Speechless is an appropriate term for how I felt this weekend.

Morose is an appropriate term for how I felt yesterday.

Emotional embodies both. I’ll explain.

As we all know now, I turned 30 last Friday. It ranks in the top 2 of all birthdays, and was filled with loads of fun, friends, food, and wine – my very favorite things. Hubs had quite a few tricks up his sleeve, as expected, and surprises were aplenty. The first was an out-of-town guest, our good friend Todd who we met in Italy almost 10 years ago. Todd lives in Pennsylvania and made the trip, and seeing him was birthday present enough, but it didn’t stop there.

I found what at first glance looked to be a puppy leash (I know – I won’t stop with the puppy nonsense!) in my bag once we were back from lunch, or perhaps an old man’s suspenders. After seeing a grin emerge from both Hubs’ and Todd’s faces, I quickly realized that the strap attached to a brand new camera! I tore into the box akin to the way a 4-year-old might rip open a coveted Christmas gift, eyes wide and with excitement written all over my face and exhibiting reckless abandon, not caring who or what my flailing arms might encounter. So soon, you’ll see some digital SLR quality pics, thanks to a Pentax K-x that has barely left my grip.

Within seconds, another cat was prematurely let out of the bag, so to speak, as Hubs instantaneously raved about Luke’s help in finding a perfect beginner camera and his eagerness to help me learn about it. Which meant only one thing – he and Cheryl were en route from Minnesota! The day just kept getting better and better.

Once I realized we had a little party going on in a matter of hours, I knew it was time for “Hot Dog Night”, and we proceeded to procure groceries as such (more on those lovelies later this week). Jennifer & Jon came over, Todd was there, and Cheryl & Luke as well as Hope showed up later on that night; the weekend apparently was just getting started, and day 1 of my 31st year didn’t seem so lame after all. Not to mention cake – red velvet cake – from Bake.

Saturday went as most perfect Saturdays go, with a visit to Handlebar for brunch and a few re-runs of Modern Family, interspersed with a camera tutorial courtesy of photographer extraordinaire, Luke, and some mighty fine biscuits (recipe below) that served as photography practice.

And that night, the final surprise was unveiled. Following a stop outside our storage locker for what looked like a bag full of wine bottles, we proceeded to dinner, and I became nervous again, not knowing where we were going or who would be waiting. Turns out, Hubs had been planning with the lovely folks at Mado an exceptional dinner that not only was a treat to me, but to the rest of the group as well. In addition to the 8 of us who’d already been around for Friday’s festivities, there were 5 more: Hope’s boyfriend, James, my buddy Caroline (culinary school) and her husband, and Rachel and Andy – who recently moved away from Chicago to Milwaukee (sniff, sniff). I couldn’t have picked a better group of 13 myself :).

Luke took plenty of pics, and we consumed plenty of wine. 14 bottles to be exact. That night, Mado catered to a plethora of special diets all at once – a table of 13 of us had gluten intolerance, dairy/lactose intolerance, pescatarianism-but-usually-vegetarianism, and a preggers chick to deal with. It went off without a hitch, and we were all stuffed by the end of it. Stuffed and drunk. The rest of the night’s shenanigans included more wine and Rock Band till 4, and a puppy visit that my cat scoffed at.

That Hubs, he really is something, isn’t he? You don’t need to answer here; it’s a rhetorical question, you see. I can’t say what my life would be like without him; where I’d be had we never met. He is what they call a diamond in the rough, the butter to my bread, the shrimp to my grits; he is everything and so much more.

But when I think about how it all happened, how “we” came to be, it brings me back to yesterday’s feelings.

You see, I didn’t go to Italy (where Hubs and I  met) on a whim those 9 years ago. I didn’t go because I’d been dreaming of it all my life, or because I had a special interest in the Italian Renaissance. I went to get away from life; to be on my own, in a way.

I’d lost two of my favorite people the year before. Three days following my 20th birthday (the other one in the top 2), I received the worst call of my life. From my dad, in the middle of the night. My 17-year-old brother had been killed in a car accident. There was nothing that could have been done to save him; he had died on impact and just like that – he was taken out of my life forever. I remember screaming into the empty air, tears soaking my pillows, and I remember waking my roommates without knowing what I’d say or how I’d say it. My then-boyfriend’s family drove to pick me up from college in the middle of the night; we drove home in silence – other than sobs and sniffles I was quiet, blank. I remember that day and those that followed as if it were yesterday. I spent those following months at home with my family, being with my mom, dad, and sister and helping to take care of my gramma, who’d been diagnosed with end-stage cancer the day of my brother’s accident. I spent weeks upon weeks at home with her, at which time we watched hours of The Price is Right, paid her bills, and of course, ate peanut butter s’mores. It was not a typical college girl’s summer, that’s for sure.

Yesterday marked 10 years since that dreaded phone call. It’s gotten better, but it’s never easy and while 10 years seems like so long ago, I see it so clearly. Every year on that day I think of him, just like every other 364 days of every year, but this year seems a little bit different, a little bit harder. I miss him so, no matter how annoying he was, or how baggy his jeans were. I’d let him smoke packs of cigarettes if he were here with me today, and I wouldn’t even complain…

…And so, it was that year, months later, that I decided I needed change, and I decided to study abroad in Italy. It was there that Hubs and I met and while I think in sadness about what brought me there, realizing the irony of it all, I smile knowing that, no matter how tragic, how terrible the circumstances were, I know that, because of meeting him, I have become a better person, and that I went on that trip to find him.

So with that, I am humbly thankful – because in being surrounded by death, I learned to live. I learned that life can be so short, our time here with the ones we love so horribly finite. I learned that each and every day is a gift, and that if all else fails us in life, we still have the ones we love. Most of them, at least.

This past weekend was so perfect for so many reasons – but mostly, because I was surrounded by some of my favorite people – my friends, who mean the world to me and so much more.

Thank you for being there.

Now, let’s eat some tasty biscuits.

Blue Cheese Scallion Drop Biscuits
From Smitten Kitchen, who adapted from Gourmet; makes a dozen

if you like blue cheese, you will like these biscuits. if you don’t, you should probably find another cheese to blend in, or perhaps use the original Gourmet recipe linked above. really, any biscuit will do, but I enjoyed these thoroughly. blue cheese flavor permeates every bite, and the scallions add a distinct zing. plus, they come together in no time, so there really is no excuse for not giving them a whirl. did i mention they freeze well? freeze a few (unbaked) and pull ’em out for a last minute slab of carbohydrate by adding a few minutes to the baking time.

printable version

2 1/4 c all-purpose flour
2 1/2 t baking powder
2 t sugar
3/4 t baking soda
1 t salt
6 T cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 1/2 c crumbled blue cheese
4 scallions, finely chopped
1 c buttermilk (or let 1 c milk + 1 T vinegar sit for  5 minutes to curdle)

Preheat oven to 450 F. Whisk together flour, baking powder, sugar, baking soda, and salt in a bowl, then blend in butter with your fingertips, or with a pastry blender, until mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in blue cheese and scallions. Add buttermilk and stir until just combined.

Drop dough in 12 equal mounds about 2 inches apart onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake in middle of oven until golden, 16 to 20 minutes and rotating the pan once halfway through baking.

14 thoughts on “Bittersweet

  1. John says:

    Wow…what a party and gathering of friends, great narrative of where you been, where your at and hopefully a wonderful ‘Queen Forever’ & marvelous cook. Thank You.

  2. Now THAT’s how you celebrate 30 – well done, Hubs!! And the pictures from your new camera – beautiful! You’ll enjoy that DSLR for a LONG time. And thanks for sharing your personal story of how you came to meet Hubs, and the journey that brought you there. Lovely post from a beautiful, accomplished woman. Happy Birthday!

  3. Debby says:

    Heather, you are truly an amazing woman with so much talent, love and grace. I wish we lived closer. My brother is wonderful and so are you…so glad you found each other. Happy Birthday! xo

  4. Lauren K & Mary N says:

    happy belated birthday! what a touching post. hope the year ahead is filled with happiness. hope those biscuits tasted as good as they looked. mary n wants to know about a gluten free version…

  5. just wanted to say thanks to all of you for the wonderful, uplifting comments (both on here, through email, facebook, and wherever else I heard from you!).

    it’s nice to know that, although i’m generally blabbing about food and randomness on here, that i can also share a little more when i feel the need, and that it’s appreciated. thanks to all of you – it certainly means a lot!

  6. Jill & Paul says:

    Hi Heather,
    Happy, happy birthday…what a wonderful intro to your 31st year! Congratulations to Chris for hosting such a delightful celebration. Chris must have bitten his tongue many times over the past months to keep the secret from escaping. Heather, you have such a knack for writing and allowing your readers a peak at your life. Thank you for sharing your special memories of your brother. We think of you very fondly remembering times we shared in Chicago and how welcoming you always were to us. Continue to live and enjoy each day as you do!

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