Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Around here

I finally pulled pictures off my camera for the first time in months. Here's a little bit of what we've been up to lately.

blueberry scones
{blueberry scones}

sunday brunch
{sunday brunch}

mother's day 2015
{mother's day 2015}


garden roses
{garden roses}



new chairs
{new chair}

picnic aftermath
{picnic aftermath}

:: We had a few people over for brunch on Mother's Day and I made blueberry scones using Deb's recipe. Delicious, but I had to add extra cream because the dough was still very, very dry after I stirred in the amount the recipe called for. It doesn't seem like other people had issues with this, so I think it was just me but I'll probably go back to my old recipe next time. I used the dried wild blueberries from Trader Joe's for the first time and they were amazing. Perfect for pastry because they don't bleed all over the place as they bake.

:: We've been spending a lot of our free time around the house these days. We have three beautiful rose bushes that have been producing like crazy so I cut flowers every few days. D is usually building furniture (so far he's made two nightstands, a liquor cabinet, under the bed storage boxes and a picnic table - his productivity puts me to shame) and I'm usually sorting through my dad's paperwork and making to do lists for myself and then taking a nap to try to avoid the lists. There is so much to take care of when someone passes away and I'm being really slow so it's taking me forever. I should probably make a master list and then assign myself a couple tasks each week instead of fumbling through it as things come up.

:: We had our first dinner party in the new place last weekend! We're gradually getting the yard set up as an entertaining area, since we don't have a dining table in the house. On Saturday D built the picnic table and we splurged on a couple of butterfly chairs. Having the outdoor space set up makes our space feel so much bigger and I love it. I foresee a lot of evenings on the patio in our future.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Reading, lately

I know, I know. I don't post in over a month and then hit you with an enormous list of books with no pictures. I promise I'll have some more posts up soon. I'm gradually realizing that I'm still deep in the grieving process and it's not easing up so much as going through phases. I'm mostly over the part where I didn't want to get out of bed or buy groceries or shower, but I still get slammed with emotion several times a day and pretending to be okay in public uses up a lot of energy. But somehow life goes on and we're busy making progress around our new place and trying to find a rhythm to our days. I'm trying to make myself get back into running (and reminding myself that the first few weeks after a long break are the most discouraging) and cooking (signed up for our CSA box again as motivation - I'll update you on how that works out). And I'm reading again. I had a few weeks where all the words would blur together and I just couldn't, and it feels good to be able to drop into a story again, even if I've been going a little heavy on the thrillers.

This is a huge catch up situation, since I haven't done one of these in months so I'm just going to scrap the tail end of 2014 and start with what I've read since January. The only reason I can remember that far back is because I joined an online book club and we have to record them all in a Google doc. I'm not including re-reads this time around, just the fresh stuff.

One Boy Missing by Stephen Orr - I'm a sucker for literary crime novels, so it's no surprise I really liked this one set in a small Australian town. The story ends up being surprisingly gentle, due to the semi-sad-sack detective in charge of the case. It's interesting, unusual, and the characters stick with you.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt - I read The Goldfinch last year when it was making the rounds and was thoroughly underwhelmed, but I decided to give this a try anyways. And it was better than The Goldfinch! I wasn't in love with it but I thought it was solid and it held my attention. I'm not as enamored with New England boarding school culture as Tartt so I tended to get a little frustrated with the ridiculous eccentricities of the main characters. But once I settled into it I found it pretty interesting. It's a twisty plot, involving a murder and a bizarre clique of Ancient studies majors and the writing is good.

The Spellman Series (#2, #3, #4, #5) by Lisa Lutz - I love the Spellman series. They are mystery-comedy (a genre I can't get enough of, when it's done well), following the Spellman clan, a family detective agency with some serious boundary issues. The mystery in each one if never the main focal point, so don't bother if you're looking for a really good whodunit. But the voice is good, they're very funny and you get lots of SF scenery, if that's your thing.

Bones to Ashes by Kathy Reichs - Meh. I'm always on the hunt for a new thriller/mystery series to love, but I don't think this one will be it. The main character is a forensic anthropologist who is called in for murder cases both old and new. I thought the plot in this particular one was pretty good, but the writing wasn't tight enough to convince me to continue with the series, although I'd read another one in a pinch.

Crooked by Louisa Luna - Whoops. I think this book might be meant for teenagers? And not in a good way. It follows a young woman's experience of getting out of jail after being in three years. The main character is unpleasant and the writing and plot are just passable. I think it's supposed to be raw and keep you on the edge of your seat (there's a reveal at the end) but it just wasn't good enough. Come to think of it, it probably isn't intended for teenagers, given the risky behavior going on. So I guess I don't know who is meant to enjoy this book.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot by David Shafer - A madcap adventure novel set in the near future. A small group of people work to prevent a conglomerate from gaining control over everyone's data. Cloud intrigue! I'm torn on this one. It's entertaining but heavy handed and a little longer than the plot can support. I got really, really sick of hearing the cloud conspiracy explained x1000. But maybe I was just in an impatient mood? I'd heard good things about this one, so maybe I got my expectations too high.

Crooked Little Heart by Anne Lamott - Adolescence, tennis, and other difficult topics. I love Anne Lamott and I found this little novel endearing and well described.

Instruments of Darkness by Imogen Robertson - Way back in the day I used to devour regency romances and I still go through a huge number of mysteries, obviously. This is a regency mystery, so I figured it would hit a sweet spot but it didn't quite work for me. The plot was pretty transparent and the book was long, which meant I was skimming by the end because the "reveal" was so obvious and I just wanted to get to it already so I could be done.

The Magician's Land by Lev Grossman - I've read the previous two and been a little harsh about them. I decided to keep going because I'm incapable of quitting a series once I commit but as it turns out, I actually liked this one better than the others. Sometimes my stubbornness pays off! The protagonist has grown up a bit, there's less fawning over boarding school pretensions, everyone is less annoying. The tone (like all in the series) is very flip, packed full of pop culture references (half of which I'm probably missing because I grew up without a TV and am therefore missing two critical decades of TV and movie knowledge) and can grate on me. I do love the descriptions of magic as a really physical, grueling challenge.

An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England by Brock Clark -  I heard this compared to A Confederacy of Dunces and had to check it out. The hapless narrator is completely infuriating and the entire story is crazy, but I enjoyed it. And I did think it was a little bit CoD-like, which I consider a high compliment. If you don't like ridiculous, comedic plot lines, you won't like this. It is super over the top.

The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo - You know what I think about this one.

Hotel World by Ali Smith - I was somehow expecting a tell all about the hotel business, which started me off on the wrong foot. This is actually a novel consisting of five interwoven stories and one of the narrators is a ghost (p.s. I really, really dislike ghost stories even when they're well done). It's conceptually interesting and I did get sucked in eventually, but I think my initial misconception (and the ghost) threw me off a bit.

The Republic of Love by Carol Shields - A complicated love story where the main characters keep almost meeting each other until they finally do, with lots of emphasis on how small the social circle is. I liked it and was absorbed the whole way through, but didn't love it. Great title, though.

Bringing Up Bébé by Pamela Druckerman - Read this on the plane while going up to meet my new niece! I don't have a baby, so I'm probably not the best judge of whether or not this is a worthwhile book, but I do think it's encouraging to believe that children could be less tyrannical. I had a hard time liking the narrator, though, so maybe stay away if you have issues with privileged people who still manage to whine about their lives (pot, kettle, what?).

All Joy and No Fun by Jennifer Senior - Heard this one discussed on NPR and then it was lying around my sister's living room so I read it over the course of many early mornings sitting up with the new infant. Nice way to get an overview of many studies on parenting. It doesn't particularly make you want to have kids, but I guess it's at least a good warning of what to be aware of if you do have them.

The Age of Grief by Jane Smiley - I like short stories and I fell right into these. It's a great collection.

No Going Back and No Holds Barred by Lyndon Stacey - New to me crime series starring an ex-policeman in England and his ex-police dog. These are the first two in the series and they are okay but not stand outs. The writing is a little simplistic.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr - Is it weird to describe a novel set during a systematic genocide as gorgeous and ethereal? This is a teenage (the characters, not the intended audience) love story set amidst WWII. The writing it lovely and poetic and the plot is good.

Get in Trouble by Kelly Link - I don't even really want to describe these short stories because I think they're more magical if you just happen upon them. This was a Lauren rec, so I knew it would be good.

The Burning Air and The Dark Rose by Erin Kelly - I read The Poison Tree by this author and it was a great, twisty, creepy novel. These two ..... weren't. The plots didn't grab me. I was so bored by the end of The Dark Rose that a literal conflagration failed to rouse me. I can't recommend either of these.

A Necessary End by Peter Robinson - I like the Inspector Banks series and I've read a few of them, but because I check them out from the library as they're available I'm reading in a really haphazard order and I think there are a LOT of them. I should buckle down and make a list and try to be more systematic, because they're pretty solid and they do build on one another. It's another British detective series, set in modern times, not too gruesome (or at least, this one wasn't, and I don't remember the others being over the top either).

I'm on the waitlist for a few books, and JUST got my notification that Station Eleven is ready for me. I've had several people recommend it so I'm looking forward to diving in. What are you reading? Anything I should pick up?

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up

Are you guys drinking the kool-aid? Want to talk about it?

I figured this book would be good prep for our move but I was only two pages in when I realized that the author might drive me crazy. I am seriously type A but I couldn't ever be friends with her, and not just because she talks to her handbags (but yes, partly because of that). I'm not sure how much of this is a schtick for her business image and how much of it is real, but man, it's a lot to take. Luckily the book is short. Unluckily, it repeats itself several times so it could actually be shorter.

I have some issues with the "does it spark joy?" concept of deciding which possessions to keep, particularly when it comes to the kitchen and the bathroom. I don't know about you, but I get no joy from a 9x13" baking dish or from my box of first aid supplies, but I couldn't live without either one. But maybe the point is I should just have one box of bandaids? Or maybe I should get fancier bandaids that make me happy? I'm not really sure how to apply the yardstick here. Is this because I skimmed too quickly?

I would also like to point out that it would be much easier to have a tidy house if your main hobby was tidying/organizing. I have a lot of hobbies and tidying isn't even in the top ten. There's not much discussion about how to handle my box of spray paint or my linocut tools. Based on my reading of the book I think she's saying that I should get rid of anything that doesn't "spark joy" when I touch it and then if it turns out I miss it I can always buy it again. But I'm reluctant to do that because I did it last time I moved, with my yarn and crochet hooks. I hadn't crocheted in a while, so I decided it was best to let them go. Flash forward to winter, when all I wanted to be doing was mindlessly crocheting on the couch, but without the big upfront cost of shelling out for new yarn and hooks. I've really been regretting my purge. On the other hand, even I can admit that having 15 industrial sized spools of 1" wide grosgrain ribbon might be overkill (but how will I decide which colors to keep?!).

But all criticisms aside, a lot of what she writes does speak to me. There's some discussion about why we hang onto things when we shouldn't that I found useful. And I have a sneaking suspicion that the "spark joy" concept might change my life if I embraced it fully and admitted that it's better to pay for some things over again if necessary, rather than holding onto everything just in case you need it one day.

P.S. - I will never fold my socks. NEVER.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Moving, again


The timing is maybe not the best but we're moving this week. And if you remember how much I whined about downsizing my kitchen last time, I should probably warn you upfront. We're moving to a 450 sf apartment and the kitchen is just a nook off the living room and there's no full size oven.

The benefits hugely outweigh the costs, though. We'll be living in our dear friends' cute little back house (so, mandatory daily happy hour), which means we have a free standing place for the first time ever, along with our own washer and dryer (I get teary just thinking about it) and a sweet little yard that will mean Circe will have her own territory and won't need a dog walker. The neighborhood will work much better for our commutes, too. I'm amazed that the timing worked out exactly as it did, because they've had a long term tenant for years who just happened to move out the same month we decided we wanted to move to the neighborhood. I swear we didn't send her threatening notes.

In so many ways it is so good, but I'll admit I'm mildly terrified of cutting back this far. We don't plan to stay in a space this small forever, so we're on board with packing up some of our beloved items that simply won't fit and storing them (I've resisted storage units because I generally think paying just to keep things you aren't using is a waste of money, but I'm okay with it for a limited amount of time). We'll also have a small storage shed in the yard, so we might be able to get by without too much additional space.

Deciding how to tackle this was intimidating. I eventually ended up deciding to list everything we own and then divide it into categories - take, storage shed, long term storage, discard. This sounded neat and tidy and efficient. I made it partway through the kitchen and gave up when I discovered that I still own two waffle irons (better than the four I owned last time we moved, but still demoralizing) and an obscene amount of glassware. Now we're just winging it.

I'm hoping we come out of this the other side with a renewed sense of clarity about our possessions and what we need to make us happy. Or, you know, maybe we should aim for just staying married.

Monday, March 23, 2015


Thank you all so much for your comments and emails after my last post - they mean so much to me. I'm nowhere near caught up and I'm still feeling a bit confused and lost and I'm accepting that the feeling probably won't go away for a while.

But right now I'm up north and mildly sleep deprived for the happiest reason - my sister had her baby last week! We're overwhelmed with joy and I'm getting as much time with my little niece as I can before I have to head back home. I know our dad was beyond excited to meet his first grandchild and it feels a little bittersweet as we cuddle her on his old couch, telling her about him. But mostly just sweet, because we know how happy this would have made him. As distractions go, you can't do much better than a baby. I have a few photos on the camera but god knows how long it'll take me to get them off the camera, so I've been relying heavily on my phone. Here are a few tiny snippets.

{baby feet!}

{birthday celebration}

{because hospital meals suck}

{flowers and citrus}

{big sister}

Monday, March 9, 2015


off-shore rig in Dubai
{dad in dubai, circa 1983}

My amazing, indomitable father died on Tuesday, February 24th, after living with cancer for five years. We thought it was just a flare up of the same issues that landed him in the hospital last month, until it got worse, quickly. I drove straight to the hospital from a work meeting on Friday night, crying as I crawled through LA traffic. My sister got permission to fly down and on Saturday our family made the difficult decision to stop all medical interventions. The next four days were physically and emotionally exhausting. Watching my father die was the hardest thing I've ever done. We spent a week planning the memorial service and I existed out of time, wading through memories, wholly focused on honoring him and his life. And now it's over and I feel small and lost. Last week I went back to my normal life and it's just hard to understand how everything keeps moving along as if nothing has happened when there is this huge, gaping hole in the world. I'm trying to figure out how to keep going when just doing the usual things - showering, buying groceries, going to work - leaves me feeling exhausted and worn thin.

I had a post in my drafts that I had been writing for a while, just to help me process everything that was happening. I wasn't sure if I was going to share it or not but I think it's important, to me, maybe to anyone else who is living in this state of uncertainty.


My dad was diagnosed with advanced liver cancer just a few weeks after Dustin and I announced our engagement. We spent the week before Christmas that year in the hospital, where they told us we'd be lucky to have six months together. It was more than any of us could handle, this news. And then we were lucky, unbelievably lucky. We got more than six months. We had our wedding and my dad was there to dance with me. We had four more Christmases. My sister announced her pregnancy and my dad was over the moon, expecting his first grandchild. The doctors had agreed on an unusual treatment and it worked better than they expected. We always knew it wasn't a cure. In the beginning we jumped through hoops, did weeks of testing, waited by the phone for days, to get my dad on the liver transplant list despite the size of his tumors. We stayed on the transplant list for a few months and felt hopeful. We explored temporarily relocating to another state with lower demand so that the transplant could come sooner. We cried when the tumor growth outpaced the treatments and we no longer qualified for the transplant list.

None of this is on the blog. There are lots of reasons that I don't write regularly about some of our family health issues. There's privacy, for one thing. My dad is a private person and these issues aren't mine alone and I'm not comfortable sharing in real time. There's avoidance, on my part. I prefer sharing the good bits here and not constantly re-hashing the disappointments. I try to avoid over thinking in person as well, but I'm not as successful.

So I've been quiet. But now we are at this point, the point where we are forced to admit that we're out of options. We've fought hard and we've tried everything we could. My dad has endured with good grace the endless rounds of appointments and scans, the painful treatments and long recoveries. We've endured living with death in the room for the last five years. It is wearing.

My dad was diagnosed with cirrhosis years ago, when I was in high school. He's an odd case, with no hepatitis, no alcohol use, none of the usual risk factors. They aren't sure why his liver is having so much trouble. Not having a reason is frustrating, which seems odd since the end result is the same.

We have spent five years in this limbo. Once our options ran out, it got harder. I dread every appointment, knowing that we have no chance of good news and a high chance of bad news. I'm relieved when there is no news, when we are on a plateau. We ask for timelines, percentages, chances. The doctors hedge, as we know they will, because predicting the progression of cancer in any given individual isn't just difficult, it's impossible. I know that but I still have to ask. My family is blunt, we do not dance around medical decisions, the doctors appreciate how comfortable we are with these discussions. My dad and stepmom make funeral arrangements, because it is practical. We go over memorial services. We make off color jokes about cremation.

I cry, not at the doctor's office, not in meetings, not in front of my dad. I cry in the shower, during TV commercials, on my bus ride home. I carry tissues everywhere. I finally accept that maybe I should try seeing a therapist and it's the right decision, but I cry even more. Apparently that's a good thing. I learn to stop telling myself that I'm doing a bad job dealing with this and just tell myself that yes, this is a shitty thing to have to deal with. I try to be nicer to myself. I fail a lot.

I am terrified. Liver failure can end particularly badly, not with bedside reminisces, but with an elevation in the ammonia levels in the brain that leave the patient paranoid, angry and often violent. I'm terrified that in his last moments my dad will be convinced that he hates us. I try to prepare myself to erase those moments but I'm not sure I can do it.

We exist in a tug of war, my dad and I. We talk about lots of things but avoid feelings as much as possible. We are trapped. I know that he needs comfort and care but he wants to be the one taking care of me. I want him to take care of me. I am an adult in every way, taking notes, researching medications, calling doctors. Inside I want to stay a child. I want my dad to fix things.

My dad tells me he has a savings account for his dog, to manage her expenses once he's gone. I cry every time I think about it.

There are so many different ways to lose someone. This drawn out loss is a blessing in some ways, the chance to prepare, to say things you want to say, and a curse in others. We are living with no hope* and it gets harder as every day goes by and the chances of bad news mount. I'm not sure I can handle it. I try to balance my time, seeing my dad as often as possible while still seeing my mom and my stepdad, D's parents, our friends. I feel guilty nearly all the time. There isn't enough of me to go around.

I save all my sick time, hoard my vacation days. I feel guilty because we still haven't decided if we will have kids and now it's too late for my dad to ever meet our theoretical children. I feel like I can't have kids because I know he'll never meet them and it seems too unfair.

I think about my dad's eulogy, about what needs to be said. My dad is a towering presence in my life. He's a soft spoken, over-sized cowboy philosopher. A woodworker, an oil rig engineer, a man who loves logic and cares more about animals and children than the majority of adults. I run out of words, because I still don't really believe that this is happening.


My dad didn't become angry at the end, and for that I am eternally grateful. There wasn't even a long decline, other than the uptick in hospitalizations the last few months. He was vital and wholly himself, making plans, listening to me agonize over whether or not to move, talking about our dogs, speculating endlessly about whether my sister was eating enough protein. In those last few days he was aware of our presence until he wasn't, and we were able to stay at his side the whole time, caring for him as best we could. His memorial was beautiful, a testament to his life, filled with family and friends and neighbors and the receptionist from the vet's office. This should all give me comfort, and it does, I promise. It's just that it isn't enough. My dad was the strongest person I've ever known, and I carry some of that strength in me, and I know I can go on. I'm just not sure how right now.

dad, rena, me 2011
{dad, rena, me, 2011}

*Edited to add - I was re-reading this and realized that I thought we were living with no hope, but hope is a sneaky bastard and gets in there even when you don't realize it. I had hope, this whole time, even when it wasn't justified, even when I thought I'd accepted our situation. I had hope that we could continue on this plateau forever, like we had been the last few years. I had hope even in the end, after we'd taken him off fluids and had been told repeatedly that it was just a matter of hours. There is always that tiny sliver of hope and in some ways it's the most difficult part. Because you can't completely convince yourself there is no hope, even when you think you have, and then you are broken all over again when you lose it. But I can't regret it because it speaks to something beautiful - love, resilience, desire. And I don't want to be someone who decides to live without hope, no matter how misplaced it might be.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

January, etc.

I was going to start this post with the phrase where did January go? and then I looked at my calendar and realized it's nearly halfway into February, so .... scratch that.

January was rough. My parents were taking turns bouncing in and out of the hospital (everyone is home now!) and I was juggling work and family and just general life maintenance, which sounds efficient, if tiring, but actually means that I feel stressed when I'm with my parents instead of at work, guilty when I'm at work instead of with my parents, and nothing in our apartment has been properly cleaned in so long that I'm starting to view it as a lifestyle choice.

Needless to say, there has not been a lot of picture taking.

Random updates:

Circe continues to behave oddly when she's left at home during the day, despite enjoying her adventures with her dog walker.* We finally gave up on trying to prevent her from jumping on our credenza and instead just focused on teaching her how to jump off of it. Success? I feel 50% less guilty now that I don't have to worry about her stranding herself without food or water for hours on end. She still opts to spend most of her day scratching up our credenza.

We're contemplating another move, mostly so that Circe either has some outdoor space or is close enough to one of our offices that we can slip out and walk her at lunch. Also to try to reduce my commute, which has slowly been draining the life out of me. Apartment hunting is just as discouraging as it was a year ago, I'm sorry to report. I gnash my teeth and look at our budget and try to figure out how to quantify "quality of life" amenities. Let me tell you, this time I am not going to opt for an apartment building that doesn't have a washer and dryer somewhere on the premises. The privilege of being able to throw a load of laundry in while you make dinner on a random Tuesday night cannot be overstated. We've only been in our current place for a little over a year and part of me hates to leave because it's cute and we've put a lot of work into it, but it just isn't working for us now. There's no point in living in a great neighborhood if you're exhausted by the time you get home and then you just have to go sit in the laundromat anyways.

I did a two week gluten/sugar/dairy free thing to try to get rid of the insane sugar cravings I was having after seriously overdoing it during the holidays. Don't worry - there was no juice involved! I'm not that crazy. I don't normally eat much sugar on a day to day basis, but if I get into a bad cycle it's bad. I think the two weeks off helped, but then again, I did eat a giant slice of pie last night, so who knows? I think I'm just going to blame January for this situation (mental note - it's February now, get it straight).

We purchased pricey yoga memberships back in November, when we were on a high following a very successful one-month-unlimited Groupon situation. We were going 3 - 4 times a week! Obviously we could sustain this forever! We should invest in our health! You know how this story goes. I've been to exactly one yoga class in the last two months. So now I get to feel guilty about not working out and guilty about the wasted money. If guilt burned calories and stretched out my lower back, I'd be golden. I will go to at least one yoga class this week even if it kills me.

Super excited that Broad City is back.

*Circe's dog walker leaves us a report card every day describing what they did. Dustin and I both lunge for it the second we walk in the door each evening because it's basically the cutest thing ever. This is actually pretty low key for dog walking services around here. One of the ones I was looking at will actually put a camera on your dog so you can see everything they did on their walk (even as person deeply obsessed with my dog, this sounds like the most boring footage I can imagine). Another one uses a little GPS device so you can check on your computer and see exactly where they walk each day. Things are crazy out there, guys.