Saturday, September 13, 2014

Creature is Coming!

My oldest sister is about to have a baby. And I cannot stop thinking about it. My excitement has spread into curiosity and giant enveloping clouds of love for this unborn kid we all lovingly call Creature

Here's the thing: I know nothing about pregnancy. Babies. Toddlers. Parenthood. Nothing. Zilch. But somehow, I have this feeling--this calmness that what is about to happen is perhaps the most magical thing in the world. Although I know Sam and Kelly anxiously await the day they can hold this beloved creature in their arms, I can't help but revel in these last remaining days. Safely and uncomfortably tucked away, that creature is awaiting the biggest shock of its life. And all we can do as its community, is hope we are prepared to catch him or her with soft and strong arms and a reassuring voice. Help eachother with a fumble, but most importantly, be the best cheerleaders, shouting with abandon that we know they can do this. 

I think having a baby--starting a family as Sam and Kelly have chosen to do--is an incredibly private thing. It seems like the biggest decision, and one not to be taken for granted. But since it's all just one giant 75-year-long science experiment, filled with trial and error and the best intentions, I know that regardless of the number of books they've read, people they've talked to, counselors they've relied on, they are probably internally panicking. And so, from my 22-year-old, childlike stool, I offer them the only thing I really can: words of love. 

To Kelly and Sam: 
When I saw you a few weeks ago, Kelly, I almost didn't recognize you. No-it wasn't the creepy disappearing belly button, or the balloon stuffed under your dress, but it was the calmness of your presence. You are a type-A, pretty anxious human being. But on your face was an expression that I've only ever seen on your wedding day. The calmness that you KNOW this is right. I know you feel bloated, and uncomfortable, and you're tired of shaving your legs in swift short strokes with big huffs of air in the middle. 

I know you're wishing you could sleep through the next few days and just hold that creature. I know you're internally picturing it with cute little kid glasses in a few years, and maybe anticipating the talk you'll have to give them after they get picked on for being the smartest kid in the classroom. [I'm sensing a future Jeopardy champion. Or at least FLBC trivia champion]. But holy shit, Kelly. You are the most beautiful pregnant woman I have ever seen in my life. Strangers come up to you. But you've always been humble, and probably don't believe their compliments. But please, take this from me, that calmness and that glowing-skin-bologne they talk about is real. Cause I've seen it. And I know that it is only because you possess the calmness, buried deep under the worries and questions, that make me know you are going to be such an incredible friend, role model, and mother to this lucky kid. 

I am so so so excited to have a first row seat to this show. I am really only just a cheerleader. But I promise to babysit that creature anytime you're tired of changing diapers, and any time you really want to just put on your stilettos and a maxi dress and go eat cheese with your husband. More than any other small favor that any good friend or sister would offer, however, I promise to reassure you. Whenever you need it. Because even during the times when you forget that calmness on your face, or when you've convinced yourself that you weren't cut out for this, I promise to remind you of what I see. What I know to be true. You, my sister, were made to do this. And not in the weird, esoteric sense that women were created to bear children, but in the sense that you were made to build people up. To make them into the best people they can be. You do it every day with every one of your students. You do it with your family, and your lucky friends. You do it with your husband. You've done it with me for 22 years. And now, you're going to do it to this kid. You're going to reason with it, and discipline it, and yell at it, and be generous with it, and learn from it. And I get to watch the whole thing. 

Now Sam. Our journey is a little less of a roller coaster, a little shorter, and a little more concentrated. Concentrated with the likes of fish sauce and Saturday waffles. It seems over the last four years, ever time I've come home, I've been nursing some sort of a broken heart or an emotional crisis. And it seems every time I come home, you are more and more brotherly, supportive, grounded, understanding. Without saying anything to me specifically about my current crises, you make me feel so incredibly loved. Held. Supported. Safe. I will never ever forget the day that I couldn't quite seem to get anything done. My heart felt the heaviest it ever had, the tears really wouldn't stop brimming from my eyes, and so you posted up next to the fridge. And started pouring fish sauce into your mouth. I will never understand what possessed you to do that. But I will never forget how I laughed and how I thought to myself-- "My brother in law is way too selfless." 

You didn't choose me, and you certainly can't get ride of me, but I choose you. Not just to be my sisters husband, but to be my brother, to be my friend, and to be that steady, fish-sauce-drinking supportive member of my inner circle. Sam--you've had such a big impact on our Hughes family. You have provided more stability and lightness than I think you'll ever grasp. The respect you've earned from each one of us goes without saying, but the steady strong hand you've provided for my sister is the greatest gift. And now, you are going to do that for your creature. I think it may be best to steer clear of fish sauce unless it is an extremely dire situation (first broken heart, maybe?). The days that you don't see it, know that I certainly do. I know that the loving, generous, and selfless manner with which you approach life is extremely rare. And that kid is so lucky to have someone to teach it about the second amendment and about cooking--two things we both know most certainly wont come from your wife. 

I love you both so much. I am here in every sense of the word. I couldn't be more excited for what is coming--but this moment right now is pretty precious. Because absolutely nothing is certain beyond the fact that you two are going to be such incredible parents. I can't wait to watch your family grow!


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The sun is stronger in the south

You told me I was getting sunburned. I looked down at my normally pale skin and saw the tinge of pink. I couldn't disagree. I got up to search for shade. You led me across the beach to two chairs. You gave me the one covered with the shade of the umbrella. Within a few moments, we were wading out into the ocean. Far away, the water had appeared as clear and beautiful as the blue sapphire on my ring. But up close, I saw the seaweed, the dirt, and sand, being washed up with the plunge of each wave. It was more powerful than it had appeared from the safe shores of the beach. 

We kept swimming out. Soon, it was just our shoulders bobbing on top of the water. Floating there with you arms reach away, I let something go. I couldn't tell at the time, but as minutes turned into hours, I let myself crack open. I let you crack me open. Your questions showed me that you really wanted to know. And I talked. Nonstop, I told you everything. Of my nonprofit culinary school dream, of my life growing up with an artist and a teacher as parents, of the impossibility of my life in college.

I kept looking at you, to see if you were there. You were listening. Still. And then you told me your stories. We traded, back and forth for hours. You told me about your father, and how you took him dancing. You told me about your months training in Nigeria. About the strained relationship between your mother and your father. And the more you spoke, the more rare you became. Each sentence further solidifying your existence as the most gentle and kind soul I had ever come across. But you were so familiar. You told me about your dreams. Not of being a doctor, or a lawyer. But of having a strong family. A simple house. Your dreams of making things, and growing things, and living a life connected to the land and the people around you. 

And I nearly cried. Because every word you spoke was one I had been repeating in my head for the last several months. It was the same. We were the same. It was so uncanny--that our paths had been brought together from opposite corners of the world. We were never supposed to meet. But we did. Why? Perhaps this is the beauty in our situation. We don't have answers to the questions of why, how, what, or when. We have only the feeling of something inexplicable. Of a connection forged so strongly and so quickly with someone I was never even supposed to meet. 

It was more powerful than it had appeared from the safe shores of the beach. 
This photo was not taken in Mexico. But it was taken in Yosemite. 

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Hooked on a Feeling

I go through whiplash as I step down off the bus, the sun making my tired eyes squint. I notice first and foremost, the salty scent lingering in the air. Second is the wonderful sensation of sun touching my skin, but most importantly is just the feeling of someone simultaneously sucking any bad, negative energy out of the top of my head, while my feet absorb the goodness in the soil. I experience my own form of culture shock each day. From the fast paced, technology laced Silicon Valley where I wander around an adult-playground all day for work, to the laid back mountain-ocean vibes of my new home. And each day when I step off that bus, I breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that with no research, little time, no familiarity, and zero rhyme or reason, I made one of the best decisions of my life when I chose to move to Santa Cruz.

It is a scary thing to pick up everything and anything you know, fill your car with what few meaningful material belongings you possess, and move to an entirely new place. Alone. With no motives. With no reason. Only because of a feeling.

I am pragmatic, and meticulous, and logical. I like order, and routine, and knowing my surroundings. So when I got my job in the Valley, it would have made sense to pick an apartment within biking distance of Google. Or maybe just a short drive. But instead, I commute three hours each day. I wake up at 5:30 am. All so I can live in this place about which I know virtually nothing.

I wander the beaches, the streets, the grocery stores. I begin building this routine out of nothing. Making eye contact with people who I know are tapped in. Those looks exchanged are worth everything. And that feeling that I can't quite articulate. It is enough. In fact, it is plenty--filled with abundance. And this place I live, well it's not too hard on the eyes either.

So for now, I stumble around, clamoring for that community and those touchstones that make me feel grounded. Grabbing on to them for dear life. Because well, this life is pretty precious, but it's pretty damn scary to do it alone.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Dining Solo

The reason I want to be a chef has very little to do with the food. Although I love the therapeutic nature of prepping vegetables, the sound of a simmering pot of herbs and stock, the smell of roasting garlic, these are all merely the side effects of preparing a really good meal. The real substance in cooking, for me, lies in the connection it provides between people. Food is the catalyst for all powerful things in life, most importantly, it acts as a catalyst for bringing individuals from all walks of life to trade the physical and metaphorical powers of breaking and sharing bread together.

So I was shocked to realize that one of my favorite things is to eat alone. In the last two months of my life, I've found myself in the presence of crowds, with incredible food, ambiance, and people--enjoying a meal entirely by myself. Rather than feel lonely, this solo dining experience has taken me to a new level of appreciation for the true nourishment of a meal enjoyed with all five senses.

When I took a spontaneous solo trip to Tulum, Mexico, I ate dinner alone each night. It was the highlight of every day. I took advantage of having 4 hours, free to myself to enjoy food, music, and the strangers with whom I shared smiles, drinks, and conversation. I walked through the gates of Hartwood each night, smiling to myself as I looked across the courtyard. Couples and families gathered around small tables, with nothing but candlelight to illuminate their meals. They laughed, they kissed, they traded stories. And I got to just soak it all up. I got to be on every family vacation, every honeymoon, and every wedding party. Because I ate alone. And I got the benefits of feeling nourished from the buzz of conversation. I was so present during those meals. Not once checking my phone, or wishing I could skip straight ahead to dessert or my post-dinner beach walk. No. I carefully cut each small bite of pork tenderloin, taking special attention to get the appropriate ratio of kale-to-meat-to-sauce. And it was so damn good. It took eating alone to really feel full. 

After this romantic solo-getaway, I took the tradition with me. Each week, I have at least one solo brunch or dinner date with myself. Sometimes I am starving, and I want to rush through the meal. But I stop myself. I move in slow motion. I cut a bite. I set my knife down. I take the bite. I close my eyes and savor. I taste, of course. I smell very carefully. I notice the texture of the food, the crunch, the cream, the buttery feeling of the food in my mouth. And I notice the sound of my surroundings. The clinking classes, the first dates, the birthday celebrations. 

Taking silence, and savoring those moments, memories, and morsels of food with yourself can be nourishing in a way I've never before experienced. The silence allows the food and experience to speak loudly and clearly.