A Monday List

10 Hours of Beverages (5:30am-3:30pm)

  1. Water, with day 5 of antibiotics for last week’s mastitis.
  2. Cold brew, letting the grounds drip awhile before leaving the cheesecloth packet in the sink, where it will have hopefully dried out by the time I get home.
  3. Cold water from the office fridge Brita.
  4. Decaf, from a pod, with oat milk. We’re trying to cut costs, and this is a place where I can economize. It’s flavored, maybe chocolate raspberry?, which reminds me of one of my bosses from my very first job. I can’t remember what her strong feelings were about chocolate/fruit coffees, but I remember that she had them.
  5. Decaf, from a pod, not flavored, prepared for my husband, who stopped by with the kids in the afternoon so that I could nurse. They got caught in the rain. He warmed up with coffee. The baby warmed up with milk. The big kid dried off with my random office towel, then drew at my work table. The kids absconded with my afternoon apple.
  6. Cold brew, made last week from a Trader Joe’s coffee bag, with oat milk, and cold water from the office fridge Brita. I washed the morning beverage containers and filled the afternoon beverage containers.

 

Advertisements

Kay Fesenmeyer, 1918-2019

My grandmother passed last week, my mom’s mom and the last of my grandparents. It’s been an intense week and I have a lot of things that I’m not quite sure how to say, but I wrote and read the following at her service yesterday, so it will have to suffice


When I was about 10, I came down the stairs at the Bon Ton in tears. I had been reading Bridge to Terabithia and, having gotten to a particularly upsetting part, had sought out comfort. Gram asked me why I was crying, and I explained that one of the main characters had fallen in a river and drowned. Gram replied “Well, that’s what happens when you play by the water.”

That was Gram for you. Unsentimental. Matter-of-fact. Not a fan of the water.

She wasn’t a Hallmark grandmother. Delicious treats, yes, but warm hugs and fun adventures? Not really.

Gram was competent and resourceful, storing up that drawer full of odds and ends for the rainy day when we really would need all of those twist ties from bunches of greens. She had a method and a place for everything and god help us if we didn’t follow it, whether it was hospital corners on the bed, moving one of her piles, or recycling even one of her enormous mayonnaise jars.

She was the consummate hostess – or so it seemed to me as a little girl, fingering well-worn decks of cards and tiny tubes of lipstick in the buffet drawers, hints of what seemed like a wildly glamorous social life. Dishes and glassware and recipes for every occasion. Meals with friends at the Outing Club. Records on the kitchen stereo from way back when. Strawberry sodas for the grandkids. The elegance of shrimp cocktail and a relish tray frequently refilled.

She cared about her friends and family, even though she didn’t always show it. When you called the Bon Ton, both Gram and Gramp would be on the line, even if you just needed to talk to one of them, and even if it made it hard to have a conversation. I can’t remember a single meal with them that didn’t involve a litany of news and gossip about this patient, that neighbor, the other acquaintance.

She was a proud woman. Proud of her accomplishments, like being head nurse on the fancy ward at Harper Hospital, where she out-ranked her doctor husband. Proud of her children’s achievements, like Nanc touring with the Highlanders, Mom doing synchronized swimming, Tom performing with the University Marching Band. She may not have said so at the time, but she paused to tell these stories to me again and again when we looked at photos during my visits. She was proud of her in laws and her grandchildren, too – Mark’s musical abilities, Jenn going to school to become a nurse, Victor off to college. But also the sort of proud that holds on to hurt like armor, reminding us of times when we – or life – let her down. She never finished her degree. She left behind her career to raise a family. Her husband was always busy. Her children grew up to be teenagers and then adults with lives and choices she didn’t always agree with. Her grandchildren got tattoos and divorces. Her body failed her.

As people have expressed their condolences this week, I have said: it’s complicated. She was complicated. And I’ve spent a lot of this last week thinking about that, and how I want to remember her, the wonderful and the complicated.

I don’t remember, for example, the time she spanked me with a pie scooper. I don’t believe it happened, but Mark does: perhaps we have chosen to remember differently. I remember lying across the custom cutting board over the kitchen sink while Gram washed my hair, the cold acidity of the apple cider vinegar she used as a rinse, my legs dangling off the end of the counter.

I remember crackers from the bowl on the kitchen table, and games of cribbage after dinner. Playing dress-up and grocery store with things she’d set aside. The beauty shop on Fridays, and her nails carefully shaped with a file from her red zippered pouch. Sending me out into the backyard to pick raspberries for breakfast, the grass still wet with dew. Signing into AOL to check her stocks, tracking them carefully in her notebook. Taking her rings off to make pie dough, her wedding band paper thin from decades of wear.

I remember her hands resting on Gramp’s shoulder the summer he had his bypass surgery. She opened his collar to show me the top of his scar, and then lingered there behind him, one of the few shared moments of genuine tenderness I can recall. She was from a family and an era that didn’t show affection easily; her love language, like mine, was acts of service. Her love for him – and for her family – was expressed in hundreds of thousands of shirts ironed and eggs poached and pies served. At his services, she patted his bow tie in an approving way, later telling us that she would miss him, but not the way he was at the end.

I don’t think I understood that, not really, until last week, when I saw how frail she was, her body ready to be done. That’s not the Gram I’ll remember.

I’ll remember her in her house slippers and slacks, attending to her piles, the queen of her castle. Or turning on the radio in the kitchen when it was time to go.

July Around Here

Work unexpectedly extends the gift of a long holiday weekend. In Belgium, this is called “making the bridge”.

We spend the 4th at my parents’, in part to get out of the city, and in part to celebrate my dad’s retirement. We bring a spumoni cake – not the brilliant ice cream thing making the rounds in the NYTimes, unfortunately, though this is equally spectacular – and veggie kabobs and our swimsuits. The baby loves the pool as much as anticipated, though he gets overwhelmed quickly, retreating to the safety of a snuggly towel on Papa’s lap. The big kid can finally touch the bottom of the shallow end with his tippy-toes, which is exciting for all involved.

IMG_20190704_134436_734

More early morning walks with the kids, sometimes with coffee, often with foraged fruit. One morning we hear chirping and look over to spot two juvenile raccoons snuggled up together on a porch rail, calling for their mama. The big kid and I imagine what they might be saying, or what he and his brother would say if they couldn’t find me.

The baby masters hands-and-knees crawling over the July 4th weekend. He’s been scooting along on his belly for what feels like months, and all of a sudden, he’s off! It’s so fun to see him exploring, though it feels like we’re constantly pulling things out of his mouth. I suppose that’s all part of being a tiny scientist.

IMG_20190705_143825
These curls! I’m dead.

I pass a blissful morning in personal and professional conversation on the patio at Spoke and Bird. We used to go here all the time when we lived in Pilsen and it was around the corner from the Chicago Women’s Park and Gardens and on the way to the Lakefront Path. I grumble about work, but I’m deeply grateful for the many opportunities for professional connection it affords me, and particularly for the flexibility to have mornings like this.

We find a little push-cart for the baby on the neighborhood Buy Nothing group. He discovers it with glee the next morning, crawling over in his sleep sack to start playing. In what feels like no time, he’s doing laps in the kitchen, pausing to inspect the washing machine with every pass.

I spend what feels like weeks agonizing about how we’re going to make a second work trip to Champaign work for our family. All of us in a hotel room for 2.5 days sounds miserable. The baby moves around too much at night to safely sleep in a hotel bed BUT ALSO nurses too much at night to expect that nights away will be anything but difficult for everyone. The big kid would love a night or two with his grandparents, but that means extra time in the car, which is the thing the baby hates more than anything in the world. Ultimately, we decide that the best way to make it work without messing with nursing is for me to miss the first evening of activities. I feel terribly guilty asking for this, even though I know that it’s the best possible compromise for my family.

Once I’m there, I feel like it’s important to make it clear the sacrifices involved, and to make visible the struggle of balancing the personal and the professional. In the parking lot after the last session, another participant approaches me to thank me for saying what I did. These sessions were her first time away from her kids as well, though hers are quite a bit older than mine. I feel deep gratitude that she shared her experience with me.

And being away isn’t as difficult as any of anticipated – as always, the anticipation is worse than the actuality. I soak up the solo time – back to back runs in dear and familiar places, meals and drinks with good good friends, painting my nails, loads of coffee – but after one night am ready to be home.

The big kid asks for a bow and arrows for his birthday. Their birthdays are coming up soon, one in August, the other in September. How quickly the time is passing. The big kid looks so small in photos from last year. It hurts my heart sometimes to think how abruptly his world changed, and I’m grateful for the extent to which he’s been able to take it in stride.

IMG_20190712_131018.jpg

We weather a dangerously hot weekend, deeply grateful for central air conditioning, particularly after the misery of last summer’s heat. Our experience of the heat wave pales in comparison to that of our family in decidedly un-air conditioned Belgium. And then it’s over nearly as quickly as it started, the temperatures dropping by 30 degrees overnight. We go out for a walk and are unexpectedly caught in a severe thunderstorm, hiding out with lunch and then cupcakes rather than getting soaked to the bone.

I finally get the bike trailer hooked up – only to blow the rim off of one of the wheels the first time we tried to take it out. I’m grateful that we weren’t actually on the road and that we were more scared than hurt. Another week of waiting before we’re able to ride, but then we make it happen, the big kid endlessly chattering as we run errands. His big idea for a summer outing involves a family bike ride to the “dinosaur museum”. He offered to pack a picnic since we will be hungry. Smart guy.

Long runs happen again, finally. I miss this part of marathon training – the hours of podcasts and meditative steps by the lake, the early mornings and the clothes drenched in sweat. Maybe next year. For now, I’m deeply grateful for any miles I can sneak in.

I spend an afternoon playing tourist with friends from grade school. Our conversations are wide ranging, hilarious, and restorative as we wander around downtown, taking in hot dogs and cocktails and architecture and broken shoes. It is a good, good thing to connect with people who understand where you’re from, even if the intermediate steps in your lives haven’t been the same.

We go to member night at the science museum. It’s too hot for outdoor activities, so we enjoy our scoops of ice cream and as many exhibits as we can manage before the kids melt into tired puddles. We decide to do just one more thing, and then happen into a whole hallway full of magnetic shapes which keep both kids enthralled. These sorts of things always risk throwing the entire evening off – we are an early bedtime household – but they’re almost always worth it.

JPEG_20190718_194911_4636080558866547800

At the end of the month, the baby stands up on his own for the first time. Steps can’t be far behind.

July Reads

 

IMG_20190707_173402

July Eats