1/11/11

A week from today, January 11th, 2011 will be 1/11/11. In case you didn’t know there’s a lot out there on the internets about the significance of 11/11.

But 1/11/11 holds a different meaning for me: the unforgettable birthday of my grandfather, Merton Walker.

Dad with Pa back in the ’70s or early ’80s

Next Tuesday would have been his 100th birthday so Damir and I will be honoring his memory in a way Pa would heartily approve: we’re going to make his favorite meal– lobster dinner with all the fixings.

Thank god he was crazy for lobster and not beets.

Kitchen Confidential

Now that the blog is back up and running I find myself struggling what to write. Not that I can’t think of anything to write about– quite the opposite. I want to tell you about my quick Christmas trip to Boston, the lamest of lame New Year’s Eve and marriage lessons from an unexpected source. I also want to write about the daily experience as well, and maybe that’s as good a place to start as anywhere else.

Right now I am writing on my lap top sitting on my bed in my room that’s about 12’x12′. My in-laws are in their perennial spots on the couch in the living room watching Spanish TV. No, they don’t speak Spanish. They don’t speak English either so I suppose a Spanish channel makes as much sense as an English one, but still that makes me laugh. The other night my father in law was watching TV in Chinese. I have no idea what he was getting from it; I don’t expect a trip to Beijing is in the cards for them anytime soon.
Damir is at his cousins’ who live around the corner watching some football.
I am super hungry, being 8:45pm and well past dinner time, but I haven’t yet found the strength to venture to the Dreaded Kitchen. The kitchen is disputed territory in our home. I have conceded the living room and the dining room, but the kitchen still remains hotly contested. Yes, I have considered putting a hot-pot, mini-microwave and fridge in our small bedroom to make the kitchen obsolete entirely, but let’s face it: one cannot live on ramen and cheetos alone. Or so my doctor says. So I continue to fight the good fight. Well, of course I am exaggerating. There is no fighting, it’s more of a tug of war. But war, yes, yes it is.
Exhibit A: Small.
The main problem is that our kitchen is super small, clearly designed by a man who never cooked a meal in his life, and really only one person can cook at a time. I have been patiently waiting for my in-laws to finish dinner so I can go in and cook in peace without getting in anyone’s way or anyone else getting into my way. Even when Damir and I cook a meal together we are bumping and shoving each other (with love) to get what we need. 
My mother in law is a great cook, no doubt about it. And she cooks a lot. No cookbooks, no ready-to-eat. She makes good stuff all from scratch. Every week there is fresh bread she has baked. Right now (I moved and now writing in the kitchen for inspiration) I am staring into a bowl of doughnut concoctions that she made a few hours ago. Diet? Huh? Everything she makes is traditional Yugoslavian… stuffed cabbage leaves, meat pies, meat stews, meat casseroles. Lots of meat. But hearty, flavorful food. That takes forever to cook. Hence, when she is home she is constantly cooking. This is a problem for me, though I like what she makes, I want to make my own stuff too. I actually like to cook.
When I moved in I brought all of my kitchen utensils and tools with me. And most of it remains down in the basement except for a few critical pieces, since they had most of it here already. But for some reason my stuff that did make it into the home frequently gets broken or goes missing. I am not sure why… if it is purely accidental or a form of covert warfare. But it drives me crazy that it seems like the things I bring into the house are not wanted. That’s my perception, but I have no evidence to say that it’s 100% true.
That brings us to the story of the two microwave ovens.
Microwave A and B
When I moved in the family had a older small microwave oven (the one on the right above). It didn’t work so well, but well enough. Cooking options were limited with just one heat setting and a timer on a dial. Yes, I use the microwave liberally. It’s useful when I get home from work so late to pop in a burrito or lean cuisine for dinner. So this past summer Damir and I made a trip to BJs for some staples and see these great microwaves on sale with lots of bells and whistles. So on a whim we bought it and brought it home. We dismantled the old microwave and put it to the side until we could take it out to the trash. 
The new microwave arrived with much fanfare. We showed his parents– look what we got for the Dreaded Kitchen! Showed them the basics and moved on. 
Fast-forward a few hours. In my bedroom I am getting ready to go somewhere and my ears perk up to hear a funny sound. What was that? Was that… was it? The old microwave’s done chime? No, it couldn’t be. We got a NEW microwave. How could I possibly hear the old one’s chime of done-ness? Surely I was hearing things. 
But no. I peaked into the kitchen and see the old one stacked up next to the new one, as it still lies today in the photo above. My mother-in-law quietly reinstated the old beast of a microwave when I wasn’t looking. In protest of the new? Out of confusion of how the multitude of buttons work on the new one? In an effort to shun anything I bring into our home? I don’t know the reason. And I never asked. I just let it be. Though every time I look at it I think it is mocking me.
One of the big lessons I have learned since moving here is that there are some fights that just aren’t worth fighting for. Everything doesn’t have to be done my way.

Fathers.

On this father’s day, I am primarily thinking about two things:

1) How lucky I got in the father’s department.
2) How a man can brutally kill his two children along with his wife and mother in law.

I am in Boston this weekend, having quickly come up after hearing the news that a friend was violently killed by her husband. In his rage, he also killed my friend’s mother and their two small children, aged 2 and 4. If you want to know the horrific details, just open up the Boston Globe. It’s all over the news. I don’t think I can bring myself to write the details of what he did.

Mixed in with my grief is a visceral anger born in the pit of my stomach and coursing through every vein in my body. In the notes of confession he left at the scene, shortly before some lame attempt to flee, he called himself a selfish coward for what he did. Selfish coward? Those would not be my words to describe the act of murdering your own children.

So many articles and comments are floating about now, and I think I have read most of them by this point. Many have commented  that my friend likely ignored warning signs of his hidden rage… and I can honestly say that is not the case. This horror was a lightening bolt in a blue sky. No one would have ever anticipated this mild-mannered man to commit such an atrocity. Articles have also reported there was some kind of marital discord. I can say that the problems they faced were typical of a lot of married couples. And in any event…no level of discord warrants this nature of response. There is simply no justification.

It’s hard to keep myself from walking through my imaginary scene of what happened. To fill in the many blanks with some kind of narrative. I keep searching for an answer that will never arrive to a very simple question:  

Why?

Beverly Hills 60643


I’ve just returned from Chicago, where I was attending my Gram’s funeral this weekend. As I mentioned in my last post, her time was near and she died at home on Friday, March 12th. This was my final trip to her house of over 50 years in the Beverly Hills section of the South Side of Chicago. As I type, my mom and aunt are preparing the long and difficult job of putting together an estate sale and getting the house ready to put on the market.

It was a strange and emotional trip, with lots of tears and laughter. It was so great to see my cousins, aunts and uncles; some of whom I hadn’t seen in many many years. It was also wonderful to hear stories about my Gram from my aunts and spend a little time in her well loved home. Being there with my extended family brought fresh anger over the loss of the Michigan home. With Gram no longer our common denominator, how do we stay a family?
Speaking of Michigan, I found it poignant that Gram’s funeral was on St. Joseph’s day. St. Joe, Michigan is the place where I spent most of my time with Gram during the summers of my childhood. Joseph, her father, immigrated from Sicily to Chicago via Ellis Island. Joseph Jr, his son, took Michigan away from all of us.
I think perhaps I learned more about Gram and my grandfather, who died before I was born, in these few days than I had in my entire life. Isn’t that strange? In many ways, my grandmother was a very private person. Though willing to recount story after story about her family, she was more reticent to speak of herself. Going through stacks of photos, I would ask my aunts, “who is this person?” and inevitably a great story would accompany the answer.
What really touched me was finding dozens and dozens of Hallmark Cards and letters sent between my grandparents. I never understood my grandfather to be an overly affectionate man, but I always knew he was devoted to his family. But these cards told a different side of the story. My grandparents truly adored one another. In these cards, some over 70 years old, you could feel the love they were so lucky to share.
As my own wedding is fast approaching, I can only hope and pray that Damir and I will be as blessed as they were.

The Next Adventure Awaits Her

Mom says it’s just a matter of a day or two now. Maybe even just hours left before Gram passes on. Though her impending death breaks my heart, it is inevitable, as it will be for all of us.
A few years back, Gram told us that sweet angels had started to visit with her a night. Thankfully, she said that she found their presence comforting. And now, from the bed hospice set up in her living room of more than 50 years, she occasionally talks with the family members who already waiting for her at the next stop. Yesterday she started greeting all the people visiting her living room, “Oh, hi! Hi!” People who no longer walk among us are preparing to usher her through.
She fell out of bed a week or so ago which seems to have been the catalyst of a domino effect of deterioration. She was already quite frail, mostly blind and well into dementia. She could no longer retain memory or detail, except for occasional flashes of recollection which would
blow in and out like a rare summer breeze. She’s 92.
Though the physical damage of the fall was mostly repaired (broken hip, broken arm), it became clear a full recovery back to her pre-fall state of health wasn’t going to happen. She couldn’t understand the oxygen mask and the tubes in her arms, she pulled at them despite being told over and over they were vital to her recovery. She couldn’t remember.

But she still has the hearing of a cat. A sneeze across the room would elicit a “God bless you!”and a cell phone ring down the hall would prompt her to ask you to open the door, someone was ringing the bell.

Today my mother whispered into Gram’s ear, not even sure if she was listening, “You’re going to have so many wonderful adventures!” Mom was surprised to get any response, much less this… “I already am.”

Thank you, Gram. I love you.

To be ordained


One thing I am so happy about with regards to the “big W” next year is that my big brother has agreed to officiate the wedding for us and my sister will be standing up with me as my most awesome Best Lady. Now, neither Damir or I have any idea yet what the actual ceremony might entail, but its already comforting to know that up there at the front with me will be the love of my life, and my brother and sister.

Hopefully the ceremony will be just like the picture above from circa 1978– my sister on one side, my brother on the other and me in a wedding dress. Though I don’t imagine they’ll be wearing costumes, but I’d certainly be open to it if they really wanted.

I always wanted to say that my brother married me. Ha! Get it? Try the veal, and don’t forget to tip your waitress.

Its very confusing though to understand whether or not my internet ordained brother officiating is actually legal in the Sunshine State (that’s Florida). The law states the following:

741.07 Persons authorized to solemnize matrimony. (1) All regularly ordained ministers of the gospel or elders in communion with some church, or other ordained clergy, and all judicial officers, including retired judicial officers, clerks of the circuit courts, and notaries public of this state may solemnize the rights of matrimonial contract, under the regulations prescribed by law.

So the question is: what is a “regularly ordained minister”?

Of course we can go to City Hall and have it done “for real” but it would just be nice to have some clarity on this issue: yea or nay?

On a related note: one more decision is in the books, we picked our photographer. Super exciting!

Magical.

Meeting Aidan and Grace last weekend was simply magical. My new niece and nephew, amazing! It was such a joy to help Erin and Tom, in any little way I could. It is overwhelming to know I will get a front row seat in watching these two little ones grow and flourish, and I hope to be not just an auntie but a friend and mentor to both.

I Bambini Sono Arrivati!

I am delighted to share happy news: Aidan Walker and Grace Elizabeth have joined us in the world! My sister gave birth last night after a long day of labor. By the sound of things, it didn’t go as easy as she had hoped, nor as badly as maybe one would fear (by one, I mean me, naturally).

I haven’t received any pictures yet, so here is my take on what the babies might look like:


Cute, no? (Thanks, photoshop!) Gracie came first, leading the charge. Girl Power! I can’t wait to meet them! Not this weekend, but hopefully one soon after. Mom and babies are healthy and getting to know one another.

Bah. Humbug.

I am having a hard time really getting into the Christmas spirit.

Maybe it’s because we have nary a Christmas decoration in our apartment– not a tree, not an angel, not even a display of the beautiful Christmas cards I have received (though I am so grateful of every one). Decorating the house when you aren’t actually spending Christmas in your own home somehow feels a little strange (leaving for Boston in Christmas Eve). Though I suppose we could have strung some lights to make the place festive. Is it too late? Maybe not.

Maybe it’s because I am super crazy busy at work– our busiest of the year are the weeks leading up to Christmas and New Year’s when tourists descend like termites into New York City, running around eating up all the free space and walking all slowly on the sidewalk blocking fast walkers such as myself. But despite being so busy, I am cutting the hours of my part-time staff because it should be EVEN BUSIER this time of year. l suddenly feel nervous that I might not have a job if things continue as they are. Thinking of traveling to NYC? Boy do I have a deal for you. Hotel prices are a fraction of what they were last year.

Maybe it’s because the shortest day of the year is quickly approaching, December 21st, and the lack of sunlight is really getting to me, despite my happy light on the desk. Maybe I should have considered the prozac this winter. Definitely too late for that.

Maybe it’s because I am dreaming of living in a place where I can invite my friends and family to join us in our home holiday spirit. But that’s not happening anytime soon. Well, not this Christmas anyway.

I don’t know. This year just feels a bit off. Maybe once I get to Boston and join my sister (TWINS TWINS TWINS!) and my Mamma, I will get a flaming shot of holiday joy. Sadly D. isn’t coming with me this year, so we’ll have our own private Christmas on a date to be determined. That’s something to definitely look forward to.

This made me laugh and cry. A letter and response from the archives.

May 1997
Fax To: Dad
From: Terra (somewhere in the middle of the Pacific Ocean)
SS Universe Explorer
Re: Another change in plans….

* * *

Dad- Help! I need some advice. I have just received an offer to stay on the ship for 2-4 more months working in the same job but doing Alaska cruises. Pay is $225 per week+ room + board + return flight ticket home after (more than I make now). I can’t decide…Part of me says yes because: 1) would love to see Alaska. 2) since passengers are all adults, it would be a good way to get feedback on my hotel idea (and get support?) 3) good experience. But: 1) I am so tired. 2) Since it would be a “real cruise” I would have to dress up and be much more formal than I have to be now. 3) Since the routes up Alaska are repetitive it could get boring. If I decide yes, I will send you the $$ to cover my bills and insurance. I can’t do another 4 months, but 2 is very tempting. What do you think? I need to respond ASAP, so any feedback would be great. I am so torn! I miss and love you– Terra

May 1997 (same day)
Fax To: Terra
From: Dad
Re: Another change in plans….

* * *

Finally got your fax. My advice – Go for it! I’ll miss not having you home as expected. However, it sounds like a good opportunity. Love, Dad