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Are you tired of all the pretty pretty pictures yet? We’re not…
I love when my husband leaves me love notes.
In the refrigerator.
That use the word ubiquitous.
And refer to ass-slapping.
2012 has been a real ass-kicker so far.
I’m not really the praying kind. I’m not even sure I’m the believing kind. And when you watch people you care about struggle so hard, wrangle with such all-consuming pain, it’s hard to keep the faith that somehow there’s more meaning to it all. Or, maybe it should be evidence that there is.
Not the time or the place for that, though.
So I’m not even real sure how to do this praying thing. I will say this: I am wishing, hoping, thinking, meditating on peace for my friends close and far who’ve lost in the last few weeks. And when I tried to find some words to capture that wish/hope/thought/meditation, I found this. And I can’t really think of anything better.
The world got a little darker today.
There are so many shitheads in the world. Why couldn’t it have been one of them?
That was my first thought after I’d heard that Dad’s best friend had passed away. I don’t always see things in black and white terms, but on this subject, I do. There are really Good People out there and there are Shitheads. Then a lot of us that sort of fall in between. Marty was on of the Goodies. One of those gentle souls that wouldn’t have thought twice about doing lending you fifty cents for your parking meter or helping you shovel manure in subzero windchills. He just did it. And then he probably made a joke about it, and gave you that wry smile and a wink.
Marty is the first friend of my dad’s that I remember. If I came home from school or a hard day beating the streets on my three-speed bicycle and saw Marty’s big cream colored truck with the tool chests parked by Dad’s shop, it was a good day. I’d find them standing on the driveway drinking beer out of a can, shooting the shit. He was one of the friends of dad’s that actually acknowledged me. He’d tease me, he’d ask me questions, I’d grin toothily and bring more beers (I learned this valuable skill at a young age). He always made me laugh and he never seemed annoyed by this kid just hanging around.
He got into a motorcycle accident once. I was probably eight or so. I remember my dad’s lips being in a tight, thin line like they were when we were in real trouble. My mom did that thing that parents do when they have something bad to tell you—“Sarah, sit down.” He jacked up his shoulder pretty bad, there were some pins involved. I wanted to know if I could make him a card, and my mom said she thought he’d like that. So I drew him a hamburger—and he pretended to eat it.
He and my dad were good buddies. When my parents built their house, the one they’d been plotting and planning for since I was in middle school, he was there in the cold, helping. It was one of the times I remember my dad being the happiest—he was out in the cold, every single day, building this house from the ground up, and Marty was there. Drinking cheap, canned beer, or maybe the celebratory whiskey, coveralls and work boots. And, like always, he made my dad shake his head and grin ear to ear. We don’t see that grin, that happy-go-lucky lightness of heart all the time, but when it surfaces, it’s enough to make everything in the world brighter.
The thing about Good People is that they’re good to everyone, not just their favorites. And not just when they are happy, but when they aren’t. When my dad got sick, he was really, really, horribly sick. For a while, when he was going through treatments, he was a ghost of himself. Aside from the sheer physical massacre his body was undergoing, his spirit was dwindling. You could see it—his face more and more drawn, his eyes darker and sadder. Mom would call Marty. “Please come see him. Just stop by.” And he would. He’d assure him that he’d check the water softener or some other task he didn’t think my mom should be doing. He’d unload some good gossip or some other lighthearted banter, trying to bring that light back to Dad’s eye.
But he also looked out for my mom. He checked on her. He talked to her, worried with her, lamented Dad’s illness with her. He supported her, and her battle too. Good People do that, you know. Their circle is broad and encompassing and once you are in it, by blood or marriage or grace of God, you’re in.
You never know how much someone means to your life until they are no longer in it. I weep for Marty like I’d weep for my family; he was part of us. I think of all the ways he blessed us, and I can only hope to pay that forward, to do the same for some other family as best I can.
There is a loyalty, a gentleness of spirit and an integrity that is unique to just a few people, these Good People. I can only hope and strive to be as good of a person as Marty.
It’s snowing in Seattle. We’ve gotten all of about three inches of the white stuff, which for most midwesterners is child’s play. Here in the PNW, things have gone crazy. We have these things that most people refer to as hills, but what most people from the middle of America might refer to as small mountains. And they cause a lot of problems when the weather goes awry.
Mr. B doesn’t believe me, but he hasn’t seen it in action. Businesses close down, schools are cancelled, public transportation is nonexistent. It’s an icy, slippery, white mess out there.
So, we’re snowed in. We’ve got enough food, wine and toilet paper to last at least two more days. But we’re gonna have to get creative. And in with this ingenuity comes a little bit of, shall we say, edginess.
“How many cookies have you had?”
“Save some for the rest of us, wouldja?”
“Who, you and you’re imaginary friend? You snooze you lose.”
At which point, we actually counted cookies and divvied them up accordingly.
“I’m afraid to open this bottle of wine.”
“Why? When have you ever been afraid of wine?”
“Because, it’s the cheap bottle. What if it’s bad? What if we don’t like it? We only have one more bottle. Then what will we do?”
Which led to a long cost benefit analysis of buying cheap wine, the risks involved, a classification system based upon price per bottle cross-referenced with the drinkability risk, and the emotional cost of wastefulness.
Perhaps this is what happens when two creative types are left to their own devices.
I always felt bad for my friends who had birthdays in January. Especially early January. Everyone is kind of holiday-ed out, and then here you come with your birthday, and because we’re all nice, kind people, we don’t want to be rude. So we celebrate tiredly, with wan smiles and half-hearted cheer. My poor husband, who was taxed with a January 3rd birthday is saddled with the kind of birthday where everyone has given something up for the new year. We have turned over the proverbial new leaf and are not eating sugar/fat/carbs/meat, drinking, smoking, or gossiping. All the things that make for a good party. Or, alternatively, we’ve decided to start working out/getting up early/meditating/going to church. All of which limit the more aforementioned hedonistic activities that go along with said party.
It’s human nature, I suppose, to follow a six week stretch of gluttonous revelry with a period of abstinence and austerity. We humans have never been so good with balance, and so the pendulum continues to swing.
I like the new year, though, because it’s a time of list-making and self reflection. Notice that I put the listmaking before the self-reflection. That was inadvertent, but so telling. Probably because in my world they are part and parcel of the same thing. I don’t so much make resolutions as I make lists of goals. I don’t know that I even reference the lists after they’ve been made, but somehow just the writing down is enough.
So, I have finally had a little time as the holiday craziness has finally died away to reflect on my 2011 and plan for my 2012. 2011 was a transition year. I transitioned out of being a student and into being a grown up again. We transitioned from our long time home base in Columbia, MO to our new home in Seattle. Brian transitioned out of a long career with Barnes and Noble and into a new, exciting, challenging position with Utrecht Art Supplies. These are big things. We’re still settling into them, but as we crack open 2012, I feel as though we are digging into the new chapter.
Here’s what I want out of 2012.
I’m not really a sweets person. I’ve been told I should stay away from them because they do tricky things to my blood sugar (apparently, so does beer and wine, I just figure I’ll save my daily allotment of sugars for those goodies). There are certain things I have a hard time saying no to: chocolate covered almonds being one, any sort of berry pie being another. Cake, however, is not one of them.
I don’t like cake. Yep, I said it. I didn’t have one at my wedding, because why would you pay for something you don’t want to eat? At birthday parties I usually skip it. I especially don’t like boxed cakes, or the cakes you buy at the grocery store. They just taste like cotton candy–all sugar, no substance and they tend to give me a headache. And all that frosting? Gross. Blech. No thank you.
To say my husband has a sweet tooth would be what we call an understatement. And he is non-discriminating. Baked goods? Yes, please. Chocolate? Sure. Coconut? Yep. Pudding, mmm, pudding. Sweet-tart gummy candies? Even better. He had a hidden stash in his desk drawer that he NEVER TOLD ME ABOUT until we’d been married for months. And when I found it and teased him–well, his face looked like a kid who just got caught. It was amazing.
A few days before Christmas Brian mentioned that he was craving chocolate cake. I pondered this. I’d already planned to make him homemade cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning–which, my friends is no small feat. But I thought, eh, I could throw together a cake, right? No biggie.
I am not so much a baker. Mainly because I don’t like to follow directions (I know, insert exclamations of surprise here). I like to improvise. I’m really good at soups and salad dressings and sauces that say in the recipe “season to taste.” That usually means do whatever you want, and/or add more garlic. I have a whole shelf full of cookbooks, some of which I’ve never used. So, to bake–which requires strict adherence to the directions–not one but two things in one weekend was risky.
So I made this cake. I didn’t have enough white sugar, so I only used the brown, and substituted a bit of coffee for milk but otherwise followed the recipe to the letter. I mean, people, this was the most amazing cake I’ve had in a while. It was moist, it was dense. It was rich, but not heavy. It was sweet but without that toothachy sweetness. It. Was. Amazing.
Please excuse the poor quality of this photo, it can be attributed entirely to the shaking of my hand as a result of a massive sugar high.
I sit here and try to read or write or do ANYTHING and I think about that cake. I swear I’m dreaming about the cake.
And so I sneak over and steal a forkful. From the middle, naturally, because that’s the best part. And I saunter away, pretending nothing happened. And then I think, oh, just one more bite. And then, oh, I’ll just have a bite with my afternoon coffee. And then I leave the fork in the cakepan, because jeeze, Sarah, you’re dirtying up all the forks already.
I must be stopped, but I can’t do it. I thought, “oh, just take it to work, let your coworkers have the rest and you won’t be haunted by it.” And the unreasonable, addicted, snarling Sarah reared her ugly head “Why would I do that? I don’t like them that much. They won’t appreciate this cake for what it is.”
What is it, you ask? SUPERCAKE.
I write this not because I’m proud of what I’ve created or even because I think it’s a funny story. I write this so you will SHAME ME INTO NOT EATING ANYMORE.
I kinda expected to be sad today. I’d planned for it. I mean, we’re 2,000 miles from home, all alone, just the two of us, with no plans and no place to go for the holidays.
And then I thought about it, and thought, holy hell, that’s awesome!
Thanks to the miracle that is technology, we were able to talk to all of our family via video chat–except my parents, though my dad did say today “Gwen, why aren’t we in the new world?” as we talked to him on their old-fashioned landline. You know, one of those phones that you can’t take with you in your purse or car? Yeah, they still have one.
We talked to all the other parents and siblings, and even had a nice doggie rendezvous between Em and my sister’s dog Lucy. We joked about the fact that we needed a day-planner for all of our Skype dates. And about the fact that even though we weren’t in the same city with these family members, we were still scheduled all day long.
And while it isn’t the same as drinking wine together in the same room, toasting the season with my sister and her husband is about as close as you can get, and it was great. I talked with my aunts and uncles and grandma for the first time since we’ve been in Seattle (I know, bad granddaughter). My parents called to play us silent night on the guitar and dulcimer. We got to see our nephews and niece all crazy and over-sugared.
But the best thing about the last 48 hours? Lunch.
After we did the morning cinnamon roll gorging and coffee with “cheer” drinking, after we video chatted with the fam, we decided (well I suggested, and since I was up at the crack of dawn making the cinnamon rolls, Brian gritted his teeth and went along with the suggestion) to go for a walk on the beach. Beach as in the Puget Sound beach, not the Lake Washington beach, which requires us to get in the car and drive a wee bit. So, there we are, walking into the stiff wind, watching the ferries cross the sound, gazing upon the Seattle skyline from the west, listening to the harbor seals. The dog is chasing the seagulls, the sun is ducking behind some mean looking rainclouds and I point out this awesome burger joint on the beach. And then I point out the open sign. And all the faces in the windows.
We looked at one another, and it was decided. What better way to spend Christmas afternoon than eating dive-y greasy burgers on the beach? And sure enough, we walked in and the whole place was aglow with Christmas lights and décor, the holiday music ringing. The Asian couple behind the counter was chipper and cheery, and the burgers were juicy and the onion rings to die for.
And I looked around at the other customers and saw happy people—quite the opposite of what I expected. I thought we’d find sad old men with no families, or young people who couldn’t afford to make the trip home. Not so. They were couples and sisters and a mother and her grown son. They were obviously all engaging in what I’d call alterna-holiday, celebrating slightly outside the norm. And they were so happy and relaxed. We joked, exchanged greetings, and took pictures of one another. We watched the ferry boats in front of the heater and drank fountain sodas. And ate the best burger I’ve had in a long time, so good we decided not to make the beef tenderloin I’d been planning for Christmas dinner—still stuffed full of onion rings.
I reflected earlier about how to start a holiday tradition. It starts with great memories, I guess. Every year we spend in Seattle at Christmas on our own, we will be back to that dive-y little burger joint and it will represent something cheesy and ironic and perfectly weirdly Beahan-ly holiday.
So, it’s holiday time. I know this because I work in retail. Telltale signs: everyone around me is stressed out and cranky, they keep talking about numbers and sales and customer service. And all the music is playing. Everyone on Facebook keeps talking about their holiday shopping.
It doesn’t really feel like Christmas to me. Probably because other than working in retail, I am not doing any of the things that I am accustomed to doing around this time of year. I’m not finishing projects or studying for finals. I’m not negotiating the family holiday celebration timetable. I am not putting up a tree or making a list of what I need to cook for various gatherings. I’m not even really buying anything–between the hubs and the fam, we’ve all agreed to go simple this year. And while all of that sounds disappointing and vaguely grinch-y, it actually feels very…relaxed.
One of the things Mr. B and I have talked over and over about is how fun it’s going to be to start our own traditions for the holidays. For the first time in ten years, his busy season is NOT the last ten weeks of the year. For the first time since we’ve known each other, I am not in school for the holidays. And for the first time in either of our lives, ever, we are not going to be snuggling in to the big Beahan/Ratermann family holiday extravaganza this year. It’s like a blank slate…
It’s a lot of pressure.
I mean, how do you start a tradition? Does that happen consciously? Do you sit down with pen and paper and negotiate and bargain your way through a list of traditions you’d like to adopt? We don’t have kids, so it’s not like we’re discussing what’s best for munchkins. Just us.
What’s best for us.
Last weekend we spent our Sunday eating world famous doughnuts and walking around Capitol Hill. We oohed and ahhed over the view and then agreed to go home, make dinner and snuggle up on the couch.
I am not one to stick to plans, and I caught wind of an event that couldn’t be missed. At dusk, just when Mr. B had settled into his book and was contemplating a glass of wine, I tossed him his coat and said, “We’re going…”
The holiday boat parade was coming to Lake Washington.
Every year for the month of December these boats tour the various waters around the Puget Sound area. They are all lit up with twinkly lights and one big boat carries a bunch of carolers. They sing their songs and it’s very festive and charming and just a little bit eerie.
We walked up the hill and over to Lake Washington in the early evening darkness along with throngs of other residents in South Seattle. The family just ahead of us was decked out in super warm gear and headlamps, just in case the streetlights weren’t enough to light their way. The mother behind us was practicing Spanish with her toddler and I’m pretty sure that kid has better Spanish speaking skills that I do. Brian and I giggled about these Seattleites and their Seattle-ishness.
And then we came over the hill and the path along the lake was lit for miles with luminaries. I mean, for at least two miles, maybe three. Imagine what that looked like against the inky blackness of the lake and the twinkles of the lit up homes across the water on Mercer Island. Just ahead there was a bonfire going and kids and families were roasting marshmallows. Some one had set up a table with thermoses of hot cocoa.
And then came the boats. I mean, these things are ridiculously cheesy, complete with their over the top announcer and carols blaring so loudly you could hardly hear yourself think. The kiddos screeched at the sight and my dog huddled behind my legs. Fathers behind me passed flasks back and forth and mothers unapologetically drank wine from plastic cups.
I stood there like a freaking sap and wept. Because everything was so imperfectly, crazily, laughably holiday.
I’ll be honest. I’m pretty sure the Christmas boats did not hold the same magic for the hubs. When I lived here before I accidentally stumbled upon the parade finale on Christmas Eve. I was alone, my roommates had gone home to their respective families and I had one more night before I got on a plane for home. Something about the absurdity of the kayaks and the dinghy’s and the sailboats all decked out for the holidays, complete with this eerie music over the loudspeakers—it was what I needed that year to remind me that the holidays were the holidays everywhere, not just in my parents living room. So it holds a bit of sentimental significance for me. But all the crowds, the screeching kids, the jostling rude parents–not so much Brian’s thing.
Doesn’t matter. I stood there like a small child, agape and teary, sappy and thankful, full of grace and wonder. And he’ll do it with me again and again, because I’ll probably never get tired of it and he loves me. And next year he’ll be the guy with a flask who doesn’t watch the boats but instead watches his wife’s wonderment.
Just exactly the way I will sit with a six pack of beer and watch my husbands face as he adoringly watches Emmett Otters Jug band Christmas.
Please don’t judge the quality of these photos…it’s hard to take pics in the dark, ok? Just so you have some concept of what I’m talking about…
This gallery contains 11 photos.
Are you tired of all the pretty pretty pictures yet? We’re not…
I never thought I’d get married again. Not in a million years. Not because I thought I wouldn’t find someone to marry, but because I didn’t think I was capable of giving myself over the way a marriage—a good one, anyway—requires. I’d fought so hard and struggled so long to learn and become me, purely me, not one quarter of a family or one half of a couple or one sixth of a group. I’d finally found a place where I was just Sarah Ratermann. I didn’t ever want to sacrifice that.
The first thing I noticed about Brian was his laugh. Part cackle, part guffaw, part shout of unadulterated glee, it never failed to make me snicker, and I didn’t even know his name. He was just this guy who was my boss that I’d hear from across the store and smile at—I felt like a psycho.
We started dating. In the middle of the chaos that was my life—and I do mean total and utter chaos. He, in no uncertain terms in his quiet way, communicated what he brought to the table, and what he expected. I, in my much more verbose, gesticulation-ridden manner, did the same. I told him I wouldn’t get married again, ever. He said, well, if you’re going to be with me, you will have to. We left it at that, staring at each other from our opposite corners of the ring.
I went to Ireland for my 30th birthday. I’d planned to go alone and backpack around for several weeks, mostly because I just couldn’t stomach the idea of another drunken 30th birthday bash. A few weeks before I left, he asked, “how do you feel about company?” I was thrilled. Not just about the prospect of a joiner, but because he thought to ask, he was sensitive and perceptive enough to know how I operate, with fierce independence. If he’d assumed that I’d love his company and just showed up as a surprise our relationship would have gone pear shaped right then.
And then we were there and we walked through rolling hills and narrow streets and rode bikes along icy waters and ate really terrible Irish food. The day before he left was sad. I wished he could stay, we were having so much fun, and in a way I hadn’t experienced in our relationship thus far. And everything seemed easier. When I was tired and hungry and trying to figure out which bus to take to which stop, I’d scowl and he’d just do it. Tickets would appear, my pack would be stowed, he’d remember to remove my wallet and my book, and I’d find myself comfy and dry and maybe even with a snack. I never felt like I lost myself in the process.
When I returned to the states I told him maybe I’d be amicable to this marriage idea. Because if it looked even remotely like that partnership we had in Ireland, well, that was a different beast than I was familiar with. And I kinda liked it. We were sitting on our stone patio, drinking wine and grilling dinner. He didn’t blink an eye as we talked about how we’d steal away and marry quietly, without anyone knowing, just us.
“Are we engaged?”
“Yeah, I think we are.”
I can’t imagine a better engagement or a better marriage. Just two people who realized that they can let their guard down enough, that they can share themselves enough to walk through the rest of their lives together.
Happy Anniversary to my laughing husband, here’s to me falling in love every time you chortle away. Thanks for being patient enough to let me share myself with you.