Grand Opening


Underneath Grand Opening there is a hand written sign. Pho & Chinese Food & Free Drinks.

The paint they chose was teal and pink. The lights were dim, the orchids fake, the Grand Opening balloons popped and dangling from the awning.

But the lights were still on and the not too pretty waitress was sitting on the booth, all by herself, alone. Somehow the way she sat made me think of my grandma, and how people can spend their lives inside their houses, with the TV on, alone.

Ten thirty, probably too late, but the lights are on, Zilla said, and she is sitting there and we are hungry. So we drive past three times, debating it, and each time we drive a little faster, and the raindrops become streaks of yellow light, hitting our windshield, keeping us from our goal.

Now we really want to eat there but we cannot find a place to park.

And then we finally do and we get out and walk shoulders-up, eyes-on-toes, hands-in-pockets against the cold, the rain, quickly up to glow coming from under the Grand Opening sign.

Zilla hesitates and then he takes his hand out of his pocket and pushes the cold handle on the glass door. No little bells ring. The waitress looks up with not much interest and chews at us for a small moment and then waves us away with her chopsticks.


Nothing happens. No one moves.

I feel suddenly irrationally sad. And mad. And I want to hug this woman tight. We will eat with you!

The rain drops and the white rude overhead lights make my skin shine. The red vinyl booths, the Sriracha sauce, the overripe plum of her lips almost make me cry.

Outside the window, our car, a color the dealer said was tango red, looks orange.  We got back in and drove home and ended up not eating at all.

I wouldn’t have gone back. But Zilla wanted to give them a chance. It doesn’t have to be fancy, he said, to be good.

This time there was an older man with a few grew strands of a long beard and a dingy half apron waiting, like he always had been, on the same red booth. His hands were still.

The fresh rolls weren’t fresh. The sprouts were starting to go brown and they were loosely folded, like they were made by a child.

The sweet chili sauce came from a jar. The feel of it, oddly thick, lacking vinegar, lacking love, took over my thoughts.

I began to taste what I felt. Why do you think I want to eat this? Do you want to eat this? You must not respect me! You must not take yourself seriously! What a waste! You are completely foolish! Opening a restaurant is not easy! Nothing is easy!

Over a not-so-fresh fresh roll, I get stupid, angry and mad.

I want them to suffer. To go out of business. But just sitting there, they don’t even seem to care.

We left the restaurant and we left town-this was when we traveled a lot, because Zilla’s dad was sick- and when we came back the grand opening was over and the place was closed.  No lights, nobody.

I imagined that they left like an office worker does in the movies, gathering a few items into a brown box that goes who knows where, making their little space into an empty space again.

The only things they left (was there ever anything else?) were the cash register, the booths, the chopsticks in their paper covers on the table, their aprons, as if they were coming back for them, draped over the counter, the Sriracha on the tables, their fake orchids, and their Grand Opening sign.

This is an old piece I never got to posting. This space—on Capitol Hill in Seattle—has been five restaurants since.

Amazing Love

Luke 6 month old hand

This week last year I was 38 weeks pregnant— full term. Somehow, Luke is already almost a year old. This morning, Zilla said: “I just realized that the first birthday party is really for the parents: We survived! We kept him alive.”

Survival was never on my mind. Waiting for Luke (which took a while—labor never progressed, induction failed, and he was evicted by cesarean when things got complicated, at 42 weeks) I wondered how this giant bulge in my belly would make life change.

Change is only something you can measure if most things stay the same, and nothing has. Having a new baby, trying to find time to work, negotiating child care, being a parent and a partner and still a child—and childish–myself, installing car seats, breastfeeding in public… It has been like moving to a new country, in a far-away time zone, with different hygiene standards and sleep customs and negotiation tactics and a new language and a very messy cuisine where eating involves putting food in your hair.

I am me. I am totally different. You really have to visit. A post-card or Facebook picture, your friends kids or babysitting, everything your mother ever told your, all the books you could possibly read—which I realize makes writing about parenthood comical if not fraught—don’t even begin to explain it.

Practically, friendships have shifted—people I thought would be there have disappeared and many new friends have arrived. I feel more connected to humanity that I ever have. I love people simple because they are someone’s mother or son. And yet, sometimes I feel lonely, but I am never alone: All exercise involves a baby stroller or pack. All sleep includes my little man. All toileting—you get the idea. The rare moment that I am without Luke, the dogs crawl in my lap, thinking that, now, finally, I belong to them. This can also be true of the husband.

My schedule has changed. I work whenever I can sneak in a minute and I guard that time like a rabid animal but feel less certain that it is time well spent. Even when I am so glad to be working, work does not have the same place in my life: being a mom has made me bigger. Work is a smaller part of who I am.

And even though I miss them, and have more time to think of them—while Luke naps, while I push the stroller, while I read Luke an old book my Mom read to me– it is hard to find time to talk to family or old friends. And equally hard to explain why: even though there is so much to say, so many changes in Luke every day, they are also imperceptible, huge and small. And sometimes I am so spent that I feel like I am unable to form syllables with my tongue, and I can’t listen, my ears just don’t hear.

I often hear people say that you need time away, time for yourself. This is true for me too. But it is also true that when I am with Luke, really with him, my problems seem to go away. I am able to let go of those knotted petty fears about the size of my jeans and the size of my paycheck, the state of my book, and everything I think I should do or want to achieve or become, I feel a kind of peace I have never known, and a confidence too. A friend of my recently said that parenting is a continuing education program devised for adults. This sounds about right. I have a lot to learn. But I think I am starting to get the idea: Don’t worry about what worries me. It’s summer! So what if I haven’t washed my hair or the car or the dog. So what if it’s been a year since I posted here and all I can think to write or talk about—oh, the cliché– is babies or motherhood? I have to remember not to try to understand everything or—my biggest temptation–plan too much.

For all its complications, the job can be pretty simple, if I let it: just love.

P.S. Thanks, Laura.


Photo booth pictures

Once, when I was in preschool, I stole a bracelet from the dress-up box and wore it home, tucked under my cuff. I felt so bad about it that the next morning I took the bracelet back. Ms. Rosell, the teacher, saw me putting the bracelet back and asked if I had “borrowed” it. I’m sure I agreed. But that was not what I intended: if my courage held up, I would have kept it. I intended theft.

Over the summer solstice, Zilla and I went to a friends’ wedding, in San Francisco. Last weekend, we went to another friend’s wedding on Vashon Island. Both times I wondered if I would know anybody other than the bride and groom, and if not, who I would talk to, and what we would talk about. Both times I realized it didn’t matter. Zilla and I were there together. It seemed like no one else was around.

Zilla and I have been married now, amazingly, almost eight years. It has been a long time since our wedding day. We were together a year before that. Nine years is not an eternity, but it is a while. Nine is also a number very close to ten. In ten years, things change.

I think the meaning of family, and love, when you cut the rest away, is to be together as you change. People say you can’t change people. I think this is right, but it is also wrong. Putting it that way it makes it seem like change does not happen, when it does. I say this instead: everyone changes, no one knows how. Love is what happens underneath, what is regardless, what, for better or worse, stays the same.

Watching our friends get married, with openness, and giddiness, and courage and embarrassment and hope as they said their vows, Zilla and I got to steal a little bit of their joy for a few hours, a few days.

Like with most theft, we didn’t really need it. We have our own joy: the kind you work out after almost-ten years. And like with most change, I don’t think I want to undo what I, and we, have become. So maybe we were just “borrowing” some joy. Remembering. Trying it on.

We took this picture at the wedding last weekend. Good friends of the bride and groom set up a picture booth. I think it proves that there is always change, even in what you call happiness and love.

Maybe there was even some interest on the joy we gave back.



My Parents’ Child

When I told my friend Roxanna, many months ago, that we were expecting, she said. “You are becoming your child’s parent. You will forget how you were before.”

“How was I before?”

“Before you are your parents’ child.”


Last week my pregnancy reached full term. This means our child can be born at any time; that his lungs are developed enough to breathe air.

Everyone looks at my belly and says, you are about to pop, you must be so ready, especially in this heat.

Excited, happy, but also unsure. And a little scared. Right now, I know exactly where my son is, and that he is safe. Soon I will be mom for the rest of my life. I am happy to just be Beth for a few more days.


My mother says that there is a kind of love that you don’t understand until you are a mother yourself. This always irritated me. It seemed untrue. In ways, it seemed unkind.

Lately, though, I’ve been wondering if she might be right.

Maybe that love includes some for the birth of your own new self.

An Original Name

A brown labradoodleThe year before last, Zilla and I got a puppy. I suffer from allergies; Zilla likes doting, cuddly dogs. We wanted a dog big enough to go with us on runs. One day we saw a mellow, medium sized, non-shedding, adorable pup we both liked lying behind the counter at a bicycle shop.

“What kind of dog is that?” I asked the owner.

“Oh, her?”

We nodded. There was only one dog in the shop.

“She’s half Lab, half poodle.” I’d never heard of such a thing.

The shop owner nodded. “A labradoodle.”


When I was a kid Katie was a popular name. My class had Katie M. Katie K., Katie B. and Katie W., not to mention a Kate and one Catherine with a C and one Katharine with a K.

I like the name Kate. It might be my favorite name ever. But I vowed never to use it. For my child—for my dog–I wanted something unique, original, not the same.

Zilla and I found a Labradoodle breeder, and then a litter, and made a deposit. While we were waiting for our pup we talked about names. The first decision was human name or animal. When I was young our dogs had distinctly dog names, like Bear. Later we inherited and adopted two dogs with bland human names, Maggie and Charlie. One of my sister’s friend’s came over to play and looked at the dogs wide-eyed.

“Those are my parents’ names,” she said. She had long soft dark hair, glasses, and a quiet voice.

She promptly stopped playing with my sister and began yelling rude commands—and laughing—at the dogs.


The closer my husband and I got to getting our puppy the harder we found it to settle on a name. All the names we tried on sounded too stuffy or too silly or just plain wrong for a dog.

“Maybe,” I said, “we just need to meet her.”

Then at a dinner party someone mentioned the runner, Zola Budd.

“Zola,” I said.

My husband nodded. It was the most agreement we had so far.

“How about Zoe?” He asked. “It sounds sweeter.”

“With and e or and umlaut or oo or a y?” I asked. Not that it made any difference. I didn’t know any Zoe (ë, oo or y)’s at all.

And then we got our puppy, and then I did.


While I maintain that our Zoe is uniquely, adorably, sweet, and clever, she is not uniquely named.

I have met four other Zoe’s, who are also Labradoodles, in our neighborhood so far. One is in our Zoe’s dog class, another goes to the same dog park. One is even the same color. My cousin, my aunt informs me, has a Zoe the Labradoodle in another state.

In the first week, I had two women bend down to pet my Zoe, and ask her name.

“Zoe!” I say, proudly.

“Oh,” they say, a little chagrined. “That’s my name too.”

Three other people have stopped, smiled and asked give my Zoe a good pet.

“What a cute pup!” They say, burying their heads in her curls. What’s her name?”

“Zoe,” I said.

They smile deeply. “I used to have a dog called Zoe too.”


The worst time, I was walking Zoe about a week after we brought her home. She waddled—uniquely, adorably—in the grass. An elderly fellow stopped and asked if he could give her a pet. Of course, I said. He kneeled down and spent five whole long minutes rubbing her ears and stroking her tummy. Then he started to look really choked up.

“My wife and I just had to take our old girl in to be put down this morning. She looked just her.”

I nodded.

He slowly pushed himself up and put his hands in his pockets. Then he pulled them out again.

“Look at that, I still have treats. Can I give her one?”

“Of course,” I said.

“What’s your name, little dog?” He asked, as if she just might answer.

“Zoe,” I said.

He gave me the most horrified look.

“Really?” he said, and his eyes started to water.

“Our dog was Zoe too.”

Tears came to his eyes. He stood up quickly and shuffled down the block so fast it was almost a run.


Zilla says, and he might have authority on this, with a name like Zilla, that we should give our child a name that people recognize, that won’t be weird, that people will know how to pronounce, and understand. But I don’t know. I can’t stop thinking of Zoe every time we try out a name for our child.


Dealing with Death on Facebook

Social Network Art Icon

I woke up about this time last year to a notification that I’d been tagged in a Facebook post by an old grad school friend. I clicked on the link. It was not a school photo, like I expected, but a post that our classmate Gigi, had died. I didn’t even know he was sick. Gigi was the second friend I’d lost through Facebook so far that year.

A few weeks before that, I found out that my friend Dave had passed away through a Facebook. I was surprised as I had been with Gigi. I knew Dave through an outdoor club: I knew he was sick, but still, he seemed strong: all summer long I’d “liked” pictures of his hikes and climbs.

When I read that Dave had died, I didn’t just feel sad, but something harder to recognize, something that felt like embarrassment, or shame. I’ve always believed that we should talk more about death and grief, but is it really appropriate to post someone’s death on their wall? What are the rules of Facebook? Aren’t some things too sad to share? Or too private? And what would my friends have wanted? It’s not like they could remove a post if they didn’t like it. And besides, what was I supposed to say? What could I say? What could anyone? I didn’t understand. How could I have been so out of touch?

The only thing I knew, was that I didn’t “like” it at all.

I still hadn’t figured out how to deal with Dave’s death when I followed my friend’s link to Gigi’s page.  His profile picture showed him bald, smiling wryly from behind a blue surgical mask.

Gigi and I became friends–before Facebook even existed– probably because he’d just quit smoking. When all our classmates went outside for a cigarette, we sat together and talked. About everything. There was a moment of romance and then graduation. I moved to a different country, and fell out of touch. But I knew he’d always be there and one day we’d look each other up. I was wrong. Now it was too late.

Over the course of the day, Gigi’s Facebook page filled with photos and memories, gratitude and hugs, from everyone who had known and loved him, just as Dave’s page had, and I felt the same shame. I didn’t know what to say. Part of me wanted to say all the things that everyone else had. The other part of me wanted to curse Facebook, or fairness or God, to apologize for being a bad friend, to get mad.

I thought about getting off of Facebook entirely, but was already feeling out of touch. But when I logged on my entire feed was @Dave, tagging Dave, thanking Gigi, loving Gigi, showing Dave triumphant, literally, on mountaintops. I should have been grateful that they were so well loved, but selfishly, I wanted the posts to stop. With every post and tag I got upset all over again.

I wasn’t able to go to Gigi’s real world memorial, but I went to Dave’s. After the service, I expected that the Facebook wake would stop.  But for weeks and then months, and almost a year now, they have not. But over the weeks and months, my sense of shame and loss, privacy and panic, turned into a kind of wonder.  On Facebook, Dave and Gigi were not dead. Their memory did not fade. Almost the opposite. As time passed and people dug up old photos they grew healthier, younger. They became more alive.

This morning, I woke up to another email notification. “Reconnect with your friends on Facebook.” There were two pictures, one of Dave waving back down the trail, and another of Gigi, with the smile I remember, on our last day of school. I felt as happy as I did sad. On Facebook, Gigi still has all his brown hair.

Small Miracles

A can of chicken noodle soup

I’m not usually the person to write about the miracles of modern food science. I usually write about its opposites: food heritage, food history, and what has become the cult of fresh, local and organic. Today I want to take a minute to appreciate industrial food.

Getting pregnant, I’ve realized over the last few years, is not always something in your control. It wasn’t in ours. I’d spent so many years trying to avoid getting pregnant that it seemed like it pregnancy would be inevitable, with the precautions removed. It was not. And there was not a lot I could do about it. Well, we could do it, but it, did not always help. I began to feel like something was wrong with me. Maybe I was not healthy enough. Maybe I would get pregnant, and stay pregnant, if, somehow, I was healthier. I decided to eat more kale.

Being healthy is important, but this kind of magical thinking is the result of believing I can control things that I can’t. I didn’t get pregnant, but I did eat lots and lots of dark leafy greens. And omega-3 filled sardines, and beets and tomatoes, and salmon, and organic grass-fed beef. Foods high in good fats and folic acid. Nuts and berries and legumes; delicious, healthy, fresh, local and organic things. I shopped and cooked for my desires and my hopes and myself.  Surprisingly, it didn’t help.

Last fall I’d almost given up. We’d been trying for nearly two years. It was time for more invasive action, or adoption, or a different plan. Maybe I this motherhood thing wasn’t meant to be: I began to taste that thought. I gave up on kale and started eating burgers, and dessert, and put on 5 pounds.

And then, that month, I was late. And then still the next week, and the week after that. But being pregnant—I’d learned—did not mean I was going to have a baby. Things happen, and after everything that happened, I was too afraid to test, or talk about it, or tell. But, some things you can’t hide. I am happy to report, more than happy actually, and also scared as hell, that it is now Week 15, and things are still going well.

Fresh, local and organic are still a great thing, and a good goal, but until a week or two ago, Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup was all I could keep down. No kale, absolutely not sardines, nuts, berries, or fruit. Everything I thought was healthiest made me violently ill.

The doctor said this was a good sign. My hormone levels were high.

“And the Campbell’s Soup?” I asked. I was worried I might not be getting the nutrition I needed plus some kind of industrial poison. This was not the perfect nutrition I had in mind. “How hard do I need to push the kale?”

“Not at all,” he said, “just eat what you can. If you’re body wants you to eat kale, you will.”

That afternoon, I ate another can of Chicken Noodle Soup.

I’ve never loved the stuff. It was industrial, commercial: I only ate it when I was ill. But when I could not eat anything else, I could eat Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup. It tasted the same way it always had, and it was safe, and sanitary, and I knew I could find it wherever I went.  And that seemed like a miracle as well.