Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Last Week to Rest

Next week, I start classes again. While I'm getting pretty excited about the intellectual stimulation, I am also going to miss being able to just lie in bed all day when I have a cold, reading Charles de Lint (http://www.sfsite.com/charlesdelint/index.html) rather than John Calvin. It seems that during the semester, I am so busy that I basically drive and study, with a little sleep thrown in. Maybe since I'm not taking 17 hours, that will help. I am taking 16. My goal is to get an H (Honors, the highest "grade" possible at my school) in at least one class. That was my goal last semester and I ended up with 5 of 'em, plus an HP (High Pass). Yeehaw!

Yesterday and today, I basically did nothing. I finished The Onion Girl yesterday and already find myself missing Jilly, Joe Crow Dog, Cassie and all those guys from Newford. I didn't even get dressed yesterday, just hung about the house in my white cotton nightgown. I did do some house cleaning and make dinner, though. Unfortunately, dinner was a big disappointment, to me. J liked it, but I found the seasoning overwhelming, even with my lessened sense of taste/smell. I made a "quick fondue" recipe from the West Point Hostess cookbook that used to belong to J's mom. I was skeptical in the extreme about it due to the onion soup mix, but thought it was worth a try. It was edible, but I would definitely halve or quarter the onion seasoning if I ever made it again. Really, it was no quicker than real fondue with Gruyère and Jarlsberg, and definitely not anywhere in its league. I might make it as a dip for a party sometime, though. It is much more like oniony beer cheese dip than fondue, to be sure. J napped on my lap and ceded control of the remote to me after dinner. I watched junk t.v. I usually never indulge in, so I saw part of "Punk'd" and all of "How Do I Look?" instead of J's usual murder shows. I tend to read through those half the time.

Today, I slept in again, then read a little. Since I have no de Lint to munch on, I took a few bites of Lucrecia Guerrero's Chasing Shadows (http://alpha1.fmarion.edu/~scmlr/V3/newvoice.htm for an interview with Lucrecia), which is a wonderful collection of short stories set in a fictional Arizona border town. Then, I got up and heated up some of the chicken soup J made the other night. It's more like chicken & noodles now and even more delicious. She came home for lunch and then napped in my lap for 20 minutes while I watched Paula Deen. The t.v.'s been on all afternoon even though she went back to work hours ago. Usually, I never have it on, but I got sucked in by Giada, Rachael, Sandra and now Ina, my favorite, who is making fresh lime daiquiris.

I found out about Project 365 from one of my online sisters, Allie, who is officially participating. I have decided that taking a photo to represent each day might just be a good idea for my art journal. So, I commenced today. Don't know if I'll continue or not, but today I took a picture of my Throat Coat tea steeping in one of the beautiful floral mugs J gave me at Christmas, accompanied by the tea wrapper and an orange with an interesting navel. If I knew how to post pictures on my blog, I would show y'all, but I am so not techno savvy!

Monday, January 28, 2008

Wrestling and Resting

This was our weekend to have the boys. Their father, failing to dissuade the coach from allowing us to attend the boys' away wrestling match, decided he just wouldn't allow the boys to go. So, we picked them up at his house at the scheduled hour and simply took them to the match our own selves. J had already arranged with the coach to meet the boys there. The middle school was not participating in the match, but the coach wanted the middle school team to watch the high school match. We don't want visitation to screw up athletics or other activities for them because we watched things get screwed up for them due to visitation with their father for years. Now that we have lost custody, we feel we ought to facilitate their full participation in whatever activities interest them. Even if it means getting a hotel there or traveling early or late.

So, although they were late, they did get to go. The match ended early because there weren't enough weight matches, so we didn't have to make the two hour drive at 10 or 10:30 at night, a blessing. The wrestling turned out to be very interesting. It reminded us of nothing so much as mantises fighting, all gangly arms and legs and motion. Pie wanted to go to Sheetz, a gas station with touch screen food ordering & automated milkshake machines for dinner, so we stopped on the way home.

The next day, they all slept in, ate at a sports bar nearby and went shopping. I got up early and went to my art gang get-together, spent the day socializing and putting together art journal pages. Once home, I commenced cooking, making a spicy cheeseburger soup for dinner and baking a chocolate raspberry cake (recipes coming soon at www.lunacooks.blogspot.com). J watched "Cutthroat Island" from one couch while Boot napped on the other. Pie could be heard laughing in the background as he slaughtered zombies in his room. After dinner, we all snugged in to watch the newest "Pirates of the Caribbean," in which we were all disappointed. Then, early to bed due to our projected early start Sunday.

They started early, all right, about 6 a.m. but I ended up in bed all day with a cold I picked up in Miami & thought I was simply going to toss off. J & the boys went back to PA for a little kids' wrestling tournament/fundraiser and went to see "Cloverfield" (which J says was awful...she'd rather have gone to see "Rambo"!). I spent the day in bed with cats and a Charles de Lint novel. He is my current favorite author. When J came home, it was with a bouquet of roses & tulips, a box of Kleenex, Valencia orange juice and all the makings for chicken soup. While she cooked, we watched the SAG awards, then switched to "Benny & Joon" while we ate.

It was a delightful weekend, aside from being sick, and it was nice to have the boys so happy to be spending time with us. What a change!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Being Cuban for a Week

Okay, so I'm half-Cuban all the time. But, we went to visit my Miami Cuban family last week and I felt more Cuban then. Less Cuban, too, since I have barely any Spanish. We had a lovely time, anyway, and I was assured that I look exactly like a member of the family. We were warmly welcomed by my uncle & his partner. J says it's the best vacation she's ever been on and is ready to buy a condo down there. It was her first time to meet my uncle's partner, who is one of the most debonair men I've ever met. It was also her first time to meet my dad.

It had been very warm in Cleveland the week before we went, so I was satisfied to see the snow falling as we loaded our bags in the car. It's always more fun to leave for a trip to Florida when it's very cold in Ohio. Our trip was uneventful, which is always a blessing, until we arrived in Miami. We'd gotten an earlier flight out of Orlando and were looking forward to a little extra time in the sun. However, the rental car shuttle took an hour (and repeated phone calls) to come pick us up from the airport so we could rent our car. It took another chunk of time to get through the process and drive off in our Ford Taurus. Very understaffed and inefficient, not to mention the car being of a quality that it easily fit in no matter which bad section of Miami we entered. It looked somewhat out of place in the tony section of Miami Beach where my uncle lives, but we didn't get stopped by suspicious police, at least. My uncles gave us a warm welcome and we visited over wine and country pâté made by my uncle. He gave us a tour of his art and antiques, as well as introducing us to the cats, coconut palm, mango tree, key lime tree and orchids in his yard. It's amazing to me that there are such things right in his yard. What there aren't any of in his yard are lizards. J says there must be a certain radius around the house which is completely free of lizards because of the scads of outdoor cats my uncle has.

My dad came for dinner, my first time to see him in 10 years. Now that he is divorced, he seems more able to maintain relationships with family. I guess the 5-years-older-than-me wife was the deciding factor in his long second absence from my life. He is all kisses and "mi hija"s now, though. He brought a box full of baby bananas from the tree in his yard. As we were looking in the box, he pulled out a small jewelry box and said, "Oh, this must be for you." He'd gotten me a pair of 1/2 carat diamond studs. They are lovely, almost a blueish tint, but I don't really wear studs much. I put them on right away, of course, and may end up getting a second hole in each ear just so I can wear them. The sentiment behind the gift makes it even more special. We had wonderful lima bean soup that my uncle's partner made, along with real Cuban bread, for dinner. I love real Cuban bread and just can't find it north of Tampa. I am always griping to J about foods I can't get up here. After our visit, she believes me. I think her own personal "Why can't I get this in Ohio" food is churros. But, more on that later.

Tuesday, J made me a lovely plate of fresh fruits and cheese, with toast, for breakfast. We ate quickly and headed south to Monkey Jungle. I am deeply grateful for MapQuest and my good sense of direction. It was a long drive, but there was so very much to see. I love long drives for that very reason. Monkey Jungle was the only thing J really wanted to do while we were there. She left the rest in my hands. She loves monkeys, a girl after my mama's heart. Monkey Jungle is located in farm land, on a road crammed with tropical plant farms, fruit farms and even an alligator farm. As if Florida needs more of those! I will never forget the time several years ago that my mom & I drove through the Everglades and I counted 109 alligators! We paid our admission, bought boxes of dried fruit and entered the jungle. We saw all kinds of lusciously colored birds in cages and noticed that there were little monkeys running on the wire cage above us. The motto is "where humans are caged and monkeys run free" and the monkeys seem to have the humans well-trained, too! There are little food bowls hanging from chains all along the paths. The monkeys will rattle the chains or lower bowls to get people's attention. We then put food in the bowls and the monkeys quick eat it before others come and take it from them.

We attended a feeding session in the rain forest, where dozens of squirrel monkeys leapt onto a feeding stand and picked their favorites, bananas, peanuts and such. We were pelted with several empty peanut shells, but weren't, to our relief, peed or pooped on! Then, we saw more monkeys get fed at a pool of water. There was a tiny baby clinging to its mama there. Very cute. We saw an orangutan and a silverback gorilla go through their training routines. They say the silverback, King, likes to watch T.V. (Ellen DeGeneres and the Weather Channel being his favorites) and to dance when he's just doing whatever he likes. We spent hours looking at the spider monkeys & their very bizarre genitalia, the lemurs with the warning to stay back at least 5 feet, the tamarins with their beautiful orange fun and beautiful little faces.

When we'd finally had enough monkeys and J had gotten a monkey figurine made for her by a mold machine just like the ones she used to see at the zoo as a kid, we headed back to my uncle's. We paused for chocolate-covered strawberries and a fabulous fresh strawberry shake at a farm stand on the way. We had lunch at El Pollo Tropical, the Miami version of KFC with wonderful broasted chicken and delicious Cuban side dishes like yuca, plantains, black beans & rice. It's one of my dad's favorite places to eat and I had fond memories of it from my earlier Miami visits. Then, we popped in Wild Oats and got some cheeses, granola, beer and fruit to share at the house. I drove J along Ocean Drive, her first view of South Beach. She kept saying, "Look at that!" We kept driving along A1A until we reached Haulover Beach (not the nude section) and stopped to put our feet in the water. It was windy & cool, but kids were swimming, the parents bundled up and watching with big grins. I had to call my mama from the beach. Back at the house, we watched a DVD of my uncles' trip to Iguazul Falls in Brazil/Argentina while my uncle's partner cooked arroz con pollo for us. Yum! There was even flan for dessert.

Wednesday was V Day, with trips to both Vizcaya and Versailles. Vizcaya is a gorgeous villa built in the 19-teens by James Deering, one of the co-founders of International Harvester. We had some coffee in the tented gift shop, then went in to ogle the amazing furnishings and art. My favorite things were the views and the kitchens. It was fun to imagine the parties, the visitors, the house right after it was built. The very coolest thing was getting to see Samuel Yellin's work in person. He's a famous blacksmith my mom has talked about a lot and seeing his work, I can see why he became famous! Stunning! The bay out back was blue and beautiful. We had fun wandering through the gardens, especially when we saw girls having pictures taken for their quinces. Vizcaya is one of the favorite spots in Miami for quinceañera pictures. The first quince girl we saw was wearing an obscenely short denim skirt, a halter top, tall boots and a tiara. Absolutely surreal. Her friend was taking pictures of her. J said at first, she thought she must be a prostitute, based on the clothes. The other two girls were in much more age-appropriate clothing, one in a fancy wedding-style gown, white with red accents, and the other in a slightly-too-old but body-covering sparkly, tight sheath. My dad told me all about the events he did at Vizcaya back when he was one of Miami's most sought-after lighting and sound guys, parties, weddings, fashion shoots.

Lunch at Versailles was stupendous. I'd never eaten there, as my dad doesn't like it much. But, he doesn't really like Cuban food much period. He's more of a buffet guy. We split an appetizer sampler with croquetas, empanaditas, yuca frita (amazing) and mariquitas. Then, J got chicharrones de pollo and I got masitas de puerco. Both came with black beans, rice and maduros. I had two cortaditos...they make the best Cuban coffee in town. We were too full for dessert, but we did wander over to the bakery for a couple more cartaditos. Fabulous! Then, we walked around Calle Ocho (the heart of Little Havana) a bit, stopping in a drug store, where I got scolded for not knowing Spanish. In Miami, everyone can tell I'm Cuban. I was automatically given Spanish menus at Versailles, but they revoked J's after looking at her & she was given an English one instead. After visiting with my uncle while his partner cooked, we had more new food. He'd made tasajo, a very, very salty pork dish. The salt is cut by eating it with boniato, a white sweet potato, and corn.

To Be Continued...

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Rough Fall of '07

Sheesh! I am thrilled it's 2008. I had been holding back on some info due to time constraints and wanting to tell friends by phone rather than via blog. I hope this year will go a little better than last fall did! First, we ended up losing custody of the kids! I still can't believe it. We are still in the appeal process, so things might change. At least one good thing has come out of this. The boys are both able to see more clearly and both of them want to come back. Yay! Pie says, "It's like you sent us to a military camp!" We say, "Well, it's not like we had much say in the matter." They are such good company these days, although fighty with one another. I have been focusing on having faith that this is all for the best, but man, has it been hard to think that.

The next very bad thing to happen was that my adored granddaddy died on December 5. He'd been fighting leukemia on and off for years, but he seemed to be doing fairly well. The leukemia had come back, but we assumed that another round of chemo would keep it at bay again. We were more worried about my grandmom & in fact one of the last solo conversations I had with my granddad was about us being worried for her health. She'd been to the ER with chest pains and had had all kinds of other health issues. But, when I got down there after Thanksgiving, I discovered that my granddad's sore throat had gotten much worse. He was on Vicodin & could hardly walk by himself. Good thing my great big cousin Aaron was there to help! That night, I took him some Jell-o and toast at 1:30 a.m. so that he could have more Vicodin. He ate very slowly and I just hung out on the bed with him while my grandmom slept. He said, "I bet you don't have to wait around for your cats to eat." He was utterly disgusted with his weakness. He has always been terribly independent, climbing up on the counters to fix a light fixture just a few months ago. I said to him, "Yeah, but you don't wake me up all night wanting in or out of the bedroom!"

The next night, he was much worse, really out of it, throwing up & running a high fever. So, we called 911. I sure was glad to have my cousin Leah there with me to wait for the ambulance. My aunt Jeanie had just moved down here from Vermont right before my grandmom's first ER visit...thank God she was here. They took my granddaddy in and I debated whether I should return to Cleveland for the weekend or not. My grandmom insisted that I do so, saying nothing much was going to change over the weekend & that my granddad would want me to celebrate the boys' birthdays with them as planned. So, I came home & we celebrated, although I didn't feel terribly celebratory. My granddad kept asking if it was Tuesday yet, when I would return. Tuesday, I went in to visit him. He couldn't really talk, but asked me what time I got in. My mom & I stayed a while longer, then went back out to the house.

In the morning, the doctor called my grandmom & told her we'd better go in earlier than planned. Brendan hung out at the hospital with us all morning, me, my mom & grandmom, Jeanie & Aaron. The doctors said there was basically nothing more they could do, so we made the decision to switch from restorative care to palliative care. I was really afraid that he would linger for weeks in a kind of half-life. Had he been able to be released from the hospital, he would have had to go to a nursing home. He never wanted that. Brendan did the service for the dying with us, then went to grab a bite to eat. My grandmom was halfway through her bagel when the intern came and told us we'd better come. She held my arm and finished chewing her bagel bite as we walked back to my granddad's room in the ICU. We formed a circle of love around him as he died. There is nothing like having a close-knit family at times like that. The family gathered at my grands' house that night and the next day to be together. It was decided by my mom, Aunt & grandmom that I must accompany J to Las Vegas on Friday, that she needed me more than the family did. My grandmom was very forceful, telling me it's what my granddad would have wanted, too. I knew it to be true, so I drove home Thursday night and we flew out Friday.

Our week in Las Vegas was fun, although I don't know that I'd choose to go there again. Her company put us up at the Bellagio, which was utterly lovely. The room overlooked the fountains and was across from Paris, so our window was full of Eiffel Tower and hot air balloon. We ate all kinds of good food from places like Spago, Emeril's New Orleans Fishhouse and Mon Ami Gabi, which was our favorite. It's a little bistro/café in Paris. We sat on the patio and enjoyed the warm weather and the people-watching. We split an artichoke, then she had a great burger and I had the best croque monsieur I've ever had. Yum! We saw the Folies Bergere at the Tropicana, which was delightful, filled with fabulous costumes, all rhinestones and feathers. J also saw Danny Gans, the night I'd flown back for school. The day before I had to leave, I got to have lunch with a dear internet buddy and her terrific husband. It was the first time I'd met them in person & now I wish I could teleport so that I could have lunch with them more often. I can't imagine living in Las Vegas, but they assure me that where they live is nothing like the Strip. I don't know if I found the gambling or the men passing out full-color cards featuring nude women and their prices more disturbing. Sure, we played the penny slots, but I saw a lot of people looking like they were up to lose a lot of money. One cousin told me that Las Vegas was exhausting, another that we could be completely comfortable in either sweatpants or formalwear. Both were right. Vegas is kind of like Disney, if Disney were designed and operated by Quentin Tarantino. Very strange town.

When I flew back into Cleveland, I popped home to check on the cats & then drove right down to Dayton, where all was apparently well. I attended class and visited with family. I was glad to be with my grandmom, who had suffered a heart attack while I was traveling. J was horribly distraught Thursday & Friday, weeping and afraid. I felt awful that I couldn't be with her & hoped that she would feel better once I picked her up at the airport Friday. That never happened. The third dreadful thing that happened was that I totalled my beloved car! On the way home that Friday, with only a few hours until J's flight got in, I tried to switch lanes. A center lane which had been empty moments before suddenly contained a car that had moved over from the right. I jerked the wheel to get back into the left lane. I must have overcompensated because my car went wildly out of control. I ended up in the median, after about 600 feet swerving all over the left lane. My car dragged along the cable rail for another 200 feet before coming to a stop. I was not at all hurt, thank God, but my poor car was declared a total loss. Damn. I loved that car. But, cars can be replaced & she has. I now have a 2008 Sonata & J has a cute, apple green 2008 Accent hatchback. Sadly, my car would have been paid off in just 2 months. Now, we have another several years of car payments on top of exorbitant child support ($1200 a month! Good thing I graduate soon & can work full-time!). All in all, though, I am simply happy to be alive.

Christmas & New Year's were nice and quiet. We saw 3 movies with the boys. "Sweeney Todd" which I thought was very well done. "I Am Legend" which I would have liked better if I hadn't seen it Christmas Eve, which is more suited to something like "Enchanted." "Juno" which is one of the very best movies I've seen in ages. Everything about it was fantastic!

Last weekend, J and I went down to attend my granddad's memorial service. It would have been his 89th birthday. We cooked a bunch of food to feed the family who were in town from all over the country. The service was lovely, with a perfect sermon. The family spent the whole weekend visiting & I got the chance to meet cousins I have no recollection of meeting before because I was so young when they last saw me. My closer cousins, aunts & uncles were around, too. It was so good to see everyone. My mama stayed with us at the hotel, which was wonderful. My grandmom seems to be getting better day by day now that the memorial service is over. She'd been in terrible shape both physically and mentally, but is now improving greatly. Thank God! I am truly blessed to have such a close family.