There are moments in life that take the breath right out of you.

You’d thought you had every side protected, every loose string accounted for — but that small sliver of weakness leaves you raw and exposed and it’s so sudden, and so unexpected, you spend a fair amount of time staring into space, uncomprehending.

Marriage isn’t easy.  I feel super blessed, because I married the right man and we are best friends — he’s my favorite person to be with, to laugh with, to hold hands.  But marriage isn’t just about two people who dig each other’s company. It’s so much more than that.  It’s every breath, it’s every challenge, it’s every triumph.  It’s every mountain, whether you want to climb it or not.  John and I have been together for over seven years (!!!) and we’ve faced poverty, multiple sclerosis, MEN type I, our parents health (which includes cancer on both sides), difficult family relations, a dog who is a vegetarian, frustrations at work, depression …. The list is not short.  We’ve also found solace in each other, in the quiet moments eating soup and watching mindless TV, in buying a house together, in traveling to new and exciting places, in brother-in-laws, in food and wine and football.  And I know that no matter what we come across on this road of life, we’ll get through it together.

Eight years ago, my grandmother died.  She ate steak and banana cream pie at the casino days before she passed away, so she went out on a good note — I hope.  I miss her every day — not in that aching, I-can’t-continue-to-live kind of way.  But in the I-wish-I-could-call-and-b.s.-on-the-phone kind of way.  She moved in with my family when I was five years old, and she made breakfast for my brother and I every morning before school, she was there when we came home, she chased us with a wooden spoon when we made her mad, but she also spoiled us rotten when she thought my parents weren’t looking.  She was stubborn as a mule, and very opinionated but she was every kind of fabulous.  I was her little girl, her only granddaughter.  She bought me so much clothing (in an attempt to ignite in me her love of fashion and jewelry and perfumes …. it didn’t totally work).  She tried to get me to collect porcelain dolls.  She fed our dogs potato chips.

She died and two months later, I met John.

I think she sent him to me.  I know, I know — it sounds naive and ridiculous.  But I think she knew I would need someone solid beside me for my life’s journey.  She probably knew things I didn’t know yet.  She probably knew the man I was with at her funeral wasn’t the right man for me.  She was right.

Sometimes life takes the breath right out of you.  And nothing seems familiar.  Or fair.  And in the end, I guess you just have to hold your precious people close to you and hope and pray for the best.  You have to believe you’ve made the right decisions.  And if I’ve only made one right decision in my life, it was choosing John.  And I will do anything and everything to protect that, to protect him and to protect us.  And I think that’s the best thing — maybe the only thing — I can really do.

what I do, who I am

The man and I decided to lounge by our fire tonight.  It was a long, gray, wet day with the prospect of another long, gray, wet day on the horizon.  So Lucy and I curled up on the couch, with John in a lounge chair, with the music filling the house with the sounds of Melody Gardot, Ella Fitzgerald, and Frank Sinatra and fire gently crackling in the background.

I began to think, as the day wound down and the tension began to ease from my shoulder blades, about how long I’ve really been in the hospitality industry.  I remember working the concession stand for my brother’s little league team — selling all sorts of colorful candy treats to parents and friends there to watch the games.  And helping out at my aunt’s campground in my teens — learning very quickly that the British and Americans spoke two different versions of the same language.  Beginning my first high school job bussing tables and running food at an exceptional eatery and learning the elegance of casual fine dining first hand — the knowledge needed to properly ensure a diner’s enjoyment.  Three years hawking burgers and loaded potato skins at a huge corporate operation (and in multiple locations to boot!) that taught me nothing if not systems and their effectiveness.  I thought about my ex-Uncle and all the things he taught me about steps of service, how to clear a table, properly pour a bottle of wine, to appreciate the artistry of a chef.

It isn’t surprising at all that I’ve found myself fully immersed in the industry in my mid-thirties — even if I spent a lot more of my time waiting tables bemoaning it and wishing myself anywhere else than appreciating the knowledge base I was growing.  I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with restaurants.  It’s hard, back-breaking work with very little lasting financial reward and it’s every day, all day and night.   On national holidays, restaurants have additional staff.  Not less, and they certainly aren’t enjoying the day like everyone else.

But somehow, i can’t imagine doing anything else.  I live it and I breathe it.  It’s an integral part of who I am.  If I know nothing, I at least know restaurants.  The culture, the ebb and flow, the politics.  It brutalizes you, pulling you back when you most want to leave.  It’s an addiction, a constant fight for perfection that will never occur.  I’m so indescribably proud of my little restaurant and all it has provided a foundation for: new locations, new concepts, more brilliant restauranteurs and chefs.  And yet it absolutely breaks me on a daily basis, pushing my patience and capabilities to their absolute limit.  It makes me want to quit, it often makes me cry.  But it also lifts me up at unexpected moments, and brings such unadulterated joy for flashes of time.

It doesn’t surprise me at all, when I think back and look at the path I’ve walked, that I am the director of a restaurant company.  But it also takes me completely by surprise that this is where I’ve gotten to, because despite all the experience and all the time in the trenches, I still feel as though I know nothing at all.

my favorite month

My favorite month is October.

You would think it would be December — my birthday, Christmas, my mom’s birthday, Christmas, my birthday. But at some hazy point in my past I knew without a doubt that October was the ultimate — the bee’s knees, the motts.

There’s something so essentially autumnal about it — more than September or November. It’s orange leaves and sweatshirts and football and bonfires.  It’s the smell of leaf piles and apple cider.  It’s comforting, a brief breath of time that feels exactly as it should.  Without fail, every year.

Today was a gray October day with spitting rain … and then actual rain as I heaved food home in ripping paper bags the three blocks to the train station and then the absurdly long trek from the far side of the tracks to my car.  A stranger shared his umbrella with me for part of the walk — it was such a beautiful reminder of the goodness of people.  That gets forgotten a lot in the course of a day at work, fighting losing/lost battles and being constantly challenged to the point where you have no idea if anyone is on your side.

Tonight I’m sitting in my little office and the darkness has taken over the skies — so much earlier than a few months ago when we first bought this house.  It’s beginning to feel like home — as we settle into routines and do the things we used to do somewhere else, with different routines.  I cooked yesterday, and I cooked this past weekend — and the kitchen has stopped feeling so foreign, so untouchable.  It’s starting to feel like ours. Coming home and bundling up in a rain coat to take Lucy to get the mail feels normal.  Turning on Sonos in every room and filling the house with music — it’s no longer a novelty.  And tonight, I’ll curl up on the couch and watch my Steelers — my poor, depleted, beautiful Steelers — play their first divisional game of the season.  While eating quiche.  With my hubby and my little fur ball Lucy.  Life is good.

Like I said, October is my favorite month and I am looking forward to this one with such joyous anticipation.  And it’s so nice to be home.