Sunday, December 27, 2015

Portland Foodie Tour

We made a date with Mark's sister, Sarah, when we were here at Thanksgiving: when we came back, she'd take us on a foodie tour of Portland. She made good on her promise yesterday. Before we left late morning, I had an opportunity to take some pictures of a clearly visible Mount Hood and of Deb's back yard. It occurred to me that my last Christmas spent in the Northwest was 20 years ago this year. I appreciated being back around the greenery.

Reflection in the man-made pond in their back yard

Mark and his nephew David

Our first stop yesterday was the St.-Honore Boulangerie where I had the best Croque-Monsieur, a delicious French "comfort food" sandwich made with brioche bread, ham and Emmental cheese. I've had these several times in France, most notably at a cafe after cycling up the Alpe d'Huez in the mountains southeast of Grenoble in August 2014.  

As tempting as all the pastries and breads looked - and they looked VERY tempting - we were instructed by Sarah not to get any. We would have dessert at our next stop. And what a dessert it was at Papa Haydn's Dessert.

I had the Raspberry Gâteau - a "fallen chocolate soufflé with bittersweet chocolate ganache ..."

From Papa Hadyn's it was on to liquid chocolate at Cacao.

Sarah had more stops planned, culminating in dinner at an Italian place, but Mark wasn't feeling well, so it was time to head home. We got cupcakes by takeout, then drove up 23rd again for ice cream. So many other places to try ... someday.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Christmas With the Koepkes

We flew to Portland early yesterday morning to spend Christmas Day (and the next several days) with Mark's family - his mother, two sisters, a brother-in-law, and quite a few nieces and nephews from two generations. In this picture, above, Mark is sitting with his sister Deb with Deb's granddaughter, Heidi, on his lap.

Deb's "Christmas Vacation" Moose Punch Bowl Set. I had to ask about it. Deb couldn't believe I've never seen National Lampoon's "Christmas Vacation" - a situation she quickly set out to remedy.

Mark's two sisters, caught making Mai Tais in the pantry

We had a wonderful Christmas dinner featuring prime rib that Neil, Mark's brother-in-law, had cooked on his Traeger grill and a beautiful "Christmas Salad" made by his sister, Sarah. Lots and lots of presents to be unwrapped, followed by wrapping paper wars among the grandkids. It was a fun afternoon.

This will be our last trip: traveling has become too difficult for Mark. As it is, yesterday was a somewhat grueling day for him. But it is fitting that we have come here to be with Mark's family to celebrate this last Christmas. It's something - this "lastness" - that we haven't focused on these past few weeks, yet we've known it was there. We both decided some time ago that we weren't going to focus on it because doing so would rob us of the moment. No efforts to make things "special." Just here, now.

It hasn't always been easy, and there have been moments, hours, days, when it's just been depressing and utterly sad. But, thankfully, those times pass and peace returns. I'm grateful for that. I'm also grateful for those magical moments when laughter vacates the sadness and I (later) realize that those moments will become magical memories.

The Christmas Full Moon. I was a sophomore at the University of Illinois
when the last one occurred in 1977.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas at the Broom-Koepke Household

I love the expression on Mark's face. This was taken at our family Christmas party on the night of the 23rd. As I recall, I think he had a similar expression on our first date after I told him I have ten children. 

We started off our Christmas festivities with an open house on the 20th. It was a wonderful evening shared with friends and family.

My oldest son, Adam, who couldn't make it to our Christmas party on the 23rd.


Kurt and Elias

Daughter Annie with her new doll

Our friend Tina was such a big help


Mark and Aubrey, Nathan's beautiful girlfriend

Set-up for family dinner

Grandson Johnny became quite protective of his Pringles

Christmas doesn't quite mean the same thing that it once did in my life, but it has never been more magical than it was this year.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Christmas With the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus

I had wanted to hear the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus ever since I first joined the Salt Lake Men’s Choir in January of 2011. So when I discovered that their Christmas concert was to be performed the weekend we’d be in San Francisco, it was a no-brainer to plan to go. I’m so glad we did.

We’d had lunch in the Castro with Chris and Jason. Chris is from Utah and used to work at LDS Hospital in Salt Lake before moving to San Francisco. While at LDS, Mark (who was an ER physician there) had the privilege of mentoring Chris when he came out, and they’ve been close ever sense. We’ve made a point of seeing him, then him and Jason, ever since our first trip together to San Francisco in September 2011. After lunch, they accompanied us to the concert.

The message of the performance was, from start to finish, one of love, acceptance and inclusion. This is one of the reasons I love coming to San Francisco, where I feel as though I’m one of many, rather than one of a few and where differences are celebrated, rather than regarded with suspicion. Yet there was something more I felt during the concert: I felt the true spirit of Christmas – of love, of caring, of acceptance, shorn of the heavy trappings in which the holiday is often draped. 

There were a number of very funny moments throughout the concert featuring dancers as well as ensembles of singers. One of the most hilarious was a song about fruitcake that was accompanied by dances and four posters of “fruits.” The fourth was a picture of Donald Trump. The audience erupted into laughter. Another number featured an elf who wanted to be a Rockette. Another featured a member of the choir in drag. (He turned out to be the man that Mark and I had already agreed was the cutest guy in the choir.)

There were also a number of tender moments during the concert, three of which in particular stood out for me. The first came during a moment of humor, when the director told the story of a narrative/musical set that paid tribute to mothers. “All of us,” he said, “have mothers who at SOME point in their lives were tender, who at SOME point in their lives were loving.” The audience laughed, as did I, but in my case the laughter was followed by a wave of emotion as I thought about my own mother, who had been anything but tender and loving to me as a child. The director’s comment made me reach out in love to my deceased mother who, I thought, surely at some point in her early life was tender and loving.

The next tender moments occurred as the chorus performed a beautiful rendition of “Silent Night,” in which the men sang not only with their voices, but also with their hands, signing the words in perfect unity as they sang. Then, when the carol was completed, the choir continued the sign language in silence. The only sound that could be heard was the occasional whoosh of hands being raised in the air, particularly for the phrase, “sleep in heavenly peace.” Other than this sound, one could have heard a pin drop in that theatre. It was so incredibly beautiful; tears rolled down my cheeks.

Another emotional moment occurred as the artistic director spoke to the audience of how the chorus’s first public appearance was four weeks after its founding when they sang at the candlelight vigil following Harvey Milk’s assassination. He then spoke of the decimation that the chorus experienced in the 80’s as AIDS ravaged its ranks. He talked about a 1992 San Francisco Chronicle article that included a picture of what the chorus would have looked like had they not replenished their numbers. Over 300 members had died. To give us, the audience, a sense of that time and space, the director asked one group of men after another to turn their backs to the audience, each man representing one who had died. By the time the director was finished, there were only six men left facing the audience. It was an incredibly poignant moment as the spirits of those 300, as well as thousands of others, temporarily pervaded the theater. 

I felt privileged to be there.