Sunday, June 17, 2012

The 3rd Sunday in June

Holidays are weird.

Last Halloween I was on the road (I may actually have recently arrived) to my parents' place in South Carolina. I'd received word that Dad was comatose. He'd aspirated when hospital staff had tried to remove a breathing tube. Dad in the hospital was, strangely, nothing new, but this time was different. This time Mom simply said, "I think you need to come home."

That was all it took. I drove up to my brother's apartment and we made the 10 1/2 hour drive south that night. I saw the sun start to rise just as we made it to the hospital.

My sisters and I split Thanksgiving duties a few weeks later. By that time Dad was conscious, though not completely lucid, and his lungs were failing. He'd developed pneumonia (in the hospital, ironically enough). Several cousins and my Uncle (Dad's last surviving sibling) had made it into town by then. I remember I'd watch my Uncle - Dad's older brother by a decade - and marvel at how healthy he seemed comparatively. Uncle could walk on his own. He remembered conversations we'd had in the past. Hell, he even went to Arby's on occasion (culinary options around hospitals in Seneca, SC are a bit limited).

Dad had been struggling for a while now. I'd call on Valentine's Day, Father's Day, his birthday. He'd usually ask the same string of questions: How's Tony? Is he at work? How's your research going? (At which point I'd have to remind him that my research had wrapped up some time ago.) Every year I'd call on Dad and Mom's anniversary, which happens to be the same day as my birthday, knowing that Dad would always end the call with the same phrase: "You're by far my favorite anniversary present."

I said goodbye to Dad a few times while I was home and told him I loved him every time I left the hospital to head to the house for food, sleep or a shower. Dad's speech was impaired (the tube down his throat had caused minor damage by pressing down on his vocal chords), but he always said "I love you, too" each time.

When we first took out his breathing tube (a decision that took weeks to make as we weren't sure he'd survive without it), I had the chance to speak with him privately. I took his hand- one that always seemed so big to me when I was a kid but was now shrunken and swollen from lying in bed for weeks- and told him I'd always be his little girl. I remember stroking his fingernails. My sisters and I had filed them earlier because we'd hated how broken they had looked. (Dad was the epitome of a sharp-dressed man.)

The day after Thanksgiving my sisters humored me by going to Kohl's at midnight for Black Friday shopping. Sometimes you just need a little normality, as it were.

Later that day, after speaking with multiple doctors, Mom made the decision to move Dad into hospice. I still can't imagine how hard that decision was for her. She and Dad had been married for over 40 years - she shared a longer life with him than any of us.

Hospice was weird. It's this place that seems like a home but comes with hospital beds and care provision. It's a combination of relief and resignation. When someone says, "We need to make the best of a bad situation," hospice is what immediately comes to my mind.

Still, I lack the diction to describe my gratitude for the hospice in Seneca. Where we could barely fit our immediate family into Dad's room at the hospital (in fact, hospital regulations said that we weren't allowed to all be there at once - a family of 6 is too large, it seems), there was room to spare in his hospice space. Where doctors at the hospital seemed unwilling to  provide us with complete objective information (and had failed to read Dad's entire medical file and living will), the staff at hospice were forthcoming, held no punches, yet supportive and empathetic.

This came in handy when Dad passed away quietly two days later. (Not so much when one of the hospice nurses asked when I was due, which stung a bit as I've yet to be pregnant.) We had a memorial mass a few days later, and a formal military service when Dad was interred at Arlington National Cemetery in March.

Today it's Father's Day. I have no phone call to place, no preset script of questions to answer.  Instead, my brother and I are going to make another drive, and visit Dad at Arlington. I'll come home and spend some time with BHE and his father (and mother) instead.

And, yeah, it kind of sucks. But then I'll see little things that remind me of Dad at random moments: the Navy officers and cadets in uniform walking around the city (Dad was a retired Captain and pilot), the handkerchiefs I kept and use whenever I'm caught without a tissue (Dad used to pull one out like some kind of magic trick whenever I needed one as a kid), pulling on a pair of socks as the first line of defense against an oncoming virus (Dad asked me if I was wearing socks each time I mentioned I was sick during our phone calls. Every. Time.). I'll see these things and it will sting a little, but then I re
member how lucky I was to have my Dad in my life, and what an amazing human being he was.
And then I smile.

Happy Father's Day, Daddy.

Love Always,
Your little girl in perpetuity,

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Paris Je t'aime! Day 6 Highlights (Or, How I Burned My Finger in a French Cooking School)

Christa and I wish Mere luck as she heads out to work. We decide to spend the morning at Les Halles, chasing down actual bon marche deals. Les Halles is often described as "labyrinthine."

People, that is putting shizz politely.

It takes us 15 minutes to figure out how to get the escalator that takes us to the third floor of shops. Because the 2 escalators we do find before that prove useless.

Les Halles, navigational issues aside, proves to be a great shopping center. We come across a museum store that carries French pop-up books on human anatomy. I somehow manage to show restraint and keep my credit card safely tucked inside my wallet.  We do spend some money at a lingerie shop, which is having a semi-annual sale. The sales associate is very friendly and extremely patient when, after she asks (in French) if I need any help, I reply meekly that my French language skills are pathétique. We manage to hit up the Sephora before I start to crash.

We  decide to check out the Catacombs. We get to the entrance, but at the last second I decide not to go in. It turns out to be a long tour and I have a cooking class I don't wish to be late to. Also, I feel weird snapping photos of people's remains for souvenir purposes - it seems, I don't know...disrespectful?

All is not lost, however, as Christa has yet to check off a quiche Lorraine from her to-eat list. Thankfully, the street nearby is lined with cafes. I crush a large baguette with salami and a bechon/beachemel sauce (so, so awesome). 

Time for some more shopping! We turn out to be surrounded by cooking good shops and food purveyors. SWEET. I buy some cookware and herbs at a Provence shop, where the store owner continually tries to feed Christa and I samples of various tapenades, bless) and then some jordan almonds at a local chocolatier.

We head home to drop off our gear. The news is doing a piece on the annual Dieux du Stade calendar and video. I'm almost embarrassed at how much I know about (a) French rugby and (b) the French rugby team's penchant for nudity. Almost.

But enough of naked athletes - it's time for my baking class! Today I'm heading out to La Cuisine, which offers a range of French cooking and baking classes taught in English. (You can check out a great interview with the school's owner at Lindsey's phenomenal blog here.) Today chef Jennie is teaching me and 6 other Americans (and 1 Irishman) how to make a Choux Chantilly Chocolat et Caramel (choux pastry stuffed with chocolate and dipped in a caramel sauce) and Fondant au chocolat et Sauce caramel beurre salé (molten lava cake with a caramel sauce).

The class is great! I manage to burn my finger just once while dipping pastry into the caramel sauce - which is like friggin NAPALM in its heat intensity! And the food...Oh holy Mary, the FOOD! Only a few pieces of the choux make it back to the apartment. I'm sugar high for most of the afternoon. I give serious thought to extending my stay permanently to take the next day's bread baking course, but then remember that I have a husband and pets back home.

It's my last night in Paris, so of course Mere, Christa, and I decide to do it up and have a proper night on the town. We put on heels, dresses, hair and make up and hit the Experimental Cocktail Club to pregame. The bartender is flirty, the music is bumping, and the drinks continue to be awesome.

We make it to Maceo for our dinner reservation. I've mistakenly made the reservation for "M." (Monseiur) Baker, which the host finds entertaining. Oh well. We opted for Maceo based on their prix fixe menu selections. I opt for the Decourvertes, which comes with a roasted eggplant and minced salmon appetizer; roasted duck with parsnip mash and red wine reduction entree; and a nice frommage plate for dessert. (Delicious frommage.)

And a bottle of red wine, of course.

Dinner takes roughly 2 hours and runs about 60 euros a person and I don't notice or mind one bit. A nice man at a nearby table asks if we are in town for the fashion week shows. Christa says the guy has excellent game, but I think he's simply observed and appropriately admired our table of hotness.

As we finish dinner Christa announces that no trip to Paris is complete without seeing the Sacré Coeur. We metro over and take the many, many, many steps and hills to get there. Mere and Christa are fine but I am huffing and puffing away like a fat kid at a track meet. Several jokes are made about my upcoming half-marathon.

The SC is beautiful at night. And crowded. The view though, is impeccable (if a bit smoggy). We take the funicular down to street-level and metro home. We're all exhausted, still full from dinner, and a bit sweaty from our hike, so plans for a heading out for champagne evaporate quickly.  

Instead, we decide to stay in and watch more news coverage of the Dieux du Stade's calendar. I'll say this much: There are certainly less pleasant images to which one can fall asleep.