Friday, March 19, 2010

Seasons of Grief: Seven Months Later

Seven months ago today the date was August 19, 2009. That was the day my life changed forever. That was the day Marcus, my husband who was healthy, smart, funny, sexy, gorgeous, fit and, okay, yes, sometimes annoying (he wasn’t perfect, we’re not going to canonize him here), died of a ruptured aorta. One minute he was alive, the next he was gone. One minute I was napping in my Terlingua, Texas writer's cottage, the next I was woken by a call from the medical examiner who delivered the life-shattering news. At the time I didn't even know what a medical examiner was. (Obviously, I don't watch enough TV. Even so, all the medical dramas in the world can’t prepare you for when The Phone Call comes to your house in real life.)

That was more than half a year ago. My life is measured against this single date now. First I could measure in days. Then weeks. Then I started counting in months. Now I can count in half years. How strange to think so much time has passed. I still remember The Phone Call like it was yesterday.

My life is also measured in seasons.

FALL: letting go of Marcus, tears falling bigger and faster than maple leaves.

WINTER: a state of dormancy, lying in a vegetative state on my couch reading books on survival (my favorite: “I’m Grieving as Fast as I Can.”)
And now, miraculously, I have lived to see SPRING! Just look at those daffodils! And sun! No, really. It is kind of miraculous if you consider how just a few months ago I got kicked out of my grief support group because the counselor thought I might kill myself before the night was over. My friends howl with laughter when I tell them this. Why is that funny? (Because they’re so used to my crying they know it doesn't mean I'm a threat to myself? They also know I was offered private sessions instead, which I gratefully accepted.)
I am still standing, still living my life as a tree. My roots are digging ever deeper into the ground. My branches are reaching ever higher toward the light (I say light, but what I mean is toward Marcus.) And if you look closely, you might even see that I am sprouting buds.

In case you were wondering, the shrine remains prominently displayed. And when it comes to measuring time, not more than five minutes go by that I don't think of Marcus. He may be gone, but I'm keeping him very much alive in my memory.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Twin Peaks Pie

I went to Seattle again to visit my brother, the one who is recovering from chemo. I am so very very very VERY VERY VERY happy to report he is looking healthy again. He has color back in his face, a little roundness to his cheeks, and his eyebrows have grown back. It's amazing what a difference eyebrows can make. Who knew how those little patches of hair could influence whether you look like you're alive or one step away from death!
I stayed a few extra days to help with the kids who had shorter school hours this week. I picked up the two youngest ones from the bus stop and took them on an afternoon hike in the foothills of the Cascades. Now, I thought I might have to coax them up Tiger Mountain, a 2,300 foot climb, with bribes of treats, but instead the two of them, ages 9 and 10, decided they would run up the mountain. RUN! Those young and athletic little shits! So it was me that had to bribe myself as I tried to catch up with them. "If I make it to the top I will...pant pant....reward myself...pant pant...with pie!" I mumbled aloud.

When I finally reached them at the summit -- she was lounging like a little lizard in the sun on a flat rock while he was engraving his name on a log -- they chimed, "Hey, Aunt Beth! What took you so long!"

Six point two miles and two and a half hours after we started, we returned to the car. They both fought off sleep as I drove us a few miles further up the highway to the town of North Bend. It was half way up the mountain hike, during a moment of sweaty, near-hallucinatory fatigue, that I remembered something about a nearby diner that had been the setting for old TV show.

I was never a fan of David Lynch's 1990 TV series "Twin Peaks," but the show featured two big stars: Kyle MacLachlan and....yes, you remember correctly....Cherry Pie.

"But we want milkshakes, Aunt Beth," came the chanting from the back seat.

"Yes, I'm sure they have milkshakes too. It's one of those old-fashioned diners," I replied, mindful not to add, IF the place is still there.

Yes, the pie diner is still there. It's called Twede's now. It still has a wall of memorabilia with the Twin Peaks actors' autographed headshots (presumably copies of the originals, replaced after the diner burned down 10 years ago) and it still has pie on the menu. After some negotiating and compromising, we ordered two extra-thick strawberry milkshakes and a slice of boysenberry pie. I cannot say I was impressed with the pie -- its filling was somewhat goopy and obviously reheated in the microwave-- but the milkshakes were fantastic and, anyway, it was still a sweet reward for our accomplishment. I mean, how else does one gain satisfaction from this torturous life other than achieving small but doable goals and rewarding ourselves for them. I just wonder, though, that if my goal was a tiny little mountaintop and my reward was a piece of mediocre pie, how will my brother reward himself for beating cancer and getting his health back. He will need to think of something bigger than pie! Maybe for now having a clear MRI is reward enough. That and getting his eyebrows back.

I paid the check and smiled as my still-energetic niece and nephew bounced their way back out to the car. My belly full and my calves tight, more chanting came from the back seat as we drove past a looming peak with a patch of snow on top -- it was Mount Si, Tiger Mountain's big brother, and it boasts a monster of an 8-mile hiking trail.

"Aunt Beth," they said, "can we climb Mount Si tomorrow?"
Oh, to be 10 years old again.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Pie Sightings in the Blogosphere

Sometimes people send me links to pie stories in the media and pie-related postings on other people's blogs. I keep a running log of all of these, and I plan to mention them in a blog post at some point...yes, I know, I've become quite the procrastinator lately. But today pie-contest book author Gina Hyams sent me this post about Pie vs. Cake: A Scientific Approach and I knew it must be shared immediately! It's from a blog called Hyperbole and a Half and its creator is fabulous, if not slightly insane. Reading her blog made me snort from laughing so hard. And though she doesn't usually write about pie, she should take note from Pigmy Will and create a regular pie-loving character. Perhaps one of her shark-sloth or dinosaur-drag queen hybrids (like I said, slightly insane) could promote pie consumption the way she took liberties with the Cookie Monster promoting cookies. Just a suggestion.

As long as I'm taking a break from procrastination, let me tell you about a few other pie findings out there in the news and blogosphere.

Fellow Portlander Joel Weiler recently launched Make Me Some Pie, a blog dedicated to pie in pop culture, and obviously I have had my head buried under my down comforter for too many days in a row because I just saw that he already mentioned the Pie vs. Cake post from Hypebole and a Half a few days ago. I really must create that Google Pie Alert I've been putting off for months now.

And here you have, better late than never, Pigmy Will's recent video installment, "Diet Pie." I must admit to being thrilled at this one because the idea spawned from our TV shoot when we interviewed Pigmy Will's creators. I mentioned a cocktail napkin I had just seen depicting two fat men eating pie with a caption reading "It's just fruit." Here is PW's take on that. (Speaking of slightly insane...)

If the pie creativity continues to be this inspiring I might have to update my blog more often! I promise, I will, as there's some great stuff to come soon -- including an article on The World Needs More Pie in next week's Portland Tribune, and we are just one voice-over away from completing the 2-minute promo reel for our TV-pielot.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Ripple Effect

I was feeling a little guilty over advocating alchohol as a pain soother in my last post, but my guilt was assuaged when I received an email from my friend Angela in Santa Monica.

She wrote, "Sorry to hear you had a grief burst and about your MINI ding. But I'm all in favor of your non-pie pick-me-up. In fact, ever since I saw your picture of a cocktail and sweet potato fries and I was dreaming of nothing else. So last night I gave in. I realized I had the fixings of a strawberry margarita and a yam in the fridge. Not as elegant as yours, or as gutsy as going to a bar alone, but delicious nontheless. I took a picture and made a toast to you for the inspiration. Thanks!"

This Ripple Effect wasn't just working with cocktails. I also watched it in action this past week with pie. I was interviewed by the Portland Tribune for an article about pie (more on that exciting news later) and after the photo shoot of pie making in my tiny Portland apartment I was left with a giant apple pie. The reporter was not allowed to accept any "gifts" (not even pie) but I still did what I normally do with pie -- I gave it away. This time to a neighbor who had just broken her leg. This is the same neighbor who displays a glass cake plate prominently in her kitchen window filled with an ever-rotating supply of her homebaked goods. I gaze longingly into her cozy, warmly lit kitchen on my nightly dog walks, hungry for a taste of whatever gooey cookie or frosted cake beckons from the window. Knowing the glass plate would be sitting empty while she was confined to her bed I delivered the pie to fill the void.

The Ripple Effect worked in two ways with this one pie. One, I rarely get to eat my own pie, but once I delivered the pie to the neighbor I got asked if I would like to come back later in the evening and sit down with the family to join them for a piece. I was very touched and said yes. Later, I got an email from the newspaper reporter, sounding ebullient, about how she had watched my pie baking technique, gone home, and with her sister made an apple pie. She sent me a picture of it, looking like a prize-winner with its lattice top. I was proud.