Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Dear Dad - Spring Awakening

Dear Dad,

The interludes between my letters continue to grow. 
It's always around this time I think we all start to remember the March when you got sick. Ironically, I was having a great year that year. I had just met April & Ashley (the "Tarts") and I was working on a photoshoot with them in New Braunfels. I stayed with you and mom overnight so I didn't have to drive back to Austin, and so I was there right before you finally went to the doctor. I must have texted with Susanna about how bad off you seemed, because she remembers having a feeling of dread when told about your jaundiced appearance. This was just days before we'd get the news... 

I remember you were still trying to go to work, but the image I have of you is in your red polar bear pj pants and grey henley. You had your water bottle and were drinking tons of water, because you were hoping to flush what you thought were gallstones out of your system. If only! You were fascinated - and a little creeped out - by the symptoms you were experiencing. Mom had been telling me for several weeks that you were not feeling well and this or that. I had sort of dismissed it until I saw it in person myself and realized it might be something serious. Still - the idea of cancer NEVER entered my mind. My whole world was SO untouched by it then that it didn't even seem fathomable, much less likely.

Cancer. It's become such a part of who we are these days... we can't seem to escape it. Friends' parents are falling right and left. I hurt for them. I know there are long days ahead: for some they will be full of doctor visits and treatments and the agony of never being sure how much longer is left, and for others, now, there is a new and untraversed future - without. When you died I didn't know many other people my age who had lost a parent. Now I feel like I have this unlucky circle of friends, all connected for the same terrible reason. In some ways it's comforting, to know we are not alone in our loss and can now help others through theirs. In other ways it's terrifying: so many of us shouldn't be burying our parents so young.

I've had similar conversations with each of these daughters... that they feel a bond with me because of what we've been through with our parents. I think your story, our story, maybe touched the edges of a lot of people's lives. Maybe we were more vocal than other people, and less private about the whole cancer journey. I'm not sure the reason, but it keeps coming up, and people use us as a reference. I get asked questions. Sometimes I just volunteer information or advice. At least I can DO something with what we learned from this... that feels nice in some ways. I just wish it didn't mean someone else was in a similarly awful circumstance.

Yesterday, a photo of Cole and Alanna's wedding popped up on my Facebook feed. They looked so happy together. It was such a random thing and my first thought was that you'd want to know because you were always so fond of Cole. I almost reached for my phone to text you. It was fleeting, because of course I realized that was impossible. It's been a long time since that happened. I wonder if it ever stops. 

We spent all day yesterday out in the yard. I weeded the garden beds. There's nothing like my hands in dirt to feel like you're right there beside me. It is such GOOD dirt this year, too. It's got composted soil with peat moss and sand, and, after sitting for a long winter, a layer of dead leaves that I crunched up and mixed in, and lots of earthworms. The little insects all went running for cover as I turned up the soil, but now it's ready for Spring planting. The bees have been attending to our citrus trees, and the olive and fig trees both have new growth. It's so nice to see bees around town! I imagined our conversation about the bee genocide, and basically all of the awful ways we continue to ruin our planet. I would probably ask questions you might not know the exact answer to, and I could just hear the sigh... "I don't know, Laurel...." Like loving-irritation. Is that a thing? I think it's a thing.

Sometimes I have to go out into the natural world and touch things that are alive and buzzing with life to remember: we are here. I don't have to understand WHY, I just have to be here. It helps me to feel grounded. Ironic how pulling up unwanted weeds can make me feel more rooted to the earth. Winter is dead! It's time to breathe in sunshine and pollen and lie in the grass and watch the ant highway on the water hose. There's a reason God gave us Spring.... it's a reminder that life comes back around and taps you on the shoulder, even when you've forgotten it was there. People get sick and die, old and young. People grow up, find love, and get married. We have dogs and babies and family dinners. Go outside. Remember. Wake up.

I know now why you spent so much time in the garden.

Love you always and forever,


Monday, March 7, 2016

The Comma Queen

Laurel White
Mrs. Swift
Life Lessons
March 5, 2016
The Comma Queen
Before my first high school English class with Mrs. Swift, I never knew that commas could be quite so terrifying. I never knew how intimidating red ink could seem scratched across a white piece of paper. I never knew how that blood red “circle and swoosh!” would come to haunt me, indicating yet another unnecessary punctuative “pause.”
Oh, Commas... I never knew I would have such a love-hate relationship with you! On the one hand, commas allowed me to connect thoughts and ramble on and on (which is imperative for a young and very wordy writer), while still literally pausing to catch my breath. On the other hand, I could never remember the rules exactly so I just developed my own: use them as frequently as possible! In retrospect, I am positive this provided hours of grading entertainment for Mrs. Swift.
I am aware this does not necessarily reflect well on Mrs. Swift’s teaching abilities, but I would have to insist that it had nothing to do with lack of effort on her part. There were plenty of “circle and swoosh” marks on my papers, but over the years I think I finally got the hang of it… mostly. Slowly there were fewer and fewer red ink marks, and more and more frequently there were encouraging notes like “Interesting conclusion” or “I’d like you to develop this thought more” or even simply “Great” (exclamation point).
As an over-achiever, I lived for those notes and that feedback from my self-appointed mentor. It was like honey to a hungry bear. I had always loved to read, but now, in Mrs. Swift’s class, I discovered that having a kindred spirit with whom to DISCUSS books was almost better than reading itself. I could not wait to get my papers and essays back: first to see my grade, but then to gobble up what she thought about my work. Good or bad, praise or critique, it was always insightful, even-handed, and motivating: either to do better or to keep doing well.
Ultimately, I developed into a fairly capable writer, thanks to Mrs. Swift dedicatedly red-lining my papers, thoughtful discussion in class, a broad reading list, and memorizing so many hundreds of vocabulary words that my head spun. If nothing else, writing is a valuable skill that helped me graduate from college, land jobs, and, at times, simply eased my mind. But commas… well, they still haunt me just a little.
I believe – nay, I hope - most people have at least one special teacher from their youth who cared enough to recognize ability or potential, point it out, and push its limits. These are the instructors who thrust you beyond what you think you are capable of, to create something from a place deep inside you – a place you did not know even existed in your own heart and mind. These are the trusted advisors who believe in you in such a way that you are convinced you believe in yourself. These are the mentors that leave an imprint, a mark, or, in this case a (,) on your very being.
Mrs. Swift was all that and more for me. Beyond brilliant tutelage, for me there was a literary comradery that developed past an average student-teacher relationship. We seemed to enjoy the same lengthy Dicken descriptions and clever Austen banter. We laughed at the same timeless Shakespearean irony. There was a simple, mutual appreciation for that simultaneous utterly satisfied, yet horribly empty feeling one experiences when closing the cover on a wonderful book. It was a special bond that only a fellow lover of words, writing, and the English language could ever understand.
Mrs. Swift… Vanita… I know you are going to hear this, or read this yourself, so allow me to apologize for the following: I wrote this essay in first person. I know, I’m sorry, I am a little lazy these days. I also used contractions, changed tenses and audience address multiple times, and had to google synonyms (who owns a thesaurus anymore?) to avoid repeating descriptive words. And guess what? NO ONE DOUBLE SPACES AFTER PERIODS ANYMORE. Shame!
You once wrote me the following email after a class one day:
One thing occurred to me later after class today. Surely you don’t think the only reason you made a higher grade than other students is that you use proper documentation! You should understand that your writing is generally of a very high caliber. Outstanding, I believe, is the designation I have given to A papers. I’m trying to say that it STANDS OUT [your caps] from all the rest. It has but little to do with minor grammatical points.
Sometimes I read one of your papers, and I feel as though it was written without your heart being in it. I can’t say for sure whether it was or not, but it seems that way.... But you have a talent and an ability that makes all your papers very good. –mrs. s

First – I printed that email out and kept it. Fifteen years and counting. Only recently did I find it again, but I’ve carried that message with me as I faced “all-nighters” in college, difficult work emails, and, most recently, the writing of my own father’s obituary. Thank you for whatever inspired you to put that into writing. It has meant so much to me.
Second – in regards to your comment “It has but little to do with minor grammatical points…” Do you mean minor grammatical points like commas? Mrs. Swift, I beg to differ! Understanding the basics or foundation of something is also what makes one good at something. Your comma-torture taught me more than proper placement and punctuation. It taught me the smallest details affect the bigger picture. It taught me that the finer points are often the building blocks to excellence. It taught me to be patient with the process. It taught me not to settle for a first draft, ever. It taught me to not to shy away from God-given abilities, but to exercise them, better them, and use them for good. And I can assure you, my heart is in this last paper. This one is all for you, not a grade, and it is all heart. Please ignore any grammatical mistakes, and - Dear God - I hope you no longer have that red ink pen!
In fact, now it is my turn: to grade the teacher. To tell you that you STOOD OUT [my caps] from all the rest. I saw it in the mischievous twinkle in your eye when you announced vocabulary quizzes. I witnessed it in the way you regally reigned over class discussion, acknowledging personal opinions and correcting misperceptions. I felt it in the way you clearly loved opening literary doors for anyone on your class roster. What might have started and will forever be imprinted as a lesson in proper comma usage, will live on in my memory with a designation of A+, for all-around Outstanding.
We cannot be certain of too many things in this life, but I can be certain of the influence you had on mine. It is important to me that you truly know and take that to heart. If being a teacher was as important as I think it was to you, you must know that your work and effort meant something to me. It meant a great many things to me, and I believe that it shaped my life and my thoughts and affected my outlook. I would not be the same if it were not for your wisdom and handiwork. You wrote a part of my story.
Now, you might be about to close the cover on a wonderful book. It is a classic story in so many ways, but certainly unique to you. It has phenomenal characters (including a model protagonist… that’s you!), adventure, hardship, bravery, legacy, and love. So much love. Love between you and Coach, love planted in your children and grown in your grandchildren, and love from all the young lives that you molded years ago as a teacher. I know I said wonderful books leave us simultaneously utterly satisfied, yet horribly empty feeling. We will certainly feel rather empty when this one is done, but I suggest we end this one with a Comma. It seems appropriate. After all, Commas customarily indicate a brief pause; they are not as final as Periods.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Daily's v.3 - Happy Holidays!

It's been a long time since I just wrote a "this is what we've been up to" post.

Right now I've got coffee drip-brewing and the front door open. I'm working on a grocery list, and planning to knock out some errands as soon as I've had my caffeine. Oh, and yes - it's official - I'm truly a coffee addict. I've started getting those caffeine headaches on days when I don't have even a little. Blah.

At the end of the summer, I officially ended my stint as a full-time event planner for WHITT. Two years ago I thought that was my dream job, so it was not entirely easy to walk away from and I had many doubts over the decision. I learned so much and met so many people around Austin, but it was not a good fit for me and that became really evident as my physical and mental health declined. However, it positioned me to be in the right place and time for what I'm doing now - which I love! - so I think it was all meant to be. I'm now helping to manage Fair Market, an awesome events venue in East Austin, and working with a stellar team. They immediately made me feel welcome, and since (for now) I'm a contractor I have almost total control over what my life and schedule - and therefore, my sanity - looks like these days. I feel really lucky, and it's made it very easy to celebrate gratitude this holiday season.

Tim and I took our second annual trip to NYC at the beginning of November to see some FALL FOLIAGE! We walked till our wee feets wanted to fall off (get it?), bickered just a bit, and overall had a grand time. It's always a shock to the system - being back in a big city. I know Austin is growing exponentially, but it still doesn't come close to the hugeness of a place like NYC. I guess few places do. We saw three broadway shows: Hamilton(!!!), The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, and King Charles III (a modern day history play written in iambic pentameter). All three were really, really good. Hamilton was breathtaking and really deserves it's own post entirely... hopefully I get to that soon. We also saw Spectre and The Martian in the evenings when we just couldn't walk NO MORE. We managed to fit in a couple of strolls through Central Park, scoped out The Guggenheim and The Met, ate Murray's breakfast bagels twice, walked the Brooklyn Bridge, and got totally lost in the Brooklyn subway system. 

We celebrated Thanksgiving at Linda's (my mother-in-law) house in Gonzales. It was some really nice, quality family time. We all collaborated on the cooking and ended up with a ton of food, and it was all delicious. And then we stayed in our pajamas for the next 24 hours to recover. Our oven quit working WHILE my pies were baking. The pilot light kept going out, so I had to sit on the floor in front of the stove and listen to the gas and manually relight it whenever it would go out. So frustrating! On the bright side, we are getting a new oven delivered right before I have to do any more baking for the holidays - waaaahooo! Kelli (Tim's sister) & Alex are finally engaged - so a wedding is in our family future - and we are very happy and excited for them. Being engaged during the holidays is so fun! It felt so good and relaxing to all be together in one place, and, because of their news, especially cheerful this year.

We've been having really nice weather, but I wish it was just a smidge colder. That's partly why I'm so excited for our family christmas trip to Santa Fe this year. We are spending almost a whole week there in a beautiful rental house. Susanna has an amazing trail ride planned for us through her friend - a wrangler - out at Georgia O'Keefe's Ghost Ranch. I can't wait to be back on a horse, and to hopefully see some snow and beautiful mountain views. I can't believe we are finally taking the kind of holiday trip we always wanted to take as a family. Better late than never!

Because of said trip, we opted as a family to not exchange gifts this season. Tim's family was also on board with this idea this year, so as a result I haven't shopped at all. Except for myself, hah! We've done this before in years past, but it's usually been more about money or stress. This year it just felt so excessive in light of all the awful things happening around the globe. In the spirit of giving we plan to make donations to one or more charities instead, which makes me very happy. Gift giving is definitely one of my "love languages" though, so I feel a little robbed of opportunities to show my nearest and dearest what they mean to me. I guess this year that can be done with words and hugs instead. 

Many happy happy holiday wishes to all!

Friday, October 9, 2015

Dear Dad - Happy 62nd Birthday

Dear Dad,

It's now October. Your birthday was in September. If that's not belated, I'm not sure what is, but in all fairness I started writing this letter before your birthday. I'm pretty sure time is of no matter to you anymore, and all of these things I want to say are better said late than never.

Another year, another birthday, come and gone. We all "celebrated" the best way we knew how, trying to feel happiness on a day where mostly what we feel is your absence. I had my little cry in the bathtub the morning of September 22nd, while shaving my legs. Not so much for my present, as for our past: what we were doing two years ago on this day - saying our earthly good-byes.

For your birthday, Margaret, Mom and I all went to get pedicures at The Retreat. They still take lovely care of us all there, thanks to your many years of keeping their pedispas in working order, and almost every time one of the girls or the owners mentions you. It wasn't important that our feet look beautiful on your birthday, just that we just do something together. Margaret brought lemon cupcakes. Afterward, Mom and I got coffee from 2Tarts Bakery, and then visited the dog park to see your bench. Of course, someone was enjoying it and we didn't want to disturb them, so we moved on. It's still the very best bench, under a beautiful oak tree.

A day later we left for our trip to Port Aransas for the weekend. We rented a nice house, just steps away from the beach, on a very colorful street and with an eagle's nest deck up top. It was a lovely weekend with nearly perfect weather. We had fun family times horsing around in the pool, playing in the sand and waves on the beach, and roasting wieners and s'mores over a bonfire on the beach the last night with Debra. We minimally got on each other's nerves. Side note: maaaaan, I remember the ferry at Aransas Pass being SO MUCH FARTHER across. We'd barely gotten out of our cars before we'd reached the other side.

It was a really good weekend. It just felt wonderful to have no plans, take naps, read, and hug on my favorite littles - furry and human. Last year this anniversary was so awkward. It felt unorganized in the worst way. Almost disrespectful. No one knew what to do or say, so we did nothing and said nothing, and then we all felt badly about it. I mean in one week we're tossed between celebrating your birthday and three days later marking the anniversary of your death. It's just hard to know what to feel.

But this year, this weekend was so good. We've all learned to let each other grieve and remember and honor you in our own ways. I write you letters and make your pancake recipe and bake birthday desserts and get everyone organized enough to end up in one place. Others of us go for early morning walks on beaches or long hikes to commune with nature. We group text anecdotes and memories and old pictures and new pictures. It all serves the same purpose, we just have different ways of accomplishing what we need to say or do to feel like we've recognized both your impact on our lives and your absence from them.

But this weekend, I started to feel your presence in ways more than your absence.

You know how people always say "it feels like forever ago, but also it feels just like yesterday"? It doesn't very often feel like yesterday anymore. It just feels like forever. I think I have lived more, changed more, learned more in the past two years than any other two years of my life.

In some ways things have gotten easier day-to-day, but in many ways - new ways - I'm realizing it will always be hard. I try not to think of all the things in my future that you won't physically be there for - those are the hardest. I cry every time I think about any children I might have, and that - no matter how perfect my descriptions are of you, or how many home videos I play for them of you - they will never know you. Nothing will ever be able to fully replace getting to see you as a grandfather to my kids. You were always there to witness everything I ever created or performed in, but now this - the ultimate creation - I would never be able to place in your arms and see your look of love and deepest approval. That is the greatest wound. If I ever have children, this will be so hard.

But we are finally finding a new groove. I think you'd be proud of all of us for how far we've come, and the new dynamic the family has established. We aren't perfect, and we don't get along perfectly, but we never were and never did before either. In some ways we are still tiptoeing around keeping the peace, deferring to Mom always, but especially when *your children* can't seem to agree. And Mom makes decisions! You know I don't mean that condescendingly. She was always capable, but now she makes up her mind without being backed into a corner or bullied into it. And she's running your company and keeping it successful! Lots of (!!!). I know she misses you desperately, but like us all she's finding that there are ways in which you will never fully leave her and wisdom you left behind that will go on giving. I always knew her to be strong, but now I know it for different reasons... and it's glorious.

The evening we got back from Port A, a Super Blood Moon Lunar Eclipse happened. Yeah - it's a mouthful. It was a supermoon, very close to the earth, but also a total eclipse which turned the moon red. We didn't see a lot of the color like some other parts of the country did, but the supermoon was so fantastic it didn't matter. Mom let us bring your old telescope home and after a bit of fumbling we figured out how to make it work, and I figured out how to take iphone pictures through the lense. It was a once in 30 year experience, and I will not forget it.

I kept staring up at that moon, so bright, so close, and feeling like you were just there. It was not describable with words. A shared moment. It was the most comforted I have felt since you left this earth two years ago. I whispered "Hi, Dad." Did you hear me?

I can and do frequently imagine you in another place. It takes different forms in my imagination, but usually it's a garden. Far be it from me to define it or even title it, but I believe it's there and you are preparing a place for the rest of us. This brings me peace, and that peace is often embodied in gifts from the natural world. The birds on my bird feeder, the super moon, a lighting storm on the beach... when I catch glimpses and reminders of all the ways you're still showing up to share moments with us.

Thank you for the moments. I need them desperately.

Happy Autumnal Equinox. Happy Fall. Happy Super Moon! Happy, happy, happy 62nd birthday, Daddy.

I love you, always and forever.


Thursday, September 17, 2015

Egg Sandwich Perfection

Two years ago this week and next were the two worst weeks of my life. Two years later I'm focusing on honoring my dad's memory in the best ways I know how, and trying to do things, make things, or participate in things that make me happy instead of sad. Making egg sandwiches seems to be working, a little.

Don't worry, this isn't about to become a food blog (flog? foodlog?), but I have achieved Egg Sandwich Perfection, and I'm here to tell you about it. It all started when I made this herbed red potato salad recipe from my new fave source for healthy recipes: Cookie and Kate. This isn't a new blog and it's popular, so you might have already heard of it - but remember, I am just entering this world of people who "like to cook" and so websites like these are little golden nuggets right now.

The herbed red potato salad was Okay with a capital O. It's probably not a recipe I'll repeat, BUT I think the key to my Egg Sandwich Perfection was the leftover herbed olive oil dressing! When I dressed the potatoes, I felt like the dressing was too runny, so I poured some of it off. I was going to toss it but figured I could throw it in something else later on (isn't that what all talented, spontaneous cooks do?). The dressing is very repeatable and easily could be used for lots of things sans potatoes.

  1. In a small food processor or blender, combine the olive oil, ⅓ cup parsley, ⅓ cup green onions, lemon juice, Dijon mustard, garlic and freshly ground black pepper. Process until the herbs and garlic have been chopped into little pieces, then drizzle in the reserved cooking water and blend until emulsified. (If you don't have a food processor or blender, just finely chop the parsley and onions and whisk the dressing together until emulsified.) [Cookieandkate.com]

Egg Sandwich Perfection
1. fry two strips of bacon to crispy, cut in half (I prefer Pederson's uncured)
2. chop up some cherry tomatoes, green onions, parsley, garlic, jalapenos, mushrooms (whatever you like with your eggs, insert here - I don't like rules)
3. toast some good bread to well done (Gluten Free bread if necessary)
4. when the bacon is done, remove and throw in all the chopped veggies to saute for a short bit before adding the egg
5. sprinkle in some goat feta cheese, or any cheese, if desired
6. salt and pepper egg scramble to taste
7. butter the toast, then spread with HERBED OLIVE OIL DRESSING on top (or skip the butter if you don't live on the wild side)
8. add egg scramble to bread, top with bacon and 1/2 sliced avocado, cut in half and serve with coffee, of course.

Guys, there is nothing "pretty" or gourmet about this sandwich. The juices run out the sides, tomatoes and bits of egg will fall off, you'll need a bib, but don't worry because you will want.to.lick.your.plate! It's like holiness in your mouth.

Amazing for breakfast, lunch, OR dinner - I've had it for all three several times this week already... and it's now husband approved!