Today was my husband’s 36th birthday. I was thinking this afternoon that our marriage is an extraordinary one. You know those vows, “in sickness and in health”? I realized today Ralph and I have spent almost all our fifteen years together in sickness. With my recent reflections on my kidney illness, it doesn’t look like any time soon we’ll be in a “health” phase, either.

But our relationship has matured into something quite wonderful and very strong, and something I treasure very much. Respect is easy to promise or even to give when you’ve not gone through Hell together. Respect, love and devotion after we’ve been through is the most precious alchemy.

Today the four of us drive to Montesano for lunch at one of our favorite restaurants. Nels complains about a gift winging its way to him in the mail, and I give into my irritation with his ingratitude. “With that bad attitude, you’ll probably make bad things happen to you,” I tell him tartly. He replies serenely, “That concept is called ‘karma’. Which doesn’t really exist.”

And I calmly turn my head and looked out the passenger-side window and laugh silently. He won that argument, although no matter what he believes I’m not sure if there’s anything I have more respect for than karma.

Something changes in the car and soon we are all restored to good spirits. We discuss names and name-changes, and Nels announces his plans for a new name. When he clarifies the spelling I am quite impressed: Aqua Sun – as in, Aqua Sun Hogaboom. Which suits him, if you know him. Now I don’t think he is serious about the name change – unlike his sister three years ago – but I do think I love that name so much, and I love the thought of the responses I’d get calling him that in public.

As I write, this same child is singing to his father and brings him some homemade sweets. “That’s a lot of jam,” I hear my husband observe mildly. Nels proudly brings me this impressive concoction in a bifurcated cupcake dish: a ripe plum sliced perfectly into a Pac Man presentation, a cloth napkin and fork, and a “jam cake” garnished with fruit and a large swath of glitter-frosting. By “jam cake” I do not mean something baked, it is literally what looks like a quarter-cup of preserves. (“It’s only one scoop!” he says cheerfully after his father demurral).

Nels likes to cook.