Monday, March 18, 2013

Every once in a while, a meaningful coincidence seems to thumb its nose at linear causality. It's life's way of testifying that there is more to our walk through existence than we realize...that there is an interconnectedness to our time on this earth. I had that experience this weekend, and found in it the unexpected peace of reconciliation from my youth.
I grew up in a big house on a dirt road in the country. My father was a successful businessman, and worked long hours. My mother stayed home to raise myself and my two sisters. From the outside, it was an idyllic image of family. We were well-mannered children and were provided good educations, my parents publicly doted on their brood, and we were often seated at fancy dinners in crisp linen dresses.
In the confines of that home, however, my mother was melancholy and depressed. The house was in a constant state of disarray. My father was rarely present during waking hours and, on the occasions of his appearances, we were often subject to his erratic and violent outbursts. I spent much of my childhood in waiting, trying to anticipate the next big eruption...the moment when the quiet of that space would be filled with torrents of yelling and tears, doors slamming and plates shattering. And then, too, were the nights my father didn't come home at all and my mother would leave us to go in search of him. She would attempt to conceal her fears of betrayal but, even as a small child, the charade was apparent.
My mother became unexpectedly pregnant when I was a teenager. Her health was already in decline, and the stress of carrying a baby so late in life was simply too much for a woman burdened by disease. Ultimately, the baby was delivered in frantic moments as my mother lay near death in a hospital. The premature infant - my youngest sister - spent months in the hospital until she was well enough to go home. My mother never fully recovered and, in a final effort to save her life, my father took her to the Mayo Clinic in Arizona, leaving me to tend to my seven year old sister and a baby on a breathing machine. Alone.
Shortly thereafter, the financial toll of all those medical demands became too great for my father to manage. He simply quit trying to keep his head above the mounting debt and, in short order, my parents lost everything.
In a matter of weeks, we were uprooted from our home, and moved to an isolated town on the western slope of Colorado. With no money and a small advance in his pay from a new job with a real estate development firm, we were moved in to a compact motel room. The Log Cabin. All six of us, crammed in the confines of a single room, with no place else to go.
I remember very little from that time in my life. It was, in many ways, so simply awful that I made the choice to never think of it again. Even as I lived it, I allowed the moments to pass without any regard for them. My sisters and I were not yet enrolled in school, and we didn't know a single person in town. My parents were drenched in their own depression and worry. It was then that I began to ride my bike. I had nowhere to go, and there was nothing to see. But the bike carried me away from that motel and the sadness of those moments.
Later, my parents would move into a cramped rental that was heated by a single wood burning stove. There was a hole in the ceiling above my bed, and I would wake up in wintertime with snow on my arms and legs. My father's own misery made him more unforgiving of even the smallest infraction and, soon after, I left home. I found solace in the open doors of my friends and their parents, who graciously understood my circumstance without judgement, and gave me many nights in warm beds and calm spaces. To those people, I have always been grateful.
About a year ago, I was remarking on a comment posted on Facebook by a friend from high school. I noticed that there was another post by a person from that same small town on the western slope, and that he had a Tour de Cure icon as his profile picture. Out of curiosity, I asked if he was also diabetic, and if he rode a bike. As fate would have it, he worked in the pharmaceutical industry, knew about the Team and was acquainted with some of my teammates, and was riding in his local Tour as well as training for RAAM. We chatted a bit about bikes and racing, and then friended one another as is the protocol in the context of modern social networking.
Since that time, he and I have had the occasion to come to know one another a bit better. He has a lovely family, and is a kind and devoted father. I knew little about his background or the time he spent as a young person in that small town because, in truth, our shared experience had more to do with bikes. So it was with great surprise that I watched an alumni video his alma mater produced on he and his wife. He talked about growing up in the motel owned by his family, where he and his siblings lived and worked : The Log Cabin.
All of the sudden, I remembered a time I spent nearly two decades trying to forget. Only, this time around, it was a different sort of remembering. The context had changed. Now, instead of being a place of sadness and loss, that motel became a place occupied by a friend I didn't know then, but one I would find later in life. I realized we were sharing an experience neither one of us knew we had in common at the time, in the moment. I realized that as alone as I was in that small room, with those distant people, I was in fact there with a friend I simply had not met. And, in that instant, I found a little bit of peace I never knew was missing from my past.
In a way, we are all children of this universe, playing a game of hide-and-seek. We are all waiting to be found while biting our nails in anticipation, hoping to stay hidden a little bit longer. An encounter, a relationship, a chance meeting can pull at the strings of life. In coincidence, there is connection.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Marriage is not wholly unlike business. In short order, my husband and I went from walking down the aisle to running a household and raising children. He already had a son from a previous relationship, and the strenuous demands of co-managing the home and a teenaged boy were immediate within days of our union. These tasks often felt akin to the administration of a small business, and demanded many of the skills I employed at the office. By the time our own two children were born, I was clearly entrenched in the role of CEO. We went from the romantic to the practical, as an almost imperceptible cooling descended over our relationship and we focused on finding a balance of power in the context of our domestic life.
It seems the inevitable fate of marriage that both partners become anaesthetized to the daily interactions between husband and wife. We must spend our days entangled in a series of negotiations: who changes the light bulb, what new appliance to acquire, why did you cut the bread like that? In the middle of all that work, we often find that we are ill-prepared for the effort we must expend to keep the marriage decent. It becomes too easy to throw a million tiny arrows in the direction of our partner for the most minor of details – and harder still to mount a protest when those details seem almost irrelevant. Almost.

And so, in this chaotic environment filled with recriminations and obligations, duty and tenderness, we must find the space in which to be nurturing. Food often occupies this realm. It is, after all, a source of comfort and community. It harbors all the same elements of romantic love: melodrama and control, desire for the forbidden and the perception that a single improper choice can lead to catastrophe.

Food and love are inextricably tied in so many ways. We eat with the same senses that we love, and the same experience of smells and textures and wellbeing arise within us when we enjoy a good meal as when we are near our romantic partner. Even if it’s just a casual Wednesday night at home with a run-of-the-mill supper bubbling on the stove, I have made it with love. There is purpose and passion in providing food for those about whom we care the most.

Cooking dinner can either be another chore to complete in the course of managing the home, or it can be a source of intimacy between partners called to reconnect at the close of the day. Preparing good food for another person sends a message that we often lose amid the myriad of daily responsibilities: “You matter. I want to make you happy.” In that sense, it hardly makes a difference what you cook; any dish you take the trouble to prepare with your own hands can be read as a love letter. Of course, choosing those foods that nourish the body only serve to deepen the sense of caring and tenderness.
Touted as an aphrodisiac as early as the 17th century, asparagus boosts potassium and folic acid. It is both healthy and readily available in the early spring. A simple asparagus risotto, with its earthy flavor, is a perfect way to close the day:

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

•1pound asparagus

•1/2 a small onion, finely sliced

•1 1/2 cups Arborio rice

•1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons butter, or vegan butter substitute (like Earth Balance)

•1/3 cup dry white wine, warmed

•The water the asparagus was cooked in, topped off with vegetable stock to make 1 quart, simmering

•Salt and white pepper


Clean and boil the asparagus for a few minutes until a fork easily penetrates the tip of a spear. Use tongs to remove the asparagus from the water. Trim the tips from the stalks and set them aside. Cut the remaining green part of the stalks into one-inch lengths and set them aside too. Return the white ends of the stocks to the pot, along with the stock.

 Sauté the onion in half the butter or substitute, and when it's translucent, remove it to a plate with a slotted spoon. Next, stir in the rice and sauté, stirring, until the grains have turned translucent, 5-7 minutes.

 Return the sautéed onions to the pot, stir in the warmed wine, and cook until it has evaporated. Then add the one-inch lengths of green asparagus stem to the rice, and begin stirring in the liquid, a ladle full at a time. Should a white stem find its way into the pot, remove it.

 Continue adding liquid, and when the rice is almost done, stir in half the reserved tips. Check seasoning and continue cooking the rice till it's al dente. Turn off the heat and stir in the remaining butter or substitute. Let the risotto stand covered for two minutes, then transfer it to a serving dish and garnish it with the remaining tips.