There was a chair in the front window of my teenage bedroom, but I almost never sat there. It faced into the room, because all there was to see outside was the house across the street, with its dirty-blond buzz-cut of a yard and a security system sign staked by the door. The chair was next to my bookshelf, and as such, it mostly collected books I was too lazy to shelve. The only time I sat in it, that I remember anyway, was the day before I left for college. It was late afternoon, maybe early evening. My dad was standing in the doorway, one shoulder against the frame. He’d been keeping me company while I kneeled on the floor in front of a gaping black suitcase, the biggest one we had, folding clothes and stacking them into its corners. I was tired and cranky and nervous, preoccupied with how much was left to do and how little time there was for it. I clambered up onto the chair.
“This is too hard,” I announced, slumping over my thighs. I was afraid of leaving home and afraid of where I was going, but I never would have said it aloud.
“You’d better get used to it,” Burg replied. “Life is hard. That’s how it is.” He never talked like that. Surely, I figured, he was ribbing me. I looked for the telling smile. It wasn’t there. A weird, crackling silence filled the room. He shoved off the door jamb, walked across the hall to his office, and shut the door.
I was about to turn 19, and I had a plane ticket to northern California, where I would in theory start a new life, my adult life, away from my family. My father was 68. He was still seeing patients, in seemingly good health, living in the house that he and my mother had always wanted. He was happy. But the man wasn’t young. Born in the year of the stock market crash that ushered in the Great Depression, the oldest son of Polish Jews who’d immigrated to Canada and later an immigrant himself, he dragged around all the aches and pains and piles of personal garbage that a human accumulates over seven decades of living. I was supposed to believe him, even if I didn’t want to.
But that thing he said has stayed with me, and I wonder at it sometimes, bat it around, tug at it, like one of June’s hair ties in my pocket. I think I wrote about it in A Homemade Life, actually, though I couldn’t find the passage when I went searching for it. (Maybe one of you knows where it is?) I always think about Burg in the midst of Big Life Stuff: marriage, birth, death, divorce – the moments, I guess, when my story feels too big to hold by myself. I never mean to, but there he is. It occurs to me that I am haunted. I wonder what he would say about who I am now, about June, about Brandon, about the woman I love, about Donald J. Trump in the Oval Office, about Russia. Can you believe we are still talking about “the Russians,” like we’re stuck in a loop of Dr. Strangelove? I wonder why Burg walked away from me that day. Given everything, my life at age 38 and the world we live in, the abyss of which he seemed to be peering down that afternoon, do I get to be happy? How often? How?
I live in the house that Brandon and I bought six years ago last month. Until last August, I had never lived there alone, or as its only adult resident. I can hardly let myself think about what it must have been like for Brandon to leave behind our house and all the plans we had for it. He tells me it’s okay – that it was hard, but it’s okay. “You know me,” he says cheerfully, “I’ll have fun finding a new house someday. I like a new project.”
After the awful strangeness of our separation had started to give way to something different, still strange but strangely less awful, I started to move things around in the house, my house, to make it my own. I stopped waiting for someone else to take out the trash, change the lightbulb, put away the ladder. I threw out the expired prescriptions from the medicine drawer, and the creepy-looking earwax removal kit. I got tired of seeing the hose lolling next to the driveway like a reptile with wasting disease, so I went to Fred Meyer and handed over $29.99 for one of those plastic wheeled caddies you wind a hose around. No one has ever so jubilantly installed a hose caddy.
In January, there was a blockage in the sewer, and it backed up into the red-carpeted bathroom in the dungeon-slash-basement. There might be a metaphor in there somewhere, but I’m going to leave it where it is. Two months later, I can now correctly use the words water mitigation, asbestos abatement, concrete aggregate and trenchless sewer replacement in a sentence. It is not fun to spend money that you don’t really have on something you only appreciate because it means the absence of something you don’t appreciate. But I do now get to replace the carpet, and I don’t worry about the sewer anymore.
Last week, while scooping old ashes out of the fireplace, I noticed a thin, warped sheet of metal on the hearth, and when I lifted it, I found a rectangular hole set into the bricks. I texted Brandon a photograph of it, asking if he knew what it was. “You’re supposed to brush ashes in there,” he texted back. “And then clean them out in the basement by that little door.”
“Wait. There’s a little door in the basement?” I yell-texted into the phone as I ran down the stairs, hoping to find my own private doorway to Narnia. Sure enough, I found a small steel door in the wall of the laundry room, maybe six inches square and rusty. And though it was full, absolutely overflowing with cubic foot upon cubic foot of fireplace ash from the previous owner, the first thing I thought was, Laundry chute! I’ve always wanted a laundry chute – mostly because I want to be tiny like a human Stuart Little and slide down said chute, but also because: laundry chute. For the past six years, I’ve called the stairs to the basement my laundry chute, as I gleefully heaved dirty clothes, towels, and sheets over the railing. As it turns out, I had one all along! Almost! And really not at all! But I have an ash chute, and it thrills me. I intend to use it.
A couple of hours later, as I was coming down from the ash chute discovery, Brandon texted me a photo of June in the living room of his apartment, crouched inside a plain cardboard box that she was calling a puppet theater. There was some sort of frothy tulle situation wrapped around her lower half, and she was waving one of the three dolls she’s named after herself. I guess we’re all building the houses we want to live in. Whenever I’m at the grocery store that stocks the dishwasher detergent that Brandon and I both like, I buy an extra box for his apartment.
I hung a portrait of my dad in the front hall, a black-and-white close-up in which he wears a straw hat and a very knowing, dad-like look. I like having it there, though I don’t actually see it much, the way we stop seeing the walls or the floor. I think he walked away from me that day because he had to. Otherwise, he would have had to watch his last kid leave home. Now he gets to watch me leave every day, and at the end of that day, he gets to watch me come back.
Today it’s been 14 years since my dad died, and in most ways, it seems like longer than that. I’ve done a lot of living – maybe too much? – in those 14 years. But I can still hear his voice in my head, and I can still feel the hug he gave me in our driveway before I left to drive to Seattle for graduate school, in September of 2002. Burg would be 87 now, and I’m sort of glad I never had to see him diminished by old age – or, at least, not more than he was diminished in his last weeks, as cancer had its way with him. He would be glad to know that Mom and I now…Read more
I’ve always been drawn to the things we’re not supposed to talk about. I remember the night when, toward the end of writing A Homemade Life, I got into bed, switched off the light, and suddenly was hit with a very bad idea, an almost electric impulse to write about my father’s death. I wanted to take it out of my head and put it somewhere else: the color of his skin, the strange percussion of his breath, the nurse calling up the stairs in the middle of the night. I wasn’t writing a book about my dad, and I wasn’t writing a book about death; I was writing a food memoir, tra la la, with fifty recipes and a…Read more
I started my Monday by listening to Blood Orange until my ears fell off, which was nice. Then my friend Jenny told me to watch this (old-news) video (that I somehow had never seen before), and with that, my week is off and running. Hi to you. Now, business: 1. The Guardian kindly invited me to write about a food that evokes home, and I wrote about a dead-simple, bare-cupboard soup that was first made for me by my aunt Tina. That’s her below, on the right, living the early-eighties hot tub life with me and my cousins. Most people thinks that June gets her hair color and texture from Brandon, but world, let it be known that I think she’s got my texture…Read more
Yesterday, my mom took June to the aquarium, and Brandon and I spent the day at Dino’s Tomato Pie, hanging photographs and making lists, getting ready to open the day after tomorrow. Like Delancey and Essex, Dino’s is owned by the two of us, but this business is more purely Brandon’s brainchild than either of the first two. I know I once said Delancey was Brandon’s baby, and then Essex was Brandon’s baby, but no, Dino’s is really, really, really Brandon’s baby. Dino’s – which is pronounced deeno, a shortened version of Brandino, the faux-talian nickname some of our friends have given Brandon – is a pizza tavern, modeled on the kind of place you find along the New Jersey Turnpike. It’s wood…Read more
Today, on the ole blog: some thoughts about cooking with a kid! After the jump! Because I totally get that not everyone wants to read about kid stuff! See you next time!Read more
Two Mondays ago, the night before the moving truck was due to arrive at my mother’s new (Seattle!) house with everything she owns, Brandon suggested making a celebratory dinner. My mother, it was agreed, would choose the menu. After a moment’s hesitation, she requested steak and Caesar salad. We headed out for groceries. I’m not going to go into great depth about the steak. I don’t know. I feel bored just thinking about writing it. You know how to cook steak. Right? You don’t need me. If you don’t know how, or if you want to try another method, I can tell you that we use Renee Erickson’s instructions (for indoor cooking, not grilling) on page 195-196 of her dreamy…Read more
My mother tells me that she had always loved the house. She used to drive by and admire it. When I was thirteen, it came on the market, and she and my dad snatched it up. The house was built in 1948, old for Oklahoma, painted brick with wrought iron and ivy. It needed a lot of work, and they tore out walls and opened it up, changed everything. It was their biggest, finest collaboration, and they made it exactly what they wanted. It was weird in ways, or maybe quirky is the better word, with a mirror on the ceiling of the downstairs bathroom and Pepto-Bismol pink wallpaper in the dining room. But mostly it was beautiful, obscenely beautiful, full of…Read more
Yesterday morning, on my way into the restaurant, I stopped at the studio where I’m taking a pottery class and found that a little slab mug I made for June was out of the kiln and ready. I had glazed it in what was supposed to be a matte turquoise but came out more like forest green, and the handle was crooked, because I had rushed it. But in my hand, the glaze felt as smooth as a washed silk button-down I remember my mom wearing in the eighties, so I decided to get over it. I surprised June with it when I got home in the afternoon, and she thanked me with this gasp-and-swoon thing she picked up somewhere,…Read more
The three of us have that hanger-onner of a virus that’s going around. The past two nights, I’ve coughed myself to sleep in the basement guest room, and as anyone who’s ever coughed herself to sleep can tell you, it’s slow going. I use the time to think about pressing issues like how much I like the taste of original Ricola, or how it could be that Alice’s feet smell so exactly like buttered popcorn, or how much I prefer haunted, unsmiling, True Detective-era Matthew McConaughey over other Matthew McConaugheys, even with the long hair that makes him a ringer for my uncle. Or, if I’m really on my game, I use the time to write in my head. Two nights…Read more
A month of summer gone already! I don’t want to think about it. I rediscovered my Fuji Instax over the weekend and have been firing off shots like I were made of money. That’s another thing I’ve decided not to think about. I want June to have photo albums from her childhood – proper, three-dimensional albums! With the requisite wonky Polaroids! Like the olden days! Next up: suspenders and a paper route! – so I’m not allowed to fuss over the cost of film or the stupid, stupid, stupid flash that goes off whether I want it or not. Babies: they get your priorities straight. I appreciate that. Though I wouldn’t mind sleeping past 6:30 again someday. It seems like…Read more
We spent half of last week on Lopez Island, staying with friends at the home of friends-of-friends, breaking in our sun hats, making buildings out of driftwood, wearing ourselves out so well that we were in bed before the light was gone, getting reacquainted with summer. Despite the fact that I seem to have filled my life with a lot of work and obligations and businesses and whatnot, I am not someone who enjoys feeling busy. I do not like to feel busy at all. I also do not like to set goals. But my goal this summer is to have a lot of days like the ones we had on Lopez, summer days like the ones I had as…Read more
I’d been planning to put up a post tonight about some meatballs that June has been into lately (MEAT! MEAT! she yells; I think you can imagine it). They’re delicious, served in broth with peas and grated Parmesan, ugly but molto Italian. But then, possibly because it is June 1st, the sun came out and the day got hot, and meatballs felt very wrong. Instead, first thing this morning, I texted a friend to propose a late afternoon trip to the beach with a picnic dinner for our two babies, who are really now toddlers. And then Brandon and I ran into a couple of new friends and their two children at the farmers’ market, so I invited them, too.…Read more
I’m typing this post from my cousin’s kitchen table in Oakland, California, where June and I are visiting for a family baby shower and have stayed long enough to eat four slices of red velvet cake, get stuck twice in rush hour traffic on I-80, and sniff every single rose in Rockridge while out walking the neighborhood at 6:49 in the morning, killing time before the rest of the family wakes up. We fly home tomorrow, and then, on Tuesday, I leap into that heady, unnerving thing called Publication Day, otherwise known The Day Your Copy of Delancey Will Finally Ship, If You Pre-Ordered It, or, The Day You Can Find It In Your Local Bookstore, If You Didn’t. Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeah!…Read more
HELLOOOOOOOO I’m just off the plane from a week in Oklahoma City with June and my mother, clearing out my teenage bedroom. Fun-wise, it was right up there with surgery in the pre-anesthesia era, especially my senior prom Party Pics. On the upside, Mom and I made a wonderful pea soup (only with half the amount of ham hock, and with dried herbs instead of fresh) and worked our way through approximately four bars of chocolate and an undisclosed amount of wine, and I determined (take note!!!) that the only way to handle letters from exes and otherwise is to shove them dutifully in a box and then pray it gets lost in the mail. We woke up too early every day,…Read more
Happy Two Days After Valentine’s Day! I hope you celebrated in style, which is more than we did. I typed most of this post on Valentine’s night, while Brandon worked at Delancey, slinging pizzas for all the lovers. I did, however, rally to bake a banana bread. Nothing says, I love you (or, You married your grandmother), like a banana bread on Valentine’s Day. This is not a post about banana bread, just to clarify. This is a post about lime curd. Not lemon curd, but lime: “the superlative citrus,” as our friend Niah, who is also the bar manager of Essex, likes to say. And if it seems like I only post sweets and baked goods anymore, I know, I know,…Read more
First things first: if you don’t want to read about kid stuff, you should skip this post. I won’t mind. A few years ago, I totally would have skipped it. You have my permission, and my sympathy. But if you, on the other hand, spent part of yesterday as I did, sitting on the floor with a sparkly child-size tulle skirt on your head, singing “Your Personal Penguin” to a small person while she sucked on a hank of her own hair, you might be at least somewhat interested in this post. A few of you have written to ask if I would share my perspective on and approach to feeding kids. I’ve hemmed and hawed, mostly because the topic…Read more
Our friend Ben was here last week. He arrived on Thursday, just in time for lunch, and flew out early Tuesday morning. Even June misses him, I think. She got into the habit of standing at the top of the basement stairs – our guest room is down there, a dungeon with red deep-pile carpet and faux wood paneling and an enormous oil furnace that’s as loud as a train – and yelling, Beh! Beh! Beh! until he came upstairs. We all agree that his trip was too short, but he did stay long enough to play a ukulele duet with Brandon, to get a kiss from June, to make me a Boulevardier and a great steak, to help us host a…Read more
I had to get a new computer last week, one of few life events with the power to make a person feel both elated and completely bankrupt. After I brought it home, while I waited for my blood pressure to stabilize, I combed through the files that had been on my old computer and happened to find a document that I had forgotten, a recipe for a brown sugar clafoutis with pears. BROWN SUGAR CLAFOUTIS! WITH PEARS! I made the clafoutis last week, and again yesterday, and then I hustled over here to tell you about it with an oddly colored iPhone photo of my leftovers. I had clafoutis for the first time when I was 23. It came to…Read more
Last night, it occurred to me that I had inadvertently neglected to write down something important: that June’s head smells like strawberry jam. I’ve thought about it for a long time, trying to make sure that was it, and now I’m certain: not strawberries, but strawberry jam. She smells like something I would like to eat on buttered toast. Now there’s a menu idea for Delancey. Brandon bought himself a record player as an early Father’s Day present, and he’s been buying old records left and right. The other day he came home with Cat Stevens’s Tea for the Tillerman. The next morning, before he woke up, June and I were hanging out, like we do every morning, and I turned on…Read more
You women who manage to keep up smart, articulate blogs while raising young children? You women who manage to keep up smart, articulate blogs while working and raising young children and doing all that household stuff that most of us wind up doing? I throw myself at your feet. I don’t have anything remotely original or insightful to say on the subject; I just think you’re remarkable. I have childcare twelve hours a week, jobs with flexible hours, a supportive spouse, and a kid who (usually) sleeps well (please don’t let this jinx me, please don’t let this jinx me), and yet I fight to get to this space. Of course, part of the problem could be that, each night,…Read more
I’ve been feeling a little under the weather for the past few days, but I wanted to pop in. I promise not to breathe on you. June is going to be seven months old on April 9, this Tuesday, which would have been my dad’s 84th birthday. Brandon says that she has my eyes, and if it’s true, then she has my dad’s eyes, because that’s where I got mine. She and I are flying to Oklahoma City on Wednesday, to visit my mother. June’s first trip to my hometown, to the house where I grew up! It feels like a big deal. But if you’re on our plane, I would like to apologize in advance: June is chatty, and…Read more
June is six months old. She has two teeth, monstrous thighs, and is my favorite person in the world. Totally predictable, I know, but I really never thought I would say that about someone who spends most of the day drooling and pulling my hair. Sometimes she looks at me tenderly, places a dimpled hand on either side of my face, and then lunges forward, giggling, and savagely bites my nose. She suits me so well. Really, she’s perfect for me. We have a rhythm. I sent my revised manuscript to my editor in the final days of February. A few days later, we lost our manager at Delancey and Essex. Though losing a staff member always makes me and Brandon…Read more
You good, good people. Before I say another word, I want to thank you for your many comments, your e-mails, and the incredibly kind card – a real, three-dimensional paper card – that one of you sent to me at Delancey. Your kindness blew me away. I thought for a long time before deciding to write that last post, and I want to thank you for making me feel not only safe in deciding to do it, but very, very glad. I remember my doctor saying to me, one day in mid-December, that I would not only recover, but that someday soon, I might even have a hard time remembering exactly what postpartum depression felt like. Though he’s been my…Read more
My father wasn’t a writer, or not in the vocational sense, but he liked to play with words, and I grew up thinking of him as someone who wrote. He never made a big deal of it; writing was just something he did sometimes, a few quick lines on one of the index cards that he always kept in his shirt pocket. I haven’t seen a lot of his work – only a goofy poem he once jotted for me on a notepad from a medical conference he went to, and some haikus that we found in his bathroom drawer after he died. Many years ago, in a context that I now don’t remember, my mother told me that Burg…Read more
Ah. Okay. Where were we? Everything is happening at lightning speed. I have to get back to writing it down, or I’ll forget. One morning, you wake up and you’re 33 years old, with two dogs and a spouse and a refrigerator full of esoteric vermouths and amari, and the next morning, you wake up and you’re 34 years old, with two dogs, a spouse, and a 12-week-old child in a bouncy chair on the floor in front of the refrigerator. The other day at a doctor’s checkup, I actually told the nurse that I was 33, because I forgot that I’d had a birthday. 33, 34, same thing. In any case, I’m still a baby when I get a shot.…Read more
I know. The universe does not need another recipe for a banana baked something. And yet. It’s a rainy Friday afternoon, and I have a couple of hours(!) home alone(!) to do whatever(!) I want(!), which is mostly to eat Häagen-Dazs coffee ice cream and stare at the wall. Brandon and June are out on the town, having a lunch date at a friend’s new restaurant. I hope June is polite and doesn’t spit up at the table or get totally milk-drunk and harass the server – or that, if she does, she at least tips well. Baby jokes! It’s come to this! God, I am so, so sorry. I’ve been wanting to tell you about this recipe for several…Read more
Well, well, well! I’m typing this with a baby strapped to my chest! Still trying to figure out how that happened. I hope you’re well. Things are all right here, I’m relieved to report, especially given the fact that I had exactly zero experience with babies prior to birthing one three short weeks ago. I have never felt so simultaneously capable and incompetent. It depends on the day. Sometimes the hour. But we’re figuring it out, with help and handholding and deliveries of soup and Szechuan pork and plum cake from our parents and friends and our adoptive family at Delancey and Essex. It helps that June has the world’s best cowlick, and that she makes pirate faces when she’s…Read more
I am very happy to announce that June is here. I had my first contraction while sitting at the bar at Delancey last Friday evening, eating dinner with my mother, and went into early labor in the middle of the night. Twenty-nine hours later – after deafening my companions on the drive to the hospital; discovering that I wasn’t far enough along to be admitted; a few hours spent laboring on a bench on the nearby campus of Seattle University, scaring incoming freshmen into a lifetime of abstinence; and much care and encouragement from my saintly longtime doctor, the world’s finest doula, and a nurse named Wendy – our daughter June Elizabeth Alexander Pettit was born at 6:29 am on Sunday,…Read more
Hi, all. I’ve received a number of concerned e-mails and comments in the past few days, wondering if the quiet around here meant that the baby has arrived, so let me say first: NO BABY YET. I am, however, in my 36th week of pregnancy. And as of about ten days ago, I finished writing the manuscript for my next book – or this draft of it, anyway. There’s still plenty of revising and hand-wringing to do, but at least I now have something to improve upon. And Essex, the bar we’re putting in next door to Delancey, is opening in less than a week. (!) Lots of Big Life Stuff. Huge Life Stuff. Giant Life Stuff. Oddly enough, or…Read more