Just a sunday

Today started out a bit rough and it’s been a sort of mixed-bag day. But I have to start with yesterday first, as that was a different sort of day altogether and it sets the stage for today, too.

Yesterday I spent the afternoon in Ikea with Rachael, Jamie, and Chris, and then we returned to my house for a grand dinner party featuring coq au vin. I had let Marshall rest in the fridge for several days, and chose to prep him in this manner as it is a traditional one for roosters (hence the name, of course, since coq means rooster in French.)

I consulted a few recipes online, and ended up mostly following Alton Brown’s recipe from Food Network. I say mostly because after the initial prep of ingredients, I put it in the slow cooker instead of finishing up in a big ‘ol stew pot. And since my slow cooker could not hold all the liquid called for I only used the equivalent of one bottle of Pinot Noir, not two. (Really, that seems like an excessive amount of liquid!)

So, this cooked away while we were out running around Ikea getting furniture for Rachael’s new apartment. While I do need some new bookcases and such, I spent quite a bit last month so I’m holding off for now and just putting up with keeping my books in boxes for now.

When we returned, I let Marshall stew a bit more and then turned to prepping the sauce into a gravy. I hate making gravy. It’s tricky and I always seem to end up using cornstarch as thickener, which to me is a cheap trick. But I managed OK, even if I did have to use a *little* corn starch. And I had to make 2 separate batches of gravy, as some of the diners didn’t want the pearl onions, mushrooms, and bacon which are supposed to be added to it.

Steamy Coq au Vin

Steamy Coq au Vin

As you can see in the steamy photo above, it turned out wonderfully. The meat was not falling off the bone, but it was very tender and tasty. I had read the comments on several recipes that the end product tasted almost beef-life, and I found that true here. I think it’s all the rich, red wine that gives it such a flavor.

There are quite a few leftovers, and I also saved and froze the neck and tail portions to make into a soup later. Thank you, Marshall. You were a mediocre rooster to the flock, but ended up being a good bird nonetheless.

Valerie came by, too, just as we were ready to eat. While she is a vegetarian and didn’t partake of the main course, she had some noodles and the dessert.  We finished our dinner with some tea and a lovely almond tart that Jamie made, served up with some cherry sauce. Yum!

The ladies stayed quite late last night and we had a great time chatting and knitting. I went to bed shortly therafter and woke this morning to wreteched weather.

While it had started raining last night, it turned to snow over night and was coating most of the surfaces with a wet, gloppy mess. I let the chickens out at dawn (about 6:30 AM these days), and just couldn’t get back to sleep, so I tackled the washing up from last night’s feast. The coffee pot had just finished gurgling and I was booting up my laptop when the power went out.

Power outages are rare around here, but a special inconvenience to me as my garage has no service door. The *only* way to get in and out of my garage is through the overhead door, which is connected to an electric garage door opener. While there is an emergency way to disconnect it so the door can be raised manually, this requires a special little key that I don’t have. Mark had always kept it and couldn’t find it when he moved. So for now, I just hope there are no power outages when I need to go out.

And I did have to go out today. I had an appointment this morning at Abt to look at kitchen appliances, so I was hoping the power was restored in time as I called in the report. Thank goodness it was, so I was able to drive through the messy weather to my appointment and pick out lovely new appliances that I can hopefully be using in about 3-4 months. It will be quite a pleasure to have a nice dinner party and NOT have to tackle a mound of dirty dishes by hand.

I ran a few more errands on my way home, ate something, and then lay down for a nap. Now the weather is pretty: sunny, clear, although it is cool and we expect a cold night. But here I sit, feeling incredibly sad.

You see, the past few days I’ve been struggling with the feeling that I just suck at choosing men to love. And this makes me very sad.

I’m trying to be constructive about it and tell myself that there are better things ahead. I’ve also been reading The Rules and He’s Just Not that Into You, which may seem sort of hokey and ridiculous, but are surprisingly similar. A colleague at work told me to read The Rules, and although it is focused on finding a guy to marry (which I’m NOT wanting right now), the advice in both books that guys love the chase is something I’m trying to internalize.

I’m not sure if I just have poor impulse control or if I truly have a sucky approach with men I like, but whatever I’ve been doing doesn’t work. So I need to figure some stuff out for when I am ready to start dating again.

And as much as I had a great time in Nassau a few weeks ago, I’m sort of paying the price for that, too. I don’t know why I think I can just visit with Ian as a friend (and one with “benefits,” at that) and walk away from the experience untouched emotionally. I just can’t be with him without triggering a whole bunch of unrequited love stuff.

Well, at least as I sit here crying I can get some doggy hugs from Sadie. That’s something, and for now will just have to be enough.

I guess my iPod has picked up on my mood as it just started playing C’est la fucking vie by Ginny Clee. *sigh*

I know, life *will* get better. I will adjust. The transition time just really sucks.

Mila’s Story

My next door neighbor, Mila, is originally from Croatia. She’s now retired, but when I first moved into this house just over 7 years ago, she was working in light industry while still managing her household and taking care of her disabled husband, Tony.

Over the years, we’ve talked over the fence many times and I’ve sat in her kitchen sharing a bit of slivovitz while listening to her talk about her life. Mila has had a very hard life, and I admire her greatly for her strength and ability to survive through tough times. This is really an understatement, but I just have no better way to express myself on this subject.

How else can I think or feel about a person who currently manages to do all the cooking, cleaning, and home maintenance whilst caring for a husband whose self-care abilities extend to feeding himself, but that’s about it? A woman who has outlived both her children, losing her remaining son just last year? A woman who survived living in a local concentration camp as a child during World War II, subsisting on roots dug up by her stepfather and watching corpses flow down the river bordering the island on which she was isolated?

Mila and Tony emigrated here in the 1970’s with their son, well before the war that tore the Balkan region apart so dramatically. But her mother and other family members were still living in Serb-controlled territory and endured much hardship. When she visited the country after the war was over, she found that her elderly mother was buried in a mass grave and the circumstances surrounding her death were questionable.

But what really touched me most deeply about Mila’s life story was what she told me last night as we sat in my dining room sipping cognac together.

I invited Mila over because I think she desperately needs a break from constantly caring for her husband. I’ve tried to secure respite care for her through city services, but Mila insists they will not help her without charging since she owns her home and is not totally destitute. I know she enjoys cognac and when I noticed a bottle tucked away in my cold cellar, I knew it would be a perfect way to give her some away time.

During some of our previous conversations, Mila had shared with me that she had lost a child back in Croatia. This son was only 8 years old when he died from sudden acute appendicitis during a school outing. Last night, when she shared with me more about her life as a young woman, this loss seemed even more heart breaking.

When she was sixteen, Mila met the love of her life. He was 10 years older than her, and a Serb. Even back then, this was a problem. She told me his full name, but also told me that most people called him Mika for short.

Mila left school. She wanted to marry Mika, but since she was not quite 17 she needed a “special paper.” But Mika’s mother was opposed to her son marrying a Croat, and Mila was leary of setting mother against son. So, even though she was 7 1/2 months pregnant, she walked away from her lover one day, telling him that she was returning to her parent’s house and that he should first talk to his mother before following through with the marriage.

She didn’t see him again for several years. During that interim, he had married a woman his mother had chosen for him.

By then she was married to Tony. She had two children: the 3 year-old son fathered by her lover, Mika, and a 1 1/2 year-old son fathered by her husband, Tony.

Mika happened to be riding by on a bicycle one day when he saw her on the street. He stopped her to talk and told her how unhappy he was with his marriage. Apparently he made some overtures to her, but she declined to get involved with him again.

She still loved him, she said. She would always love him, but…he could have come back for her sooner. He could have come to her before she married Tony and resolved herself to a different life. But he didn’t, and so despite her love for him, she couldn’t begin an affair with him.

And the son she lost to appendicitis so quickly back in Croatia? That was the son of her lover, Mika.

Mila told me that she would always remember Mika. He was the love of her life. But he couldn’t bring himself to overcome the barriers and disapproval of culture and family to be with her. And so her love is tinged with a bitter overtone, and she continues her days caring for a husband who took her and her lover’s son and supported him as his own.

I couldn’t help but cry a bit with her last night when I heard this story. She couldn’t tell me this story without tearing up, and couldn’t listen to it without feeling the same overwhelming emotions.

I told her how much I admired her strength and ability to survive, despite all of the terrible things that have happened in her life. I set aside the bottle of cognac and told her I would keep it for our visits, and that she needed to come over again in a few days or next week. And so I’ll reserve this special bottle for a special woman whom I greatly admire.

An interesting morning

So, today I took my rooster to a live poultry butcher. If this topic disturbs you, please read no further.

I never intended to keep a rooster in my backyard. But when I ordered 4 chicks last year, 2 of them turned out to be roosters. I found a home for one (he was an exceptionally beautiful rooster), and kept the other as he seemed quiet. At 8 months of age, he apparently had grown into his responsibilities fully and his regular crowing started to bug some of the neighbors.

I could have tried to find a home for Marshall (the rooster), but he didn’t have any exceptional qualities that would make him adoptable. My other options were to just dump him on my mother (she already has several roosters people have dumped on her, though, so that would have been a bit mean, I thought), or to have him slaughtered.

Admittedly, I was curious about whether I could do this successfully. There are several live poultry butchers in Chicago, but the folks in my community of chicken keepers really aren’t sure if it’s OK for us to bring in our poultry or if they have to follow certain rules about what they kill on site. I was going to be a “test case,” so to speak.

I had noticied a live poultry butcher not far from my house and made inquiries (both via a visit and via phone) yesterday if they would take my rooster and butcher it for me. There was a bit of a language barrier as the butcher I met in person when I stopped by was not very conversant in English, and my Spanish is not so good these days. When I called later, I spoke to one of the “bosses” who was also not a native English speaker but seemed to understand me and said it was OK to bring in my rooster.

I consulted my copy of Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens which has a
section on butchering in order to see if I needed to do any preparation of the bird before I brought him in. Per the instructions in the book, I isolated him last night and made sure he had water available to him this morning, but no food.

This morning I bundled him up in a cardboard box and brought him into
the facility. There was a different butcher at the shop this morning and he was very busy serving other customers. This butcher was Muslim and spoke good English. When he was done he opened the box and inquired if I wanted him skinned or not as he took him in the back. About 10-15 minutes later he brought a fully plucked and dressed bird back up front and asked if I’d like him whole or in pieces.

Taking the rooster as a whole bird, he indicated that this bird would be tough, I guess wanting me to realize that I shouldn’t try to roast it. He also gave me the feet. He told me the price for everything was only $2, but I instead gave him $5. To me, two dollars seemed quite low for the amount of equipment and effort involved, but I’m certain that if he asked only $2 he would have taken only $2.

This facility is halal (meeting Muslim butchering standards) and its signage notes that it sells freshly killed chicken (roosters and hens), ducks, turkey, and rabbit. They have live animals in the back, so you can hear the occasional squawk. It’s not a very pretty place, but it is licensed and inspected by the city with the inspection notice prominently displayed. I think they cater mainly to the Muslim and Latino community, as signage is in English, Arabic, and Spanish.

Before I left I noted to the butcher that I was very grateful that he offered this service and that I may tell my other friends with chickens. I’m not certain if the man I dealt with today was one of the owners, but he seemed OK with my comment. I do plan to follow up next week to inquire if it really is OK to refer others to bring in their live poultry and to make sure I am speaking to one of the owners at that time, so I can report back to the local chicken keeping group.

I’m letting the bird rest in the fridge for a few days, per the recommendation in Storeys’ Guide to Raising Chickens. After that, I’ll be looking for good recipes for roosters…and chicken feet. Anyone have suggestions for either?

The friend brigade

I am blessed to have so many wonderful friends. They are often quite different from each other, as they may have been met through the varied interests in my life. But all have been a big support to me during this difficult time in my life.

Last night, I spent time with Rachael visiting what will soon be her new apartment and having a delicious dinner at a raw food restaurant. (Cousin’s Incredible Vitality on Irving Park Rd. Fabulous food!!) Tonight, I met Betsy at The Matchbox for a couple drinks, some yummy friend calamari, and a discussion that covered a variety of personal stuff.

I’m certain Adrienne is somewhat relieved that I’ve spent two busy nights out, as I’ve called her nearly every night the past week to talk and cry a little about adjusting to evenings alone. The past 2 nights she’s gotten a much-needed break. Since she’s a good friend who has been through this before herself, I know she has given her time to me gladly, and frankly I’m certain to call her many more nights.

I think part of my general misery over the past week has been caused by my illness and a bit of “cabin fever” caused by staying at home every day for the past week. But the good news is that I’m on the mend. I’ll telecommute again tomorrow, and then I’ll be going into the office on Thursday for the first time in weeks.

And so I move onwards bit by bit into my new life, supported by friends and colleagues near and far, and with a new appreciation for taking life day by day, one thing at time. I am already feeling more balanced and getting back into the habit of walking around with my hands open, ready to receive what comes, and give up what I must.

A robin!

A robin! A robin! I just spotted a robin in my yard when I let the dogs out for a little “constitutional!”

This is a *big deal.* Chicagoans count the sighting of a robin as the absolute authority that spring is here. Yay!

Weirdness abounds

Well, it’s been a strange day for me. First, I finally caved in and went to visit a doctor. This is my second trip to the local immediate care facility in about 2 weeks. The intake nurse noted that I looked familiar, and all I had to say is “I was the one with the mystery rash,” for her to accurately place me.

The final diagnosis: bronchitis. The doctor said this has been going around, so I suppose it was a bit silly of me to ask if I was contagious. In so many words, the answer was “yes.”

This is bad in many ways. First, I was amongst about 40 people yesterday as I delivered a workshop on Basic Backyard Chicken Care. If anyone at the workshop gets this bronchitis, well, I’m heartily sorry. I really thought all I had was your basic run-of-the-mill cold.

I really enjoyed meeting all of these people who are truly interested in keeping their own chickens. And, to top it off I reconnected with an acquaintence from my Master Gardener days who I’m very happy to stay in touch with. I’m sure it would have sounded odd to a non-gardening type person when I said to her, “You were the one who gave me worms!” Meaning she gave me my first vermicomposting worms, of course.

I’ve got anitbiotics and a strong cough syrup with codeine now and am being patient with myself. Mother Nature is teasing me mightily, though. This has been an absolutely glorious weeked with temps in the high 50s and bright sun beckoning me out to the yard.

I had to go out for a bit to clean the chicken coop and pick up after the dogs, but that was it. I so wanted to be turning over my raised beds and planting my peas today, but I have to give myself time to rest. And quite honestly, I am rather knackered.

But what was most strange for me today was that Mark (my ex-husband) came to the house for a visit. We had to exchange some mail and he wanted to visit the dogs, so despite the fact that I warned him I had contagious bronchitis he came over. We talked about quite a few things, including how we were coping and feeling about the whole divorce thing. Seems we’re both doing fine, although we noted that sitting by ourselves in the evening is sort of lonely.

That was somewhat odd for me: to hold a calm, genuinely honest conversation with my ex so soon. Mark casually mentioned that he was “set up” with a divorced woman and has met her a few times. I don’t feel upset that he’s dating, I guess I’m just sort of surprised that he’s jumped into it so soon.

My friends tell me that I should start thinking of dating, too, but frankly I don’t have much appetite for it now. I have a pretty good social network of friends and acquaintences (fellow knitters, gardeners, and chicken people, for example) and can always be doing something with them. Other than a more…um…basic biological urge that I get here and there, I have no desire to start the whole dating/mating game at this point.

As Mark and I talked, this reasoning asserted itself in our conversation, too. He acknowledged that he really has little to no network of friends, unlike me, which is one reason why he had been so open to going out on a date.

So, here I sit during what seems an excruciatingly long day as all I’ve pretty much done is sit on the couch, while most Chicagoans were out playing in the fine spring weather.

But ultimately, I’m doing OK. I’m cutting myself some slack to get well, and this illness has prompted me to do some thinking over the past few days about the rather ambitious plans I’ve set for myself this year: getting divorced, remodeling my kitchen, and traveling to Iceland for a horse riding expedition that involves quite a bit of pre-training. And I’ve decided to let the Iceland trip go.

I’m always pushing myself so hard, and I think I need to be a bit more easy on myself this year. If I’m meant to go to Iceland, I can go next year perhaps. I’m not certain if I will give up my riding lessons or not at this point, but I don’t have to decide that right now.

Right now, all I need to do is get well and get through the weirdness that is daily life.

What a difference a week makes

A week ago, I was here.

Atlantis towers from across the bay

Atlantis towers from across the bay

What a difference a week makes, eh?

We’ve had a not bad week in Chicago. The weather was kind until today, with highs in the 60s and 50s. Today we’ve dipped down into the 40s and I’m finding myself struggling to feel warm.

It probably doesn’t help that I’ve got a virus that has kept me at home all week. I was planning to go to the office today, but one of my colleagues suggested that I keep my cough to myself and stay home again. So, I’ve been at home since I got back from the airport on Monday night.

Despite my minor complaints about the weather it *is* definitely spring. I know we’re dropping down below freezing tonight, but when I stepped out today to let out the chickens, it smelled like spring. It’s time for me to get cracking and work on the garden.

The dogs are having a bit of a tough time lately. I think all the changes in the household have been adding up and today they had a rousing fight. I first tried picking up Hannah’s hind-quarters (this usually works well for breaking up fights as it throws them off balance), but that didn’t even phase them. I ended up picking up Sadie completely and swinging her out of the way and onto the bed.

It’s Sadie that’s come out worse for wear here. She has a puncture wound on top of her head and must have a hell of a headache. She’s been moping around quite a bit, too. I’ll have to keep an eye on her and perhaps take her to the vet tomorrow if she still seems under the weather.

I’m slowly adjusting to living in this big ‘ol house alone. I’m actually really liking living just on the first floor, but I won’t be able to keep it up for long. Tomorrow I meet with the kitchen designer to get names of contractors to interview. I could be starting my kitchen remodel as early as next month, I guess, and since the work will take place literally up to the threshold of my current bedroom, I think it best for me to move down to the basement.

There’s a cook top down there, a sink, and a full bathroom. I hope the dogs can deal with yet another move. I hope I can deal with yet another move, too.