need to), offer up a quick "sorry" when the time is right, pause with wonder and stop eating when they are full. They don't have any pretenses and they tell it like it is. In short, they keep it real.
Just the other day, my sister's son Peter was crying and my sister asked him why. He looked up at her and clarified the obvious: "Because sometimes little boys cry." Yep. They do. So, on my list of things that kids do right is Peter's astute observation: they allow themselves to cry when necessary.
Kids keep it simple. They can sense a fake the way a raccoon can find a garbage can, immediately. They live effortlessly, simply and with profound grace.
I have four kids. One just left to find his own little village full of wisdom and good will. Pray that he finds it, creates it and lives it. I do. And until I see him again, I'm going to hang with my posse: kids. I'm going to search them out, listen and wait because sssshhhh: that's where the grace happens.
Thursday, August 11, 2011
"Cooking is love made visible."
John loves food and the whole food cycle. He loves where it comes from, he loves blending flavors and dreaming up tasty combinations, he loves preparing and planning and pleasing the palate. He writes his love letters with ingredients and recipes. John "plates" a dinner with the same love, talent and raw emotion as a Shakespearean sonnet or a Hank Aaron home-run.
Christmas Eve dinner is a culinary event at our house. John has slowly trained his two (and often a third) sous-chefs and they cook with abandon. They bring out creativity, enthusiasm and delicious medleys of taste that last in our household conversation for a year. Jack and Mary Kate have now moved into full fledged chef status themselves and often create signature taste sensations of their own: home-made pasta, strawberry country cake, or brie/tart apple/arugula and turkey sandwich to name a few of the ones happening now.
So, it was almost inevitable that John would create a special good-bye dinner for Jack before he headed off to college. He asked for recommendations of favorites and worked feverishly to create something memorable -- some way to show Jack just how very loved he was.
He started out with a rack of lamb and created an incredible sauce to glaze the lamb. Our house smells like heaven for the hour it is cooking and puts us all in a good mood. Suddenly, we realize that Mary Kate has a late driving lesson on this Sunday and so we decide to delay dinner and snack for a bit. The salad is imagined and realized with grapefruit, green beans, beets, fennel and the insane home-made croutons with some goat cheese spread that should be outlawed. I try not to notice the rice with tiny bits of fried pasta being prepared under my nose. Comfort food, Christmas Eve and Creativity are woven together to create a palate of magnificence.
But the hour is getting late, the natives are getting restless and things start unwinding quickly. The lamb is undercooked, by chunks of time, not moments of time. The rice is crunchy -- an unheard of humiliation for a rice farming family. The salad is obliterated and the grapefruit looks like it has been stirred by the Jolly Green Giant. Patrick and Caroline are disinterested and annoying since they have long ago passed the point of hunger and snacked their way to complete satisfaction.
The moment isn't right. We crunch our croutons and feel the love. We meander our way and find some portions of the lamb that will work. We scoop up some rice and ignore the crunch. But I watch John cringe and shrug and wipe his face. He wanted it perfect and it was so far from perfect that it was -- almost -- laughable. His disappointment is palpable.
In that moment, a slide show begins: I taste the countless hamburgers and hotdogs, barbecued chicken and flank steaks that John has cooked his whole life. I see him side by side with Jack chopping onions, celery and carrots in a french mirepoix. I can smell the tomatoes, garlic and onions bubbling to meld into the most delicious coulee on the planet. I feel the comfort foods he has shared, developed and I see his love made visible over and over again.
I want to tell him that none of this matters. That it's just a dinner gone bust and that we'll get another chance. I want to hug him and hold him and love him but I also know that that is the last thing he wants.
What he doesn't know is that by flopping big time for all to see...for swinging for the fences and striking out and holding it together and finding his balance and keeping a wistful smile on his face, he showed Jack something much more important. He showed him how to be a gentle, kind man just loving his family.
Jack knows about food. He knows about tantalizing gourmet moments. Up until this meal, he might not have noticed that you can blow it apart, falter and still be graceful as well. Sunday's dinner, I guess, was supposed to be more than a taste treat. It was a love letter with a PS.
PS Jack, we will mess it up and it will still be OK.
PS Jack, when you mess up, you can do it too: just take a deep breath and keep it together. Find your balance again.
PS Life isn't always about the sweet and satisfying moments. The bitter ones come too -- but with a smile and a crunchy crouton and your family, it can't be all bad.
PS Jack, we love you.
Thursday, August 4, 2011
Six years ago, a miracle occurred in the Foraker household: Patrick ended all treatment for Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia on August 2, 2005. That date was chosen by a computer. Yes, our fate was sealed by a number crunching machine that decided that after three plus years of chemo, Patrick's body was ready to be done. That would be the end mark to all chemo coursing through his body, all spinal taps to put chemo in his spinal fluid to attack the blood/brain barrier that so often carries a stealth cancer cell or two and creates brain cancer, all monthly doctor appointments and monthly (or weekly) blood draws. It was the date for freedom and boy, did we wish for it, hope for it, pray for it. It was the end of 1,172 days of treatment and anguish and fear.
Looking forward to that day, Jack and Mary Kate and of course John and I wanted to celebrate in a big way but we didn't know how. We wanted to throw a gigantic party but got scared that we might be tempting fate and decided not to. We wanted to sing and dance and live loud that day and we created all sorts of must-include songs on our imagined playlist. The first: "Celebrate!" by Kool and the Gang. If you don't know that song...here it is in all it's celebratory glory. Enjoy!
But again, we got fearful thinking it might be too good to be true. At the time, Jack and Mary Kate loved to draw with chalk and so we created a fundraiser/celebration called "Chillin' with Chalk". We held it in our town's Central Park. We had buckets of chalk, invited our friends and asked for donations for anyone at the Farmer's Market who would like to have some chalk and decorate the park too. We ended up raising about $500 and gave that entirely to Patrick's health team and told them to host a Victory Dinner for everyone involved in Patrick's care on our dime. We gave them explicit instructions to go to their favorite restaurant and live it up. And, we also gave each one of them a Life is Good T-shirt, our required uniform for anyone participating in Chillin' with Chalk. Life is Good
Auntie Claire created a beautiful chalk drawing of Patrick, Jack and Mary Kate. Erin drew a sunshine. Grandma and Papa drew a life-sized purple Barney. Friends and family came a great distance to get their hands messy and write their messages from their hearts on a cement path in a park. Those who were far away drew in chalk at their homes and posted their pictures to us on the computer. I remember coming home dirty and tired, opening my email and seeing picture after picture of celebration from long distance. It was a day full of love and hope and yes, joyful tears.
We celebrated but in a careful way. We wanted to be mindful that at any time things can change and the winds of our good fortune might blow the other way. We were tentative to believe that this whole thing could have a happy ending.
Guess what? Here we are SIX years later!!! I actually didn't wake up on August 2, 2011 and think first of the date and its meaning. I listened to Patrick and Caroline playing. I put my daily to-do list in order in my mind. I lived my regular old boring life and boy was it wonderful.
I can never thank enough the doctors and nurses who played such a huge role in our lives for three years. I can never thank enough the fundraisers who year after year work tirelessly to battle this ferocious foe.
I can never thank enough the tenacious cancer researchers who believe the impossible is possible and prove it over and over again.
If you want to find grace, it's in your ordinary day. The gift of a regular old, nothing special, kind of boring day. I had 1,172 days that weren't very typical...I'll take boring any day of the week.
Celebrate Life this Saturday at the Davis Relay4Life for the American Cancer Society -- we will be there...walking, remembering, and celebrating the gift of ordinary days.