Pie in the sky & all the chores I ignore

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The pumpkin pie for my mini, belated Thanksgiving is out of the oven, meaning its penultimate stage in pie life has been reached. (The final step in its short existence of course being its demise and disappearance.) Its appearance and vanishing is like magic, no?

the penultimate pumpkin pie step

the penultimate pumpkin pie step

No, we shall not be treated to pie in the sky – but pie in the oven and on the kitchen table. Dessert is served.

I saw today that musician Aimee Mann posted on Facebook that she has renamed pumpkin pie “squash quiche” in order to justify having more in the middle of the day for no reason. I think the season is the reason – and that is enough justification, but bonus points for finding good ways to trick oneself.

For right now, it is “pie in the sky” to imagine that I could tackle the fabled cherpumple cake. I considered attempting this baking feat – whole pies baked inside whole cakes in triplicate – yes, but it made no sense since my Thanksgiving will only be one other person and me. But one day I will take a stab at the impossible, improbable and disgusting cherpumple cake.

Pie in the sky is more like tacking four or five inches to your height when you are actually nowhere near the projected/stated height.

Reminds me of an excellent poem and highly appropriate way to close; take it away, Mike Topp:

Disappointment
6’5”
4”

The daily schmear – website development – the same old story

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“He turns the pages of books
And examines the poems there
Saying my God
All this has already been written.”
Novica Tadic

“Adrift again 2000 man / You lost your maps, / You lost the plans, / Did you hear them yell, / “Land damn it land?”” – Grandaddy, “He’s Simple, He’s Dumb, He’s the Pilot” (Seems transferable to web-overhaul projects, no?)

We all know how much I love repetition. Thus, when one gets involved, even tangentially, in the dubious business of website development, design and content, it is easy to become a cynic.

Is every website the same?

If it is not the design that looks identical or eerily similar everywhere, it’s the nightmare process – underfunded, underresourced, misguided and misunderstood. It’s a wonder that anyone (or any corporation at least) gets a website done. (Note I did not write “gets a website working” – many websites get done and may function more or less – but do they accomplish what they are meant to? An entirely different can of worms.)

Sweet to the sweet by the sweet – Sweet potato casserole

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All right then, amigos. My Thanksgiving this year is a bit… on the measly side compared to the marathon feasts (epic in both the extent of preparation and in the amount and diversity of what was produced) of past years. God knows I love my marathons! The glory will return one day. With only one actual guest for the big dinner, I’m going for only the things that are her favorites – sweet potato casserole (recipe below or sweetly provided with sweet sweet potato stories here) and pumpkin curry soup. And dessert of course.

Preparing all the goods while listening to Jean-Louis Murat and then my spring-summer 2013 mix.

When did I become this woman, so comfortable with cooking and “spoiling” my guests (according to the guests – I don’t concur with this assessment)? All I can say is that I like people to be well taken care of.

Sweets for my sweet

Sweets for my sweet

Sweet potato casserole
2 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes (about 3 or 4 large), scrubbed
2 large eggs, lightly beaten with a fork
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted plus a bit more for buttering the pan
2 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup coarsely chopped pecans

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F (200C). Put the sweet potatoes on a baking sheet and pierce each one 2 or 3 times with a fork. Bake for 45 to 60 minutes or until tender. Set aside to cool.

Turn the oven down to 350 degrees F (175C). Scoop the sweet potatoes out of their skins and into a medium bowl. Discard the skins. Mash the potatoes until smooth. Add the eggs, butter, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and pepper to taste. Whisk the mixture until smooth.

Butter an 8-by-8-inch square casserole dish. Pour the sweet potato mixture into the pan and sprinkle the top with the pecans. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes until a bit puffy. Serve immediately.

Lazy food – Green bean tomato mozzarella salad

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My real Thanksgiving is tomorrow so I need some lazy “cooking” options for the days leading up to it. Cold salads are a good option.

Lazy food for lazy people

Lazy food for lazy people

No exact measurements here … cut up a few tomatoes, throw in a few small balls of fresh mozzarella, some cooked, cooled tortellini and green beans. Throw together some Italian dressing (oil, vinegar, spices) and toss with the ingredients and throw in some finely ripped basil. You could leave out the pasta (or use some other kind of pasta) for something a bit lighter.

No fuss, no muss.

Thanksgiving – a story of gain, loss and being grateful for every minute

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“Your absence has gone through me
Like thread through a needle.
Everything I do is stitched with its color.”
-WS Merwin, “Separation”

We are two almost middle-aged women, dressed in thick woolen socks and pajamas, immersed in a rocking party (sense the sarcasm!) – toned-down and unpopular music, coffee, knitting and girl talk about life and all its bits and pieces at my house in the middle of nowhere. Going on a once-a-year shopping outing (I hate shopping) that physically and mentally drains the soul. I engage in my standard psychological wardrobe warfare – dressing in inappropriate attire for the cold (bare legs always). The tactic works – I cannot go anywhere without an old man or woman exclaiming about the ice cold I must be suffering from (but I sneakily know that they are the ones suffering looking at me, feeling the chill run through them while I feel fine – it almost feels like a superpower, I tell you, to be able to produce those kinds of reactions!).

This is my Thanksgiving outside America. I am one of these women and the other is now a close friend who used to be my “office nemesis”. And I am so thankful for every second we are friends now.

Years ago, when I lived and worked in Iceland, I met my colleague Lóa, whom I quickly nicknamed “office nemesis” because it seemed to me that we hated each other. I tried to make polite conversation with her, but it was met with an icy shutdown (as I perceived it). She would reply but in short answers, in a tone that indicated she was not interested in saying anything more. I don’t know what I had done to her to rub her the wrong way, but clearly, despite being the same age and have various things in common, we were not going to be friends.

My dear friend Jared, who actually helped me get that job and was a colleague there (and therefore also knew Lóa), tried to tell me that Lóa is just rough on the exterior and what I perceived was not really her. I sometimes kept trying to make an effort, but it did not work.

But sometimes friendship comes in surprising and unexpected places. This Thanksgiving, I am thankful for that. All the missteps and weirdness Lóa and I experienced dissipated when we were roommates on a work trip to Stockholm. Finally this broke the ice, and we slowly built up the close friendship we have today. It is one of the rare cases when first impressions could be tossed out and reevaluated. Sometimes people are not what they appear.

I later learned that Lóa had been somewhat envious when she heard about my Thanksgiving celebrations (before we were friends) and wished she could take part. She has taken part every year since then – whether we held it at her place in Iceland, at mine in Sweden or with my family in the US. And whether I live in France or Uruguay or Australia, she will always take part in my Thanksgiving. It’s really our Thanksgiving now – a traditional (tradition being something of which she is terribly fond!).

One of my best Thanksgivings was the year when Lóa hosted at her house while I returned from Norway (where I was living at the time) and did a massive amount of cooking, inviting all kinds of international friends to the dinner. Most of my best friends were there, and it was one of the few times I had the pleasure of spending with the aforementioned Jared and his late wife, Hulda. (I am thinking of Jared with much love this year, knowing he is spending this holiday alone for the first time since Hulda’s passing earlier this year.)

His loss brings into focus the balance of loss and gain. I think with love of how I gained a lifelong friend in Lóa. But how easy it would be to lose someone important. Loss can be quick, and the finality of it never really hits home. The finality hits sometimes, but the loss is felt in waves.

Earlier this year I met a guy, Mark, who has been going through a rough time after losing his dad. I wrote to him about how it felt so empty to just write, “I am sorry about your dad.” It sounds hollow and empty, but the words are heartfelt. I felt the same helplessness when I tried to write to Jared about his loss. Mark had written that the death was a “huge, huge thing to process”. I responded that I expect that this loss – and all major losses – will be difficult and continue to be difficult, sometimes unexpectedly so. It did not really occur to me consciously until he and I discussed it what a process it really is. The idea that dying is just one moment for the person who departs, but the people who live on relive not only the death itself and its accompanying feelings of grief, anger, helplessness but also all the moments and aspects of life, the moments and memories together, which can be a form of relief and torture simultaneously.

Part of this process is facing the fact that so many unexpected questions and feelings come surging to the surface. Grief that you thought you worked through comes back months and years later. A question you never thought to ask while they lived comes back. Maybe regrets about all the things you never said. The things you never appreciated fully – or perhaps appreciated and never shared. The suddenly burning questions are a torment, knowing that even if it was an inconsequential thing you wanted to know, you realize fully that the answer is something that you can never have. Even the most “living-without-regrets” person will inevitably face up to moments of regret.

The loss also takes away something of the one who goes through it. As I told Mark, loss is accompanied by the sense of never quite being the same afterwards, feeling the same. Jared mentioned today while having his own lone-wolf Thanksgiving, “Some days I wonder if I’m really the one who died that day.” It occurred to me in searching for some words of comfort (if that is possible) that part of him did die that day, and he will never get that part back. He will never be the same again. It is not that he cannot live on and do all the things he did before – but it will always be shaded by this experience, this love, this loss. Mark also made the point that his own observation and regret after his dad passed was that anyone who meets him now loses out on the chance to know his father – both for the sake of knowing the father and for knowing him through the father’s eyes – knowing him better or knowing about him in that context. Or for Jared, the people he meets now will know him as a widower and will never have the experience of knowing him as the man who seemed to light up and come alive (even more than he already was, of course) when in his wife’s company.

And while time may lessen the avalanche of diverse and unpredictable emotion, the mundane bits of life will keep the wound from completely healing. Random things like receiving mail in the deceased’s name – constant small reminders, the lifetime of things that they left behind. All the things you don’t think of until you have to go through it.

As I told Mark, and probably said to Jared while struggling to find words, there is no cookie cutter approach or reaction to death…. It is incredibly complex and is a “life event” that makes an indelible and lifelong impression – or varying impressions over time – on you. I have never understood the people who say things like “Get over it” or something that is gentler but along the same lines. Time is like a mask at times – sometimes there will be periods where the grief is not in the forefront of the mind or heart. But then years could pass and some little thing will suddenly hit and stir it up anew.

It’s Thanksgiving – and I have spent so much time in the last year thinking about untimely loss and grief – other people’s and my own – so it was not my intention to spend Thanksgiving night rambling about its complexities and heartaches. But there is no better time to reflect on letting go of pettiness (for example, the year Lóa and I spent as “office enemies”, which is, in hindsight, petty) and embracing real meaning and loving and living fully before you don’t have the ability to do either any more.