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Two years ago, the earth shook in Japan and changed many lives forever. Geordie and I were lucky in that we lived far enough away from the epicenter of the Tohoku Earthquake to suffer too much damage. I wrote about the actual earthquake more than a year ago, and I keep meaning to finish writing about that day and the one that followed. Well, here’s a bit more of the story. Not all of it – it’s a bit too long to post all at once. I’ll write what I can manage now and try to write more later. Hopefully, the next installment won’t take another year to get done.
If you haven’t already, you should probably read the Earthquake (I) first.
Though the worst of the earthquake was over, the aftershocks came steadily. I never really felt balanced the rest of that day. I put on my work clothes as quickly as I could, and I left to go to Loc City, the mall where my branch of Nova was located. I had no idea what to expect on the 10-minute walk. I tried calling Geordie again, and that got me nowhere. I wondered how big the earthquake had been, where it had originated. I had lived through weather-related natural disasters before, but nothing had prepared me for an earthquake like this.
My walk to work was usually a quiet one, but it was especially so that afternoon. Cars were still on the roads, but there were very few of them, and they went slowly. I too went slowly – the ground still moved uneasily. And at one point, I passed a car dealership that had lost a panel of glass during the quake; it had shattered all over the sidewalk. Just beyond that was a liquor store that smelled strongly of alcohol. Likewise, the 7-11 was a mess, and the three workers inside looked at a loss for what to do as the aftershocks kept coming.
A street behind the businesses ran parallel to the main road, and it had mostly houses along it, all eerily quiet. I saw only two women, neighbors, who stood clinging to the supports of their carports, calling to each other. I walked by them – there was a gap between two buildings where you could see the houses – just as a large aftershock hit. They both shrieked and held on; I had to read out and steady myself on another carport. It took nearly a minute for that aftershock to pass. One of the ladies saw me and shouted at me to be careful; I said thank you and moved on.
Loc City has a large parking lot that covers three sides of the mall. There were cars parked on the side I always used to enter the mall, and there was also a handful of people sitting a good distance away from the building. They looked like store employees. Since Nova was on the opposite side of the mall, I decided to walk around to it and see what was happening there. There were cars on that side too, and a lot more people. Most of them were sitting at the far end of the parking lot, as far away from the mall building as possible. I started walking in that direction, and it didn’t take me long to pick out my manager in the crowd, sitting on a parking bumper and looking forlornly at her phone. She looked almost relieved to see me.
Unfortunately, she knew as much (or, rather, as little) as I did. Loc City had been evacuated during the earthquake, and nobody could go back in until it was declared safe. She didn’t think it would be any time soon because of the near-continuous aftershocks. The worst for her was that she couldn’t get in contact with any of the branch’s higher-ups, and considering she’d only been working at Nova for about five months, she had no idea what to do. So we did the only thing we could do: we waited.
About thirty minutes later, we were allowed back into the mall – employees only, of course. Not that there were any customers hanging around; I’m sure they did what all sane people would do and get themselves home immediately to find out what happened. The mall had held together pretty well: a few broken glass panels and some toppled-over displays were the worst I saw. Nova sustained little damage, but then we occupied a pretty small corner of the mall and had nothing much to make a mess of. The power was on, which was the most important thing. I logged onto the computer to find out what had happened, while the manager attacked the phone and started calling whoever she thought might be able to tell her what to do.
By this time, the tsunami warnings had been issued, and I tried to wrap my head around how strong this earthquake had actually been. It was nothing I could have imagined. Even worse, I knew Geordie was both closer to the earthquake epicenter and closer to the coast, and so must have had a worse experience than I’d had. Somehow, he’d been able to post to Facebook that he was okay, and I had the feeling that was the only thing I was going to hear from him for a while. I did the same, knowing that our families back in the States would be waking up to the news and need some reassurances.
An announcement from Loc City came over the speakers, which the manager translated for me: the mall was not going to re-open and it would be closing even to employees at dusk. The manager still hadn’t made contact with her boss, so to kill time, she settled in to start calling students to tell them that classes had been canceled. She told me I could go home, but I wasn’t in any hurry to do so, so I told her I’d stay with her a little while longer. Again, she seemed a little relieved.
All the while, the aftershocks kept coming, some of them fairly strong. About 4:30pm, another announcement was made: Loc City was closing at once, right now. We had no choice but to leave. I still hadn’t got hold of Geordie, and I had no idea if he was on his way or was stuck in Hitachi or what. I told the manager I’d walk to the station with her; I was curious to see what was going on there.
As it turned out, nothing was happening. The trains were shut down indefinitely. Neither the manager nor myself were that surprised. Much of the Tsukuba Express is elevated, while most of the rest of it travels underground. While it would have been nice to find them running, I can only imagine how dangerous it would have been. The local line was also stopped. The station was in the throes of controlled chaos. Nobody seemed to know what to do. Buses were still running, but the lines for them stretched longer than they’d ever been. At least thirty people were standing in line at the taxi pick-up, even though there were no taxis to be seen at all. Across the street, Moriya’s only hotel had a line out the door.
“What are you going to do?” I asked the manager.
She took a deep breath and said, “I will try to call my boyfriend. He is in Kashiwa.” She normally took the train to work, just two stops on the Tsukuba Express. Not so far, but now it seemed like a long way away. Still, he was closer than Geordie was. And he had a car. If she got hold of him, he could come and pick her up.
“That’s good,” I said. “I’ll go home too. I’ll see you on Monday.”
“Okay,” she replied. We waved goodbye, and that was the last time I saw her.
I don’t mean that in an ominous way. I heard nothing from Nova over the weekend, so Geordie and I walked by Loc City on Monday. It was closed. Tuesday was supposed to be my final day teaching, the only day of work at Nova that I had actually looked forward to. There were a lot of students I hadn’t been able to say a proper goodbye to. Loc City was open on Tuesday, but Nova was not. Even though I had come to hate my job at Nova, there were still many students I enjoyed teaching and talking to, and I wish I’d had one more opportunity to tell them so. It was not how I wanted to leave the company, but there was nothing I could do about it.
(to be continued)
Before I married Geordie, I’d never heard of caldo verde, which is a soup popular in Portuguese cuisines. It’s often eaten at celebrations, but for us, it’s a winter standard, and one I love to make.
One of the first people I met from Geordie’s extended family was his Aunt Lynne. By an interesting coincidence, she and her family lived in St. Augustine, where I had gone to college and lived for a good seven years. It’s where my BFF still lives. So, naturally, after we had arrived back in the States, we made plans to go to St. Augustine and visit.
Aunt Lynne works for a catering business, and she is quite the excellent (self-taught) cook. She makes delicious food, and she’s so terrifically awesome that she always made a point to make something fabulous to eat when we came to visit. The first time I met her, we went to the catering office, where she was toiling away over a big pot of soup. After a very emotional (and adorable) reunion between her and Geordie, she told us that she hoped we’d want something to eat, because she was making Portuguese kale soup.
Geordie’s eyes fairly lit up. “Oh, boy!” he said. Aunt Lynne sat us down at a picnic table outside the building and brought us two Styrofoam bowls of steaming hot soup. It was overflowing with veggies, beans, and sausage. I took one look at it and thought, um.
You see, I prefer creamy soups. I always have. I’ve always been shy of big bowls of soup with large pieces of vegetables looking at me. This is how you get when you don’t like onion and celery in your soup, since quite a lot of chunky soups are built upon their base. But Geordie was shoveling the soup into his mouth as quickly as he could, and nobody could hate onions more than the man I married. So, to be polite, I took a teensy bite.
Of course I liked it. It’s a very tasty soup. It’s a very hearty, very filling soup – perfect comfort food for a winter’s day. I liked it well enough that I told Geordie I’d make it sometime if he wanted me to, and that made him happy, which made me happy. It was the first recipe I asked Aunt Lynne for, but not the last one. But it is the one I’ve made the most.
I’ve been eating this soup for only a year now, and it’s easily one of my favorite soups. Second only to homemade lobster bisque. It’s quite popular where Geordie comes from, but as I’ve never had much exposure to Portuguese cuisine, I’d been terribly ignorant of its existence. Thank goodness that changed! It might not stay cold for long here in Texas, but this is the perfect soup for a chilly winter’s evening.
It’s a fairly simple recipe, one that’s good for tinkering with. For one thing, you can, if you choose, make this soup with onion and celery. But not in this house. You can play with the veggies a little. I usually dice up a carrot or two to add to the soup, but I had run out of carrots when I was making this batch. I used a can of corn instead, and it came out quite nicely. You could also use a different kind of pasta, though smaller types are best. It’s not a finicky soup – do with it as you please, and it won’t treat you badly.
Portuguese Kale Soup
yields 4 plentiful servings
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp finely chopped garlic
½ cup diced carrots
1 cup diced potatoes
5-6 cups chicken stock
12-oz can of diced tomatoes, with liquid
6 oz chopped linguiça or chorizo
15-oz can of kidney beans, drained
½ cup uncooked elbow macaroni
2 bunches of kale, stemmed and chopped
seasonings to your taste (salt, pepper, thyme, basil, etc.)
Saute the garlic and carrots in the oil over medium-low heat. Add the potatoes and chicken stock and heat through. Add the tomatoes and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for about 10 minutes. Add the linguiça (or chorizo) and the beans. Add in the seasonings – I toss in a couple teaspoons of thyme and basil, along with some salt and pepper, but you can use whatever you’re comfortable with. Bay works well too, though be sure to fish it out before eating. Simmer until the veggies are tender, about 30-40 minutes. Add the kale and the macaroni and cook until tender, 7-10 minutes. Serve with a nice, crusty bread.
It’s been a long time since I did a Q&A. This one from love is blonde seemed like a good thing to do. She had a lot to celebrate as 2012 came to an end; I hope 2013 is our year to celebrate.
1. What did you do in 2012 that you’d never done before?
I traveled to Massachusetts and met my husband’s extended family. I’d never been to New England before. Geordie’s family is great, very loving and very kind to us, but also very boisterous and alive. I like that about them. They take care of each other, which is one of the most important things about being a family. I think Geordie and I are both pretty lucky in how supportive our families were this past year. We needed that.
2. Did you keep your New Year’s resolutions, and will you make more for this year?
Kinda and yes. I kept some resolutions. Others kinda fell to the wayside a bit. But I never really gave up on them. It’s just that some of them didn’t need doing anymore. So, I’m making resolutions for 2013. They have nothing to do with becoming a new person, just about being a better me. I’ll probably be posting those tomorrow. One thing’s for certain – I want to blog more in 2013 than I did in 2012.
3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
My cousin’s second child arrived in March. He arrived a little earlier than he should have, but both he and my cousin’s wife made it safely through the delivery, and he’s a good-looking healthy boy now. I’ve also seen a number of my fellow babyloss mamas give birth to rainbow children, which is beyond awesome. I’m getting better at looking at baby pictures, and it can be quite comforting to see their little rainbows and know that there’s hope for us this year.
4. Did anyone close to you die?
Geordie’s aunt died on May 1st, before I’d had a chance to meet her. I wish I had been able to – she is much loved and much missed by her family. It was totally unexpected; she was only in her 40’s, just a handful of years older than Geordie. Also, one of my great-uncles on my father’s side died in late October. He was much older, but the death was still sudden.
5. What countries did you visit?
None other than the US. Too bad. And we don’t really have any plans for going out of country this year.
6. What would you like to have in 2013 that you didn’t have in 2012?
A baby. Since we don’t plan on actively trying to conceive until March or April, it seems unlikely that will happen. I’ll settle for a pregnancy.
7. What dates will be etched upon your memory, and why?
May 1st, the day Geordie’s aunt died. I was stuck in bed with a stomach illness for much of it, but I remember how this family came together to comfort each other and provide support. It was a tragic thing to witness, but also very beautiful. Also, the days we spent at Mt. Washington celebrating our first anniversary, how carefree and happy we were. It was exactly what we needed. And, of course, the Birthday Fiesta o’ Fun.
8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Maybe this will seem silly, but the roasting of the birds. Before 2012, I had never roasted a whole bird. Now, I’ve successfully roasted chicken, duck, and turkey. I never realized how simple it would be.
9. What was your biggest failure?
Honesty, I’m having a hard time answering this one. I don’t feel like I failed much at anything this year. Everyone says that you need to be gentle with yourself when you’re mourning, and I’ve tried to do that. I’ve tried not to push myself too much, to do only that which I know I can do. I feel bad about not blogging much over the summer, but it just wasn’t what I needed to do at the time. I wish I had spent more time making Lauren’s quilt, but it’s been difficult to work on. I’m hoping to get more done with it this year.
10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
11. What was the best thing you bought?
We didn’t make any major purchases last year, so I’m having a hard time coming up with “the best thing.” We adopted the kittens. They’re pretty cool.
12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
All our family and friends. The support we have received in the past year has been amazing.
13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
The financial aid lady from the Art Institute.
14. Where did most of your money go?
Into the move to San Antonio. Well worth it.
15. What did you get really excited about?
The Birthday Fiesta o’ Fun, the joint birthday party Heather and I throw for ourselves. It was our first since 2009, and it was possibly the best every. We’re going to have to work hard to top it this year.
16. What song will always remind you of 2012?
“Gangnam Style.” I like this song, though I can’t really figure out why. I just like it.
17. Compared to this time last year, are you a) happier or sadder, b) thinner or fatter, c) richer or poorer?
Happier, I think. A little more at peace with things.
Pretty much the same, actually. I wish I could say thinner, but that’s better than the alternative.
Richer, seeing as how we’ve got an income and all.
18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
Writing. Like, serious novel writing.
19. What do you wish you’d done less of?
Sitting around and doing nothing. Though, to be fair, that can be pretty therapeutic.
20. How did you spend Christmas?
Quietly, at home, with family. The best way to spend Christmas.
21. Did you fall in love in 2012?
I could go with the sappy answer and say I fell in love with Geordie all over again, but to me, that feels like an implication that I fell out of love with him. And that simply didn’t happen. Though, I could honestly say I love him more than ever.
22. What was your favorite TV program?
“Chopped.” I watched the Food Network pretty exclusively last year. And even that stopped when we moved to San Antonio and never bought a TV. Now we have one, but no cable (by choice). We’re sticking with Netflix and working our way through “Law & Order.”
23. What was the best book you read?
The “Hunger Games” series. I probably liked “Mockingjay” best, but you’ve really got to take them as a whole. There’s a lot to like about them, but it’s the twisting together of despair and hope that make them work so well for me. I loved the epilogue, that the main character felt the effects of her life far into adulthood but still managed to claim some happiness. She didn’t just get better; she learned to live with it. I know what it means to do that.
24. What was your greatest musical discovery?
I only recently started listening to the radio again. I haven’t been much interested in music since Lauren died. But I like fun., especially their song “Carry On.” Again, it’s that message of hope amidst despair.
25. What did you want and get?
A job for Geordie, a home of our own, two adorable kittens, some stability, a little peace of mind. I would have liked to have gotten pregnant, but that really wasn’t feasible in 2012. We’re leaving that for 2013.
26. What did you want and not get?
That pregnancy I mentioned. Other than that, not much.
27. What was your favorite film of 2012?
In regards to released in theaters in 2012, I saw only one – “The Hunger Games,” which I enjoyed, but not as much as the book. I’ve rather lost interest in seeing movies in theaters. I’ve been disappointed by too many of them in recent years.
28. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I turned 31. How strange it is. But I celebrated it the best way possible, with BFF Heather (whose birthday is a day after mine). Years ago, we started the tradition of the Birthday Fiesta o’ Fun, during which we cook a huge meal and feed it to our guests. Our theme this year was “Apple,” which worked wonderfully.
29. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
If Geordie had gotten this job sooner. Not to complain. It’s a good job, and we’re lucky to be happy where we are. But it would have been nicer to be secure sooner. But then we wouldn’t have had so much time to spend in Massachusetts, so that’s okay too.
30. How would you describe your personal fashion concept of 2012?
Flatlined. I have clothes that fit me. I bought what I needed. That is all.
31. What kept you sane?
Geordie. I would not have made it through this year without him. He is what makes life worth living.
32. What political issue stirred you the most?
Debates over who has control over reproduction. That decision belongs to each individual person, not to third-parties who have no knowledge of the particular circumstances. And that’s all I’ll say about it.
33. Who do you miss?
Lauren. Every single day.
34. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2012.
Life doesn’t stop because of tragedy. It pauses a while, but it goes on. You can take a break from life when you need to, but you can’t give up on it. And you can’t expect others to pause when or as long as you do. It’ll keep going without you.
35. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.
“When you’re lost and alone/or you’re sinking like a stone,/carry on.”
36. What else will always remind you of 2012?
Everything. I can’t see how I could forget the first full year we spent without Lauren. There will be so many years to follow, but 2012 was the first. It was so hard, but we survived it. That’s all there is to it.
Happy 2013, folks. I hope it’s a good one.