A lot of people have been asking what's going to happen to Life in Chicago when I move to LA in a few weeks. Well, I'm happy to report that I'm going to be launching a brand new website at the end of the month. I've been working with a designer for the last couple of months and the whole thing should be good to go by the end of May, just in time for our big move.
The site will be an overall website, with a blog attached, all under the url www.clairebidwellsmith.com, and I promise that I'll still be blogging regularly. I think part of the reason that I've been blogging so lightly lately is that I'm so excited about my fancy new site that I'm having a hard time feeling motivated to put energy into this one.
In any case, the next year of my life is bound to be chock full of interesting stuff to write about -- the move, lots of weddings this summer, my book stuff and a possible pregnancy later in the year (stay tuned!).
Speaking of the book, everything has been moving along at a rapid pace. I'll probably have a cover to show you before the month is over and I've even started sending out advanced manuscripts to other authors. Things have actually be going so well that I have a new publishing date: 2/2/12.
Anyway, it's 87 degrees in Chicago today. Finally. And we've got packing to dive into. My last day of work is tomorrow and we drive outta this town in less than three weeks.
Oh, and funny story involving my blog. The person moving into our apartment after we leave is actually a blog reader. She found me at one point through Julie's blog -- if you remember Julie's sister is getting married to Greg's best friend Tarek -- and emailed me to see if our apartment was going up for rent when we left. She came by a few days later with our landlord and sure enough, she's moving in at the first of June. Julie and I joked that we should start charging for our services -- matchmaking and apartment finding.
You are 23 months old, just shy of two years! I can't believe how fast it's gone, even though the depth of our lives since you arrived is undeniable.
Yesterday was Mother's Day and I spent some time thinking about myself as a mother. I think it's easier to be a mediocre parent, harder to be a great one. I think there are moments where I shine as a mom, but sometimes we are all just getting by. That's life though, isn't it?
I'm happy being a mom though. I can't imagine not being one. Your existence has added vast importance to my life. Your presence has given me perspective and pause and motion, all at once. Our relationship has changed everything about the way I think about my own parents, and for that I couldn't be more grateful. You have given them back to me a hundred times over, and that, my dear, has healed me in more ways than I can say.
As for you, where do I even begin? You are an utter force. You have blindsided your Dad and I with how smart you are. Your language evolves more every single day, and the pleasure of carrying on a conversation with you these days is greater than anything else that brings me joy. It's not just that you're speaking in 6 and 7 word sentences but that you've mastered words like "our" -- "That's our new car," you say as I open the door of it to put the parking meter slip on the dash. And the dynamic use of the word "like" -- for instance this morning when you requested to smell my flower-shaped earrings. When I asked you what they smell like you replied, "Like Cape Cod."
In the last six weeks you've started to tell your father and me that you love us, saying it so sweetly when we put you down for bed. "Goodnight, mama. I love you." It's acutely surprising and utterly heartbreaking each time.
As I write this your dad is at the playground with you and I am staring idly around at this apartment we are about to leave. In three weeks we will get in the car and drive to California to begin a new life. It will be an adventure for all of us, and we'll each change and grow in more ways than I know any of us can imagine.
You'll turn two in Los Angeles and we already have a party planned, the invitations sent out. Oh, and we're getting you a dollhouse. I hope you like it. A few years from now you'll probably get surf lessons and a pink wet suit.
Anyway, I just want to say thank you for making me a mother. In so many ways, you've completed me.
All my love,
It's Wednesday morning early. Greg and Veronica are playing in the front part of the house and I'm staring blearlily around the house, thinking about how we have less than a month to dismantle it all.
Moving always makes me kind of panicky, in an emotional way. For all the loss and change I've experienced in my life, I still don't seem to have a grip on it. It's time like this that I tell myself, "One day I'll be a Buddhist and I'll figure out this whole detachment thing. I'll know how to let go. I'll embrace impermanence."
But I don't quite have that figured out yet. So for now I still get tight-chested at the thought of saying goodbye to our nanny who's been with us since V was two months old, or to the stove in our kitchen that I dearly love, to the girlfriends here that I've become so close with, or the close proximity we've enjoyed to Vera's grandparents.
Intellectually I know that all of these things wouldn't have lasted forever anyway, that once we're moved and settled and the goodbyes are said and done, none of it will feel so hard. I have half a dozen examples of times I've done this before and made it through and been happier for it. I know too, that I'll never feel settled in Chicago, will always long for California, and that once we're there I'll take in the kind of deep breath I haven't done here, and I'll let it out, knowing I finally feel like I'm home again.
All this to say that I hate goodbyes. I hate endings. After my mom died the life I knew completely fell apart. I dropped out of college for a year and went home to Atlanta. That summer my father and I sorted through and packed up our family home and it was truly one of the saddest things I've ever experienced. It was the physical dismantling of a family. We had a massive estate sale and I watched strangers walk away with my mother's dresses, her evening purses and vintage high heels. I watched them sort through her cookbooks and cart away the furniture that had made up our living room. We had to find new homes for some of our pets too (unspeakably horrible), and I had to sort through the kind of childhood artifacts that I wasn't quite ready to let go of, but had to.
I feel kind of silly complaining about it. We all have to go through something similar at one point or another, even without a giant loss overshadowing the experience. It was a hard time though, and each time I've moved since then a hundred memories of loss float to the surface.
I've been trying to go back to the idea of being present lately. It's one of the only methods I've found to feel peaceful. I have an achingly strong tendency to steep myself in the past or to stream forward into the future. If I pull myself back to right here, right now, everything feels sturdier, more possible.
So here I am in the present: In my pajamas, the taste of coffee with milk in my mouth. Greg and Veronica playing mermaids somewhere behind me. The feel of bare feet on a hardwood floor. The green-brown river swirling by outside the windows, a robin hopping across the rooftop next door, a duck quacking. The feeling of safety and of certainty.
A couple of months ago while I was working on the last chapter of my book I came across some old papers from around the time my father died. In them I found a note I had written reminding myself that my father would like some of his ashes scattered in his hometown of Rogers City, MI. He grew up in Northern Michigan and both of his parents and all of his siblings are buried there.
After much deliberation about the 7-hour drive from Chicago, I finally decided to make the pilgrimage north this last weekend. Greg and V came too. There aren't a lot of physical ways to introduce my husband and daughter to my late parents, but visiting the place where my father was born seemed like a really incredible way to do so.
I think places leave imprints on people. They shape them and become part of them, even if you grow up in that town and never live there again.
I've been scattering my parents ashes in various places for years now. I have no idea how this plan originated, but after my mother died my father started it off by taking a portion of her ashes to Cape Cod.
I'll never forget coming across my dad, bent over the trunk of the car in my aunt's driveway on Cape Cod right after my mother's memorial service, using a salad spoon to transfer some of her ashes into a ziploc bag.
At first I was appalled, but as with a lot of things, my father set me at ease and said something simple like, "There's just no other way around it, sweetie."
He was right. That afternoon we scattered her ashes on Nauset Beach on the Cape, where they got engaged over twenty years earlier.
Later that year my father pressed another ziploc into my hand as I was packing for a trip to Europe. "Take these to Italy," he said. And I did, scattering them in a small fountain in a quiet corner of the city.
When my father died a few years later, it was my turn to get out the ziploc bag. On the one year anniversary of his death I went to Italy again and took his ashes to the same fountain. I also took a sackful to Cape Cod.
But after that both of their ashes have sat in their separate plastic bags, inside a heavier velvet bag, in the back of my closet. For the most part, I don't think about them. When Greg and I moved in together I morbidly held them up one afternoon as we were unpacking. "Greg, meet my parents," I said, laughing.
You have to laugh.
So last week I got out the velvet bag, a salad serving spoon and a ziploc bag, and while Greg and V were busy in the living room, I went into the kitchen where I filled the ziploc bag for our trip to Michigan.
Ashes are heavier than you expect. Grey and grainy, with bits of what must be bone in them. At the very least, they look authentic.
On Friday morning we set out early to drive seven hours, up to the very top of Michigan.
Even though my Dad grew up in Rogers City, we decided to stay the night in the larger town of Cheboygan. We found a nice hotel on the river and spent the afternoon swimming in the indoor pool, which was heavenly after such a long car trip.
That night we went to the strangest, most fantastic 100-year old restaurant called the Hack-Ma-Tack Inn. It was located in the middle of nowhere, down a series of nothing roads and right on a little water way out in the woods. If it hadn't been so pretty and sunny, I would have thought we were in a David Lynch movie.
The moment we stepped foot inside I knew that it was exactly the kind of place my father would have loved. Over halibut and prime rib and Veronica's first shirley temple, it dawned on me that given the restaurant's age, my father probably HAD been there.
The next morning we drove down to Rogers City. Northern Michigan is so beautiful. There are evergreen trees everywhere, the air is cool and clean and the sky is impossibly blue.
My dad left Rogers City after high school and never went back, living instead in places like Los Angeles, Miami and Atlanta. When I was growing up we visited Michigan a few times, but until this last weekend, I hadn't been in over 10 years.
Driving into that town was the only time I got a little sad during this trip. Scattering ashes doesn't make me sad -- I've been doing it for so long -- but winding our way through Rogers City, a place that once meant so much to my father made my chest tight and tears brim in my eyes. I wished I knew more about it. Wished he were there to show me around, to point out the places where he fished with his brothers, the house he grew up in, where he went to school.
I took a few deep breaths and let Greg find our way to the cemetery where we found the family plot. We read aloud the names on the stones and I told Greg bits and pieces of the people they represented. Then I scattered his ashes across the ground there. It was sunny and cool and Veronica played with sticks and lifted her face to the breeze.
After that we went back to town where we visited the sheriff's department. My grandfather Oscar was sheriff of Rogers City from 1938 - 1946. His tenure came to an abrupt end when he died of a sudden heart attack. Apparently there was no precedent for this and my grandmother was asked to take over until the end of his term, becoming the first female sheriff in Michigan.
I recounted this story to the current sheriff, which he seemed to have heard before, and shook his hand.
After that we drove out to 40 Mile Point Lighthouse. It wasn't exactly open for the season yet, but the groundskeepers were there with a crew of boy scouts, readying the property for spring, and they let us roam around, even up to the top of the lighthouse.
We walked down the beach a ways, past the remnants of a decades-old shipwreck, and I scattered the rest of my dad's ashes in the cool, clear water. Evergreens rounded the lip of the beach and the sound of lake rocks washing against the shore was a familiar one.
There was a time in my life when something like this would have made me sad, but not anymore. Instead I felt grateful to be there, thankful to have known my father at all, happy to be standing in a place where he once swam as a boy, and humbled to be there with my husband and daughter.
(See all the photos here.)
Apologies for my absence. One of my best friends, Lien, has been in town from LA for the last four days and we really did it up.
On Friday night we surprised Greg with tickets to an Arcade Fire / The National show. Saturday we hit up the opening of Grant Achatz's The Aviary (see my Flickr album from that night here) and drank some of the most magically complicated cocktails to ever grace my lips. Sunday was Easter, which involved an egg hunt for Vera, brunch with Ashley & Mark, a stop at George and Sara's party and then a home-cooked Easter supper.
(See all the Easter photos here.)
You would think we would have stopped there, but no. Lien is a food writer and one of my most favorite people to eat with, so on Monday we did lunch at Hot Doug's, followed by some light shopping in Wicker Park, and then Lien and I went to Girl and the Goat. Needless to say, each night involved a deep, dreamless food coma.
Today we topped it all off with a yoga class and then a trip to the airport and I wasn't at all sad to say goodbye to Lien, because I'll see her in a month when I'm LIVING in LA again.
More to come when I've recovered a bit more fully from this weekend.
For the last four years I've been getting together with essentially the same little group for a girls night. We do this every couple of months, most often at my house, but occasionally at one of the others. We all cook something and then usually watch a movie. Any boys around get the boot. So we can talk about them, of course.
Last weekend I hosted my last girls night in Chicago (get ready Los Angeles) and this time we went with a French-inspired menu. (We've also done several rounds of chocolate-making nights.) It was fitting that this was our last night because we seriously outdid ourselves. The menu was so astoundingly good that I had to repost it here.