Tag Archives: family

How Did We Get From Saying I Love You

“I married a Canadian – whom I love very much – and she introduced me to a great band called Great Big Sea. And this song is in NO WAY dedicated to her. At all.”
We needed this cruise. More than I realized; more than I can really explain.
Different couples deal with stress in different ways. Some argue, slam doors, and seek out space away from one another. Some look so far outside the relationship for comfort or for escape that nothing can be salvaged.
I have always been afraid that stress would pull my relationships apart. My family doesn’t have a good record in that area. Almost every one of my aunts and uncles who married found themselves in a hurtful and bitter divorce. My parents’ relationship was strained and uncomfortable for years, and ended the same way.
My first boyfriend abandoned me when my parents’ divorce made me “too goddamn sad all the time” and “annoying to be around.” I see now that it was an unstable and unhealthy young-adult relationship that was a bad idea from the start, but it crushed my 18-year-old self. I dropped out of college and floated through several months in a blur before finding the light again and crawling my way towards it. I went back to school. I tried to be sociable. But things were different. I had witnessed a relationship I thought was the most solid and reliable one in the whole world – my parents’ marriage – falling angrily apart in front of me. I had no good role models, nobody to look to for thoughts on a healthy relationship except the columnists at Cosmo and the couples on Friends.
When my husband and I were moving towards our wedding day, I was flooded with conflicting thoughts. Of course we’d last forever – we loved each other so much, understood each other so well, laughed so often together. But everyone must think that at one time, or nobody would ever risk the commitment of marriage. Who could say, then, whether our relationship could withstand all the years ahead, all the problems that would come our way?
It’s been a hard year for us. Members of my family, far away in Canada, have been sick and needing surgery. I lost one grandmother, and the other is 98 and fading. I’m far away and can’t be there for the ones I love, and the guilt eats away at me. I left my old job, which meant leaving some of my support group behind. Other friends moved away. I’m still striving to find my role in my career and in this world. Arguing with immigration agents. Arguing with health insurance companies. Struggles and loss. I got scared. Scared for us.
I tell my husband, often, how much I love him. I cling to him sometimes when we’re in our office together. I drape my arms over his shoulders, my cheek pressed into his beard, as he reads message boards and checks his email. I doubt. I worry, analyzing everything. I ask him again and again whether we’ll be okay, whether we’ll stick together, all the while hating myself for asking but not always able to stop. His answers are always the same, always reassuring, always patient, always yes, yes, of course, I love you and we’re in this for the long haul no matter what.
“How Did We Get From Saying ‘I Love You'”, by Great Big Sea, is a breakup song. It’s about running into your ex after the breakup and realizing you can’t find anything in common anymore, anything to talk about except the smalltalk of strangers. It’s heartbreakingly sad. My feelings of inadequacy and fear of divorce and loneliness make a song like this really resonate with me.
And my husband played this song for me, at an open mic night on our cruise. Knowing how much I love hearing him play music, my husband found a way to dedicate his performance to me without dedicating the song itself. A little gesture, spontaneous, touching. It meant so much. Maybe we’ve come from saying “I Love You” to the place where the words don’t matter as much as the sentiment, and maybe I can be okay with that. I am loved.

 I’m linking up with some amazing bloggers over at Yeah Write. Stop by and spend a little time reading and supporting the gang!

Killer Kittens and Monster Squirrels

I read an article today about how cats in the United States kill billions of critters a year. Billions. Per year. In the US alone. For reference, this is a billion: 1000000000. Multiply that by 20ish, and you’re looking at how many mice, squirrels, birds, bats, and other small fluffy or feathery lives are extinguished per year, in America, in the jaws of vicious kitty cats.
Some thoughts:
1) Holy crap, we have a lot of critters out there if cats are murdering billions a year and the population of birds and squirrels still seems to be thriving (as far as I can tell, anyway).
2) I guess the loss of that many birds and small mammals is probably bad for the environmental balance, and the whole catch-neuter-release idea for stray cats isn’t necessarily the best plan, although the alternative breaks my heart.
3) I wonder how much higher that number would be if my Horton was an outside cat.
4) Maybe that explains the giant monster squirrels in Mom’s backyard. Evolutionary pressure.
No, really! Think about it! Obviously, the cats are preferentially picking off the smaller and weaker creatures, leaving the giant-critter-genes disproportionately represented in the population! This explains why the crows in my yard are getting so fat they waddle and the squirrels are big and strong enough to haul beefsteak tomatoes off my garden vine and eat them on the deck.
I’m in Montreal this week, and Mom likes to have her morning coffee and cigarette on the back porch even in the cold of a Canadian winter (our blood is thick up here, folks). On my second day here, I heard her yelp and race back in, slamming the door behind her. “He’s back, ‘stie! Jennifer! Come see this sucker!” She pointed out the window towards the biggest squirrel I had ever seen.

“He hates me,” Mom told me, still wrapped in her fur coat and wanting her smoke. “He’s an aggressive son of a bitch! He’s the one who ate through my garbage cans and dug up my flowerpots! I put mothballs like my friend told me, but he just dug them out and threw them on the neighbor’s balcony! When I’m inside at the table, he comes to the windowsill, looks me in the eye, and poops there on purpose right in front of me, the little shit!”

Good daughter that I am, I put on my purple down coat with the fluff-lined hood and stood on the balcony with my mother, brandishing a plastic shovel to defend her from giant attack squirrels. This guy came towards us once or twice, but the whoosh of the shovel scared him back to the neighbor’s hanging flowerpot. I got a picture of him:

And this was one of the smaller guys.

While I was out there, I had a good look around. We were surrounded. There were dozens of squirrels hanging out in the trees behind Mom’s place in Montreal, and every single one was bigger than the ones I usually deal with back in Maryland. The Canadian squirrels look exactly the same in terms of color and features, so I’m sure they’re the same species, but they must weigh at least 3 pounds each.

Weight-loss-inspiration photo these guys surely have
taped to the bathroom mirrors in their nests.

I’m not kidding. Thick branches dip dangerously under their weight. The downstairs neighbor is contributing to their weight problem by throwing crackers and stale bread out for them on a regular basis. If you’re quiet, you can hear them crunching from the balcony. It’s surreal, hearing dozens of crackers being crunched by hundreds of tiny teeth.  I tried hard to get a picture of the really fat one, but he stayed too far away. He doesn’t fit through the holes in the chain-link fence, poor little guy, so he had to climb the fence to get at his carbs.

A photo of Fatty from 2008. He’s still using it in his SquirrelMatch.com profile.

I’ll be back out there tomorrow for more balcony defense. Wish me luck. They may bring reinforcements. Does anyone have an outside cat I can borrow?

Learning with my hands

I cook like my mother.
I rarely measure anything out, even though I have lovely sets of measuring cups and spoons and am always tempted to buy more when I pass by Pier 1 Imports or Williams Sonoma. I come from a “pinch of this” and “dash of that” heritage. When it was time to learn the secrets of spaghetti sauce, I stood beside the stove and watched my mother pour spices into her cupped palm until the piles of crushed leaves looked big enough to add to the simmering pot. She instructed me on proper measurements: “Cup your palm tighter for the thyme, you only want a small handful.” I’m very lucky: our hands are the same.
Her recipes are frustrating, because they include measurements like a “a squirt” and directions like “until it’s the right consistency.” Unless you’ve watched the process all the way through a few times, it’s difficult to do her dishes justice on your own. But I watched. I watched for years. I pinched pie crusts between my fingers and I dripped sauces off the back of a spoon. I learned.

My spaghetti sauce is nothing like hers, now. But it’s incredible.

A consequence of this learning method is that no recipe is safe with me. I intend to follow recipes – really, I do – but sometimes I only have boneless chicken breasts instead of the bone-in-thighs that the recipe calls for, and the substitutions start. I’ll use cheddar if I don’t have Monterey Jack. I’ll toss in skim milk because it’s probably a better substitute for cream than my Bailey’s Toffee Almond coffee creamer. I’ll automatically double the garlic content of any recipe I’m following. 
Of course, the biggest drawback to the substitution game is that I never make exactly the same recipe twice. When someone loves what I’ve made for dinner and asks me for the recipe, I can lend them the book or forward them a website link, but the version they’ll make will never be quite right. I try to explain what I did differently, but sometimes I don’t even know. I added more honey to sweeten the glaze, but I couldn’t tell you exactly how much, because I flipped the honey bear over and squeezed him until it tasted right. I kept adding chicken stock to thin the soup, but I didn’t keep track of how much more I needed.
I’ve considered being more scientific about the process and trying to write down what I’m doing as I go. I should probably add the honey by teaspoons, not blobs, and I should pour the broth from a measuring cup instead of the box, so I can see how much I have left and do the math. But although I consider myself a scientist, I just can’t seem to bring a calculating mentality into my kitchen. My meals are art. Not always good art, mind you, but it’s a creative process more than a formula, and I don’t know that I can change it. I don’t think I want to.
I’d love to cook for you. I have so much fun experimenting in the kitchen, and it’s wonderful to share the results with friends. I promise to do my best to give you an accurate recipe if you ask for it, but unless you’ve been hanging out with me in my kitchen and watching me work, you need to take those recipes with a grain of salt. Maybe two grains. I’m not sure, exactly. Stop when it tastes right.

 Linking up with bloggers who write and writers who blog over at Yeah Write. Pop on over there and read some other great stuff.