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Yesterday, two coworkers (friends, really) and I ditched the office for a long sushi lunch. Because my friends are lovely and loving people, they asked for details about Brad’s current treatment. I shared the details and they were both stricken and upset.

I found myself saying over and over again, “It’s OK. It’s not OK, but really, it’s OK.” And now I’m second guessing my response. Is that fake? It’s true in that it neatly summarizes the big picture—we have faith that all this is for something and means something and that even if Brad isn’t cured tomorrow, something valuable is happening in our lives and this world because of this experience, so it’s OK. But we also struggle with how to navigate our day-to-day life, we sometimes feel resentment or jealousy, often we wonder why this pain has to saturate every single part of our life and our marriage and our friendships, we wonder if we’ll get to have kids or if Brad will ever work full time again. We wonder if I can ever get the bandwidth to write the way I want or energy to do anything but exactly what we’re doing now—so that’s not OK. But the first one overrides the second most of the time, so it’s OK.

But that feels so unsatisfying as an answer. I want people to understand that having faith doesn’t mean you paint everything over with happy paint. It means there is suffering and hurt and sorrow, but there’s hope. I’m just not sure how to say that while praying my California roll makes it gracefully from the chopsticks to my  mouth.

photo: a marina on a trail near our apartment. 

front-door

A butter dish. A gorgeous white soup tureen that was an incredibly well-chosen Christmas gift. A package full of paper samples from our wedding invitations.*

These are the pieces of home, Des Moines, that came with us to home, Menlo Park, that don’t really belong.  Into boxes they went along with a deep swallow of sentimentality (My dad picked this gorgeous tureen out for me himself and I will need it in California), a little bit of wishing (Maybe we’ll host a Friendsgiving some year and need the butter dish), and whole lot of irrational thinking (I couldn’t BEAR to be without this random paper).

While I put our possessions in boxes last spring, I thought a lot about how they said something about the life we were creating for ourselves out here. I imagined becoming intentional hosts to our new friends, having fun living a little MacGyver-style with a lot less than we had before, and even becoming outdoorsy. (My snow boots. I brought my heavy-duty snow boots to California.)

And now we’ve packed up those things again and put them into boxes again with more dreams. Maybe this will be the last time we move while Brad’s sick. This will be the small closet that forces me to get rid of all the clothes from high school I still wear.

Even better, I stopped for a moment during our move to a new apartment back in April and realized some things we wished for when we first moved to California had come true. We had an army of friends hauling box after box of heavy magazines and books into our new place. Other friends couldn’t be there but loaned us all the rubber bins and boxes we needed to move. I realized we have a community here now. For a girl who spent the first six months here feeling so desperately lonely, this is a gift. And not for nothing, for a girl who has a hard time accepting help, getting so much help moving was humbling and instructive and relieving. Thank God for that blessing and that lesson.

Now I have to tell you about our fireplace. It isn’t a working fireplace, but it’s still awesome. Except for the paint colors. Behold:

fireplace

 

(A horrible photo, but I promise an in-focus photo would not do this fireplace any favors. The only thing that would is paint, preferably white.)

I asked our landlord if I could paint it and he gave me this look like I asked him if he liked ketchup on his cherry pie. Then I realized: HE LIKES these colors. My. Word.

So I’m still working on him.

———— 

*Plus two boxes of toothpicks and not a single match. An umbrella stand we didn’t use in Des Moines and don’t use here. Contacts with an outdated prescription–that was outdated before we moved. Four bottles of molasses.

santamonica

Pop culture prepared me pretty well for LA. The women are tan and either in a bikini or a maxi dress. Either way, with high platform shoes. The men are tan, middle-aged, and walk around wearing v-neck white tees unironically.

And the beaches are gorgeous.

santamonicabeach

 

 

santamonicalifeguard

 

keri-and-joanna

That’s 13 years of friendship in that photo. My friend Keri and I met as 15- and 16-year-olds at a group of high school classes for homeschooled students. (Have I ever mentioned that? I was homeschooled K-12.) Few friendships shaped me the way this one has. Keri told me not to be afraid, then showed me I was much stronger than I thought I was. She liked, I mean really liked, things about me that I always thought were awkward. She taught me how to eat a grapefruit and to swoon over Heath Ledger. I taught her Pride and Prejudice was worth watching over and over again and that emotions were OK and let her spend the night a lot of the nights while her parents were separating. She met her husband. She got married. I met my husband. I got married. She had a baby girl. I moved to California. Then she came to visit me and for four days we were joined at the hip again. I love her.

(We also looked at this photo together later and noticed we have eye wrinkles starting! After a little talk and a lot of giggling, we decided we’re ok with it. This is what getting older together looks like.)

keri-at-the-beach

We went to the beach. Keri came to visit me the very last weekend she was allowed to travel before giving birth to her second child. He was a boy and he’s only the cutest.

keri-at-tartine

We spent a day in the city and saw the bridge, shopped around Hayes Valley, and went to Tartine for lunch and the most perfect salted chocolate rye cookie. We ate it while we looked at pictures of Keri’s girl because we can’t get enough of her.

Not pictured: The holding one another while we started watching Downton Abbey again after THAT episode; neither of us were brave enough of on our own. The purchasing of bread, cheese, olives, trail mix, plain nuts, chocolate bars, chocolate covered almonds, and various other snack foods for our trip to the beach–foods we never ate until we were home and sitting around looking at more pictures of her girl. The eating of amazing tacos in a taqueria that took up one half of a gas station in Pescadero while talking about how our marriages are hard and good and change us.

mission-ranch

mission-ranch-2

Time to force some blogging mojo back into my life.

We took another day trip to Monterey to spend time with my cousin who lives down there. The highlight was dinner at Mission Ranch–Clint Eastwood’s farm-driven restaurant. While waiting for our table, we watched these sheep and I fantasized about quitting this whole writer/editor thing to be a shepherdess.

 

 

 bathroom

I’m in grubby clothes, one hand on the back of the shower wall to support me leaning over the tub to scrub the wall with my other hand. As who knows what kind or what age of tub grime dirties the baking soda paste I’m using, I plan my reward for scouring the tub and shower at our new apartment at 10:30 at night.

A few bites of the emergency brownie I keep in the freezer? No–that’s how I got up the will to start this project so late.

A glass of wine? It’s way too late and I’m way too tired.

I know. I’ll go to Target Sunday and buy new bras.

Then it hits me: I might be deeply uninteresting.

rose

At 7:30 a.m. Sunday morning, I was simmering steel cut oats on the stove, counting down the minutes we had left to get ready before heading to the farmers’ market and then church.

At 8 a.m. Sunday morning, I was head over bowl puking. (Sorry.) Without warning, a normal day turned into a sick day and as soon as the throwing up stopped, I was bundled in bed, leaning my head against an ice pack, clutching a cold washcloth to my face, and almost crying. Not with misery, but with joy at being so tenderly cared for.

Brad is the best, you guys. Nobody wants to read the details of someone being really sick and all the gross, intimate, and necessary ways that person requires care, so I’ll instead tell you that while I was laying in bed with that muscular anxiety being sick gives me, Brad laid his hand on my back and gently stroked it and my body’s panic reaction immediately ceased. My breath slowed, my muscles relaxed, and that’s when I almost cried. It’s not just his right-then touch that soothed me, it’s the six years he has unselfishly loved me and served me and shown me in every possible way, every single day, that I am more important to him than he is to him. He has banked half a decade of ego-less, unjudging love in my heart so that the very moment he placed his hand on my back, my body did what my heart has learned it can do around Brad: Relax. Be taken care of. Be completely loved.

I floated that whole day on his kindness but it wasn’t until Monday night when we both lay in bed, about to go to sleep (me completely recovered), and both feeling downtrodden about his health, not having kids, finding an apartment, wondering what our calling in life is, that I got the real point. Brad rolled over on his side away from me and wrapped my arm around him, kissed my hand lightly, then stroked it as we both fell asleep. Then I did cry. Again, not because we were so miserable or so discouraged, but because yet again, Brad treated me with so much tenderness. As I cried I thought, how much more does my Father love me? How much more tender is His love for me? It’s so much more. It’s unfathomably more.

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
(Ephesians 3:17-19)

 Our problems haven’t dropped away, but they matter a little less now that I’ve been filled.

speckled-egg

Our egg and chicken farmer’s name is Lisa. I like her a lot because

1. She has a thick binder of photos of how her chickens live and eat on her and her husband’s farm.

2. She’s so nice. Like, “let me find you the biggest chicken I can and I’ll just charge you the lower price” nice.

3. She said my eyes are the color of her really pretty blue egg cartons.

4. She calls Brad “the Broth Master” for telling her how he makes chicken bone broth. Now she’s done it and is a convert. And she’s telling her other customers.

5. She always, always picks out the cartons with the prettiest eggs for me. The pale green and milk chocolate speckled ones are my favorites, and she knows.

herbs-at-flea-street

There’s a show on the local public television station here called Check Please Bay Area. Three people submit their favorite Bay Area restaurants, everyone tries each other’s out, then they meet around a really awkward restaurant table set while the host–a blonde woman whose eyes and smile always look like she’s more than one glass of red wine in–peppers them with questions about what they tried and what they liked and goads them into picking restrained foodie fights with one another.

We love this show.

Because of it, I have a running list of restaurants we want to try on my phone. An Ethiopian place in San Jose, a hipster hangout in the Outer Sunset, and some San Francisco classics like Zuni Cafe and Tartine. At first, the list was fantasy because Brad’s diet is restricted and we don’t have any extra money for eating out. But then we both said, “What are we doing? We live in the Bay Area. It is virtually our duty to eat out.”

So we are. Once a month, one of us picks a spot and we go. We ignore the gluten-free part of our diet and ignore how strict we both are about spending extra money and eat a meal out as if we’ll never go back. (Read: We order appetizers AND dessert.)

Brad chose Flea Street Cafe in Menlo Park as our first stop. The name sounds like a dive, doesn’t it? It’s not. It’s a smallish white-tablecloth spot with a reputation for turning people away at the door because it’s booked solid. We tried our luck right when they opened (as in, we got there 10 minutes before they opened, walked casually by the front door to see if anyone had gone in yet, circled back around the building, stared at one another wondering when was too early to go in, then walked back to the front door and went in) and were led to a room with only five tables right outside the kitchen.

While we looked over the late winter menu–broken up into First, Second, and Third courses–a group of four were seated at a table near us. They sat down and started talking about a gallery showing and someone mentioned “my last book” as the women fussed with their beaded jackets and the men uncorked the first of two bottles of wine. I fidgeted in my gray wool cardigan and turned to look behind us. In the next room, a younger man sat by himself with a martini and a plate of meat, completely satisfied without a person or a book or a phone to distract him.

Our waitress coached us to order first and second courses to share, and an entree each. The menu changes seasonally; often the ingredients come from the farmers who sell to the public during the market the restaurant hosts on Saturdays. Some of the herbs come from barrels planted out back (the top photo).

While we waited for our first course to come out, she brought out a basket of bread and buttermilk biscuits and then set individual ceramic tiles with a pat of butter and small pile of salt by our plates. A moment later, she brought out “a taste of the season” from the kitchen–two Tokyo turnip bites, cooked but served cold with fennel flowers and shoots. So two bars have been set for future restaurants we visit: butter presentation and unasked-for small bites from the kitchen.

We ordered the Half Moon Bay Grilled Sardines for our first course (still on their Spring menu!) because Brad has a bizarre love for sardines that can only be explained by their nutritional value. I decided if I was ever going to try them, it would be at a fancy place like this. And I’m so glad I did! The filets were served over small globes of crispy potatoes, a frisee salad, and garlic aioli. I would eat sardines every day if they always tasted like that. (That’s right, Brad. I said it.)

half-moon-bay-sardines

For our second, we got a spinach salad that I chose mainly because it includes leeks and mushrooms, two of my favorite ingredients in life. It was good, but the thing about making a lot of salads on your own is that virtually no salad at a restaurant will impress you. Still, we didn’t leave any behind. (I also don’t have a photo of it because I started to feel conspicuous whipping out my phone for every plate like a commoner.)

I could write pages about our entrees (I did in my journal the next day), but instead I’ll simply share the names: Marin Sun Farms Braised Grass-Fed Short Ribs with mashed potato, asparagus, horseradish cream, and beef jus. All you need to know about this is horseradish cream. Unbelievably succulent.

short ribs

I ordered the Winter Organic Vegetarian Tasting–a flight of vegetables, basically. From left to right: paper-thin potato gratin with parmesan, artichoke hearts with hoisin chutney, risotto balls with blue cheese and some vegetable I’ve never heard of before (it sounded like or-RAHN-say. Is this a real thing? Please enlighten me in the comments.), asparagus in a reduction, and beets smothered in a port orange marmalade. Wow. I definitely have fantasies of holding a dinner party of just vegetable small plates after this.

vegetarian-tasting

For dessert, I ordered the obligatory chocolate cake, and it was awesome, especially the mint ice cream it came with. But Brad’s trio of seasonal ice creams were even better. He got a scoop each of avocado, almond, and Meyer lemon ice creams. The lemon ice cream literally made us gasp and our eyes water, it was so sour. I loved it.

We were so sold on this place and then they brought out our check—with two small port wine dark chocolate truffles. Well played, Flea Street.

 brads asparagus copy

“I’m sick of asparagus already,” were the words that came out of my mouth two weeks ago before we had even seen asparagus at the farmers’ market. I’m not sure why. Maybe we got one too many out-of-season stalks this winter. Maybe I’m just a crank.

In any case, when Brad grabbed some thin, young asparagus at the farmers’ market last week, I inwardly groaned. And then later that week when he cooked them for dinner, I braced myself. Another obligatory vegetable side, I thought.

Ah, no.

The asparagus he made and set in front of me was so good I couldn’t stop talking about it.

“It’s so perfectly cooked! It’s just the right amount of salty. OH, I just got garlic and that’s the BEST. I only want to eat these forever, no more other foods.”

But I might not have shared this simple sauté method with you except I’m in the middle of reading Tender by Nigel Slater. He makes even the most simple preparation sound exquisite and important. If he wrote this, he’d romance you with talk of how “the slightly sweet vegetal flavors of the asparagus don’t ask for much more than crunch almonds and a bit of garlic. These beguiling stems do well next to a plate of cold duck, though we had a memorable early spring evening of eating them with nothing more than a few fresh lettuces and a thick slice of salty feta.”

(I haven’t eaten these with either duck or feta, he just mentions those a lot. But otherwise I agree with fake Nigel.)

brad’s asparagus
makes four servings

one bunch young, slender asparagus
2 tablespoons avocado or coconut oil
1/2 cup almonds, chopped
sea salt
1 garlic clove, minced

Cut the bottom reedy inch off the asparagus, then cut the stalks in half (by diameter, not length-wise).

Warm one tablespoon oil in a skillet and add the almonds. Stir frequently for five minutes or so while they lightly fry. They will smell so good, but better smells are coming. (Believe it.) Toss in the asparagus–it will sizzle, a big pinch of salt, and the remaining oil. Cook for another five minutes or until the asparagus are just shy of how cooked you want them. Add the garlic and stir until fragrant. Serve immediately.