A couple of weeks ago, the students in the memoir writing class that I just finished in the UW Extension Writers Program had a public reading at the UW Bookstore. For the reading, I reworked a piece that I wrote early in the year. Before taking this class, I had trouble writing multiple drafts. My teacher, Laura Kalpakian, and my classmates have, through their regular critiques of my work, helped me learn about that part of the writing process. Here’s the piece that I read:

When Paul and I married seven years ago, neither of us knew this sad truth: I can’t make a decent latte. Early in our marriage, Paul demonstrated, more than once, the process of transforming dark- roasted coffee beans and cold milk into a steaming, foamy, caffeinated treat. Standing by my side before the black and chrome contraption, he patiently guided me through the process of grinding, filling, tamping, steaming and pouring. The lessons did not take. Oh, I made a latte or two, but my lattes hissed and spit out of the espresso machine either too weak or too bitter. The barista who served me such a latte would not have been tipped.

One morning, when I requested Paul’s assistance with the espresso maker yet again, he exclaimed in frustration, “I don’t understand why you can’’t do this. You’’re good with machines… hell, you understand how most things work without reading the instructions. Do you have some sort of a brain injury?” This question, from the man whose pet name for me is Brains, struck me as absurdly funny. I burst out laughing, and Paul joined me. We stood in our kitchen, hugging each other, giggling.

My supposed ‘brain injury’ became a recurring joke. Paul would marvel that my injury had impaired only my ability to tamp grounds and steam milk. I would nod in agreement, and comment that the workings of the human brain are not fully understood by modern science.

Once my condition had been identified, Paul shouldered barista duty at our house. Each morning he would bring me a latte in bed. One of the small daily pleasures of my life was waking to the sound of my husband walking into our bedroom, singing this short verse:

Coffee drink delivery service
Coffee drink, if you are nervous
About how you’re going to wake.
Have yourself a coffee break.

In January of 2004, Paul was diagnosed with an oral cancer at the base of his tongue. The surgery to remove the tumor would be long and dangerous, the lasting effects on his speech and swallowing uncertain. A few days before surgery, Paul expressed concern about my morning lattes. “You won’t have coffee drink delivery while I’m in the hospital. What will you do? How will you wake up?” While his tone was light, I heard the dark thoughts and real questions beneath the surface of his words: How are you holding up? I’’m sorry I’’m putting you through this. Are you going to be OK?

I could answer the surface question easily. Finding coffee in Seattle is simple. The espresso bar in the hospital lobby could meet my needs while Paul was hospitalized. We have five coffee shops within as many blocks of our house. I would not suffer from lack of coffee.

I had no answers, simple or otherwise, for the unspoken questions. Too many unknowns waited on the other side of Paul’s surgery. Would he survive the surgery, and the cancer, or would I lose him? What toll would his illness and treatment take on him, and on our relationship? I believed that I was coping well, but I knew that might change. I didn’’t know whether I would be OK.

Several weeks after Paul’s surgery, I woke, feeling cold, in our still-dark bedroom. Pulling the down comforter up to my ears, I turned to snuggle up to Paul. The hand I extended landed not across his shoulder, but on soft, warm fur. In an instant, I went from half asleep to worried. Why was Paul up so early? He had been out of bed long enough that our cats had claimed the warm spot against his pillow. Was he feeling ill?

I was about to call out his name when I heard footsteps on the stairs, and caught a whiff of coffee. Relaxing under the comforter’’s warmth, I waited. Paul’s singing wasn’t elegant that morning, but it brought tears to my eyes. The latte was the best I’ve ever tasted, the love with which it was made almost visible in its foamy top.

Seven years ago today…

…Paul and I married. One of the readings at our wedding was this excerpt from Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s A Gift from the Sea:

A good relationship has a pattern like a dance and is built on some of the same rules. The partners do not need to hold on tightly, because they move confidently in the same pattern, intricate but gay and swift and free, like a country dance of Mozart’s. To touch heavily would be to arrest the pattern and freeze the movement, to check the endlessly changing beauty of its unfolding. There is no place here for the possessive clutch, the clinging arm, the heavy hand; only the barest touch in passing. Now arm in arm, now face to face, now back to back – it does not matter which. Because they know they are partners moving to the same rhythm, creating a pattern together, and being invisibly nourished by it.

The joy of such a pattern is not only the joy of creation or the joy of participation, it is also the joy of living in the moment. Lightness of touch and living in the moment are intertwined. One cannot dance well unless one is completely in time with the music, not leaning back to the last step or pressing forward to the next one, but poised directly on the present step as it comes. Perfect poise on the beat is what gives good dancing its sense of ease, of timelessness, of the eternal.

A cookie while you wait?

Paul will be writing something about the lovely party that we had on Sunday. Lots of friends, lots of laughter, lots of chocolate; I certainly had a good time. While you wait for the funny, thoughtful missive that you are no doubt expecting from Paul, would you care for a cookie?

Many people do not think of pepper when they think of chocolate. Central Americans have have been combining chocolate, cinnamon and pepper for centuries, to great effect. These Mexican Chocolate Icebox Cookies were served alongside brownies with crystallized ginger, a gorgeous dark chocolate mousse, and some lovely chocolate-filled cookies baked by Anita. It was a real land-o-chocolate in our dining room. Sadly, I didn’t photograph the whole spread before inviting people to dig in.

We’re having a party!

Note: This post will stay at the top until the party. There may be other new stuff below… please scroll down.

Save the date: Sunday, February 27, 2005. 2-6 p.m.

That’s the anniversary of Paul’s surgery, and it’s time for a party that he’ll be awake for, too. Come thirsty; we’ll have lots of juice and IBP (Instant Breakfast Plus). And we’ll be serving the last few cans of Space Food, which we’ve been saving for a special occasion. Chilled with a nice slug of rum? Eggnog has nothing on this. Or steamed for a festive Space Food latte; it’s your choice.

Oh, and how could I forget CHOCOLATE, which was such an important part for me of this day last year! There will be chocolate… lots of chocolate. The form of this chocolate has not yet been determined, but it it will be dark, it will be good, and it will be plentiful.

More details to follow.

One year ago today… and today

At this time, one year ago today, Paul had already been in surgery for two hours. He would be in surgery for ten more.

At this time, one year ago today, I was sitting in the surgical waiting room at the University of Washington Medical Center. As places to spend a day worrying go, the UW waiting room was quite nice. It’s a lovely room, located on a corner of the building, with full height windows providing southerly views onto gardens, trees and the ship channel beyond. Soft chairs and love seats are arranged in conversational areas, tables with chairs provide a place to eat or write. A long work surface with data ports provides internet access, and there’’s a large desk on which sits the all-important telephone connecting the room to the operating rooms. I was the first person there, so I had my choice of location. I picked a spot near the corner of the two window walls, from which I could see both the gardens and the door.

At this time, one year ago today, I had already sent a short blog post out to our friends and family. This is part of what it said:

After weeks of actively gathering information and making choices about Paul’s treatment, we’ve reached the point where, at least for today, it’s out of our hands. This experience feels like an amusement park we didn’t choose to visit. The past few weeks were the bumper cars; we could make decisions, and try to choose a direction, but we never knew when or from where the next jolt was coming. And now we’ve gotten on the roller coaster. We’re strapped in, and heading up that first long incline. Clack, clack, clack. Once we reach the top, gravity takes over. We can decide whether to scream or laugh, hold our hands up in the air or hang on for dear life. Clack, clack, clack…

At this time, one year ago today, I sat alone, sipping a latte, waiting for my parents and friends to arrive and keep me company through the rest of a very long day.

At this time, today, one year later, I sit at my computer, sipping the latte that Paul just brought me. Paul is in our bedroom, reading the Sunday NY Times. I can hear him talking to one of our cats. He is – knock on wood, god willing and every other cliched, hopeful, superstitious phrase one might use here – free of cancer. He is still adjusting to the persistent, and perhaps permanent, effects of the surgery on his body. Things are a little better every day.

In a few hours, one year later, we’re having a party. Although my parents won’t be here, a number of the friends who sat with me last year will be. On that day, they brought me chocolate; this year, I am baking chocolate treats for them.

Most importantly, one year later, Paul is still here, and will be by my side when our friends arrive to celebrate that with us.

Good Day Sunshine

Last Sunday afternoon was gloriously sunny, but cold. The cats availed themselves of the patch of sun in our bedroom. Light, shade, shadow and happy cats – I grabbed my camera. Today’s another bright cold day, making a lie of the idea that it rains all the time here.

Lyra in Sunlight

Sergei Sunning

Sasha’s Stripes


When we had the house painted… hmmm… three years ago, we took down the small, ugly house numbers that were adjacent to our front door. Since then, we’ve been looking for house numbers that we like. The difficulty was in finding a font in which we liked the particular numerals in our street number. You’d be surprised how many fonts with otherwise nice numerals have a really dorky “1” or oddly proportioned “0”.

In the meantime, we’ve had a house number “plaque” that Paul made using a sheet of 8.5×11 paper, a black Sharpie pen and tape. The numbers were really quite nice, but the materials not particularly durable.

Over Thanksgiving weekend, we finally found house numbers that we liked. My parents gave them to us for Christmas. Really, they gave us the money with which to buy them, and it took us several weeks to get down to the store to pick them up.

Last weekend, I made a paper template, on two sheets of 11×17 paper, showing the locations of the numerals, and the precise spots at which the pilot holes for screws should be drilled. I’ve seen these templates many times, as professional sign companies use them for installation of signage with individual letters and numbers. They now use computers to generate templates; the “technology” that I used is as antiquated as hand-drafting.

Yesterday, Paul installed our new house numbers. At the time, it was sunny, and the low winter sun on the thick numerals cast deep shadows against the column. By the time I took this photo of Paul presenting his handiwork, the sky was overcast, so the effect is different. Still, we like them a lot.

It’s our birthday

One year ago today, Paul wrote the first post of Paul vs. the Squamous Monster. It was a terribly frightening time for both of us, and we needed a way to easily share both the medical news and our feelings about it with family and friends. While I hope that you never have occasion to need such a thing, I highly recommend this medium if ever you do.

I have more to write, but it will have to wait for later. And Paul is planning to say a word or 200 here today as well. So, please check back. And, as always, we’d love to hear from you, too.

Customer Satisfaction Survey

Yesterday, I received via email the following survey from the Coffee Drink Delivery Service.

Dear Kimberly,

We hope you have enjoyed your experience with the Coffee Drink Delivery Service. In order to monitor our performance and gauge our customer experience, we are sending you the following questions. Your answers will help us continue to improve our service. Thank you for your time.

1. My coffee drinks have usually been:

a) on-time and yummy

b) on-time, but sadly lacking in taste

c) on-time, but foul

d) late

2. My coffee drinks have been made with:

a) love

b) indifference

c) contempt and loathing

3. My coffee drinks have helped me:

a) sleep in

b) get up and go

c) in no way

4. The coffee drink delivery person is:

a) extraordinarily cute and adorable

b) sexy enough to be distracting, if I were awake

c) very kind and thoughtful

d) all of the above

5. The coffee drink song is:

a) an ever-changing source of enjoyment

b) a regular annoyance

c) something I usually sleep through

6. I wish the Coffee Drink Delivery Service would:

a) go away

b) bring me prune juice instead

c) stay the way it is

d) expand service to other cities, such as Houston

Thank you. Your responses are very important to us at the Coffee Drink Delivery Service. Again, we hope you are enjoying our service, and will continue to in the future.

Sincerely, The Coffee Drink Delivery Service

What, you may ask, is the Coffee Drink Delivery Service? And how might you sign up for it?

Since Paul is much more of a morning person than I, and a sweetheart to boot, he has, most mornings of the past few years, brought me a coffee drink in bed. One of the lovely little pleasures in my life is hearing my husband coming down the hall to deliver a freshly-made latte to my bedside table, singing his own special coffee delivery song:

Coffee drink delivery service
Coffee drink, if you are nervous
About how you’re going to wake
Have yourself a coffee break.

When Paul had his surgery in February, the service halted operations for a while. There were more important things on my mind than coffee, and other ways to acquire it. I coped. Now that Paul is feeling better, service has resumed.

My answers to the survey? 1. a; 2. a; 3. b; 4. d; 5. a; 6. d. (My answer to 6. was d only because we spend time with my family in Houston; otherwise the answer would’ve been c.)

To sign up for the service, you’d have to be in the service area. Perhaps you know someone who would be willing to start a franchise.