Monday, October 15, 2012

Dragging Up Old Rag

Last Sunday my husband and I dragged each other up Old Rag. Sadly, this isn't a metaphor! We hiked 9.63 miles up and down a rocky Shenandoah mountain on a cold, wet October day. The trek, marking our eighth anniversary, was a fitting analogy for our marriage.

We started early, leaving the house pre-dawn and our families of origin by age twenty-two. In both beginnings we set out quickly and easily, holding hands, smiling, excited with starting a momentous journey together. Soon, it was uphill. Our pace slowed, but the views got better and the feeling of achievement grew. We relaxed and enjoyed each other’s pleasant company, celebrating small successes along the way. Then, amidst all this peaceful progress, came...THE SCRAMBLE.

We knew part of the "fun" of this hike was the rock scramble, we just didn't know how very much "fun" it would be. We'd read a blog or two in preparation. We'd known people of lesser physical ability who summited. Like newlyweds, we were over-confident, ignoring the warnings of experienced park rangers.

On a dry day, it might have been easy, but our day was not dry. There are all sorts of comparisons between this and our marriage. Life is rich with complications. Our hearts break from the ordinary and the extraordinary, and this year saw lots of heartbreak for the Rambling Roches. Many of them, like the rocks on the trail, we should have seen coming. But, that isn’t ever enough. Twenty-twenty hindsight doesn’t alleviate pain, nor does the promise to do better next time absolve fault.

After I thought we’d nearly completed the dreaded scramble with ease, my heart sank. It hadn’t even begun. When I saw a blue-blazed arrow pointing eight feet straight down a narrow crevasse, I dropped my jaw and stared back blankly at Jeff. While I had kept our pace steady and swift to this point, Jeff now took the lead to steer us through this difficult challenge. I think this is how our marriage works, too. I am driven and determined to succeed and achieve, raised with the mantra “it’s not a race, but I won.” But, on the foggiest of nights, I couldn’t get anywhere without Jeff as my beacon.

As we continued, the rocks were slick making it difficult to secure footing. Jeff was sometimes in front reaching for my hand, and sometimes behind reaching for MY behind. There were times when I used all of my muscles (kegels included!) to reach the next rock. Jeff remained a patient force, guiding us both up the scramble. Without his strength, I could not have made it through.

After several miles at a twenty - thirty minute per mile pace, the mile containing the scramble took us one hour and forty-one minutes. Even more than the summit, this was the most memorable, most remarkable, and most enjoyable mile of our journey. Through the adversity of slick rocks, we showed our care and concern for one another. We stayed together. We loved each other through it and despite it. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The end of the hike was a picturesque, slowly-descending trail through the woods. It was beautiful, though the scenery was unvaried. Eventually, the serenity of the tree-lined path seemed only a taunting reminder of how far away the car remained. By now, we were fatigued and the view that we were both longing for was that of our Subaru containing dry clothing and the means to deliver us to a massive cheeseburger.

While we enjoyed the descent together, it wasn't what spoke to our souls. In our marriage, we're not there yet. When we are, I hope it is like our hike: holding hands, smiling, and peacefully reflecting on the wonder of our journey together. For now, we’re still managing the scramble: alternating leads, encouraging one another, guiding one another, and using all our skills, abilities, and muscles (even kegels!) to make it…together.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Processed Food: Irony and Love

The irony of October Unprocessed is the increased usage of our food processor. In decreasing our reliance on factory processing and artificial ingredients, our kitchen is brimming with fresh foods that require...processing. In just over a week now we've broken out the Cuisinart to assist in:

Giada's Marinara Sauce - which we adored over Spaghetti Squash,

Lara Bars - I added raw vegan protein powder for the perfect accompaniment to our 9.63 mile trek/scramble up Old Rag last weekend,

Zucchini Apple Spice Muffins - which I loved but the kids didn't appreciate,

Pop Tarts - which were a big breakfast hit with the kids when served with peanut butter, and

Strawberry Jelly, a recipe Jeff indicates was modified so intensely that he's not sure he can replicate it.

While I've never considered myself much of a cook, my husband's bright culinary light outshines mine even on an off day, I have found joy in "processing" food for the family, much like I used to find joy in baking as a girl. When you bake, you feel love and joy as you are assembling and mixing the ingredients. It comes back to you when you see someone's face brighten while tasting what you've created. In not allowing a conglomerate-owned factory (or anyone else for that matter) to process my family's food, I get the privilege of putting love and joy into creating healthy meals and snacks. Thoughtfulness and consideration are built into the process as I adapt recipes to suit the dietary needs and taste preferences of my kin. Sometimes the love and joy I expend while cooking is reciprocated when deliciousness is appreciated with smiles or glowing words of affirmation. Sometimes I receive it simply with the knowledge that my family has been fed and nurtured in a healthy, nutritious way. Processing food at home allows love to be part of the process again. Many thanks to October Unprocessed for reminding me what the process of feeding others is all about.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Food Thoughts - Roasted Spaghetti Squash and Homemade Marinara

It’s 10 AM. I’ve finished my morning snack and have taken to dreaming about food. Ahhhh, food! But, it’s not sweets that have me swooning. It’s the radically delicious roasted spaghetti squash and homemade organic marinara Jeff made last Friday that’s making my mouth water. It sounds crazy that of all the foods that could fill a gal’s thoughts, vegetables are what’s gripping my attention.  
(After a few more minutes of daydreaming about this meal and the dreamy man who cooked it, I’m back.)
The sauce was boss, coming from a Jersey girl with an Italian grandmother. Okay, she was only half-Italian and largely raised in foster homes of unknown ethnic origin, but to anyone who knew her she was pure I-talian! She might be rolling in her grave, but Jeff’s sauce was the best I’ve ever tasted. Neither boring nor overpowering, it’s just perfect to make any Italian classic a homerun.
While the sauce was the feature, the squash endeared itself to my taste buds. The sheer health of it delighted us both, while not detracting from this comfort food classic. I attempted spaghetti squash once in college, but denied it a second date. I wasn’t ready; my diet largely consisted of beer, bagels, pizza, and grilled cheese. Now that I pass for an adult most days, spaghetti squash = awesome!
One final reason this meal lights up my heart is unabashed sentimentality. Italian food on Fridays reminds me of my childhood. My working mother pleaded for my father to lighten her load by handling one dinner per week. He chose Friday and ordered pizza every week. She was thrilled just not to be cooking. I am lucky to have a husband who cooks more (and better) than I and never orders takeout when it’s his turn. This meal and its timing reminds me just how lucky I am through it all – for pizza Fridays as a kid and veggie-filled Italian nights as an adult.