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.

In the Kitchen: Strawberry cupcakes

I’ve developed a small reputation of being quite the baker. Obviously I’m not much of a baker. I know real bakers. I’m but a novice but I do enjoy myself. That said, contrary to my friends’ beliefs, not everything I make comes out looking utterly fantastic.

Or fit for public consumption.

Case in point: the cupcakes I made for Spanish Club. Oh boy. Where to start? Since the theme was “Red, White or Pink”  I decided to make Red Velvet cupcakes. Except I couldn’t decide on a recipe and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to just buy a box mix [mainly because I couldn’t remember which box mix I used the last time that netted a dry cake]. I hemmed and hawed until I stumbled upon a strawberry cupcake recipe purported to be the one used at Sprinkles Cupcakes. We all know how much I dig Sprinkles. So I decided this was the one to make.

And it was pretty easy. Puree some frozen strawberries, which actually works better if they’re thawed but hey, a little orange juice helped make that process go easier, mix the batter, pop them in the oven and then bing, bang, boom, like magic – strawberry cupcakes.

Except not.

There was a very slight pinkish color to them and when I pulled the wrapper away, the cake broke apart, and not in a good way, which was obviously because they were fresh out the oven and needed time to set. However I was still skeptical because it didn’t look like it baked all the way through so I popped them back into the oven for a few more minutes.

In the mean time, I worked on the frosting. This was my very first attempt at make frosting since I always just buy a tub and call it a day. But I was determined to give it a go for the complete package. It came together easily enough and tasted pretty good to boot. I popped it into the fridge to keep cold because I was not feeling confident at all about the cupcakes.

And they did not turn out well. They had a rubbery consistency, which I think resulted from me over beating the batter. I was very disappointed to say the least but instead of sulking over it too long, I hightailed it out to the grocery store to buy strawberry cake mix and cheesecake flavored pudding mix instead. I added some of the strawberry puree into the batter and they baked up perfectly.

Then I frosted one of the new cupcakes with the frosting and wouldn’t you know it, I didn’t like it. At all. Sigh. So I had to pick up a tub of frosting on my way up to Jacki’s house and finish the cupcakes there [of course not without a shot of vanilla extract to bump up the flavor of the frosting]. I was kicking myself for not buying a tub while I was at the store picking up the cake mix. Oh well.

But in the end they turned out delicious even though not exactly quite to plan. I’m so glad I thought of the back up plan because I was seriously bummed things didn’t turn out, though that’s the risk whenever you try a new recipe. Speaking of which, I don’t think I’ll be trying that recipe again. Turns out Tami had trouble with a strawberry cupcake too. So see, even real bakers have issues too.

And yeah, I totally bit the look from Sprinkles.  But don’t they look fabulous? The buttons are made of royal icing. Totally doable!