Monday, October 26, 2015


I married Alexi fifteen years ago, on the last day of daylight savings time. It was a typical October day, like this one. The air was sharp; the sky was vast and blue. I carried a bouquet with the last of the dahlias. Our friend Steve’s band played at the reception, and there was cider, and there were paperwhite bulbs in little glasses to take home. I was thirty and in my first year of graduate school. My sister was pregnant with my niece, who started high school last month. Our grandparents were still alive.

We didn't know if we would be able to have children, because I’d had chemotherapy for breast cancer, and it sometimes interferes with fertility. But two years later, there was Abbott, and two years after that, Cal came screaming into the world.

For our first anniversary – the paper anniversary – I had our wedding vows framed. They hang in our bedroom; a reminder of what the whole thing is about, beyond the bed we share. We promised to learn love like a profession; to communicate; to listen; to support one another’s dreams; to prioritize our family first and to be enthusiastic parents. We didn’t know, then, what a lot of it really meant, but we knew were committed for the long haul, regardless what the future held.

We didn’t know I’d get cancer again five years into our marriage, or learn I was born with an abnormal BRCA1 gene that predisposes me to breast and ovarian cancer. Before we were married, we had already been through cancer together, but when it happened again, we had a one and a three year old, and sticking by each other wasn’t the hard thing. It was tolerating the dishes in the sink and the toys on the floor when I got home from chemotherapy. The ongoing commitment has been in understanding and in making myself understood. We got through it, and a series of preventive surgeries to keep me alive, and I’ve been cancer-free for ten years now. I suspect there will always be things we will have to try to figure out together in one way or another, but I hope the next fifteen years are less eventful.

I have come to appreciate the redemptive power in little things; something Alexi already understood at the time of our wedding. When he toasted me at our reception, he recounted a morning when he was due to change departments within radiology, as he did every month of his residency. The transitions were always stressful for him, and on the particular morning he described, I got up first and made lattés, and brought his to him in bed. It was a special treat for him, he said, given that latté making was usually his role. When it seemed he was still not ready for the day, I offered him mine, and then I offered to drive him home. Usually he walked the mile or so between our apartments. It was out of our routine and he described it as a generous act in his time of need. “People tend to think of generosity in a time of need as something more along the lines of giving up a last sip of water while lost in the middle of the desert, but that’s heroism,” he said. “Lecia recognized that I was having difficulty when I didn’t see it, and she adapted. The generosity I’m talking about exists moreso in the realm of the mundane. In those small daily actions when it would be easy to say, ‘You’re not tired until you die,’ ‘If it doesn’t bleed it doesn’t hurt,’ and so on. Generosity lies in the small things in life. It’s the daily glue that holds us together.’ ”

I’m glad that we took that leap of faith, and have been together for the heartbreaks and losses, the successes and indescribable joys the years have held.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

something special

I have something special for you today.

Since we last spoke, I’ve watched a dozen hockey practices and games, navigated a corn maze, seen this excellent movie, read Elena Ferrante’s outstanding series, and baked an applesauce cake. I watched a ladybug make its way along the window as I put it together. I want to pass along the recipe, because I think you’ll love it. The addition of honey and cardamon really make it special. It tastes like October, and it comes together in no time. It’s simple enough that you don’t need an occasion to make it. It’s icing-free, and not too sweet. Eat it for dessert with whipped cream, for breakfast, for an afternoon snack.

Applesauce Cake
adapted from Martha Stewart

3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 ¼ teaspoons ground cardamom
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups packed light brown sugar
¼ cup honey
2 large eggs
2 cups applesauce, either homemade or, if store-bought, chunky applesauce
Nonstick cooking spray
Confectioners' sugar (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Generously coat a nonstick 9-inch tube pan with cooking spray.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and cardamom. Set aside.

With an electric mixer, beat the butter, brown sugar, and honey until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until combined. With the mixer on low speed, gradually add the flour mixture; beat until just combined. Beat in the applesauce on low speed until just combined.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pan; smooth the top. Bake until a cake tester inserted in the middle comes out clean (but slightly wet), 55-65 minutes.

Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Turn out of the pan onto a cutting board or baking sheet; invert cake onto rack, top side up. Cool completely. Dust with confectioners' sugar before serving, if you like.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

doing our living

We’re in autumn with both feet, though by midafternoon the windows are wide open. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to the surprise of heat we get late in the day throughout most of the fall, here. I did my trick-or-treating in moon boots when I was a kid.

After dropping the boys at school I come home to a quiet house, and before long I turn on the oven. These days I live by the clock, and the calendar; I have to plan at least five moves ahead. I make filling meals hours in advance to help mitigate the inevitable hustle and bustle and emotion of our afternoons and evenings. This past week I sautéed eggplant that we ate in baked pasta; I made a corn chowder; I roasted brussels sprouts with chickpeas.

The first round of germs from school have hit us. The other day Cal was home and he helped me make chili, and then cornbread, despite how unwell he felt, and in spite of his dislike of chili. It takes a certain amount of fortitude to watch him wield a knife, use a heat source. But he likes doing anything I’m doing, even if it means making something he knows he doesn’t like to eat, and he’s gotten skilled enough that he is truly a help.

I spend these fall days cheering on the kids; driving everyone wherever they need to go; providing moral support for the lab reports and essays that must be written, the Spanish and violin that need practicing. As I come and go at both ends of the day, I notice the glow of various lights on in neighbor’s houses. Just as we inhabit our own home, lights glowing, doing our living within these comforting walls.

Baked Orzo with Mozzarella and Oregano
Slightly adapted from Plenty More by Yotam Ottolenghi

I love this. I never would have thought of adding fresh oregano, or lemon zest, both of which work so well in this dish. And the base of carrots, celery and onion gives it a nice depth. I cut back a bit on the amount of carrots and celery called for in the original recipe.

If you don’t have fresh oregano, use half the amount of dried oregano.

7 tbsp/100 ml olive oil
l large eggplant, cut into ¾ inch dice

3 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 2/3 inch dice
3 medium celery stalks, cut into 2/3 inch dice
1 medium onion, finely diced
3 garlic cloves, crushed
9 ounces (250 grams) orzo, rinsed

1 teaspoon (6 grams) tomato paste

1 2/3 cups (380 ml) vegetable stock

3 tablespoons fresh oregano, chopped

grated zest of one lemon

4 ounces (120 grams) mozzarella, cut into 1/3-inch dice

½ cup (40 grams) grated parmesan
3 medium tomatoes, cut into slices 1/3 inch thick
1 tsp dried oregano
salt and black pepper

Preheat your oven to 400°F.

Heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the oil and once the oil is shimmering, add the eggplant. Cook for 8 minutes, stirring the pieces occasionally, until golden brown. Using a slotted spoon or spatula, transfer the eggplant to paper towels to drain. Add the carrots and celery to the remaining oil and cook for 5 minutes, then add the onion and garlic. Cook together for 5 minutes, stirring often. Add the orzo and tomato paste and cook for two minutes more. Remove the pan from the heat. Add the stock, oregano, mozzarella, parmesan, eggplant, lemon zest, 1 teaspoon salt, and several grinds of black pepper. Mix well. Transfer the mixture to an 8×11-inch ovenproof baking dish. Arrange the tomato slices on top, then sprinkle with the dried oregano, ¼ teaspoon salt, and a grind of black pepper.

Bake for 40 minutes, until the liquid has been absorbed and the pasta is cooked through. Let rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Yield: 4 servings

Thursday, September 24, 2015

September 24

Some months ago, someone I went to high school with posted a picture of his sophomore year’s basketball team on Facebook. It was followed by a water cooler conversation about that magical, undefeated season; the coach; how hard they had worked that year and how satisfying the experience had been; how the lessons they learned then have stayed with them. The basketball coach was also the cross-country coach, and I remembered the thread of conversation about him as I stood in the sharp autumnal air at Abbott’s cross-country meet earlier this week. When I got home, I found and re-read that string of comments; dozens of them.

Coach was by far the best influence on me in school, he ran the xcountry team too and ran us to death, but it paid off. I don’t remember ever getting out ran by any team; we were always the fastest team.


He didn't take any whining, ran the hell out of us, and most importantly he laced up his sneakers. He was unstoppable back then and probably still is. And if you elbowed him, he'd give it right back! And he liked to talk some trash out there too. Best coach I ever!


We had the advantage of that huge dark gym back then too with the weird rubber floor! By the time the other team figured out which of the 100 lines on the floor were the bball court lines we had a big lead!

I wonder if Abbott will remember middle school cross-country and how he ran in the crisp golden afternoons when he’s a middle-aged man with traces of gray in his hair; if he’ll recall the goal-setting his coach taught him to do, the conversations with his friends during the practices, when everything was showered in sunlight.