Turning Stuff into stuff

ellie and carl

Confession: Sometimes when reality is too heavy for me to deal with, I cry in the shower. I sit, wallow, and waste all the hot water (sorry Mom) and while crying never actually fixes a problem, it certainly helps me clear my head.

We’re having some landscaping done at the house and my mom recently informed me that she is considering bartering my Dad’s truck for part of the payment (our landscaper has been eyeing this truck since he first came over). Rationally and logically this idea is an amazing deal (I don’t know where my mom finds these people. We had a mechanic we used to pay in sandwiches for minor work) especially since we haven’t used the truck in months and there are spiderwebs on the side-view mirror. Plus, it helps cut the cost for the landscaping project, and it’s kind of a big project.

But we all know Rational Mind isn’t always driving the bus. When she told me the idea, I felt a little pang. Then she continued and said that bit by bit, there’s not much of Dad left and Irrational Mind hijacked the bus and I just.could.not.deal.

I cried.

My nephew had pilfered my dad’s weight bench the day before, and now the most visible reminder of my dad, his truck, was potentially on its way out and I just couldn’t handle it. It’s such a sad realization when a loved one is gone. They leave behind reminders of their former life and it’s hard not to cling onto those in lieu of them. I know letting go of my dad’s stuff doesn’t mean I’m going to forget about him, but when you no longer have that person, having something tangible that was theirs becomes kind of a big deal.

While I know that these things are just objects and I’ll always have my memories of him even if we got rid of all of his remaining belongings, it’s still a hard pill to swallow. It doesn’t make sense to hold onto something because it once belonged to someone I love if it’s just collecting dust and languishing from disuse. Especially if that item could help someone else. The mister, taking advantage of us having watched Up that weekend, reminded me of Carl and how after everything he did to hold onto the house and Ellie, he realized it was time for him to let go and move forward.

Thanks for the life lessons, Pixar.

And so I’m letting go and moving forward as well. It’s time for that truck to actually be of use to someone other than sitting in front of the house because it makes me feel better. Just because I’m giving up his truck doesn’t mean I’m giving up Dad.

After all, it’s time for new adventures.

Graduating on every level

The past few weeks have been a busy one in the family: all three of us have graduated from our respective degree programs. I started the commencement marathon at the end of last month when I happily crossed the stage at St. Mary’s [recap to come!], followed by Tammy with her Associates from Gavilan College and rounded out last weekend with Lindsey’s double trips for her Bachelor’s and minor at UCLA. We’ve been busy bouncing from ceremony to ceremony but I’ve enjoyed every moment.

Oddly enough, it wasn’t until I was looking back through the pictures we took at my ceremony that I stopped to think about my dad’s obvious absence. With the three of us graduating, this would have been the year he would have probably hurt himself strutting around like a peacock because he was incredibly proud of his daughters’ achievements. I know he took every possible opportunity to boast about whatever it was we were doing at the moment. He would have probably been beside himself if he were here.

I will admit that in the midst of the hustle and bustle of my ceremony [it was one long and busy day], I didn’t think about him not being there but we were more aware of his absence at Lindsey’s graduation. Her first ceremony was held in Wilson Plaza, right in front of Janss Steps and while we were waiting for it to begin, my mom remarked how she remembered my dad walking those steps when we moved Lindsey into her dorm four years prior and how he said he looked forward to coming back for her graduation. It was bittersweet, watching her graduate and knowing that our biggest fan wasn’t there to whoop and holler with the rest of us. Though, we made the best of the situation, cracking jokes about how things could have been had he been there. Let’s just say things always work out.

But in the end, while we missed him, we didn’t let that overshadow our special days. It wasn’t a time to be sad that he couldn’t be here but to celebrate what we earned: educations that no one would be able to take away from us. He was there in spirit and that was all that really matters. He would have been proud knowing that his daughters kept pushing through all the obstacles that came our way to accomplish our goals.

We didn’t give up, Dad. We made it.

Happy Father’s Day.

 

November showers…

About a month ago [yeah, yeah, I know I’m waaaay behind] I hosted a baby shower for my bestie, Jacki. It was a little bit stressful but a whole lot of fun. The moment I found out she was pregnant, I volunteered to host her shower, if her mom didn’t want to do the honors. Of course, I’m at a point where I’m incapable, or more accurately, unwilling, to do things simply so you know her shower quickly morphed into quite the production.

I quickly came up with the “Baby Circus” theme after seeing a fancy, schmancy circus themed shower on Hostess with the Mostess and the insanely adorable “Animal Parade” on Meri Meri. Seriously, how adorable are those little animals? And the carousel? EEEEEEEE! [Too bad we forgot to bring it!] The food was loosely inspired by carnival fair. We served mini steak and cheese sammies, florentine and swiss cheese and smoked applewood bacon quiche, mini chicken tacos, mini corn dogs and vegetable crudites. Tammy took care of the dessert table and served brownies, lemon tarts, red velvet and funfetti cupcakes, and caramel and pink popcorn.

Of course I wouldn’t bring this up without sharing pictures with the class!

The food and dessert tables

The food was one of my favorite parts. We were a bit late getting everything ready [seriously, people showed up at 1 on the dot! I was not prepared for that. Obviously my social circle tends to roll in fashionably late] so we were still cooking up a storm and decorating cakes when people started showing up. That was a bit stressful for me and I really wish I could have been done before then but oh well, can’t do much about it. I was pretty much excited to eat everything we made for this shower, especially those steak sammies. Oh so good. And don’t get me started on those mini chicken tacos. I was excited that we didn’t use the fourth box I bought so now I get to snack on them myself. And the swiss cheese and applewood smoked bacon quiche? Just lovely. I honestly believe bacon is a magical ingredient. Seriously, when was the last time you had something bad that had bacon in it?

The dessert table was other wordly. Tammy did a great job of making all the desserts [my hand was only in the pink popcorn – she did the rest!] and everyone raved over them, though the funny thing was that because the table looked so display worthy, people were afraid of taking anything from it! People would wander through the kitchen and help themselves to the desserts that were waiting to replace the ones on the table so we had to make a general announcement that it was, in fact, okay to raid the dessert table, and boy did they.

Let’s just say there were no survivors.

Two of my pet projects were the personalized water bottles [yeah, I went there] and the favors. I made my trusty vanilla bean sugar cookies in the shape of little animals to mimic the Mothers Circus Animal cookies [I subbed blue frosting for the signature pink] and made my own label that was based off the Barnum Animal Crackers boxes. The water bottle labels were super easy thanks to Mrs. Lemon’s handy dandy template she shared on Weddingbee. It was super easy to do and made a big difference. Yet another reason to love the Internet.

Yummy, yummy in my tummy…

All in all, the shower was a success. Everyone who attended had a great time [my other partner-in-crime, one of Jacki’s coworkers did a fantastic job at hosting the games]. Jacki was floored by the amount of effort we put into her shower and I’m glad I was able to gift her such a wonderful time.

Snacking my way through Wine Country

I’m sometimes ashamed at how much of California I haven’t experienced. Yosemite? Haven’t been. Santa Barbara? Nope. Laguna Beach? Just making sure you’re still paying attention.

One of the closest of tourist destinations is the Napa Valley. Millions of people come from the ends of the world to traipse through the Wine Country to look at vineyards, taste wine and eat at the numerous frou-frou and fancy and delectable restaurants started by celebrity chefs. I live about 15 minutes from Napa and the last time I was really in the Napa Valley, I complained about how long of a drive it was from my house to St. Helena [it was about 45 minutes]. I’m a big, whiny baby, I know.

That said, I know there is so much more to the Wine Country than what I’ve seen and its really a shame that I haven’t taken the time to fully explore it like the most intrepid travelers do. I’m blessed that these places are so close that I can take them in at my leisure instead of trying to fit in as much as possible within a few days so it’s really sad that I haven’t taken advantage of my proximity. Heading up to the Napa Valley is easy and really, can be done on a whim. So why haven’t I done it? Not sure.

Tam took the wheel and drove us along highway 29 through the valley to show us some of the sights. Our first stop of the day was Dean & Deluca in St. Helena.

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Dean & Deluca is just a fancy schmancy specialty grocery store – though the cheese samples were infinitely better than most of the offerings at the local stores. I couldn’t help BUT comparison shop while I was wandering through the store. The biggest difference was that the vanilla bean paste I’ve come to love so much was $16 at D&D when I can pick up the same exact bottle for $11 at Williams-Sonoma and Sur La Table!

My first snack of the day was this chocolate chip whoopie pie:

I was excited. A whoopie pie? Made out of chocolate chip cookies? Love! Except not. I was not impressed. I wasn’t sure what was going on with the middle layer; was it marshmallow? was it buttercream? was it edible? if it was edible, do I really want to eat it? No. I do not. The cookies were okay. They could have been better and I was really sad about theĀ  money Tam essentially wasted on it. I much preferred my own whoopie pies better. Needless to say, I never got around to finishing it.

We trudged on and landed in downtown St. Helena. It’s a cute little town area with tons of boutique shops. My favorite was Woodhouse Chocolate. When I saw the shop, my eyes lit up, immediately going back to the moment I tried the chocolate for the first time [hint: scroll to the bottom]. This chocolate, people, just get it. I know it’s expensive but it’s sooooo worth it. This will be the smoothest chocolate you’ve ever tasted. I was more than excited to introduce the family to the deliciousness and they were not disappointed. I’m drooling at the thought of getting more.

The nephew was starving by then so we made a stop at Gott’s Roadside for lunch. I had eaten at the Ferry Building site and was amped for the food. We ordered a mess of food and I was only one bite into my delicious chili cheese dog only to be struck with a full stomach. I couldn’t eat any more! I was so disappointed. Thankfully it was just as delicious warmed up later that day.

[source]

Full from the burgers and fries and one bite of chili cheese dog, we headed back home, making a stop at Robert Mondavi Winery to look around.

Our final stop turned out to be a bit of a whim. We had decided to take the Silverado Trail back home and decided to stop in Yountville to make a trip to Bouchon Bakery. Sure I was too full to eat my chili cheese dog, but apparently that didn’t stop me from nearly knocking over the display case in the bakery. Classy.

I picked out a chocolate bouchon, which is essentially just a brownie [pretty much sums up my impression] and a raspberry macaron.

Had I known how amazing Thomas Keller’s macarons are, I would have gotten more than just one. The deliciousness really deserves its own post so I’ll just say that I ate mine and then ate some of Tammy’s. And tried to eat Lindsey’s. And have gone back twice within the past two weeks. And gotten two macarons each time. And ate them both within a day.

In all, it was a fun day and now I’m intent on “Eating the Wine Country.” Just thinking about all the eating and fine dining opportunities that await me makes me incredibly happy and excited. I’m turning 30 next year; I think I’m grown up enough to enjoy the occasional fine dining experience. There are tons of restaurants there that I am now chomping at the bit to try. I probably won’t eat at most of them, but if I can make my way through a good chunk, I’d be one happy camper. We’re already planning on saving our money so we can try the French Laundry next year [provided we’re able to get reservations!] and I’m already eying Bouchon Bistro, Bistro Jeanty and maybe possibly Ad Hoc and Morimoto in Napa. Yes these places are not cheap at all but I have no problem saving my dollars for a good meal and honestly, if I can get a great meal and the experience of eating at these places, that would be worth it to me. It’s not like I’ll be eating there all the time.

They’re not Bouchon macarons, after all.

Grieving definitely is a process

Last Wednesday, May 19th, was my parents’ 32nd wedding anniversary and the first anniversary of my dad’s heart transplant. We spent part of the afternoon visiting his grave and marveling at the newly installed marble headstone [which looks great]. Dad is located in a nice part of the National Cemetery near the pond and across from one of our decidedly favorite headstone quotes. I can’t help but crack a smile whenever I see it.

Seeing that Monday also marked the 2nd month since his passing, I figured it was a fitting time to offer you an update.

Grieving is an interesting process. There’s no real manual that covers what to expect for everyone. I know there is the generally accepted “5 Stages of Grief” but everyone reacts and copes differently. Overall, my family is doing fairly well. We’ve been leaning on each other a lot for understanding and the occasional vent/crying session. It’s been fun laughing about random memories of Dad as well as talking through our grievances about him as well. We all have had varying differences in dealing with our feelings. Speaking for myself, I definitely didn’t go through all 5 stages [and only nominally went through the abridged 3 stage model]. I never felt anger or the need to bargain. I have always been at peace with what happened, even through his illness while he was alive. I guess for me, I relied heavily on my relationship with God to see me through this time. Losing my Dad wasn’t an option for me but when it became clear that it was in his best interest to let him go, it was slightly easier to let it be.

In the beginning, I wasn’t sleeping or eating well. I had pretty much lost my appetite and had to make a conscious effort to remember to eat since I wasn’t hungry but I knew I had to eat. Trying to sleep was another ordeal; I’d stay up late and eventually fall asleep only to wake up a few hours later where I’d stay up for another hour or so before finally falling back asleep. It was not an easy time.

I decided that I am going to take my time during the healing stage. I still get weepy every once and again but I try to find the right balance that will allow me to feel exactly how I feel without letting those sad feelings consume me. If I’m sad one day, then I’ll be sad. If I’m fine, then I’ll be fine. Because really, it’s a day by day process. Some days will be better than others but there is no reason or need to rush through your feelings just to get to some level of “normality.” All I hope for are a series of good days.

I’ve found that I’m fine when I’m keeping busy with the day-to-day stuff like school. Most of my sad moments typically hit during my quieter moments, like on my drive home from school. Sometimes I think about the moment his doctors requested the family to gather and how I felt or I’ll think about the moment he quietly slipped away surrounded my family and the slight feeling of panic that struck me when the doctor offered his apologies. I don’t know why I was so shocked when he passed but I guess I was expecting more to happen.

Though, surprisingly, I haven’t had that big cathartic cry yet. I don’t know why or if I’ll ever have one since my first instinct is always to get myself to stop crying [I don’t like to cry] but part of me feels like I should have one.

In the end, I try not to look too far ahead. I don’t get down on myself for feeling like I do and I don’t make apologies for myself either. Grief isn’t easy to deal with but it’s made slightly easier by taking it one day at a time. I’ll probably always feel a little sad about losing my dad so I’m not expecting to wake up one day and be totally fine. I don’t plan on erasing his phone number from my phone either. Even though I can’t call him anymore, it’s more comforting to leave it there.

I just want to thank all those who have called, text, or emailed me to check up on my family and I. That is, quite possibly, the best thing anyone can do for someone who lost a loved one. And in case you were wondering, today was a good day.

Ashes to ashes…

This is quite possibly the hardest post I’ve had to write which is probably why it was hard motivating myself to sit down and write it.

My dad passed away three weeks ago at the end of March.

It wasn’t completely unexpected but it was a bit of a disappointment and definitely not what we had hoped for. We had came close to losing him by a matter of hours last May but God, who is always on time, provided for us, and at the last moment, we heard the amazing news that a matching heart had become available. We are all eternally grateful for the selflessness of the donor and their family.

I had intended to write about his surgery and recovery for a while afterward [attempting to sleep on the chairs and floors of Stanford University Hospital was an experience unto itself] but I wanted to give that topic the grace and dignity it deserved. It is weird knowing that someone else had to die in order for my dad to live but what a wonderful gift this complete stranger gave to not only my family, but to others.

My dad recovered quickly. He had a pep in his step that we hadn’t seen in a few years, he was able to enjoy life and most importantly, he began to renew and repair his relationships with God and his family. As annoying as I found him to be on occasion, it was great having him around. His health had started to decline shortly after Thanksgiving and he had been in and out of the hospital since December dealing with heart rejections and heart failures but we figured he would pull through like all the other times.

However he did not. I will spare you the details but as tough as it was to agree to let him go to be with the Lord, it was tougher to reconcile the idea of keeping him alive only to be hooked up to some machine with no quality of life. My dad was a proud man and not having the ability to live his life the way he wanted was incredibly frustrating to him. I knew I would be sad knowing he was no longer here with us but seeing him on life support was worse.

I am incredibly thankful for the tremendous wave of support my entire family received from the Heart Transplant staff and ICU doctors and nurses but what stood out to us was the outpouring of support and love we received from friends and family. We were simply humbled by everyone’s actions, from the cards and phone calls and the meals that were sent over and the flowers and treats, everyone took such great care of us. We are especially thankful for our church as they had taken the lead in planning the repast and helping with funeral arrangements.

I took the opportunity to speak at my dad’s memorial service on behalf of the family and while I was able to interject some jokes, my favorite part of the speech was this:

Dad’s favorite scripture is Ezekiel 36:26 which says “A new heart will I give you and a new spirit will I put within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh and I will give you a heart of flesh.” I know some people might wonder why God would bless dad with a new heart only to call him home so soon. In his infinite wisdom, God knew dad was not ready to leave this world and so by giving him a new heart, he gave dad the time needed to repair his relationships with God and his family. My dad’s eternal testimony will be that God is a God of second chances. That as long as we’re alive it is not too late to commit ourselves to God and develop our own personal relationship with him. If God loved dad enough to bless him with extra time in his life just so he could secure his place in heaven, imagine what God is willing to do for all of us.

I heard my mom telling my aunt that and I thought it was such a comforting thought. Dad did start to fix his relationships with us and I am glad that, even when I was absolutely fed up with him, I could still tell him that I loved him and mean it.

My dad had a military burial and while we were driving to the VA National Cemetery, I could not take my eyes off the hearse. I could see his flag draped casket and in that moment, my heart swelled with pride. My dad was a solider through and through. He loved the military and felt at his best while he was serving [he even brought up the idea of reenlisting so he could serve in Iraq just a few years ago!]. I am proud of the time he served this Country and I am grateful that they, in turn, took care of him at the end. The Military Committal service at the cemetery moved me to tears, watching the Honor Guard honor my dad with their solemn and dignified flag folding ceremony and gun salute. I can’t really explain exactly how I felt but the ceremony was incredibly moving and touching. I look at that flag fondly.

Dealing with his death has been hard. I’m not in a rush to “get over it” though I’m not making it a point to wallow either. It’s not about mourning what we lost but appreciating and remembering the time we had with him. It hurts to know that he won’t be here to see Lindsey walk from UCLA, or me from St. Mary’s and it kills me to know that he won’t be here for my wedding especially knowing how he was so looking forward to that. But I know he’s in heaven praising God and is whole in his body with no pain and I’d rather have him there than suffering with us on earth. My sisters and I have had fun picking out the physical features and personality traits that are distinctly him so while I will always miss him, he won’t ever be forgotten.

I love you Daddy.

Friends who eat together, stay together

Last night I had the pleasure of hanging out with the Firelady and the Baker, also known as the Patron Saint of Desserts [because seriously, his desserts are like little slices of heaven]. They invited me over for some pizza and general tomfoolery. Because that’s how we roll.

I think I’ve said the same thing every time I talk about having dinner with them; that they’re freakin’ awesome. You hear that Firelady? Cuz I’m sure you’re checking this out. You and the Baker? Awesome.

But the night really was that great. I love just talking to them about nothing in particular and everything under the sun. Our conversations range from every conceivable topic known to man from the Bible to politics to using Twitter to quoting Finding Forrester and Sixteen Candles.

Because you’re the man now, dog! Sheesh!

I’m also really excited to spend time with them because I find them to be completely fascinating. Between their respective careers, their families, the adventures they go on either together or separately and just their general rapport with one another, I’m just completely enthralled. I know there’s no such thing as a perfect relationship and that they go through their own ups and downs just like everyone else but still, I so have a crush on both of them. They always make me feel so loved and welcomed, even when I’m afraid of having worn out my welcome as I sit languishing on their dangerously comfortable couch several hours after dinner.

They’re simply those kind of people. The ones that make everyone feel incredibly special and are excited to see you [even when they’re NOT excited to see you]. The ones you’d trust your soul with because you know they would look out for you and tell you when you’re wrong, in the nicest way possible that will totally get their point across. They simply want the best for you. Don’t we need more people like this in our lives? I think so.

If I could choose, I’d totally have them as my Aunt and Uncle but you know, I’m incredibly blessed to have them as my true friends.