The Scent of Chocolate Cake

I really like cake. That’s sort of a duh, but it’s still shocking to me because I have never been huge on cake — more of a candy girl — but now, I can barely see one without grabbing a fork. I usually push the majority of the icing off (especially if it’s store-bought), and focus on the airy stuff. Sugar, mixed with flour, mixed with just the right fats, to come together…to rise up and stand, tall enough to be taken down with four tines. It’s marvelous.

But even more than the actual ingestion of the cake — I like the scent of it baking.

A house that smells like food is not one I am used to. Neither my mom or my dad did much from the ground up in the kitchen. I don’t begrudge them of this — because, shit, it’s hard  — but I am not one accustomed to the smells of a home-cooked meal or freshly-baked sweets. Which is what makes those scents all the more enticing to me.

When we toured this house, there were freshly-baked cookies on the stove. Fuckin genius, man. I had so many warm thoughts when I walked through. I asked Nic if people were ‘supposed to’ eat the cookies on display, and he came back with a ‘Well…‘ kind of response, which means I grabbed one immediately. And another before we left.

We put an offer in about fifteen minutes after we saw the place, and they had accepted by the end of the day.

I try to cook here, sometimes. I have baked a couple times, too. But it always overwhelms me. When I do gear up for a recipe, I make sure that the steps are super simple, and that there aren’t too many ingredients. I have made muffins a couple times for our carb-obsessed toddler, but I tend to stray away from pies or cakes. They just seem…kinda hard.

Chocolate cake has always bored me. It just seems so one-note. Chocolate on chocolate. Bo-ring! Life is too big for such mundane things! Give me lemon with berries – red velvet with cream cheese — give me the spice of life, my dear — variety.

But. I tasted a cake in Chicago once and it threatened my prior way of life. It was chocolate on chocolate on chocolate — a layered cake with chocolate frosting in between the layers and on top — and while I couldn’t believe it, I was smitten.

So when Nic asked what I might like for my last birthday, I told him of this cake. We found an internet recipe and he went to work. I came home to the cake on the stove and felt like I’d been hit with a ton of bricks. Someone loved me enough to bake me a cake. And if we’re being honest here — it wasn’t just the ‘someone’ part. It was that that someone was a man.

I didn’t think men baked cakes very much. I didn’t think many people did, in general. To think that he would mix a batter, crack in eggs, use a toothpick to check doneness — frankly, it all took me by surprise.

It made me feel astoundingly loved.

**

When we first met, I was determined not to fall for him. I avoided holding his hand, and allowed his arms around me for short bursts of time, certain that I wouldn’t be caught, wouldn’t be engulfed by love.

Now, I chase him around the house, trying to make him hug me for longer than twenty seconds (*I read some damn study that said the twenty second mark was where something magical happened in the brain or some bullshit,) I grab his hand while we’re watching t.v., I pat him on the ass every time he walks by me. Now he’s the one who doesn’t need his arms around me all evening, and I’m the one who would be fine with it. Sometimes I sass him, saying ‘How did this come to be?’ and ‘Do you really even love me?’

He doesn’t need to say much. I can meet his eyes and know all I need to know. And I can find him in the kitchen, frosting a chocolate cake that he made for me on a Sunday night, just because.

What the F*** Did I Learn This Year?

So much. So much, that I’ll never be able to encapsulate it here, but I’m still going to make a little list of highlights for the hell of it.

That our country is lost. 

I mean, I will probably never get over the shock of Donald Trump “winning” the election. But.

It’s important to remember that our country is lost because people are lost, and when people are lost, it is our job not to beat their fucking asses because they’re lost, but to take their arm, gently, and guide them, in whatever way works best for them (*trial and error required) towards love. We will NEVER be unified without love for every person — every last asshole. I know that is scary and seems not fucking fair and not right, but it’s true. Love unifies. Hate and fear divide and they divide with IRON FENCES. They must be melted down. With love.

That our self-image informs how other people see us. 

I knew this one before, but never so deeply. Do your very best to see yourself as valid, worthy and even awesome. Because everyone around you is picking up what you’re throwing down. Show them you are gold. And they will only see your sheen.

That I’m not a great mom, and I’m not a shit mom. 

I’m just a person. Who now has a child. One that hits the dog and doesn’t eat anything except crackers and challenges every last bit of my sanity and decency and yet has completely softened me. I am a person who is trying to be a ‘mom’ — whatever the f*** that means, and there in lies the problem. Oliver will become who he becomes partly by way of the person he is, and partly by way of the person I am (and Nic duh). I need to kill the mom guilt, the mom definitions. Or I will doom us both.

That my privilege – and my disadvantages – have informed every stance I have.

TRY TO REMEMBER THAT THIS IS THE SAME FOR ALL.

Empathy, Empathy, Empathy.

That I am one happy motherfucker.

Sometimes, I think, maybe I was always this happy, and sometimes I think, no I think it has increased and is situational and sometimes I think I should stop thinking about it. I am SO HAPPY. So, SO happy. The other day I heard a girl say how much she wanted to slap really happy people across the face and I almost turned around and slapped her in the face and then I realized the irony of that and just said, ‘I really like  happy people’ and let it go.

I am so scared to be in the world every day — and I am so grateful to be in the world every day — and that is the deal. That is the gist from this past year and for all the future ones. We are so lucky to be here. Love. Love everybody. Try to find the things that make you happy. You will beam when you do and some people will hate you, but most people will love you.

 

wow. I intended this list to be funny.

happy new year.

 

 

If I Go –

Hey. Is this morbid? Writing about what I want to reveal if I were to die? It’s just — I could go any minute. We all could go any minute. We are guaranteed no amount of time. People walk out their front door some days and don’t ever walk back in it. I don’t think I’m at death’s front step, but I’m also not sure. And there are some things I want to say.

If you have been reading my blog for the last few years, you know that my upswing in happiness has been INSANE. Béla had already burrowed a big hole of happiness into my tough shell, but Nic broke through with a sledgehammer. Then we took a risk on a baby and that turned out to lead to more happiness. Gross amounts. Scary amounts that make you want to hold onto your life with tense knuckles, because you ended up getting it so good and then you become scared to death to lose it and you think about death more ( = all the time) and you become increasingly scared that you’ll go and so you just really want to say outloud the things you need to be known if you do.

  1. Holy shitballs, have I had a good time living so far.
  2. Holy shitballs, do I love dogs.
  3. I had one dream, tucked under my arm, deep into my ribcage, for as long as I could dream — and that was to be known as a writer. For the world to see my insides, my true desire, my calling. I’m going to say that at this point, that is true. Most people who know me now think of me as a writer or at least someone who loves to write. So? I did it. I accomplished the only goal I was ever truly aware of. For that, I will pat myself on the back.
  4. Béla was the catalyst for all the good change in my life. ALL OF IT.
  5. I don’t regret one thing I’ve ever done. (I don’t think. There could be a massive gaping hole of forgotten, dark things – but that of which I’m aware? Not that it was all super ‘smart.’ But I regret none of it.
  6. I fucking LOVE AGING.        AGING, PEOPLE, IS LIVING. IT HAPPENS IN TIME. IT IS UNAVOIDABLE, AND THE GREATEST GIFT YOU COULD EVER RECEIVE.
  7. Nic is the single best person I have ever met. One time, when we were driving and a guy cut us off, he said the meanest thing I’ve ever heard him say  ( — you know, for him.)  He drew a breath in, it was kinda rattled, the breath, and sounded angry and I thought I was going to get access to his boiling pot of rage that bubbled under the surface and sure enough it looked like it when he opened his mouth and said, “Oooh. I hope he gets into an accident…”     but there was a pause at the end of his sentence and sure enough by god it continued and when it did it continued into this:     “….but that he doesn’t get hurt…..”           GOOD LORD HIS PURE SOUL.    LIVING NEXT TO IT HAS BEEN AN HONOR.
  8. ADOPT DOGS! JUST ADOPT! THEY ARE ALREADY HERE AND THEY NEED TO BE LOVED. Please don’t let your projected affinity for some breed convince you to partake in the impregnation of a mother dog and then the eventual robbery of her baby dogs. It’s just fuckin’ insane, when you think about it. Please ADOPT.
  9. Ollie. Thank goodness he came to me. Ollie, thank you for coming to me.
  10. Okay. I hope to God writing this out doesn’t mean I had some crazy ass foresight into my own impending death. But if it does – remember me with joy and adopt a dog in my name. I don’t believe in being buried and PLEASE DON’T WASTE MONEY ON A FUNERAL FOR ME — ADOPT DOGS AND SAVE DOGS FROM THE MEAT TRADE! (I’m dead fuckin serious about this. I think I read they are $600 a pop to get them shipped outta there in the night. SHIP ALL OF THEM YOU CAN IN MY DAMN NAME.) Tell Ollie his mom loved him and that she loved life and to save dogs and don’t let Nic remarry.

hey, thanks.

Years back, when my niece was just a tiny gal, she was asked, in a room full of tinies, what she was thankful for.

“I’m thankful…for all the people…in my heart,” her small mouth stuttered out.

*

Screw the turkey, the mashed potatoes, our houses, our cars.

Screw our aspirations, our lost dreams, our scars.

Let’s follow a child down their tunnel-visioned path.

Let’s simply — and astoundingly — be thankful for all the people in our heart.

 

 

Let’s Put This Motherfucking Election to Bed (and take a look at our collective behavior during said.)

We’re hours away from a new President, and most of us are scared. Say what you want about either of them. I’m scared of anyone in power, really. I’m scared because people in power usually abuse it, even when they’re trying not to.

But more than fear of our next leader and their moves, I am scared that over the course of this campaign, we taught our children that fear and hatred were our main political tools.

This weekend, my eleven-year old niece visited me in Iowa. We picked up her best friend, another eleven-year old, and as we drove through the leaf covered streets, we sang Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez, and talked about school subjects. We went to the park, where the two young gals played on the merry go-round like they were seven years younger. We played in the yard; they ran and jumped into leaf piles like my tiny toddler. They were innocence, and they were light – still.

Until.

Until we found ourselves on street filled with signage. The house on the left was voting Trump and the house on the right was proclaiming Hillary. Yards told us who was who. Who we should love. Who we should fear. Who we should hate.

I strained to hear them talking, over the music. I didn’t want to turn it down; I didn’t want them to know I was tuned into them. I wanted to hear exactly what was happening inside of them.

My ears and my heart burned, as I listened to them repeat the things we’ve all been saying for months. He’s a monster, she’s a monster, we’re all screwed.

I dropped my head, keeping my eyes straight ahead. I was too heartbroken to approach them.

Someone is going to be sworn in here soon – and that someone will be human, and possibly too powerful while still too fragile – and right and wrong – and good and bad. They will have teams of people in front of, around, and behind them. They won’t rule our country alone. Maybe we shouldn’t be so scared of them?

We should step back, though, and take a look at ourselves, as we traversed this controversial time once again. It was an odd one, for sure – often, seemed almost fake, it was so absurd. But what did we teach our children while we attacked him? Attacked her? Attacked them?

We taught them hate. We wronged each other. And in the midst of that, we wronged our children. We should be ashamed.

the creature of success

“S-U-C-C-E-S-S!”

I used to spell that word out —  pom poms high in the air — right before yelling, “That’s the way you spell success!” on the basketball court, in my cheerleading skirt and vest. So chipper! So simple! Right? Just spell it out, people. Then make it happen. It’s an equation, and math doesn’t lie.

Success back then was passing grades, maybe wearing the right thing on a given day. It was small scale.

Success today — in the adult way — is so much bigger, it seems. There’s success according to you, and success according to me – but then you factor in society’s definition, and that of your parents again – and you’re back to ground zero. I often think there’s no such thing.

Except I have a definition rooted deep inside of me.

**

Had you asked me just one week ago what success meant to me?

I would have told you, quite easily.

“Being paid an earthly dollar for something I have written. Amount no matter. (Like, I’m not kidding. Five cents would have meant something.) A mere symbol that the thing which commands my heart and hands has tangible value here on this Earth.”

That was my entire definition. That was all of it.

**

Let’s fast forward. It’s Sunday night. This past Tuesday, my first paid piece flew out onto the internet.

And right now? Well, it’s Monday across the world, and another paid piece just went live on an Australian site.

And I don’t feel much different.

I can’t believe it — but I don’t feel much different.

**

I suppose if I felt enrobed in success, it could feel heavy. I might need to sit down on the ladder I’ve been climbing so long. And if I were to sit, the uneven weight could cause me to tip.

I’m better reaching. R-e-a-c-h-i-n-g. And never solving a thing.

 

Eat the Fucking Cookie.

I have a couple pet peeves. Being told to calm down. That’s probably #1. I CAN’T CALM DOWN. FOR GOOD AND FOR BAD. FOR BETTER AND FOR WORSE. I LIVE LIFE AT 100 FUCKING PERCENT AND I CANNOT CALM DOWN. If I could, I would. But I can’t.

I’ve got two other big ones. Don’t tell me what you did can’t make me feel some way. My soul dictates my feelings, not your design for me. Period.

And then:

Darling, if I offer you a cookie:

EAT. THE. FUCKING.COOKIE.

 

Oh, wait? Did you think I was offering you a snack? Some extra cals for your food log? A chance to rot your teeth?

Au contraire, mon frère.

It’s gifting, dears. It comes down to that. I am gifting you something — and this one’s something easy. Something I made – or paid – for. Something that is generally considered awesome. So when I lift out my hand, and I offer you a sweet — please reach out your hand and receive. I’m offering you more than a treat. I am offering a piece of me.

**

I was a hardcore vegetarian for many years. I didn’t run around preaching a meatless life, I just stuck to meatless meals. I never went hungry, without meat on my plate. I never felt sad, without blood running down my chin. I ate plenty and happily.

I fell in love with food in Italy. I ate better than I had ever dreamed, and though some folks questioned how I got on without meat, I answered them with hearty plates full of pasta and veggies, pizzas with mounds of mozzarella but no sausage.

One afternoon, I went to an eatery deep in the heart of a local university. Mamma Maria’s. Still today, I can’t believe it was real. The eatery was an extension of Maria’s home. There were tables in a common room, but the dream was to get the table in her kitchen. In her real and actual kitchen, where the lovely old lady was making the magic happen. The heavens opened for us the day we went. She invited us into the kitchen, and there we sat.

We were in there for what felt like hours. Course after course, laugh after laugh. When the meat course was on its way, I told her to pass me by. Just skip my plate and I’ll get back on the train for the next thing around, I relayed. She stepped back, horrified. There was shock on her face, and worry and fear. I saw her scrambling. Not just to understand, but a physical scramble, moving about the kitchen rapidly, her furrowed brow at the helm.

And when the meat course came, she placed the traditional fare on the plates of my friends — and then, on mine — roughly three pounds of cheese. I had various types, textures and flavors. I had cheese for the evening, the next morning, and for the following week. I had more cheese than I could ever want. More cheese than I wanted.

Mamma Maria had been so scared that I’d go hungry without the meats, that she piled high my plate with what she deemed the next best thing.

I thanked her graciously and then I ate enough to have her see me eat. And then, I began stuffing mounds of cheese into my lap. I stuck pieces together, like rubber band balls, and wrapped them up in paper napkin, dropping them into the purse at my feet. I kept my eyes up, while my hands worked furiously down below. A pond duck.

**

A year or so later, I sat, two a.m., outside a food truck in the cool night air. We’d been dancing all night, and needed food, not for more dancing, but for the strength to find home.

I sat next to Lisa, who was purring and panting, going on and on about ‘the best hamburger of her life.’

She kept trying to get me to eat it. Just taste it. Just please.

I was steadfast in my denial. I already ate. I don’t eat meat. I’m fine. No thanks. But she kept on, and on, and wanted me to eat it so badly, that at a certain point, I threw my hands up in the air and grabbed onto the bun. I bit in.

**

We deny gifts all day long, and for so many different reasons. I don’t want. I don’t need. 

We hear people offer us a thing. An object. A thing.

That’s not it, friends. I’m offering you, me.

So the next time someone holds out their hand, take one for the team.

The team is you. The team is us. The human race. The we.

 

 

Seeking Gandhi

 

I am scared of people. I am scared of humanity.

For as long as I can remember, I have been sizing others up. This motherfucker wants to hurt me. This one’s okay. This one’s too risky. This one seems safe. It feels like I’ve been scared since I came flying out of the womb, and my fear does not seem to be slowing down. If you’ve a beating heart, you can hurt me. You can tear me apart.

Animals — never the enemy. It’s the people. It’s the we.

I’m so scared that sometimes I can’t go to sleep. And sometimes the fear wakes me up. It keeps me in my house when I want to leave. It makes me flee in the car when we were playing at the park. Sometimes —  it makes me want to die. It’s too hard to feel this conflicted. To feel this scared all of the time.

I’m so scared I put alarms on our windows. I didn’t put alarms on our windows because jaguars live nearby and can get a windowsill open, in search of a steak. I put alarms on our windows because sometimes, humans use their arms to lift them up, and their legs to crawl inside, and their hands to steal or kill. Sometimes they put their hands on other humans and wrangle the breath out of them. Then they walk into the nearest gas station and get a Mountain Dew.

I know babies exit kind. I know most people would pick up your things if you fell on the street (fashion mags run those little experiments and most people come out shining.) I know that, in general, people have our backs.

But the worst stories I have ever heard have been of human to human contact, hand to hand combat, man versus man.

A baby in a bathtub with water that could boil pasta. A young woman set on fire.

I could list all the real-life nightmares I have catalogued in my head, but there isn’t enough time and I can’t feed my own ire.

**

I’m scared. Hopeful. Scared. It feels like we’re in trouble.

 

I hope that’s just my fear talking.

 

Stopwatch

Family members, held in frames, peppering the walls. Fairly normal practice. An act of reverence. Precious moments made concrete, made to share, made everlasting.

I can’t put them up.

I have multiple empty frames, and they’ve been sitting empty since we took up residence here.

I don’t know what to put in them. Nothing seems to make sense. If I put a photo of Oliver at three months, it feels stupid to still have up when he’s sixteen months. If I put a photo of me pre-baby, it feels like a lie. Who was she? She’s gone now.

Yet.

I take, on average, 200 photos per day. I snap the hell out of that virtual button on my iPhone; I go apeshit, trying to make a moment even more true.

This happened. That happened. We happened. We were. 

*

I write because it lets me live life twice. The photographs and videos, they do the same. I won’t have to beg my ears to bring his baby voice back to me, years from now. It’s captured. I can hear it, exactly as it was, I hope that I can feel it, exactly as it was.

But when I’m running to grab my phone, sometimes — he falls. And when I’m pulling up the camera, sometimes — I miss the look on his face I really wanted to hold in my hands, forever and ever.

This weekend, we were camping. I took some serious photo shoots of Bela and Oliver, but most of the time, tried to let images go by the wayside, in favor of experiencing moments completely. We walked down a hill, and perched ourselves atop a small cliff, overlooking a lake that appeared endless. There were pelicans floating by in huge groupings, their bodies bouncing with the waves, floating, the most elegant lazy beings I’d ever seen. I gasped, as I counted. 122 pelicans. 122 pelicans, floating by. I was astounded to have come upon such a sight. Oliver followed suit. He gasped every few seconds, jutting his small pointer finger out in the air, shocked – awed, by the sight, as well.

My heart fell.

I didn’t have my phone. The sound of his nature-induced gasps would be lost to me. They existed in this one moment only. This one moment only.

Suddenly, I felt relief.

I sat back, placed his still-baby arms in my palms, and, without a screen or lens between us, I leaned in.

 

 

 

 

 

Take Back the Night

My mom has rheumatoid arthritis. It’s so bad now, that she’s sometimes in a wheelchair. A walker, a scooter, the like. Assistance, she always needs.

I hate assistance. I deplore dependence. I hate sitting when I can stand. Riding when I can walk. I don’t even like to use the back of a chair.

Sometimes I want to ask if she’ll forgo the motorized cart at the grocery store. Be strong, I want to say. Even if it hurts. Hobble along without assistance. Be strong.

*

Marion folks don’t seem to like light. The streelamps are sparse — unbearably far apart, and a rare soul uses their porch light. One night, I stood at the corner of our circle block and counted. Three houses out of twenty-three had their porch light on. Three out of twenty-three.

I wonder what they deem the porch light for. Halloween only?

I thought a porch light was for luminosity. Lighting up the community, sending signals of warmth and safety to all. It’s like no one cares if I’m out there. No one is behind me, making sure I’m not scared.

*

I moved to Italy post-college. Despite not speaking the language, and not knowing anyone, I had a grand ole time. I went out almost five nights a week. I took three buses across Milan to attend dance classes, where the only thing I (barely) understood were the number counts. Uno, due, tre, quattro! (Repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat.)

One night, I was walking a couple miles back to my apartment in the pouring rain. The tram had stopped running. I couldn’t really afford a taxi. And I had these LEGS! Off I went.

I called my mom on the way. It was daytime in America, and I felt like having a chat to pass the time. “What are you doing?” she asked. “Just walking home,” I replied. She paused, did some calculations, and figured it was not a normal walking-home time.

“Kelly, what time is it there?”

“It’s four. Four a.m.”

“KELLY! YOU SHOULD NOT BE WALKING HOME AT FOUR A.M. ALONE IN A FOREIGN COUNTRY! YOU SHOULDN’T BE WALKING HOME AT FOUR A.M. ALONE ANYWHERE!”

That did it. That pissed me off. I screamed through my Nokia, through the night, across the continents.

“WHY, MOM!? BECAUSE SOMEONE MIGHT WANT TO HURT ME!??

FUCK THAT! FUCK THEM! FUCK THAT!

I’m not SHAVING MY LIFE because SOMEONE might want to hurt me! Fuck THAAAAAT!”

And. I. Hung. Up.

*

I have forgotten so much about my mom. I see her now, in her current state and I tend to forget her strength. That she raised four kids — in so many ways — alone. That she let me go with little fight when I decided to flee home.

I reached into my t-shirt drawer the other day and pulled out an oldie. I’ve cut the neck off, and it’s more fitted now than I love, but it still works for dog-walking. I threw it over my head, and then stopped. April 2001, it reads. University of Illinois. Take Back The Night.

The day of the walk comes flooding back. I was chanting, and rowdy, and quick on my feet. My strong women friends were all around me, chanting, and rowdy, too. And there was someone else, walking quietly behind me — struggling to keep up, but occasionally raising a small fist in the air.

My mom.