Every Storm Runs Out of Rain

I remember starting this painting, though I couldn’t have told you the date until today.

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I knew what I wanted to do for my sister-in-law. Her dad was diagnosed with cancer. She loves Gary Allan and when I watched this the video for Every Storm Runs Out of Rain and saw this image and I knew.

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The canvas was huge. 36″ x 48″ and I wasn’t sure I could pull it off. I prayed I could because it was so very important to me to be able to offer my prayers this way. I worked on it for months. Slowly. I don’t know that I’ve ever been more intimated by a painting, yet I knew in my soul I had to do it.

I started it exactly one year ago tonight. March 7, 2013.

I finished it on January 6, 2014.

On January 6, Missy called to tell me her mom was going to talk to the nurses about taking her dad off of life support. I got off the phone with her, poured a fresh glass of wine and went to work. There was another blizzard in Northwest Indiana and my brother was out plowing. I was texting him pictures of my progress. Waiting to hear anything about Missy’s dad. I put the song on repeat and just worked. I sent my brother a picture of the words I’d painted on. He thought they were too big. So did I. I took them off and made them smaller and I liked it. I thought it was finished, so I took another picture and typed my message to my brother, but as I was moving my finger to the send button, Johnny called me. I answered it all chipper, “Hey! I was just texting you! The painting is finished.”

He was bawling.

And I broke down.

His father-in-law was gone.

The realization that he was taking his last breaths as I was making the last brushstrokes overtook me.

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I shared the picture on Facebook for my brother and sister-in-law. I said, “For my sister-in-law.” A friend who had no clue what had happened said, “Breathtaking.”

My brother responded, “You have no idea.”

And I lost it.

I was completely undone.

I tried to get to Indiana the next day to be with Missy. But–winter of 2014, she had another tantrum. Another blizzard. Impassible roads. I couldn’t get there until the next day, which happened to be sixth anniversary of my best friend’s death.

So much pain and death.

but Every Storm Runs Out of Rain

Right?

I finally got there. I felt pretty useless, but I tried. Then I went back to a month later for the memorial service. Another blizzard.

And another death.

One of my brother and sister-in-law’s best friends died the morning of the memorial service. Mike was a long-time friend of ours, as well. One of the most spiritual men I’ve ever met. He engaged in deep conversation from the minute he looked in your eyes. He knew so much more than was possible.

So much death and pain.

And today, just over a month after his passing, today is Mike’s birthday. March 7. One year ago today, I started the painting for Missy. I finished it as her dad was taking his last breaths. Mike died the morning of the memorial service. And I started the painting one year ago on his birthday.

I don’t even know how to begin processing this.

 

The Art of Listening

The first instance came between a death and the anniversary of a death. It arrived the day between these two days like a seedling popping up through the frosted ground.

Strong emotions are a burden to me. They’re foreign and messy. I’d rather be doing anything than sorting through them–even cleaning my toilets.  I was already feeling the sting of empathy for my sister-in-law who lost her father to cancer. I needed to get to her, to just be with her, and a stupid blizzard stopped me. The umpteenth blizzard this winter. My brother couldn’t be with her because he drives a city plow. I had to wait and it was awful.

It was in a box with many other gifts. “The Santa Brigade” came to us on January 7–God’s perfect timing. I didn’t know I’d slipped up, but I did. I don’t remember what or when I said something, but I mentioned only having small stockings for Christmas at our house because several photo shoots canceled at the last minute and I had been counting on them for gifts. Then this came–with an explanation that I’d helped raise money for people who needed it over the holiday season when I wasn’t putting gifts under our own tree.

I cried a lot. Phil cried when he opened the check that “tires” in the memo. Zane was thrilled. Everything in the box was so thoughtful, every gift meant something.

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This was in there, too. This Visual Prayer of my word for 2014. Painted and prayed over by a woman with an overflowing plate full of a season, while hosting an orphan from overseas who doesn’t even speak English, yet, there was time for her to paint and pray.

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I went to be with my brother and sister-in-law twice. The second time, just hours before her father’s memorial service, one of their best friends died unexpectedly, and I stayed longer.

I made it home for two days and another blizzard threatened to make plans difficult, which meant I had to leave sooner than first anticipated for a trip  with my friend, the one who made the first piece of art.

And then another piece of art came 36 days later.  I received it while in the presence of the woman who created the first piece of art for me, it from a woman who was used by God to give me a message about my mother’s death before I knew she was dying. A woman I spent a weekend with days before mom passed on. A woman who has prayed for me like none other.

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The first thing I noticed was how much these two women pray for me. The second is that I had spent considerable time with both of the women who created art for me, and the woman who put together The Santa Brigade–well, she has consistently gifted me with heartfelt art painted by her hand *and* she shares my mom’s birthday. I noticed that this all seemed to be near to people I love passing away. I noticed that I actually had women in my life who weren’t haven’t run away, even through some very ugly messes. And then I noticed that there are other women not mentioned in this story who have not run away.

Then I tried to figure out what I was supposed to hear in all of this. What is it that I’m supposed to listen to?

I don’t have the answer.

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I’m not good at not having answers. It’s about as uncomfortable as messy emotions are.

I’m also as good at listening as I am dealing with emotional issues. I don’t relate to many women, and the fact that right now, there are so very many that I can call on for support? It’s mind-boggling. All this death-art-emotion-friend-woman-love stuff jumbled up and spinning around my brain is exhausting.

I am loved

I love these women

and I am supposed to listen

but to what?

 

Authentic Czech-Slovak Gluten-Free Goulash

My mother’s family is Bohemian. My great-aunt Mary Skiba came over on the boat. We lived in a tight knit community where most of the neighbors shared our heritage. Growing up, I didn’t know that we ate different than others. When we went to church on Easter to have our food blessed, most people had the same items in their baskets. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized the richness of the Easter European culture I was raised in. Haluski, pierogi,  and Kolachy (prounounced hall-oosh-kee, pear-o-he and coe-lahtch-kee) were everyday words in my family.

We didn’t eat things from boxes. We cooked and we cooked a lot.

When I met my husband, worlds collided. He was from the south where grits, greens, and lots of spice and flavor lived. He thought my food was bland. Admittedly, it was.

He hated my mother’s goulash.

I didn’t know any better. But then I learned that of all the wonderful things my mother made, her goulash was indeed awful. She made it with ground beef, green pepper, pasta, and ketchup.

This recipe is dedicated to my husband who now likes my goulash and was very upset that I took it to the Goulash Cook Off in Czech Village. He was upset he only got one bowl and a bunch of strangers ate the rest. :). Much thanks goes to him for teaching me how to amp up my cooking, how to give my dishes depth, and how to use herbs and spices beyond salt and pepper.

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Mich’s Gluten-Free Goulash

2-3lb beef roast (venison can also be used, or a mixture)
Paprika (a mixture of smoked and Hungarian)
Coconut oil or bacon grease (I used a little of both)
a few good sized yellow onions
a head of roasted garlic
a few roasted peppers, I used a green pepper, a red pepper, a couple of Hungarian peppers, and a couple jalapeno peppers
My secret ingredient: a pint of home-canned roasted New Mexico Hatch chile peppers (if you don’t have these, you can add a can of green chiles. The flavor won’t be exactly like mine, but it will still be good)
2 quarts of tomatoes (I used fresh from the garden, peeled tomatoes, but will substitute my homegrown and home-canned tomatoes when fresh aren’t available)
2 quarts beef stock (I make my own so store bought broth can be substituted, but again, it will change the flavor drastically)
Fresh ground caraway seeds
Marjoram
Cayenne pepper
Pink Himalayan salt
Fresh ground black pepper

**note** I’ve linked to techniques like searing meat, roasting peppers, roasting g

arlic, etc… just in case you don’t know how to do those things. Don’t get intimidated, they’re all very simple, but take a little time. This makes a very large batch, enough to freeze for those days when you just can’t cook. Quart freezer bags work wonderful and take up very little space. Cut the recipe in half if you don’t want to freeze some for later.

 

1. Cube the roast, coat it in paprika, melt a couple tablespoons of oil, and sear the meat. (Searing means cooking it at a higher temperature and browning the outside, leaving the inside uncooked.) As the small batches are finished, put them into a stew pot.

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2. While you’re working on searing all that meat, roast your peppers and garlic.

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3.  Once all the meat is finished searing, in the same pan add a little more oil and caramelize the onions.

4.  Put the onions into the stew pot and deglaze the meat/onion pan with some stock. Pour all of that yummy goodness into the stew pot.

5. Add the rest of the ingredients. I like caraway seeds, so I crush them in my mortar and pestle and I add a tablespoon or so. You might like less. Same with the marjoram.

 

6.  Add the remaining ingredients to the stew pot, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a low simmer for a few hours (until the meat is tender and falling apart and does not need to be cut with a knife.)

This picture below shows the pot of goulash as well as a pot of potatoes boiling. I tried to make potato dumplins to eat with the goulash because a real serving of goulash needs some bread dumplings. But I’m gluten free, so I tried potatoes. They did not work well, I ended up smashing them and making fried potato pancakes. Now that was good. Today, I made another batch of goulash and ate it over brown rice. That was also satifying.

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Rooted {Listen to Your Mother}

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The barren branches of a mature lilac bush shiver as winter’s breath exhales on them. From the warm and peaceful place inside our new home where I sip my coffee I see them.

Stripped down.

Fragile leaves and blooms gone. Awaiting spring.

Thick branches crossing over one another. Roots unseen stand through the bitter cold.

I used to believe my mom was a weak woman.

Physical, emotional, and spiritual abuse by many different men in my young years ripped through my innocence like rain on tissue paper. She was supposed to be my umbrella. Big and obvious. Shielding and protecting, not folded up in the corner.

I didn’t want to be a girl. I wanted to play football and tackle. Play Army and shoot. In fourth grade, I shoved my knee hard into the boys because I knew where to hurt them so I could watch them fold over, cower, and cry. I wanted to be a truck driver. I refused to wear dresses, and she knew why.

When I watched the 1985 Chicago Bears Superbowl, she said to me, “Girls don’t watch sports.” I never did figure out who she wanted me to be. I just knew it was never who I was, so I stopped trying to please her and everyone else, and I took the sopping wet and torn tissue paper life and recycled it into something more like a cardboard shipping tube.

And I ran.

Away from that life and dysfunction. I met a gorgeous cowboy driving a semi in a traffic jam. I became a truck driver. A couple months later I ran away with him to a new life, a new state, a new family. I learned to stop hurting boys.

Mom called regularly. We made fun of her for always asking what we were making for dinner. I taught my husband Slovak cuisine handed down from my mother, the only part of my heritage I wanted anything to do with.

She visited often. Then I had a boy. She stayed with me after his birth because my husband was still over the road, only home only one out of every twenty-nine days. She hated pictures of herself, and except for a few of my newborn photos, I don’t have a single image of the two of us. She let me take a few of her with my boy, though.

We fell on hard financial times soon after, and mom welcomed us back into her home. I hated being there. Failure washed over me. I did nothing but work to get out of there. Just like before. And I did. I got as far away as I could.

She visited often. And called to ask what we were making for dinner.

Then doctors found a five-centimeter brain tumor on Dad’s birthday. She had brain surgery on their thirty-ninth wedding anniversary, and she could no longer talk, and she tried to write notes but strung all her words together into one big long word, then just letters and numbers and then she was dead in eight weeks.

It wasn’t until then that I realized how constant, consistent, and predictable she was.

The deep roots of her love are like the veins and arteries of my heart pumping, beating, giving life. The branches of her love, even when exposed and bloomless in winter’s grasp, still reached out and survived. The lilac blooms of her love, the ones that happen quick and fade fast but are full of fragrance–that was her laughter.

I started to see how fiercely she loved. How her protection wasn’t in the fight, but the hearty nature through harsh climate, the slow and steady growth of downward roots and outstretched branches, the expected budding, the hopeful blooms.

I don’t have her to run away from anymore and I find myself running toward things. I make art now to speak the words my soul can’t bear saying. I take pictures of expecting mothers who are full of joy and full of baby. I take picture of moms who smiling lovingly at newborn wrinkles because my mom’s frown in all the photos I possess hurts my heart. I take pictures of families and of moms and daughters so that the daughter will have at least one photo of her and her mom to cling to because I don’t. I try to fix things for people who don’t even know and will one day silently thank God for it.

She didn’t physically visit my last house. And she won’t physically visit this new one. But this old lilac bush will soon be full with lush greenness and spotted with purple cascades that have waited out the harshest winter and it will inhale the warmth of a new season.

{restore} I’m back

Some of you know me as a writer/editor, some know me as a visual artist.

I haven’t done any significant writing or editing since the summer of 2010 when my mom passed away. I sat in her hospital room daily working on final edits for my first foray as Editor-in-Chief.

After it went to print and after just a small bit of promotion, I dropped the gig. It was too much. I had too many responsibilities and too many people to be accountable for and I could barely be accountable for myself.

I was proud of it. One story was given an honorable mention for The Year’s Best Horror (Box by Dan Keohane.) Other Editor’s Choice winners have gone on to book deals and awards and very rewarding writing careers. My (graduated) intern is working at a division of Hachette in New York City, my other (graduated) intern is working on staff at Willowcreek South Barrington. So much good came out of this one little thing.

But it was too much at the time.

Then the art happened.  And flourished. Wow it just explode or what?! So I’ve been focusing on that since 2010.

A couple weeks ago an opportunity was presented to me and I immediately said, “No way.” Then things happened rather quickly and I found myself in a position of no longer being able to say no.

So. The official news is I’m back…I’m the new (again) Editor-in-Chief of The Midnight Diner. I’m assembling a team, working on strategy, examining changes that need to be made, brainstorming what the future will look like, setting goals, and being nervous!!!!

When I chose {restore} as my word for 2013, I hadn’t an inkling of a clue that I’d come back to writing, editing, and publishing.

Wow.

And yes, I’m as shocked as you are.

Insecurity, Trucks, Planes, Trains, and Labyrinths

Dream last night. I was at a party in Florida taking pics. I took a bunch of the people there and someone asked me how long it would be until they would see them and I told them a few days.

We were all sitting outside and the sun started setting. I pointed to it and told this guy I dated in high school to turn around and look, it was purple. He wouldn’t. Then someone else sat down and said the same thing and he looked and said he thought I was lying. I was upset he thought I was lying.

I got up to get a beer from inside the house. I went to the front deck and sat down and took some pics of the sunset and this baby crawled up and went to sleep on me. I took him to his parents.

I sat in a booth with DiNozzo from NCiS and he was waiting for this girl to get there. It was getting late and he was flirting with me and then she show up with an autographed baseball shaped coffee mug worth millions. He completely ignored me and focused on her.

I was sad that nobody liked me or looked forward to seeing me so I got in a pickup and drove to the airport (in Houston LOL) there was a weird labyrinth thing people were walking through and I couldn’t figure out how they got in. I climbed to the top where there was a very small platform with toy trains and Legos on it but I had to crawl instead of walk because it was so compact. I climbed down and then finally asked someone how to get in and these two nice guys started to tell me when a woman came running by us screaming that her scarf was yanked off her and got caught in the turning labyrinth platform and it was ruined. The airport people shut it down, got her scarf and turned it back on. The two guys led me through and then we sat down in movie theater chairs (kinda but like a huge couch) and they told me this is where we wait to vote. And we waited.

Uhm. Ok? LOL