National Coffee Day

Bumbi’s Mom has a love letter to coffee, which pretty much sums it up.

Until I met my Love, coffee was whatever came out of the urn at a jobsite or a diner nearby.

My Love, on the other hand … “Fanatic” would not be too strong a word.

Just to give you an idea: She has three burr grinders, one set for the filter coffeemaker, one for the French press and one for the espresso machine. The espresso machine is a brass, lever-action Pavoni – a gorgeous work of art.


My Love is NOT a morning person.

On the first morning I stayed in her apartment, I was up first. I made coffee. When she woke up, I brought her a cup in bed.

She took one sip. Without a word, she got up, went to the kitchen, poured the cup down the drain, picked up the pot and poured it down the drain. Then,

Sweetie, I love you more than life itself. But if I have to get up before you to keep you from making ghastly coffee, this is going to be a short romance.

And she showed me how to make coffee. It took me a half-dozen tries before I made a pot that she would even taste.

She wouldn’t let me touch the Pavoni until I’d been in New York for months. It was a month before I could pull an espresso that didn’t taste like hot water soaked in the butts of cheap cigars. It was another month before I could pull an acceptable crema.

Now, she will even drink my espresso. I’ve never been so proud of any accomplishment. I bask in the glow of her favor.

And I’m as fanatic as she is about coffee.

She has to be the best

Another thing about my fiancée: She has to be the best at everything she puts her mind to.

I had no conception of what it is like to be around someone like that. (Although she says I’m like that, too.)

It is frightening.


Her drive to be the best isn’t a competition with anyone but herself. She doesn’t want to beat anyone. She just wants to be the best. It’s natural. She doesn’t even know that’s the way she is. If she ever sees this, she’ll deny it.

When I was growing up, one of my heroes was Eugenio Monti. Monti was one of the greatest bobsledders, ever. But that’s not why he was – and is – my hero.

At the 1964 Winter Olympics,

Realizing that British bobsledders Tony Nash and Robin Dixon had broken a bolt on their sled, Monti lent them the bolt off his sled. The Britons won the gold medal in the 2-man bobsled, while Monti and his teammate took the bronze medal. Answering critics from the home press, Monti told them “Nash didn’t win because I gave him the bolt. He won because he had the fastest run.” Monti also showed his act of selfless generosity in the four-man competition. There, the Canadian team of Vic Emery had damaged their sled’s axle and would have been disqualified had not Monti and his mechanics come to the rescue. The sled was repaired and the Canadian team went on to win the gold medal, while Monti’s team took bronze.
Wikipedia, Eugenio Monti

That’s my fiancée. Finishing first isn’t important. Being the best is important. One is only the best if one is better than everyone else at their best.

It’s not just that she couldn’t live with herself if she hindered a competitor. She could not even conceive of doing anything that would hinder a competitor. She couldn’t even conceive of not helping a competitor be her best. She doesn’t even see it as competition.


Her high school friends say she didn’t compete with them – and they didn’t try to compete with her. Everyone (except, apparently, my fiancée) knew that she was the smartest person ever to come out of the valley. She helped everyone else at every opportunity, with Literature, Writing, Mathematics, Science. She helped them with their college application essays, giving them ideas and commenting on their drafts.

My Love’s Mother (to me): You know she got perfect scores on the college boards.

My Love: I did not!

My Love’s Mother: OK. I’m exaggerating. She got a 780 [out of a possible 800] on the Physics test. But that was before she took Physics. And she got 800s on everything else.

My Love: I only got a 790 on the Math SAT! I didn’t think I’d get into [her college of choice] without a perfect score.

She went East to one of the best colleges in the world. She initially felt inferior: She was from a broken-down little rural high school, surrounded by girls who had graduated at the top of elite prep and public schools. Her school didn’t have AP courses or other courses for advanced students; too few students and too few teachers. (My school didn’t have those courses, either.) The other girls had every advantage. They had seen the world; lived in the great cities, visited the great museums, seen the great plays, heard the great opera.

My fiancée’s sister says those girls changed my fiancée. She went to college a laid-back hick. She came back at Christmas break ferocious to prove to the elite coastal girls that she was as well educated, as cultured, as they were. One of her college friends told me that by the end of her first year, my fiancée was helping every girl in the dorm with at least one subject.

Looking for a challenge, she elected Mathematics. Her high school didn’t teach Calculus. (Neither did mine.) She entered college a year behind in the Calculus/Real Analysis sequence. However, as a curious teenager, she had taught herself a good deal of rigorous, abstract Mathematics: Number Theory, Non-Euclidian Geometry, Logic and Set Theory, Group and Field Theory. She had taught herself to program (in C). That prepared her better for pure Mathematics than a high school Calculus course would have.

In the middle of her second year, one of her Math professors told her that she had promise. She shouldn’t bother with undergraduate courses. She should transfer to a school where she could take graduate courses. She did, and took four graduate Math courses per term. She graduated summa cum laude and entered one of the top graduate Math programs in the world.

She proved to everyone’s satisfaction that she was one of the best of the best, particularly in the most abstract disciplines. But she realized she didn’t have the temperament to be an academic. She wanted the rough-and-tumble of the commercial world.

She needed experience and capital to do what she wanted to do: apply quantitative tools to analyze and predict the outcome of business decisions. She worked for a securities firm for a few years, then started her firm.


She doesn’t want to compete with anyone. Being the best isn’t about beating someone else.

She doesn’t consciously try to be the best. It’s instinct. It’s just how she is.

And nobody around her – including those she’s competing against – thinks she is competing with them.


I didn’t know any of that when I started dating her. She seemed a polite, reserved, intelligent, hard-working woman, succeeding in an extremely competitive environment.

Her potty-mouthed smartass sister was the first person to warn me:

Are you ready to be the target of a woman who has to be the best at everything important to her? She will have to be the best lesbian, ever. The best lover. The best wife. Are you ready for that?

It is frightening.

My Love

We’ve been together for over a year. We’ve lived in the same city for six months – separate apartments, but we’re together whenever we’re not working.

Some observations:

She is incapable of planning

That’s not precisely true. She meticulously plans trips and restaurant dinners.

Otherwise? No.

What makes this bizarre is that her business is advising on risky, multi-billion-dollar decisions. If anyone in the world is capable of rational planning, it should me my Love. But she simply doesn’t care.

There are two reasons for that:

  • She has a defective sense of risk

The secret of her success in life is her guiding principle:

What’s the worst that could happen?

She has undertaken the most outlandish risks, with no more forethought than that. She’s had some (very) rough patches, because the worst does happen, sometimes.

As far as I can tell, that’s the extent of her planning for anything. She won’t do it if there’s a risk of harm to someone else, or a significant risk of her own death or serious injury. Otherwise …

She’s not afraid of going broke. She’s been there. A couple of times.

  • She is incapable of worry

You know that song, “Don’t worry, be happy”. That’s my Love.

Her typical answer to a vexing question is some variation on, “Human beings have been around for a million years without going extinct. It can’t be that important.”

She is infuriatingly logical

If you’ve been following along, you probably have realized this.

She has no common sense

There’s an old saying,

God looks out for fools, babies and drunken sailors.

to which I have to add,

and lapsed girl-mathematicians

Almost every conversation with anyone in her family includes this sentence:

For a girl who’s supposed to be so smart, she sure does a lot of dumb things.

She is deadpan

She can say the most outrageous things with a straight face. I’m never sure whether she’s serious.

The really frightening thing is, I think she is always serious. She’s deadpan because she’s serious.

She is beautiful

Of course, everyone says that about his/her best guy/gal.

But it’s objectively true of my Love. She’s a head turner. Tall, blonde, slender without being skinny. She’s always beautifully dressed, coiffed and (very lightly) made up.

 

Paradox: The incoherence of common sense

My musings on mathematicians and engineers were provoked by my Love’s reaction to something I saw in a quotes file:

There’s no way to develop an ambitious, broad-ranging, self-consistent metaphysical system without doing serious violence to common sense somewhere.
Eric Schwitzgebel

When I saw that, I laughed. It sums up what I’ve always thought about metaphysics. It sums up what almost everyone thinks about analytic philosophy.

I quoted it to my Love, who was trained as a pure mathematician. (For those of you who have never spent time with a pure mathematician: They make Mr Spock seem illogical.) She smiled and said,

Of course, sweetheart. Everything in mathematics, everything in science, did serious violence to the common sense of its time. That’s why we remember Galileo and Newton and Euler and Einstein. They defied common sense. Common sense is always wrong, unless it’s based on science that did violence to the common sense of its time.


The perils of quotes files: They lack context.

After that conversation with my Love, I read the whole interview with Professor Schwitzgebel. He said essentially the same thing as my Love said. He’s not criticizing metaphysics. He’s criticizing common sense. I still think metaphysics (other than Kant) is mostly silly, but he’s devastatingly right about common sense.

In context, Professor Schwitzgebel says,

Common sense is incoherent in matters of metaphysics. There’s no way to develop an ambitious, broad-ranging, self-consistent metaphysical system without doing serious violence to common sense somewhere. It’s just impossible. Since common sense is an inconsistent system, you can’t respect it all. Every metaphysician will have to violate it somewhere.

Common sense is an acceptable guide to everyday practical interactions with the world. But there’s no reason to think it would be a good guide to the fundamental structure of the universe. Think about all the weirdness of quantum mechanics, all the weirdness of relativity theory. The more we learn about such things, the more it seems we’re forced to leave common sense behind. The same is probably true about metaphysics.

You don’t even need to get into the weirdness of quantum mechanics. The Sun orbits the Earth? Common sense. A heavier stone falls faster than a lighter stone? Common sense. Species were as God created them in the Garden of Eden? Common sense. Newtonian mechanics? Crazy. Invisible animals cause disease? Insane! Send pictures through the air? Get this guy a straitjacket.


Even in the most abstract pursuits, there’s a place for common sense. Professor Schwitzgebel again:

But here’s the catch: Without common sense as a guide, metaphysics is hobbled as an enterprise. You can’t do an empirical study, for example, to determine whether there really is a material world out there or whether everything is instead just ideas in our minds coordinated by god. You can’t do an empirical study to determine whether there really exist an infinite number of universes with different laws of physics, entirely out of causal contact with our own. We’re stuck with common sense, plausibility arguments, and theoretical elegance – and none of these should rightly be regarded as decisive on such matters, whenever there are several very different and yet attractive contender positions, as there always are.

Mathematician and engineer

My fiancée is trained as a pure mathematician. If you’ve ever spent time with a mathematician, you understand why Pythagoras and his gang were considered a strange, unworldly religious cult. Mathematicians aren’t like you and me.

When my fiancée was eight or nine, her mother bought her a boxed set of books called, The World of Mathematics. The description in the catalog made it sound like a book of puzzles and games. Instead, it’s a collection of essays and papers, some historical, some philosophical, some theoretical, some practical. Some are out-and-out funny – Bishop Berkeley’s The Analyst: A DISCOURSE Addressed to an Infidel MATHEMATICIAN. WHEREIN It is examined whether the Object, Principles, and Inferences of the modern Analysis are more distinctly conceived, or more evidently deduced, than Religious Mysteries and Points of Faith.

All are far over the head of an eight- or nine-year-old; most are aimed at a mathematically literate college graduate. Many assume an understanding of calculus. And yet, she read it over and over until she understood it.

Her favorite essay? G H Hardy’s A Mathematician’s Apology. (You can read it here.) It’s what inspired her to become a mathematician. Hardy says that the joy of mathematics isn’t that it’s useful. It’s that it’s beautiful. The beauty isn’t in the usefulness of the thing proved, it’s in the elegance of proof itself.

Hardy was a number theorist. To Hardy, much of the charm of Number Theory was that it had no immediate use. It was pure elegance. Mathematics purely for the joy of Mathematics.

Hardy was a pacifist; he wrote the Apology in 1940, as the Second World War was raging and the Great War still fresh in his mind. He was pleased that Number Theory couldn’t be used to make bombs or poison gas. The joke (if there is one) was on Hardy: Number Theory is the basis for modern cryptography and code-breaking. Polish mathematicians had already used it to crack the Nazi Enigma code machine. Alan Turing and his gang would build on that to crack more sophisticated code machines. General Eisenhower said the Enigma intelligence was “decisive” in defeating the Nazis.

Hardy not only inspired my Love to be a mathematician, he inspired her to become a number theorist. This summer, she gave me a copy of a textbook Hardy wrote with E M Wright, Introduction to the Theory of Numbers. It’s an incredibly elegant book, accessible to anyone who passed ninth grade algebra. Even an engineer can see why it enthralled her.

You might think that Number Theory means proving things about numbers. If so, you’d be wrong. She proved things about constructs that have some attributes of numbers, but have strange and interesting pathologies. As she describes it, it’s taking something familiar (the integers) and then removing the elements that make it familiar.

I don’t pretend to understand any of it. One afternoon, I picked up one of her books, entitled A Course in Arithmetic. “Aha,” I thought, “Arithmetic. I can understand that!”

I was wrong. There’s nothing in there that you or I would recognize as arithmetic. The only numbers are page numbers. Should you so desire, you can read the original French or an English translation on the internet.


Euclid alone has looked on Beauty bare.
Let all who prate of Beauty hold their peace,
And lay them prone upon the earth and cease
To ponder on themselves, the while they stare
At nothing, intricately drawn nowhere
In shapes of shifting lineage; let geese
Gabble and hiss, but heroes seek release
From dusty bondage into luminous air.

O blinding hour, O holy, terrible day,
When first the shaft into his vision shone
Of light anatomized! Euclid alone
Has looked on Beauty bare. Fortunate they
Who, though once only and then but far away,
Have heard her massive sandal set on stone.
— Edna St Vincent Millay, Euclid alone has looked on Beauty bare


She insists that she’s not a mathematician now: Mathematicians prove things; she hasn’t proved anything since she was in graduate school. Her partners tell me that’s false: She has proved dozens of theorems fundamental to her business. They insist that she could write as many as 20 ground-breaking, publishable papers over a weekend.


Engineering is as ruthlessly pragmatic as Mathematics is ruthlessly unworldly. Mathematics is logical. Engineering is empirical.

Engineers delight in teasing mathematicians.

Who cares if you can prove it? The only thing that matters is, does it work?

Thanks for the rules of thumb!

Mathematicians are horrified at what engineers do with Mathematics. They are particularly horrified at engineers’ use of dot notation for derivative. (You are not expected to understand this.)

Still, the joy of engineering is also in creating something elegant – and tangible and useful.

I started my career as a design engineer. There’s a purity to design engineering, which one doesn’t really understand until one visits a jobsite where one’s design is being executed. (Or, as any design engineer will tell you, being butchered.) Then you realize that,

The map is not the territory.
— Alfred Korzybski

I worked while I pursued my graduate degrees. My interesting papers are on integration of complex subsystems. They are abstract, theoretic and analytic.

My work career quickly took a different direction. I left the desk for the field. I loved taking on difficult practical problems. The more bizarre and difficult the problem, the better I liked it. I wasn’t married, I had no social life, I didn’t have any ties or distractions. I could throw myself into problems, working on them every waking hour. Even while sleeping: I got some of my best ideas while asleep.

The problems that seemed most intractable – and interesting – involved integration of complex subsystems. My academic career was heavy on abstraction, but the abstractions helped me think clearly about solving concrete problems.


My fiancée and I work in overwhelmingly male-dominated fields.

Mathematics is not so male-dominated as it once was. But in the uses to which my fiancée puts Mathematics, the decisions are made by men: CEOs, CFOs and heads of corporate strategy for major multinationals; managers of high-risk international ventures; senior bankers and investment bankers. She’s usually the only girl in the room, and she has to prove that she’s smarter than all the boys.

Engineering and construction are overwhelmingly masculine and testosterone-laden. A girl engineer is a rare thing, especially a girl engineer in charge. I’m usually the only girl in the room, and I have to prove that I’m smarter than all the boys.

At that level respect is critical. Man or woman,

Respect isn’t given. It must be earned.

More than that, it has to be earned anew on every job.

Cookout

Every August, while my fiancée is home, her family gathers at her parents’ ranch for a cookout.


Last year, they had two cookouts. Only her siblings and their families were invited.

At the first cookout, my fiancée came out to her siblings and their spouses. The next day, at church, my fiancée’s sister outed her to the minister – who then set my fiancée up with me for our first date.

At the second cookout, on Labor Day weekend, they got together again to meet me. The warmth for each other and for me was overwhelming.


This year’s cookout promised to be a gigantic affair. Relatives in three states – out to third cousins – angled an invitation.


I thought my fiancée incapable of worry. Her self-possession, her self-confidence, is unnerving.

She’s no Pollyanna. She has known hard times, even financial disaster. Her partners say that for the first few years of her firm, she only slept when she collapsed, and she didn’t have an untroubled night’s sleep for three years during the recession.

But I have never seen her nervous about the future. She’s like a kid watching a thriller, on the edge of her seat in excitement about the surprises about to unfold in front of her.

Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.


We had a lovely, romantic evening after our anniversary dinner.

She was up early, which is out of character. She was itching to go, which is even more out of character. Getting her going in the morning is the most difficult thing in our life together.

We had planned to shower and dress at the ranch, to be as clean and fresh as possible. But my fiancée’s mother called to say that people had already started to arrive at the ranch. So we showered and dressed at the B&B.


Before I flew out, my fiancée told me to make sure to bring my lemon-yellow sundress. It was what I wore when we had our first kiss. (She loves that dress on me.)

She wore a light blue sundress. (I love that dress on her.)


We drove over in my fiancée’s 50s-vintage pickup. Bench seat, stick shift on the floor. I slid all the way over next to her and she drove with her arm around my shoulder. She let me do the shifting, which is considered pretty damn chivalrous out where we’re from. The sort of thing you only let your best girl do.


It was an absolutely glorious day.

The day I arrived had been beastly hot – almost 100 F/38 C. Late afternoon thunderstorms had broken the heat. It was in the 50s (10s C) that night and the forecast was a high in the 70s (20s C). The sky was spectacularly blue, without a cloud, and there was no humidity.

Her pickup pre-dates air-conditioning. It was cool enough that we didn’t get sweaty. With the windows down, we did get windblown.


We thought that the heat and thunderstorms of the previous day would have discouraged some of the cousins – particularly those from farther away. We were wrong.

The ranchyard is a half-dozen buildings surrounding a gravel lot of a couple of acres – big enough to jockey split-rig stock trucks around and back them up to loading chutes. When we arrived, the lot was full of cars. We parked in the machine shed.


The cookout was in full swing when we arrived.

Everyone else was wearing plaid shirts and blue jeans. We could have gone full butch and fit right in. Much as we love our butch sisters, that’s not us, and not the message we wanted to send. I’ll post more on that later.

My fiancée’s dad called everyone around the back porch and introduced me, my parents, my sister and brother and their spouses and kids.


Everyone brought food. The variety was unbelievable. Eight different kinds of potato salad. (Freshly dug little red potatoes from a mountain valley, cooked with a bit of crunch left in them, are one of this world’s great pleasures.) Green beans. Peas. Five different kinds of cole slaw. Lettuce salads. Cucumbers, right off the vine. Carrots and radishes, right out of the ground. Roasted beets. Roasted potatoes. Roasted peppers. Roasted squash. Corn on and off the cob. Grilled onions. Homemade pickles. Homemade onion pickles. Homemade relishes. Even Jello.

Steak, sausages, hot dogs and burgers, with charcoal and wood grills to grill your own.

I like steak fine, but wood-grilled lamb is my favorite meat. My fiancée (or her sister) must have talked to one of her lamb-raising cousins. He brought baby lamb rib chops, cut one to a rib, just for me. He dipped them in olive oil and rosemary and grilled them for me over the wood fire. It was the best lamb I have ever eaten. I’m sure that he’d never been kissed by a lesbian in a sundress before. If he wasn’t married, and I wasn’t a lesbian and engaged to his cousin, I might have married him, right there.

Slow-roast pork shoulder.

Raspberry pie. Rhubarb pie. Huckleberry pie. Peach crisp. Blueberry cobbler. Chocolate cake. Lemon cake. Gallons of ice cream.

Growlers of IPAs and stouts and summer wheats from one of the local microbreweries. Lemonade. Limeade.

One of the best things about the Mountain West: Mormons don’t drink alcohol or caffeine, so they make root beer. Not sugar syrup and flavoring in fizzy water. Real, brewed root beer. One of my secret vices is a root beer float with Mormon root beer.


Most of them had been to college and most lived in towns or the small cities within a couple of hundred miles of the ranch. They had probably all at least come into contact with gays. But there probably weren’t any gays in their social circles.

On the whole they were open and friendly – and curious.

I was afraid that we might be ogled and studied like creatures in a zoo. After everyone left, my fiancée admitted that her anxiety that morning had been exactly that – that she suddenly regretted that she was going to put me under a microscope, to be examined critically by strangers.

I did feel that, at first. My fiancée and I made a special effort to engage with those she and her parents thought might be the most difficult.

I thought it might be better for me to mingle separately, rather than with my fiancée as a couple. Engaging as a couple might be provocative – a poke in the eye – and meeting people separately might make me seem more a person and less half-a-lesbian-couple. Also, my fiancée seemed so nervous that I was afraid she’d put a damper on the happiness of meeting people. On the other hand, my fiancée didn’t want to abandon me in a sea of strangers. The only large gatherings of strangers I have ever been in were professional conventions and scholarly gatherings. She was concerned that I’d not be able to turn on enough charm.

In the event, it didn’t make a difference. We worked the crowd together for a while, then went into a cycle of splitting up and getting back together. She had a good sense of when and where I should circulate – a talent I’ve never had. She’d engage a relative or a group, then wave me over. We’d talk together, then she’d leave me and warm up another group.


At first, we were careful not to display affection. After a while, we held hands when we were together.


There was a lot of ooh-ing and ah-ing over our (matching) engagement rings.


I was afraid the older relatives might prove difficult, but they were fine. I’m not sure that they all had gotten the whole story – maybe that they’d been told we were just good friends.

One of the oldest aunts, however, sat me down to tell me that her favorite aunt (my fiancée’s great-great aunt) was a lesbian. After all, the aunt had never married – and she lived in Seattle. With a roommate.


I did get some of the silly questions that lesbians get asked. But they were good natured and seemed honestly curious. There were a few who plainly did not approve, but they were well behaved. The rest ran the spectrum ran from tolerance to acceptance to approval.

My fiancée’s mother was keeping a mental register of those she judged would not attend a lesbian wedding. It’s not an issue; the potential problems are beyond the first-cousin circle, which is as far out as we planned to invite.


I had one uncomfortable chat. It started pleasantly enough. The woman (a student at a well regarded liberal arts college) seemed genuinely curious. But then she said, “I just don’t get lesbians” – and followed it by stridently disparaging the very notion that a woman could find satisfaction without a man. Her vehemence (and lack of understanding) startled me; I brushed it off with an inconsequential reply.

As I thought on it later, the remark irritated me more and more. I’ve been mulling it over ever since. It dovetails with a perceptive comment that I received a few weeks ago. I’ll write more about it, although probably as a protected post.


My family had a roaring good time.

Dad is an affable guy and a great hobnobber. He loves a good party with lots of new people; it’s an opportunity to get out from under Mother’s shadow. He made friends with everyone. Every time I saw him, he was either laughing with some guys or looking at my fiancée or me with pride.

I was afraid Mother might cause trouble if she ran into some poor soul who didn’t show what she considered proper respect for my fiancée and me. She was generally well behaved, the sort of gigantic personality that goes over well in a big, boisterous crowd. There was one lapse: A woman told Mother that my fiancée and I seemed like nice people, but the woman couldn’t approve of our “lifestyle”. More on that in another post.


My siblings and their spouses had a good time, too. They didn’t walk away from the Catholic Church, as I did, and were initially lukewarm about a lesbian in the family. Since Mother laid down the law, however, they have been fine.

I was afraid they might be drowned in the boisterous sea at the cookout. My siblings are very nice and I love them dearly, but they are very normal (compared to my fiancée’s siblings). Their socializing is limited to business, church and their kids’ schools. In the event, they found like-minded people and connected with my fiancée’s more conservative and business-oriented relatives.


A teenaged boy waylaid me away from the crowd. He told me that he thought he was gay, and it frightened him. He was sure his parents would be OK – they had been cordial to my fiancée and me – but he was afraid of being ostracized and bullied in school and he had religious qualms.

I told him he should talk to the minister who set me up with my fiancée, and should consider discussing it with his parents. I didn’t think that he should come out to anyone else – and he shouldn’t act on it – until he was in college. The most awful mistakes of my life were my sexual activity in high school; from that experience, I firmly believe in teenage celibacy. I offered my and my fiancée’s good offices; he didn’t take us up.

He called a few days later to say that he had discussed it with the minister and with his parents. His parents were disappointed, but they were OK.

He thanked me for being a “good role model”. I’ve never been accused of that before.


Almost no one left before sundown, even though some had four-hour drives. They all pitched in to clean up and distribute the leftovers – of which there were surprisingly few.

In-laws-to-be

My fiancée’s parents’ ranch is about 15 miles up a valley in the Rockies. The original ranch – the “hay ranch” – is several miles of flat ground on either side of the stream that drains the valley (and gives the valley its name).

The hay from the hay ranch feeds their cattle during the winter. The productivity of the hay ranch determines the number of animal units (cow-calf pairs) the ranch can carry.

In the spring, after the snow melts from the high pastures, they drive the cattle to upper range. In the fall, they round up the cattle and drive them back to the hay ranch. It’s a delicate calculation: They want to keep the cattle on the high pastures (and off hay) as long as possible, but they don’t want them trapped in an early (or late) blizzard.

Just to burst any romantic notions: They don’t use horses to drive the cattle. They use four-wheelers. They only use horses to roust cattle out of brushy side draws in the fall roundup.

My fiancée has a horse. When she goes home for August, she likes to ride into the back country and to ride fence. (Riding fence is riding along the fence line to look for holes or down fence. She does it on a horse, but that’s just for fun. She can fix small problems with a fencing tool, a fence stretcher and some barbed wire. If she sees anything more serious, she drops a pin on a GPS. A hand will come up with a Gator to fix it.)


The ranch house and yard sit at the mouth of a side valley that winds up to their upper range and their summer leases. The little creek that drains the side valley runs through the ranch yard.

My fiancée’s great-great grandfather built the ranch house in the late 19th century. He did it in the grand style – grand enough to house his family of nine children. The family was nearly wiped out in the post-WW1 drought and credit crunch. Just as they were recovering, the Great Depression nearly wiped them out again. But the ranch has survived in the family.


The kitchen is the heart of the ranch. Everyone in my fiancée’s family – men, women and children – loves to cook and is very good at it. The kitchen is enormous and equipped to the highest restaurant standards – a present from my fiancée.

If you’re looking for someone on the ranch, the place to start is in the kitchen. In any family gathering, there will be at least a half-dozen people in the kitchen – cooking, tasting, discussing the cattle markets, calf or hay yields, politics or theology – or just hanging out.


My fiancée’s mother is the happiest, most generous, most optimistic person I have ever met. The glass isn’t half empty or half full. It’s always full. She’s not stupidly happy. She’s intelligently, realistically happy. She’s an acute observer and an astute judge of people. She is endlessly tolerant and forgiving. She’ll never say a bad word about anyone, but there’s never any question about where one stands with her. She exudes goodness, grace and charity, none of it pious or false or hypocritical. She could not be self-righteous if she tried. She is my ideal representation of a Christian woman. She is what I aspire to be. She is delightful.

Her father is as comfortable as an old shoe. He’s warm and funny, with a store of sharply perceptive comments and funny metaphors (“slicker than a new-born baby’s bottom”; “tighter than a gnat’s hide stretched over a barrelhead”; “drier than a cow chip on the Chisholm Trail”). My fiancée says he has a ferocious temper if pushed too far, but I haven’t seen it. His pride in his kids and his love for his grandkids is touching.


My fiancée’s siblings regard her with bemused awe. They grouse good-naturedly that when she was growing up, she was able to get out of ranch work by burying her nose in a book; that she has their parents wrapped around her little finger; that she was a borderline felon as a teenager, but she got away with it because she got straight As. The most common remark in her household is, “For a girl who’s supposed to be so smart, you sure do a lot of stupid things!”

My fiancée warned me that her oldest sister is a “potty-mouthed smartass”. The first sentence I heard the sister utter was a description of my mussed hair and happy face. The description included a word that does not appear in family newspapers. The second sentence I heard her utter was a hope that I was good at oral sex (she used an earthier phrase), because somebody needed to thaw my fiancée out and turn her into a human being. On the other hand, she is fiercely protective of her siblings – especially my fiancée.

Her oldest brother manages the family ranch. He’s big and bluff and loudly hale-fellow-well-met. He hides his shrewd business and personal sense behind a seemingly irresponsible goofiness. Of all the people we have come out to, he is the most genuinely delighted by it.

Her youngest sibling is the sister who outed my fiancée to her minister, leading the minister to set us up on our first date. The sister is very much her mother’s daughter: quiet, generous, optimistic, happy and gracious, tolerant and forgiving, combined with a hard-headed realism even beyond her mother’s. She has been my best friend, my only real friend, for many years. Even though she heard all the awful rumors – mostly true – about my past, she still befriended me. As proud as she is of her sister, she is even more protective of me.

Her other siblings are intelligent and devoted, but (relatively) colorless. Her sisters- and brothers-in-law are delightful, if a little overshadowed by her siblings. All have happily accepted that my fiancée is gay. All treat me with love and respect (even when cloaked in potty-mouthed smartassery).

So that’s why they’re called “love apples”

This past weekend, we stopped at a farm stand and got heirloom tomatoes.

I’ve never had a garden. My only experiences with tomatoes are canned tomatoes (delicious for cooking) and supermarket tomatoes (paint them white and use them for baseballs).

I’ve never liked raw tomatoes. I don’t dislike them; I just never got the point.

My Love insisted that we buy a pound of them. I thought she was nuts, but I indulged her.

She showed me how to select tomatoes. I was amazed that they had a nice firm softness, like – well, like something I would describe in a protected post. Her most important advice:

Always get the ugliest tomatoes.


That was Friday afternoon. Saturday for lunch, we had tomato sandwiches.

Oh

My

GOODNESS!


Tomato Sandwich

  • Two slices of slightly stale bread, preferably something that will disintegrate when wet (e.g., Portuguese corn broa)
  • mayonnaise
  • sliced tomato
  • salt
  • bottled beer

Smear mayo on bread. Stack at least 3/4 inch (20mm) of salted tomato slices between mayo’ed bread.

Eat. Drink beer from bottle. Repeat until sick.


Notes:

  1. Don’t bother with a plate. Eat it over the sink. If the tomato is properly ripe, the juice will run down your forearms and off your elbows into the sink.
  2. Don’t wear a white shirt. In fact, don’t wear a shirt at all. Before starting, my Love stripped to her bra and undies and encouraged me to do the same. I wondered why she was wearing her yoga bra and undies. Now I know.
  3. My Love says you can substitute olive oil for mayo.
  4. Don’t drink the beer from a glass. Be careful with the bottle. Your hands will be slick.
  5. Part of the trick is to finish the sandwich before the bread completely disintegrates.

So, if you see two 30-somethings in their worst bras and undies standing over the sink, drooling red, making obscene slurping sounds, swigging beer from the bottle and laughing, you’ll know you’re at the right place.

Family evaluation

My Love and I want children.

I’m going to my Love’s GYN.

Both of us are going to a fertility clinic that our GYN recommended. When I asked our GYN if the clinic is lesbian-friendly, she laughed that a fertility clinic in Manhattan has to be lesbian-friendly. She was right: The clinic made us feel very welcome.

Initial tests indicate that neither of us will have a problem. We shouldn’t need to take extraordinary measures.

With a new, high-profile, high-pressure job, I can’t consider taking a pregnancy leave for at least a year. I need to establish myself before taking extended time off.

My Love hasn’t any restrictions. She can work as much or as little as she wants. She could take time off, or work from home, or even retire. She’s the undisputed boss of her firm: She started it and built it into a powerhouse. To give herself time to build a personal life, she turned over day-to-day management to her partners, although she is still The Boss. Even if she weren’t, her partners would happily let her do whatever she wants. She has made them a lot of money. Financially, after starting with nothing and having been broke a couple of times, she could retire today and live very comfortably for the rest of her life.

Her only restriction: We’re planning to marry next August (2016). She doesn’t want to be a pregnant bride.

My Love: I don’t want our teenagers to look at our wedding album and think that premarital intercourse is OK.

I think she’s serious.


On the other hand, neither of us is getting any younger.

I’m in my mid-30s. She’s in her late 30s. I’m not sure how much time we have to try turkey basters before we need to go to more scientific measures.


My Love is funny. Her business is using quantitative methods to project probabilities of extremely complicated business options. Yet, she is incapable of planning anything, even lunch.

I’m an engineer. I need a planning document, P90s, critical paths, PERTs, gantts, requirements.

Me: We should be planning this a little. Understand the conditional probabilities of the options. Have a critical path, a timeline, alternatives, fallbacks.

My Love (rolling her eyes): Oh, for goodness sake. People have been doing this for a few million years without any of that.

Me: Lesbians haven’t. It’s a little more complicated.

My Love: I’ve inseminated hundreds of heifers and cows. How complicated can it be?