Fondue!

My brother Mark is getting married in a few weeks, capping off a wedding season that has seen our attendance at or involvement in six weddings, two showers, and one reception since May, all but two of those occurring out of state.

Guests of Honor

In my experience, bridal showers are painful as often as they are enjoyable. My sister and I were determined that the shower we cohosted for Mark and Evonne would be different. First of all, no games – especially no games involving toilet paper. Second, it would be a couples’ shower. And third, there would be good food.

Two kinds of cheese fondue and savory snacks – the acorn squash fondue was the biggest hit and yielded nearly twice what we expected, while the Dubliner fondue separated in the saucepan and never quite came back together.

Acorn Squash Fondue

Savory Snacks

Chocolate fondue, sweets and spiked cider. The chocolate fondue was an unmitigated success, and the pound cake was polished off by the end of Sunday’s breakfast. The cider didn’t survive the evening.

The Full Spread

Sweet Snacks

Laughter and party crashers:

Laughing Shane

Party Snacker

A lovely time was had by all.

Charles Richard Fesenmeyer, 1920-2011

My grandpa passed away tonight. He was 91.

Baby Jenn

This is how I’ll always remember him: comfortable in his chair, whether it was with a book and a grandchild (that’s my sister in the photo) or falling asleep watching The Frugal Gourmet while home for lunch. That chair is the hottest commodity in their house, followed closely by his chair at the kitchen table.

Fesenmeyers

At some point he stopped being the one behind the camera at all the family occasions. At some point he stopped driving – they stopped driving. They didn’t come to Jenn’s wedding, or to my second. Travel was too difficult. I can’t imagine the feeling of losing yourself by inches over a tremendous amount of time. Hands no longer steady enough for surgery or woodwork. Retirement, finally, at 79. Walking with a cane. No longer having a garden. Pride compromised by infirmity.

Gram and Gramp

My grandparents had more than a lifetime together. If we’re lucky, most of us get 75-80 years on this planet. My grandparents were married close to 70. Seventy years with another person. Can you even imagine? The home nurse is staying with Grandma tonight, and Tom will be there soon, if he’s not there already.

With Grandpa!

Mom called while we were bowling, then texted me to ask me to call. I tried to go outside, then stopped in the foyer in my rented shoes. It was like a physical blow, then a literal lump in my throat, then kicking off the bowling shoes and standing outside, doubled over, sobbing. I had just been talking with my friend about plans for the weekend – whether I should go to Vegas for a friend’s wedding, whether I should cancel my plans just in case – so they knew what had happened and surrounded me with hugs. We came home and sat on the step and smoked pink and blue cigarettes and I drank a bourbon and told stories.

The time that Grandpa tried to convince me to eat disgusting cabbage rolls by making them talk to me in funny voices.

His old man pajamas, bow ties, and slippers.

His poached eggs and tea in the morning. How many eggs must Grandma have made for him in a lifetime? 10,000? More?

His shampoo – Herbal Essence something in a green bottle – which I would always use when I visited.

That photo of him on his pony.

The way he would always make sure that we had money and gas before we hit the road.

His wood shop in the basement.

His “office girls” that would still take him to lunch more than a decade after retirement.

The y-shaped scar from his heart surgery in 1999.

And, in my drawer, a delicate bracelet brought home from the Philippines, where he was stationed as an Army (?) doctor during World War II.

IMG_6926

I love you, Grandpa. I hope that wherever you are tonight, you’re at peace.

I Love My Sister!

Which isn’t to say that I don’t love my other family members, including those who have had birthdays in the last week, but every time we go home to Rockford, I come back wishing that I lived closer to my sister. We don’t have as much time to talk as we used to, but I love every minute I get to spend with her, and am so proud of the wife, mother, and all around great woman that she’s become.

Thanks, Jenn, for being awesome. You rock every bit as hard as you did in this photo from four years ago:

Rock Lock

Day 6: A Trip to the Zoo

I grew up an hour from Madison, and have many fond memories of Saturday daytrips there with my family.  We’d go to a children’s play at the Civic Center and get lunch at Dotty Dumpling’s Dowry.  We’d pick up wee cinnamon rolls at Ovens of Brittany or bagels from Bagels Forever.  We’d have lunch at Ella’s Deli and go to the zoo.

Let me tell you: it’s really hard to conceive of paying for a zoo after living in close proximity to the National Zoo in DC and after growing up an hour away from a perfectly lovely – if small – zoo in Madison.  I went there with my friends after prom instead of going to Great America like the rest of our class. Shane and I went there together in the first few months we were dating. It’s a special place for me.

You know what’s even better than going to the zoo? Going to the zoo with a very excited toddler, especially one who happens to be quite cute and also related to you. Jenn and Bill met us at the zoo between thunderstorms – our timing was impeccable! – and we had a great time catching up and watching Max point and squeal.

Hhh

Delicate

There he is!

Uncle Shane didn’t want to be upstaged when silly photos were involved.

Grumpy Bear

Highly Suspicious Chicken

Cheer up, Uncle Shane!

Happy Penguin!

A great morning, followed by a great lunch at Chautara and a totally indulgent, absolutely diet-busting trip to Campus Candy, where you can get delicious frozen yogurt topped with ANYTHING IN THE STORE.  Kids in the candy store indeed.

Waiting for the inevitable

My grandpa isn’t doing well. He’s been declining for a while, but this morning his doctor – a long term family friend, best man (I think) in my parents’ wedding, and my brother’s namesake – called my dad at work to tell him how bad things have gotten.

My grandparents still live in the split-level house they built in the 50s, when my mom was a little girl. Most days Grandpa, age 91, doesn’t get down the stairs – and Grandma, age 93, brings food to him, helps him bathe, and changes his diapers. After six decades as a housewife, she is a nurse again.

For years we’ve tried to convince them to move out of this house that is really too much for them to manage. For years my parents have tried to convince them to hire a caretaker instead of relying on a (miraculous, wonderful) neighbor and a series of college-aged girls that help with the cleaning and yardwork. Mom is going over for the weekend to make another attempt at this argument.

Four years ago, when we were in the midst of our nation-wide job search, Grandpa took a fall. I remember locking myself in the studio and crying and wondering if I really wanted to move to, say, Boone, where getting home in case of emergency would require a full day of travel. We live 7 hours away, but we might as well be on the other side of the world for all the good I can do right now.

In this way, old age is cruel: there’s little more to do that sit and wait, knowing that he won’t be with us sooner rather than later, but knowing there’s nothing we can do to forestall this inevitability. There are interventions for injury and disease. There are no interventions for just being OAD, as Grandma puts it: Old And Decrepit.

I am so thankful for having my grandparents in my life for all of my life. My dad’s parents are barely a memory at this point – I met my grandma once when I was a small child, and my grandpa passed away when I was in high school – but my mom’s parents have always been there for holidays and birthdays and long visits in the summer time – and, of late, for rambling conversations about Detroit. I can’t wrap my head around the fact that they won’t always be there.

With Grandpa!
1980

Jen and Grandpa
2006

Being a “Grown Up”

When we were home for the holidays, I had a conversation with my mom about jobs, kids, and home buying – you know, the “adult” stuff you’re supposed to have and do in your 30s. She made a comment that has been nagging at me, especially lately, and I want to try to unpack that while also talking about things we’ve been discussing lately.

Mom and I were talking about our plans for having kids, and I was explaining to her that one of the things I’m constantly turning over in my head is what we’ll give up if we make that decision. Mom said something along the lines of that we’d had time to pursue our interests or our hobbies, but that maybe now it was time to set aside some of the fun things and be grown ups. This wasn’t her exact wording, and it makes her response sound much more judgmental than it was. Regardless, it brings me to what I want to talk about: being grown ups.

We’ve decided to wait another year before buying a house. There are a variety of reasons for this: we’d like to have more money in the bank so that we can put down a substantial down payment and avoid PMI. While I like my new job a lot, we’re still not sold on being in Ann Arbor for the long term, especially not after this interminable winter. Home values aren’t appreciating, which makes buying a house seem like a less than ideal investment. And besides, while we complain about our rental, we’re not on the hook when the water heater breaks or the roof leaks or the driveway needs to be redone.

Similarly, we’re not rushing into having kids. Despite my lifelong ambition to be a mom, the reality is very different than the fantasy. There are certainly many rewards to having children, but right now we’re considering the things we can measure. My career is very important to me, and Shane is really busy with work, mopeds, beer, and whatever hobby will come up next. As a result, our days are very full – and that’s before adding in running, gardening, cooking, travel, or friends – and we appreciate a good night’s sleep. Having a baby would dramatically change all of that. Kids are tremendously expensive in both the short and long term, and that’s if everyone is healthy. Ultimately, the decision to have kids is a huge, lifelong one – there’s no foreclosure proceedings or bankruptcy in this area of your life.

So what’s been bugging me about my mom’s comment is that while I can see that we have selfish reasons for not buying or birthing right now – they are also good reasons. We are making the choice to not have a baby right now – or perhaps ever – because we’ve thought about it and talked about it and come to the conclusion that this is not something we want right now. We aren’t buying a house – even though it’s a buyer’s market – because it is the right decision based on a variety of personal and financial factors. I would argue that making these decisions makes us, in fact, MORE grown up than if we haphazardly embraced her view that these things are what you do when you are married and in your 30s. Which is absolutely not to say that making different decisions than we have is wrong – just that these are our choices based on who and where we are in our lives.

So that’s what I’ve been thinking about.

The Holidays, y’all

I could attempt to recount the things we’ve eaten over the last week, but really, you can probably imagine it.  You’ve been reading about our meals for a year.  You know that before we go out of town for a few days, we try to eat down the fridge, which is what we did on Wednesday.  You know that on special occasions like our anniversary or a Thursday, we like to have snacks for dinner, which is what we did for Christmas Eve Eve as we watched Love Actually and opened our gifts for each other.  And you know about the holiday excess we’re trying to avoid.

Festive Shane

We spent Christmas in Rockford with my family, including this handsome fellow who dazzled us with his crawling and his good looks:

Christmas Max

There was the traditional Christmas Eve corn chowder, more bland than it should have been, but nothing that couldn’t be fixed with the salt shaker and the most important spice. There were dozens of cookies stashed in the cold garage: gunk bars, brownies, chocolate coconut pinwheels, and sugars.

Mark and Evonne

We had German food for Christmas lunch – Mexican last year – sauerbraten and spaetzle, warm red cabbage, German potato salad, and an assortment of sausages. Somehow – perhaps thanks to the gym – we made room for Swedish pancakes at Stockholm Inn on Sunday, Beef-a-Roo, and cocktails and snacks at Garrett’s with Jenn.

Open wide!

And then on to Lakewood for a few non-holiday days with Shane’s family: tacos and Blizzards with his brothers, scones and excellent coffee at The Root after a visit to Trav’s funny gym:

Post-run olive scone at The Root

A visit to the Cleveland Art Museum, where we saw an incredible Damien Hirst piece made entirely of butterfly wings, followed by a tasty but cold and stressful lunch at Tommy’s in Coventry – I had tempeh salad, nom nom nom. Watching the Hawks win – or at least most of the game – over beers and food with the whole family at Buckeye Beer Engine. Time with kitties, cousins, and grandpa. And a couple of remarkable hot dogs at Happy Dog before heading home:

Happy Dog-14
Photo by edseloh

Among the toppings we tried were blue cheese coleslaw (me), marinated mushrooms (Orin), and habanero pickled red onions (Shane) – plus a really great chimichurri and a garlic-tomato jam for our tater tots.  I wish I had photos of any of this, but despite taking the camera everywhere with us, we only managed a couple of pictures of the cats.  I’ll try harder next time, promise.