Things that suck: A Year of Loss

No one can prepare you for what it feels like to lose a child. It should come as no surprise that losing adult children or young children would be difficult to overcome. My friends who have gone through such tragedies in their lives are heroes in my mind. How do you face another day after that sadness?

What has been revealing to me is the overwhelming sadness that losing an unborn child can bring. My first miscarriage was almost a year ago. We were so surprised to even find that we were pregnant since we hadn’t been “trying” and our first child was only 15 months when the pregnancy test proved positive. Since it took so long to get pregnant the first time this felt like a surprise gift from above. Could it really be this easy to have another child? It was early November when the miscarriage happen. Since the pregnancy was “only” about 7 weeks along, it just felt like a normal menstrual cycle but with a lot more crying involved. It feels like whiplash to go from such hope to such despair–which must be how people feel who lose loved ones to accidents–here one moment and gone the next. It felt silly to be so sad after the loss. We had only known we were pregnant for a few weeks. But it is amazing how much dreaming, planning, envisioning and connecting can happen in such a short time.

I’ve been pregnant three times and each time my brain immediately relabels and re-categorizes myself and my family. At first we were just a couple, then we got pregnant with C and instantly I could think of us as a family. I could picture welcoming our little boy or girl into our lives in August and how our lives would be forever changed. The same phenomenon happened with the other pregnancies but with a much sadder ending to the dream.

After waiting a bit after the first miscarriage, we tried again. To be honest, the dreaming and future planning begins for me with the trying. Any woman who has had difficulty getting pregnant knows the trials of temperature taking, charting and masterminding that you fall into each month. “If we can get pregnant this month then the baby will come on this month…it will be fall…my first child will be 2….hopefully she’ll be out of diapers by then…it will be….i will feel…i can picture….” The rabbit hole of future planning is never ending and completely futile.

This past winter on vacation in Goa I found myself watching the waves and imagining that that time of trying had been successful. It definitely seemed like we had gotten it right that time. I found myself drawing “A+B+C+?” in the sand a lot. The thought was we would keep going through the alphabet as our family grew, but I could not bring myself to write a “D” even though a glimmer of hope was encouraging me from within. One day I did complete the equation with the proper letter, drew a heart around it and took a picture. I thought “This will be a great story to tell our little D one day. I knew he was there before the tests could know.” But hoping and believing with such abandon seemed far too scary and crazy and the sand was swept and the picture deleted.

It turns out that I was pregnant at that very moment. That glimmer of hope was a real baby brewing inside of me. When the pregnancy test confirmed the news I was both ecstatic and scared to death. “Just get me to the 12 week mark,” I thought, “then I can really be happy.” I ticked the weeks off slowly and carefully, wanting to believe that this pregnancy was working but fearing the worst throughout. Although, I couldn’t help but brainstorm names on my walks to and from school. While pregnant with C, people would ask me if I “had a feeling” whether I was having a boy or girl. I never did. But with D, I couldn’t help but imagine a little boy growing inside of me. I started calling him Daniel…at least in my thoughts.

I felt pretty rough this time around. It’s much harder to be pregnant when you have a 1+ year old to chase after as well. And the sadness and trepidation from the first miscarriage still lingered. My heart sank when the spotting started. My doctor tried to be hopeful. It wasn’t too much blood at first. The heartbeat was still strong and little D was dancing all over the place in the emergency ultrasound that Monday. Friday at 3am the labor started. The horror movie lasted an hour at home in the bathroom. We buried D in a paper box I made on Saturday.  At 11-weeks along his body was very nearly fully formed. His little legs, arms, head and body. I will never be able to forget what he looked like. I will never be able to stop wishing that I could hold him, feed him, play with him, watch him grow.

We in the West are crap at mourning. We just don’t know what to do. The Eastern ways are much more flagrant–a beautiful spectacle of emotionalism and freedom. Tearing clothes, cutting hair, rolling in ash, paying people to cry and wail outside your door so that the whole community, your whole world, can know—-something terrible is happening here. Someone inside this house is hurting. Death has come and pain is rampant.

I nearly took my husband’s clippers and Sinead-ed my hair.  Hinduism has a ritual called tonsure where all male members of a family shave their head when a close family member dies. An act of sacrificing your beauty for the grief over a loved one. But more than that, I find it a helpful method for a community to know who needs our special care and attention. The family is making it obvious that they are going through something difficult and we, in turn, can help them.

I settled for a pixie cut. I didn’t do it so people would know I was sad. I did it because I knew I was different. Changed. Broken. I told myself that the process of growing it out again would be the time limit of mourning I would give myself. How naive of me to think that a few months, a year, a decade even could ever erase the sadness and the emptiness.

October is something like “Child loss month” (how is every month a something these days?) and several of my FB friends are outing themselves as miscarriage survivors saying, “I’m tired of people NOT talking about this…” I agree whole-heartedly and each time I see a post like this in my feed, I send a private message to the person saying “I’ve been there, too and thank you for speaking up.” It was only a matter of time before I worked up the courage to do the same.

Like a ray of light after a destructive storm, hope is slowly, timidly peaking in. There is lot more healing of mind and heart to do and I’m grateful for those who are walking beside us in life, but I don’t think I will ever be able to think about this without crying. And that’s okay. There was so much loss: of a plan, a future, the ability to trust my body, the ability to innocently believe in good alone.

And yet we must continue to dream and long for a time without tears where joy may be realized and life can be fully lived. Two days ago was Little D’s due date. My how different this year would have been…if…

Little D

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Indian Cooking Lesson #1: Chicken Biryani, Chicken Curry & Chapati

We head to the U.S. on Saturday for a visit with family. I want to make an Indian meal while we are there, but I realized that I don’t really know how to make any Indian food! This is a very sad realization considering that we have lived here for 3.5 years now.  So I asked our home helper, Urmilla, to teach me cook her favorite meal which turns out to be chicken biryani.  I called up the nearby grocer, Prakash-Ji, and asked him to send me everything I would need to make the dish and today we went to work.  Urmilla suggested I take photos to remember what to do so I thought I’d turn it into a post.  If only our kitchen had better lighting…but you get the idea!

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The spices–clove, cinnamon stick, saffron and black cardamom–are sauteed in oil, then 1 kg (2.2 lbs) of chicken pieces on the bone are seared in the pot as well. A tsp of salt is added at some point as well.

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There are two things I love about the above picture: 1) Urmilla is wearing my cowgirl apron 2) she has to stand on a step stool to use the stove. I find the counter and stove a bit short for me, fyi.  Urmilla says she has been cooking this dish for nearly 25 years. Her sister-in-law taught her how to make it. Her eyes light up as she explains each step to me. She loves cooking and sharing recipes.

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Once the chicken is lightly cooked on the outside, she adds just enough water to almost cover the chicken. Image

Then adds one more tsp of salt and brings it to a boil. For those who know that she is using a pressure cooker, know that you DO NOT SEAL IT OR PRESSURE COOK IT. She just rested the lid on top without sealing and boiled the chicken for about 5-10 minutes.

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While the chicken is boiling, we begin on the rice part of the biryani. Like most Indian dishes, we begin with oil. Then add the cumin seeds for a bit and then onions (4 small onions).

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Then the same spices as before. The amounts are as shown below:

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Once the onions are brown and beautiful, you add the washed rice (2.5 cups) and cook for a while (5-10 minutes) stirring continuously. Image

Then we added 1 tsp of Biryani Masala. Interestingly enough, this wasn’t sent to me by the grocer. He didn’t think we needed it and had suggested only adding red pepper at this point. Urmilla insisted we use this masala. Thankfully the neighbors had some.

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After all of the spices were added, we took the boiled chicken from the other pot and added that in as well. (Save the juice for the Chicken curry coming next….)

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The chicken is cooked with the rice for a bit–stirring continuously, then we added 5 cups of water, covered it and brought it all to a boil.

She used a flat pan UNDER the pot while she boiled it. Something about “the heat”. I don’t know if this was needed because it’s a gas stove or what (man, I wish I knew more Hindi), but that’s how she cooked it.

Now for the Chicken Curry! Once she took the other chicken out of the pot and put it in with the rice, she put another 1 kg of chicken pieces on the bone in that juice to soak.

Then she prepared the vegetables. 4 cloves of garlic which she shredded with a cheese grater and then crushed with a mortar and pestle.

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Next, two more onions were cut into small pieces..

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Oil was added to a new pan:

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Then the onions added:

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Then the tomatoes (2 cut in small pieces), garlic, salt, red pepper flakes (1/2 tsp), tumeric (1 tsp) and chicken masala (1 tsp). All of that was cooked for a bit and then the chicken that was soaking in the juice was added. DO NOT ADD OR DISCARD THE JUICE.

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After all of that was cooked for a bit (5-10 min) stirring continuously, then the juice was added and the dish was cooked for about 20 minutes with a lid on.Image

Now for the final piece…the chapati! This meal was to feed 8 people so we set out to make 2 chapatis per person.  There are two kinds of flour here: Atta and Metha. I can never remember which is white flour and which is whole wheat…but anyway, the answer is atta is whole wheat and that is what chapatis are made out of.

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Enough water was added to the flour to make it fairly tough, but still sticky.

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Then she added a bit of flour on the side to use for dusting.

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We grabbed clumps of the dough, dipped it in the flour in the bowl and worked it into a ball.

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Then the dough balls were dipped in the flour in the bowl and rolled out to 4 inch (diameter) circles. Then again dipped in the flour on both sides and rolled more until they were about 6 inches.

Before cooking the circles, slap them around a bit by passing them from hand to hand quickly and loudly. This helps get the excess flour off of the them.Image

Cook for about 30 seconds to 1 minute on one side and flip to cook on the other side.

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Then–now this is coolest part and I have no idea how to do this without a gas stove–place the chapati on the open flame. It will puff up in a matter of seconds. Then flip to puff a bit more and, voila!, chapati!Image

Now you are ready to enjoy your Indian meal. Sadly, I didn’t not photo the end product…we just ate it too quickly 🙂

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Spring Concerts: Some Nights the Storm is Passing, so Let’s Go Down to the River to Rejoice

Here is some video of the Spring Concert Advanced Choir performances. This year we were blessed to have very strong girls so we opened with an ambitious French piece just to show them off before the men joined us.  Even though the men were less experienced, I was especially proud of how far they progressed over the course of the year.  They went from barely matching pitch to singing credibly separate bass and tenor lines.  And with gusto, even! Listen to the lusty men’s solos on the Vivaldi!

Several people remarked afterward that this was the best Advanced Concert they had ever seen at Woodstock.  I don’t disagree, and I’m sad to say goodbye to all the seniors who carried the bulk of the load this year.

Dirait-on (Lauridsen) All Earth Rejoice with a Gladsome Voice (Vivaldi/Hopson) Down in the River to Pray (Hafso) The Storm is Passing Over (Tindley) Some Nights (fun.)

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Salads of Woodstock: a photo essay of culinary near misses

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The second biggest development this semester at Woodstock concerns the addition of a salad bar in the cafeteria.  Our new principal has been very eager to improve the dining experience at Woodstock, both in terms of taste and nutrition.  It’s made a huge difference for us–and apparently for many other people–to have fresh vegetables for us to “make own salad”.  For the first time since we came here, lunch offers something delicious and possibly even good for you nearly every day.

Last semester, however, was a different story. Food Services began experimenting with various salads, but instead of including a make own salad option to complement the main course, there would be no salads for weeks, followed by a meal featuring 6 different salads and no main course.  And they were strange concoctions with names like “cold meat salad”, the contents of which stretched the very definition of the word “salad”. It was like the kitchen staff had never seen or tasted a real salad, but were simply trying to create them based on verbal descriptions that had been run through google translate. Any combination of veggies, meats and starches will do: simply put them together in a pan and call it a salad!

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the recipe for “american sweet corn salad”:
1) put sweet corn into serving dish
2) serve as “american sweet corn salad”
3) can also be served as “german sweet corn salad” or “bolivian sweet corn salad”

this "chicken caser salad" is similar to a chicken caesar salad, except the caesar salad has lettuce.

this “chicken caser salad” is similar to a chicken caesar salad, except without lettuce or caesar dressing.

this tasty medley of processed meats (spam, bacon, sausage) is garnished by spam-flavored iceberg lettuce.

this tasty medley of processed meats (spam, bacon, sausage) is served in a greasy pan, garnished by spam-flavored iceberg lettuce.

The bacon was delicious as always but the german potatoes kept encroaching on the tray of polish sausages next door.

The bacon was delicious as always but the german potatoes kept encroaching on the tray of polish sausages next door.

this seems like a salad that lindsey bluth would make.

this seems like a salad that lindsay bluth would make.

this tasty salad featured cabbage floating in a mysterious brown juice.

this tasty salad featured cabbage floating in a mysterious brown juice.

worms!

worms!

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Ek Tha Bethraham: time to pick out a dress for the emmys

Some of you didn’t believe it when we said that we were conquering Indian media.  Well, the proof is out, and as these clips attest, I (abe) am this generation’s Keanu Reeves, though with a slightly better wardrobe.

For any of these clips, you can scan through with your cursor to see the parts that we’re in. Here we are awkwardly answering questions about the murder of the Rani (a wealthy lady in town). Scenes start at 7:50 and 15:45:

Here we are carrying a fake baby while awkwardly answering questions on the murder of the Rani. Scene starts at 11:40:

In this scene I have inexplicably donned an indoor scarf, and we are doing what white missionaries ALWAYS do: sit around the house playing guitar and singing christmas carols. Scene starts at 3:15:

Here is my Hindi line in all it’s glory.  I showed this to some Indian students and they thought it was hilarious, mostly because I conjugated it as if I were female. Scene starts at 6:40:

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Valentines 2013: how to get your own private restaurant

For Valentine’s day this year we decided to go out to dinner, which is something of a rarity for us.  I surprised Bethany by taking her on a very cold scooter ride down to Jaypee, which is the THE luxury hotel in Mussoorie. We were so into each other that we felt like the only ones in the room.  Oh wait, we were the only ones in the room.

Now, winter is the offseason in these parts, which may explain the sparse crowd at Jaypee.  We felt like we had the entire sprawling restaurant to ourselves.  Oh wait, we did.

Despite the desolation, the food was excellent.  The band was even better.  It was like they were playing only for us.  Oh wait, they were.  Check out this romantic tune:

And another even more romantic one (provided you overlook the death by drowning in icy waters):

Finally, a very lonely looking Bethany makes a cameo:

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Activity Week 2012: Bangalore

Every year, Woodstock sends all the senior school students out for an activity week during fall semester.  Typically they go on treks or visit villages or do service projects.  Seniors get to plan their own activity week activities and this year we were asked to chaperone a group of 10 seniors to Bangalore. Yejin’s mother runs a ministry there, so we went to help with their after school program.  And also to shop and visit theme parks.

If you ask us, the best part of the trip (aside from working with kids, making a difference, serving the poor, blah blah blah) was eating American-sized portions of Korean food. 

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Chaperoning this group was quite easy and we enjoyed seeing Bangalore.  It was a good opportunity to get to know this promising and musical group of seniors a bit more before they graduated.  Yejin’s mother runs a ministry in the city through a neighborhood church which involves after-school activities for neighborhood kids, meals, clothing swaps and other community outreach.  It really felt like a very healthy, constructive operation and we were impressed with the people running it, who were almost all young single men and one middle-aged Korean woman.

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One day we took the church van out to a very small town (village) outside of town.  The church has an ongoing relationship and ministry with this particular village and frequently comes out to preach and do activities with the kids.  We played games in the adjacent field with a very spirited group of children.

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At one point a drunkard appeared, staggered along the sideline, passed out and fell into a bush. He didn’t move the entire afternoon.

After games, lunch arrived in a giant tub and was served to all with a small shovel.

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