Tuesday, May 29, 2012

One of the Tough Questions

It flows naturally in the typical sequence of 'baby' questions: What's his name? How old is he? Oh, he's so cute. So when are you having another? I only get the 3rd question from people who don't know about Joe's passing because as I have come to realize people who know are generally pretty sensitive about saying things or asking questions that might give rise to any emotion on my part. (I actually feel pretty strongly that it's better for all involved when people do not treat me with kid gloves, but that is probably for another post...)

It's a well meaning question and if my circumstances were different I would be more than happy to gush about how I would love to have another and how Domani would be a great big brother and how we are just waiting for the timing to be right. But there's no 'we' and I'm in a very different place now than where I was just last year when I would have answered that way. Joe and I talked about having more kids. Even while he was sick we talked about it. Joe had stared amazed with me at that first ultrasound. He carefully picked our son's name. His eyes filled up with tears when Domani was born. And every moment from then on we enjoyed our son, our hope for tomorrow (see here for more info). 

And now, especially as Domani grows and changes, all those conversations and dreams about having another just linger.

They linger every time I hear that someone I know is expecting. They linger every time I am with Joe's own siblings and their kids. They linger every time I think about my own childhood and the love of two amazing sisters. And, of course, they linger every time I get "the question".

Sometimes I answer the question with a simple 'no, I'm not having another' or 'not any time soon'. Depending on the situation, I may divulge that my husband passed away in December. I guess it's not hard to imagine that such a response puts a quick end to that line of questioning. Then, I feel bad because I know it must make the person asking feel bad. So, I do the whole 'it's ok, it's hard, but we're doing ok' routine (an honest routine, but a routine nonetheless).

The truth is that I would like to have another child, but I'm not convinced that will be my path. Right now that feels just about as impossible as the old camel through an eye of the needle trick in the Bible. Of course, the kicker to that verse is 'with God all things are possible'. So maybe I shouldn't take it on myself to rule anything out. Maybe for now the most appropriate answer is: 'right now, it's just me and Domani and I'm thankful for what I've got.'

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Music is Life - The Afghan Whigs Reunite at The Bowery Ballroom

I remember exactly where I was when I got the news about the Afghan Whigs. It was two days after my husband had passed away and I was in the hallway of my house when I got a text message. It was 5:36pm and the text was nothing more than a link to a story on Pitchfork from one of my best friends, but I could tell from the link what it was about - The Afghan Whigs to Reunite for ATP.

It was more than a decade before, just about 12 years to be exact, that I had seen them perform at Bogart's in Cincinnati. It was one of the most memorable concerts I've ever attended, not just for the band and the location and the timing, but for the happenstance that came with it. More than 600 miles from home, I ran into Joe (at the time my ex, later to be my husband) standing in line outside the venue. We had each made the trip separately, each with a friend, each without the other knowing and there we were once again brought together by the band that worked like glue on our relationship.
Bogart's in Cincinnati - we saw The Afghan Whigs here on 9/25/99
When I heard about the reunion and that the two announced shows were in London and New Jersey, I was overwhelmed with emotion. My first thought was "Somehow, this is Joe." I mean, we LIVE in New Jersey for goodness sake. And, London was special to us as we had spent time there together and (naturally) took in a show by The Gutter Twins while we were there - July 19, 2009 at Royal Festival Hall. And here I was two and a half years later with my world completely changed, hearing a tidal wave of an announcement supplemented by a gentle and happy flashback to London. Somehow music is life and a simple announcement of a reunion show connected me naturally back to that time, back to that place, back to that point in our love story.

Here's a glimpse into my Twitter feed from the day of the announcement, including the tweet about what I understood to be Joe's first request when he hit the "flip side"...

This past Wednesday, I was finally able to witness this much-anticipated reunion at a kick-ass, fan fantasy, better-than-ever Afghan Whigs show at The Bowery Ballroom. It was our favorite band at our favorite venue and I couldn't be more thankful that my new friend Elissa had a whole pack of tissues for those "moments" when music and life became so completely intertwined that it was impossible to separate the joy from the sadness, the ecstasy from the pain, or the present from the past. I've written in other posts about the role The Afghan Whigs (and later The Twilight Singers and the Gutter Twins and everything Greg Dulli) played in my relationship with Joe. This moment, this concert, was the culmination of our unique love story.

It was the story of a quiet, shy, guitar-playing Afghan Whigs fan who loved music that didn't seem to fit his personality and an outgoing, yet naive college freshman who had never heard anything like "that music" before. The music connected us and always seemed to be the way we could "read" each other over the years. The first time Joe and I spoke after I had gone through a painful separation from my first husband, our immediate re-connection was over the music of Greg Dulli. I knew that ours was that once-in-a-lifetime kind of relationship when, after we hung up from that first conversation, he called me right back because he had forgotten to tell me the most important thing that had happened for him in the time while we weren't speaking. He had met Greg Dulli. Greg fu#@ing Dulli. He sounded like a kid in a candy store as he told me every last detail. I was so excited for him...and sad that I had missed such a big moment with him.

In a wonderfully delicious twist to our story, I had my own chance to meet Greg on Wednesday night (along with John & Rick to boot). I guess it's only fitting that I had my "Greg" experience without Joe there since life had dictated he went solo on that one too. I just wish I had a chance to share every detail with him the way he did with me. It's just not the same putting a lonely post about the show on his old Facebook page. I guess this was just one of those many "firsts" that are difficult when you've lost someone and it's what we should expect when we live deeply enough to have our hearts broken. I'm thankful for a deep life with Joe that was rooted in deep music and glad that I have a photo to remember my encounter with a rock god (seriously, people, that is NOT an exaggeration).
Greg was very cool about posing for a photo and I was thrilled.
Looking back I realize that at times our life together revolved around the music and at others the music revolved around our life together. We looked at dozens of houses as we searched for our first place together and we knew we had found "the one" when we pulled up on a house with a Front Street address. When it came time to choose a name for our son, we were several months in to Joe's cancer diagnosis and were looking for a meaningful name, knowing that we would use Joseph as a middle name. Domani came to Joe naturally both for its meaning ("tomorrow") and for its connection to Dulli's music. There are so many other moments where this amazing music and our lives intersected and for that I am grateful.

So on Wednesday night, as Crime Scene Part One came over me I knew that he was there in spirit and I knew that he could probably not contain his excitement over this perfect choice for an opening song any more than I could. And when the songs from 1965 started to come up in the set, I felt him with increasing intensity. These were ones we heard in person on the tour in 1999. And many times after on our own CD players and iPhones and USB drives. These were the songs that Joe used to first introduce me to The Afghan Whigs.  Uptown Again. 66. Crazy. By the time it got to Crazy, I was really feeling emotional. "Crazy about ya, crazy without ya, Crazy, Over you" - um, yeah. I don't fully understand it, but as I looked at Greg and John and Rick and listened to that amazing angsty song and then looked up to the mirror ball and the vivid lighting that was overtaking the place, I felt Joe. He was there with me and the realization made the tears flow. It was cathartic and I am thankful for that moment. By the time the last song from 1965 rolled around (it was Somethin' Hot, part of the first encore set), I was just happy to be present in the music that defined so much of my early adulthood and in the intense love of my guitar-playing Afghan Whigs fan who came with it.

Setlist from the show (someone else's souvenir)
Other people have done a much better job writing about the songs and the lighting and Greg's reefer hit and his dress down of the idiot who called him an asshole from the crowd. I will leave you to read their blogs and articles if you want to know the nitty gritty of what happened inside The Bowery Ballroom on Wednesday night. There were even other highlights for me that I didn't include here (like the way my whole body was passionately on fire during their take on "See and Don't See" or the pure ecstasy of singing the words to my favorite Whigs songs with so many other fans). I think though that it was important for me to keep this post about what happened inside of me while I was there and I hope it allows you to connect in a new way with the music I love and the man who loved that I loved it with him.

I'll end with my "report" to Joe on the night, the post I put on his Facebook page at 2:09am, just before I made my way back home:

"They opened with Crime Scene Part One. I felt you overpowering me during Crazy. They did Gentleman. An amazing show at our favorite venue. Oh, and I met John, Rick, and Greg. I'm as close to being in the beyond with you as I can get while still breathing."

Sunday, May 20, 2012

In Appreciation of Those Who Tire Out My Son

I am thankful for people who help tire out my son. Today it required a whole entourage as he was in Energizer Bunny mode for most of the day. He napped for less than an hour all day, going full steam by 7am and not crashing until the car ride home shortly after 9pm.

First thing in the morning Domani had Grandpa, Meredith, and my Aunt Nancy to keep him company while I tried my hand at selling some things as part of the Jamesburg town-wide yard sale day. He helped Grandpa put the canopy up on our gazebo, blew bubbles with Meredith, and ran all over the yard while Aunt Nancy helped me with setting up for the sale. After a long walk with Grandpa, he settled down for a short nap, still in his stroller.

It wasn't long before he was up and ready for action again. He got to play with Grandmom for a little while and later was running around with Aunt Karen and Catherine. He ate a snack and tried to feed a blueberry to a bird by running the blueberry over to the bird. He played open the gate and close the gate with Catherine. He collected acorns and played with sticks.

By then, it was time for lunch.

After a walk in the afternoon heat, the "Mayor" of Mendoker's arrived to get his lunch and a few cookies. He and Catherine ran around the bakery and then ate at the table outside. After devouring most of his turkey and cheese sandwich, Domani took to walking over to Catherine and feeding her bits of turkey. He was back in action and joined me once again in Mendoker's to pick up a sandwich for his Uncle Jimmy. On our way back to the house he munched on a chocolate chip cookie and once we were back at home it was time to play with Kenny & Ty. He was so excited to see them and the three of them with Catherine had fun playing together - first outside and then in the basement.

I thought for sure he would be ready for a good long nap, but he was much more interested in exploring the living room and dancing along to Sesame Street (thanks, Elmo & Grover!)

After his non-existent afternoon nap, it was time to head over for a wonderful little cookout with some fun friends. Rose and Jeanne were great hosts and Domani could not have been happier to play with Oscar and Hubert and to get attention from Seth, Ann, and Ken. He ran all over the yard, laughed hysterically, and even tried to take a bath in the beer tub. He ate some delicious salmon and potato salad and followed that up with some fruit and cookies. He checked out every nook and cranny of the garden and climbed the stairs to the deck over and over and over again. We were all tired by the end of the night.

Thankfully, my entourage of play partners from throughout the day had made sure that Domani was equally tired. I heard him playing with his Sing-a-Ma-Jig from the backseat of the car for the first two minutes of our ride and then it was the radio silence of exhaustion. He barely let out a peep as I carried him inside and placed him in his crib.

Sweet dreams, little guy. Sweet dreams.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Love from The Congregation

Several months ago I joined The Congregation. I'm not talking about any church, but I am talking about a pretty awesome community of pretty awesome people.

Congregation - 1992
For as long as I can remember, Joe was a member of The Congregation (the name comes from an Afghan Whigs album) via listserv and so he was my constant source of info on everything Greg Dulli. I followed his listserv emails for awhile after he passed, but eventually decided I needed to just join the Facebook group version myself.

Friday was a big day in Afghan Whigs world and I was so glad to be a member of The Congo (as it is affectionately called by members) because a big day in Afghan Whigs world also meant it was an emotional day in Anne world.

It all started earlier that week with the announcement that The Afghan Whigs, who are reuniting after being apart for way too long, will be playing their first show at The Bowery Ballroom in NYC on May 23. The venue was one of my & Joe's favorites and as I've mentioned in previous posts, the music of The Afghan Whigs was a key undercurrent in our relationship over the years. There was a special presale on Wednesday at 10am. I set the alarm on my phone and missed it by a few minutes because I was speaking with a worker on an organizing campaign at LGA at 10am. By the time I got to it a few minutes after 10, the presale tickets were sold out and I joined others in The Congregation lamenting about the tickets we weren't able to snatch up. There was still hope, we said.

A limited number of additional tickets were due to go on sale at noon on Friday. I was doing the Ticketmaster capcha thing starting at 11:59am just to be sure. My emotions were running high as I pictured being at that venue waiting for Greg and John and Rick to take the stage. Again and again, no tickets available. My heart sank as I started to check StubHub and saw prices double that of the actual ticket price. I went to the only place where I knew others would understand and posted in The Congregation.

Almost as soon as I posted others joined my lament and then came the news we were all dreading.


I jumped over to StubHub and started to purchase a ticket. After going through the whole process...that ticket is no longer available at that price. Those damn ticket scalpers knew it was sold out too and the prices started to soar. I managed to get one for just under 3x the ticket price. (The cheapest StubHub tickets are now listed at 4x the face value.)

I had told The Congregation about my emotional connection to the upcoming concert and I was overwhelmed by the support that was shown to me. I even received a private message from someone offering to help pay for one of those overpriced tickets if I hadn't gotten one. Someone from LA offered his extra ticket at face value. (Since I had already gotten one his extra ticket went to another member of The Congregation who had gotten shut out of Ticketmaster.) The comment threads were full of people with kind words who reassured me that even though I only have one ticket I won't be at the show alone.  These are good people. Really good people.

I'm happy that slowly but surely many of those in The Congregation who were unable to get tickets through the evil giant we know as Ticketmaster were able to find tickets through other members. I'm holding out hope that somehow all of us who want to be there will be able to celebrate the reunion of my (our) favorite band together. Maybe Greg will even give us a shout out on one number and say "This one's for The Congregation". It's been a fantasy thrown around on the Facebook group and it would definitely send the night over the top. No matter what, May 23 is going to be amazing.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Dinner of a Lifetime: Eating at Alinea

There have been a few dinners in my life so far that I remember vividly and with great fondness. Not long after September 11th, it was a lovely and very expensive French restaurant in Lower Manhattan with two good friends. In 2008, it was a special meal with my Joe at the Omni Parker House while we were in Boston on our honeymoon. We sat at the table where JFK proposed to Jackie - it was a romantic dinner steeped in history.

Then, on Sunday, May 6, 2012 it was the most amazing meal I've ever had with one of my best friends, her brother and his girlfriend. My friend Erin had to make the reservation at Alinea months in advance of our visit to Chicago. I had to save up nearly that long to cover my portion of the bill. But it was 3 hours of culinary ecstasy - a tasting menu that extended 18 courses with a wine pairing that brought us tastes of 10 different adult beverages. The service was exceptional. We had the best table in the restaurant. From the minute we walked in the restaurant until the moment we left, it exceeded my expectations.

Neil Patrick Harris has a Twitter account that I have grown to love where he tweets photos of food when he is out eating. He calls it "food porn" (the Twitter account is @NPHFoodPorn if you want to follow). Inspired by the mouth-watering meals I have watched him tweet, I was sure to take pictures of each of our courses so you can now walk with me through our 18 courses at Alinea...

Course 1: Steelhead Roe: carrot, coconut, curry (with a cocktail of Gimonnet Brut with St. Germain and Esterhazy Beerenauslese)

It was my first time having any kind of roe. The combination of the carrot, coconut, yellow curry, and roe was perfect and left me very anxious for the next course.

Courses 2-5 served on Malaysian driftwood
Courses 2-5: Oyster Leaf with Mignonette, King Crab with passionfruit, heart of palm, and allspice, Mussel with saffron and oregano, and Razor Clam with shiso, soy & daikon (with Georg Breuer 'Terra Montosa' Riesling, Rheingau 2009)
All done.

These four courses were brought out at the same time perched on Malaysian driftwood covered in seaweed. The photo just does not do the presentation justice, but it gives you the idea. While I have had oysters before, each of these four foods were new to me and I think my favorite of these courses was the Razor Clam. I won't soon forget the visual of our waitstaff bringing out this course on these large logs - it was surprising and fitting at the same time.

My first taste of squid.
Course 6: Cucumber, fennel, orange, and squid
I must have been very distracted when our waitstaff brought over this course. Somehow I missed the two times he mentioned that it contained squid (once to Erin & Nathan who also had some sort of meat on theirs and again to Melissa and me). It was probably for the best because having never eaten squid I almost certainly would have hesitated. Instead, with Melissa watching me across the table I followed the directions given to us, leaned in and ate the bite like it was nothing. It was so tasty and I didn't find out about the squid until I had more or less finished it. Funny, since when I looked at my photos after, it was QUITE OBVIOUSLY squid.

Cooking on the table.
Course 7: Scallop acting like agedashi tofu served with broth (with Bodegas Godeval 'Vina Godeval' Valdeorras 2010)

The finished product.
At some point after Courses 2-5 were brought out, an interesting contraption was placed on our table and the flame at the bottom was lit. The top compartment was filled with vegetables and the bottom bulb area with water. I felt like a kid in science class watching the water bubble up and the veggie juices start to create the broth. We were all intrigued by how it would be used in a course and were blown away when the broth was combined with sea scallop made to resemble tofu. Once again, delicious and thoroughly interesting.

Course 8: Otoro (tuna) with Thai banana, sea salt, and kaffir lime (with Chehalem '3 Vineyards' Pinot Gris, Willamette 2010)
A Taste of the Sea

This course was served in a fishbowl looking orb and it was described to us as containing foaming seawater. To me, it felt truly tropical. The tuna melted in my mouth and the bits of lime were a perfect balance. While it wasn't my first time eating tuna, it was my first time having anything that resembled sushi. Another excellent course both in taste and presentation. (On a side note, by the end of this course, I was feeling a little tipsy from all the wonderful drinks we had been trying up to this point.)

Course 9: Ice with beet, hibiscus, and licorice juice 

Is it blood?
This lovely piece of intrigue was the centerpiece of our table from the time we were first seated. We, of course, asked about it, but were told we would just have to wait for the full reveal at some point later in the night. We examined it and brainstormed about what it could be. At the beginning of the meal I mentioned that I thought it looked like 4 vials of blood in a block of ice. This photo taken shortly before we were given permission to finally dig in makes it really look like I was right. Thankfully, we didn't have to wait too long into the meal to uncover the mystery. We were brought large straws for our ninth course and told to suck up the beet juice in the block of ice. It was delicious and fun and a great photo op too.
Erin and me sipping up the 9th course.

So many interesting foods.
Course 10: Burn morels, ramp, fiddlehead fern, miner's lettuce, and a quail egg (with Descendientes de J. Palacios 'Petalos' Bierzo, Spain 2009)

This course was served on top of a bed of stones. By the time I finished, I found myself licking the remaining sauces off the stones - they were that good. I was a bit nervous about trying the quail egg as I had never eaten one before, but it was creamy and not overpowering, a pleasant surprise. Again, a really cool way to serve an interesting course.

Course 11: Hot Potato, cold potato, black truffle, and butter

The waitstaff who brought us this course wasn't shy about telling us it was his favorite. This was another one which required instructions on how to properly eat it. We were told to hold the small wax bowl in one hand and with the other pull out the pin that was supporting the potatoes and truffle in order to release both into the liquid. Then, it was a matter of moving quickly and finishing it off like a shot. When that waiter came back two courses later, I told him I had to agree that it was indeed the best course up to that point (and in retrospect I think it was my favorite of the night). I had never had a black truffle before and it was absolutely decadent. Lucky for me, I would have another shot at black truffle in Course 13.

Course 12: Turbot with 60+ garnishes (with Chateau Ollieux Romanis 'Atal Sia', Corbieres 2008)
The cheat sheet.
Decisions, decisions.
This course first caught my eye as we were waiting to be taken to our table. We were able to watch the kitchen through a glass partition while we were waiting and I remember salivating with incredible curiousity as one of the waiters carried it out of the kitchen and off to a table. When it was our turn it was equally awe-inspiring. I received turbot (a white flatfish) cooked 3 different ways and our table received a tray with more than 60 garnishes. Our instructions were to choose 2-3 garnishes for each preparation of the fish. The fish itself was divine, but with the garnishes it was positively exciting. It felt like an adventure as we each chose different garnishes and then tested them out, trying our best to guess correctly what it was we just ate. Mercifully, about halfway through the course, our waiter brought us a key for the garnishes. It reminded me of how you match up the chart in a box of chocolates with which has dark chocolate and which has nuts.

Course 13: Black truffle explosion, romaine, and parmesan

An amazing bite.
We were warned with this course that we should be absolutely sure our mouth was closed before biting into the ravioli and boy was that good advice. Explosion was the perfect name for this course because that is exactly what it did when you bit into it. My second experience with black truffles was just as amazing as my first.

Course 14: Striped Bass inspired by Miro - spoons with lots of goodies including pureed prune, an olive, and many other things I can't remember (with Valpolicella Classico Superiore 'TB' Bussola, Veneto 2006)

I readily admit that while I enjoyed this course I cannot remember half of the things I ate during it. Melissa and I took turns deciding which thing we would eat next. The one thing I remember clearly is that on one of my turns I chose the olive and it made me think of Joe. He was always an advocate of me eating olives and it wasn't until the last year or two that I actually started to enjoy eating them. I'm sure it was the sentimentality but this one was particularly delicious.

Course 15: Anjou Pear, onion, brie, smoking cinnamon (with The Rare Wine Co. 'Boston Bual' Madeira)
The most interesting part of this course was the smoking cinnamon stick that held the ball of pear, onion and brie. It smelled fabulous and was the perfect transition to dessert mode. The course was tasty and the wine that was paired with it was particularly good.

Course 16: Ginger and other flavors

This was a quick course, really just some refreshing flavors, but it was fun and a great lead in to the final two courses.

Course 17: Blueberry, buttermilk, sorrel, macadamia (with Saracco Moscato d'Asti, Piedmont 2011)

This course was rattling when it was brought out to our table until we lifted the cap from the liquid underneath. Then, our waiter came around with an exciting finishing touch. There was lots of yummy sweetness to eat and another giant straw to slurp up the green goodness from the bottom of the bowl. It was a great dessert, but since a photo won't do it justice this is one you will have to watch on video.

Course 18: White Chocolate, strawberry, english pea, lemon, pansies! (with Boroli Barolo Chinato)

You know you are in for an exciting course when they bring out a covering to protect the table. They moved us all to one side of the table so we could watch the presentation of the course. I have never seen anything like it and Erin and I literally laughed out loud while the chef was spreading powder and pansies and other various food items all over the table. At the end when the chef picked up the globe of white chocolate, smashed it on the table, and then walked away, I was in a state of uncontrolled glee. It was the most fun I've ever had at dinner. The video I shot is unfortunately too large to upload here, but the photos will give you an idea of how much fun we had. My favorite part to eat was the white chocolate and if I weren't so stuffed from the rest of the dinner I would have easily eaten every last piece that was on the table!

Nathan, Erin, Me, and Melissa just before the final course.
Three hours after we began we were done with our meal and on a culinary Cloud Nine. The meal has stayed with me all week and is definitely one of the top meals of my life to date. I'm glad I was able to share it with three wonderful people and that in this meal I was able to experience a brief respite from the single working mom grind to which I have become so accustomed.