Thursday, October 29, 2015

10 years

 FullSizeRender (4) Circa 2005

This always sneaks up on me, but today is the six-year anniversary of my blog. (What?!) But I can hardly fault myself for nearly forgetting — it falls on the day after we celebrated our 10-year anniversary on the date we got married last year. Um. Yes. It’s complicated.

Before our little jaunt to the chapel, we were struggling with deciding between two important anniversary dates, one in March and the other in August, and finally decided to put our foot (feet?) down; let’s just combine all of the dates into the time when we finally made it to the altar, and call it a day. Literally. Better for our stress levels, better for our pocketbooks. Done. We’re pragmatic like that.

With Halloween just around the corner, there’s plenty to celebrate this week it would seem, and normally, I’d be all over it. So much to plan, so much to capture. The blog should’ve been overflowing with sweet words of remembrance and love. Except life happens, and I have a sick four-year-old in my hands.


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She’s been quarantined at home with me for the past four days. With a mama this and a mama that every few minutes, I can scarcely string a cohesive sentence together before having to tend to the little one and her myriad needs while juggling freelance work on top of that. More water. I’m cold. I’m hot. Honey tea. Snuggle time. No, fresh water! Take my temperature. Honey tea. I have a headache. Stay close. Where are you? Honey tea. Can you play with me?


IMG_4308 Don’t tell her, but I let her win sometimes.

I had hoped for a quick getaway so we could indulge in something different – something as far from real life as possible - to celebrate this milestone anniversary. Reality, however, had other plans for us. Ironically, such is real life.

Nonetheless, it’s a good life. It wouldn’t be right for me to lament this one day when I have all the other days for which to be thankful, where sweet Post-It notes, middle-of-the-day dates, “thinking of you” texts, and clasping hands are often a part of them.

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We did manage to sneak in a lovely dinner in the city, planned entirely by My Guy, babysitter and all. We got to dress up, where I wore the earrings and shoes that I’d worn for the wedding, and he, the jacket. There were okra, mussels, Brussels sprouts, anchovies, and ramps - all the things that I love, which he had tried and learned to enjoy over the years because of me. He had, at one point in the evening, looked across the table and thanked me for introducing him to things he otherwise wouldn’t have known. He acknowledged that he had indeed come far.

Yes, my love, but so have we.

In all our time together, there were things that happened that should’ve been the end of us. We were almost finished — twice! Yet, we found a way to stay together. We worked incredibly hard and I’m so proud of all that we did to get here — are still doing, every single day.  There should have been fireworks, white sandy beaches, and a couples’ massage (or two) to commemorate this milestone. Instead, there were just us, and I’m just as grateful.

Because we can’t be together for this long and fight so hard for what we have and not realize that this “us” is no ordinary thing. Sometimes, it’s the best part of all, and how lucky are we that we already have that?


Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye,
clear. What we need is here.

                            - Wendell Berry

 

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Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Oh, the things we do for love

BagnaCauda Artichokes 

I discovered bagna cĂ uda many, many years ago when I was obsessing over Nigella Lawson, the British cooking sensation, who featured the recipe in one of her books. It’s an Italian dip, served warm and consumed similarly to fondue, made with garlic, anchovies, olive oil, butter.

I mean, garlic, butter, olive oil and anchovies? Come on, what’s not to love? Dried anchovies are ubiquitous in Malaysian cooking, appearing in soups, stir-fries, sambal, you name it. It’s not something we love or hate. Like salt or soy sauce, it’s just one of the ways we season our food. But it wasn’t until I arrived in the US that I was introduced to anchovies canned in olive oil. I found ways to use and love those too.

However, My Guy, who was born and raised here, doesn’t quite have the same kind of relationship with them as I do. Naturally, when we met and I learned of his disdain for them, I thought, challenge accepted!

I discovered a killer recipe from Jamie Oliver - back when I used to collect his recipe books - that I thought would change anyone’s mind. A simple dish of pasta, broccoli, garlic, chili flakes and anchovies instantly made it to my repertoire after the first time I made it, and I figured anyone who tasted this dish would fall in love with it too.

Boy, was I wrong.

Looking back, I don’t even know why I picked that dish as the first thing I made for him. I mean, was I trying to impress him or warn him about me? The anchovies disintegrate in the olive oil and butter -- perhaps I thought he wouldn’t notice the stealthy anchovies and would love the dish. At which point, I would get on a pedestal and announce A-ha! See? It’s all in your head! I was (am) convinced that as a nation of anchovy haters, they’re collectively raised to turn away from it before really giving it a chance. Really, I think I was just desperate for him to like something that was such a big part of my childhood.


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When he tried it, however, he eyed it suspiciously – what’s the smell? what’s this flavor?

I soon made my confession, and he also admitted he didn’t care for it.

Gasp! Naturally, I thought, “not love my cooking? What??! How can this be? How will we ever be happy together?” before I reined in my crazies. Well, at least our relationship wouldn’t be built on lies. There is that small, teeny tiny consolation.

Despite my foiled efforts to impress him, despite sneaking anchovies in the dish, despite his - in my opinion - lack of sophistication in food appreciation, we’re still together.

But that day wasn’t the end of this dish either. It’s still on the menu rotation at home. He just had to learn to appreciate it over time.  In fact, just the other day, he declared, “I’m surprised how much I like this dish.”

Huh. Imagine that.

Over the years, I’ve learned to be mindful of his wariness of anchovies. It doesn’t appear in my cooking as much as I like, but it doesn’t stop me from using it to flavor my soups and stir-fries altogether. I just don’t do it all the time. I’ve stopped trying to convince him that it’s The Best Thing Ever, and because he’s always open to trying new things (which I loooooooove about him), he would eat them and honestly admit that it’s just okay or it’s not his favorite.

I can live with that. From disdain to ambivalence. Progress!

I think this whole anchovy thing was the beginning of a long string of compromises between us. He’s a gamer; I’m a reader. He eats to live; I live to eat. He’s a thrill seeker; I’m a homebody. He’s an extrovert; I’m an introvert. I love running; he loves driving. Still, our relationship works.

After all, isn’t compromise a key ingredient to a healthy, happy union? We all do it, and because we love the one we’re with, we make tiny sacrifices to meet in the middle. Because this middle? It’s pretty damn nice.

I remember we used to have the same argument many couples newly living together have: why can’t you put the toilet seat down? why can’t you leave it up?

Eventually My Guy suggested an alternative solution as a peace offering - that we both close the lid after using the toilet so we both had a responsibility, not just him. Fair enough. And we have been doing that since. (Which turned out for the best in the end not only because it kept the peace at home, it also kept our toilet-water-drinking cats away.)

See? It’s nice. Even hygienic.

Today, My Guy still doesn’t love anchovies, and I don’t expect him too. When I spotted beautiful globe artichokes at Trader Joe’s the other day, I didn’t shy away from making bagna cauda either so I could savor each succulent leaf. Except this time, I decided to experiment on my girls. Will they love it as much as I do?

They were intrigued by the artichoke itself - what’s this funny looking thing? The act of tearing off and consuming one leaf at a time in a particular manner (“use your teeth to scrape the meat off, just like this”) thrilled them. But when we finished the artichoke, they wanted more to go with the bagna cauda. I brought them romaine leaves next, and we polished off the dip.


Bagna Cauda Family


I guess it’s not surprising that they loved it so much. If they go for raw oysters, tongue taco and fish eyeballs the same way other kids clamor for pizza and chicken nuggets, what’s a dish pungent with garlic and anchovies?

But what surprised me was when My Guy dug in and kept going back for more. I didn’t try to be sneaky this time either; I warned him about the anchovies, but he enjoyed it anyway. He has come a long, long way indeed.

I guess time can do that. Or maybe it’s love.


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Thursday, October 15, 2015

A curious thing happened

This is the longest I’ve gone without blogging since I started in 2009. At first, it was because I couldn’t find the time, trying to juggle my full-time work at Austin Spark League, a two-week summer program that My Guy and I cofounded with another friend, and full-time parenting while dealing with a mysterious medical condition that often times felt worse for my emotional state than my physical health. When Austin Spark League was over, it was finally time for our first real vacation in nearly a year and my birthday celebration in Chicago. After we returned from a wonderful time with our friends, My Guy went on a business trip for about a week - the last one right before school started - and the next thing you know, with the chaos of school thrown into the mix, I was already feeling the burden of a blogging backlog.

There was so much I’d wanted to capture for the record - the amazing experience of Austin Spark League, going back to the city with which I’ve had a love affair for the past 16 years, celebrating a milestone birthday with my people, Little Miss' first day of first grade.

Wow! So much to say, but where could I possibly start? That’s an overwhelming abundance of memories and emotions that I had to find time to record, but as time disappeared, so did my recollection of these moments that seemed so important at the time. And because I didn't know where to begin, I couldn't.

But then a curious thing happened.

After months of not seeing a Runner’s World magazine in my mailbox, I was surprised to find it among my pile of bills and junk mail yesterday. That’s odd.





I didn’t renew my subscription because I hadn’t been running since the end of April, when I was struck by this mysterious ailment that impeded my mobility -- I could barely walk or turn my neck, let alone run. In fact, I even had to quit yoga, another one of my favorite things.

It took me awhile to reintroduce physical activity back into my life after several weeks of gritting my teeth as I did anything that required me to use my joints. WHICH WAS EVERYTHING.

That’s when depressing thoughts descended on me like a pack of hungry wolves. Or bunnies, if you're not into violence. Doctors couldn’t give me a definite diagnosis, which also meant my prognosis was uncertain. Will I ever be able to run again?

Instead of sinking into that dreaded maelstrom of self-loathing - what the hell is wrong with my body?! I’m strong, I’m healthy, why can’t I beat this thing? - I decided to get moving to battle whatever that threatened to swallow me whole.

I started swimming laps, which was the only thing that gave my pain some sort of relief as the movement helped loosened my joints. Then I slowly added low-impact elliptical exercises to my repertoire. About a month ago, I stopped taking meds altogether - no pain relievers, no steroids - and when I realized I could still function, I decided to give yoga a try again and success! I’ve been back at it since, although I still avoid the headstand. I didn't want to push my luck.

The recovery has been slow, but I doubt hurrying it would take me back to my old self faster. I’m not 100% yet - I still have trouble with my shoulder, feet, hand and hips, but I don’t need help getting out of the car, so that’s certainly progress.

This past weekend was the Chicago Marathon, where a friend who started running the same time I did completed this remarkable feat. I couldn’t be more proud of her accomplishment, although I didn’t find myself wishing I could’ve run it with her. I just felt the pang of not being able to run. Period.

When the magazine showed up two days later, I couldn’t help myself. I flipped through the pages with my coffee in hand this morning, and several inspiring stories later, I arrived at this: why can’t I run again?

If it’s that important to me, surely I can find a way to do it.

And I did!

I ran on the wooded trail outside my gym with the sun on my face. It was a mere 15 minutes of slow, continuous running, but it was a glorious 15 minutes.

It didn’t take long for muscle memory to kick in. Yes, this is what it feels like. I also remembered that we get so much more from running than just burning calories. Today, what I got from it was this: Running seemed impossible during those nights when My Guy had to help turn my body from one side to another in bed because it hurt too much to do it myself as I desperately tried to sleep, but if I can eventually find my way back to running, perhaps I can find a way back to blogging.

So here I am.

And maybe, just maybe, years later, should I experience another setback - as I most likely will because such is life - I can look back on this difficult summer through these words and find the courage and the strength to keep going until I find my way back to myself again.









justine

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