30 October 2007


There are many things over the last week or so that I've wanted to write about; but I've been too exhausted to actually write the posts. And my focus over the last week has been entirely on my Aunt and my mother's family, some of whom are dealing better than others, so that's what's been on my mind.

I realized a day or so ago that I didn't even write a Brain-Dump post last week. Something I wanted to be sure I did this week before things get more crazy than they currently are.

I spent a total of 5 nights sitting with my aunt overnight, and the result of having my usual routine turned on its head was about 3-fold. One, as I've already said, I'm beat. Physically, yep, but emotionally, too. Two, I wasn't eating much...and I lost about 2 pounds. Three, I didn't get to the gym but one or two days last week, which I firmly believe contributes to the exhaustion.

I'd come home from the hospice each morning and climb into bed after a shower and tossing a load of laundry into the washer. I'd sleep until 2 or 3 in the afternoon, get up in time for DH to come home from work, get something to eat, spend a few hours with him, and head back to hospice. Turning that back into my usual routine of sleeping at night has thrown off my body's internal clock.

On Friday last week, they moved my Aunt from the local hospice house to a nursing home. Why? Honestly, I don't have much of an answer for that. There are a few contributing factors, but when you add them all up, they don't make much sense to me. The local hospice facility is small; they have only a few more than 10 beds. So they only have room for those who are very close to death. I've always thought that once you entered a hospice facility that you stayed there until you died, but it seems that such is not the case locally. The next thing was that she stabilized; by the time Friday rolled around, she was at a point that, theoretically, she could have stayed at for several more weeks. Then there's some complicated bullshit with Medicare only allowing hospice time for a certain amount of time unless you're critical; I don't pretend to have any comprehension of that at all.

Once at the nursing home, she lapsed into a non-responsive state. She isn't sleeping, exactly, but neither is she awake and alert enough to answer any questions or respond when you talk to her. She opened her eyes for her kids and grandkids yesterday, and for a minute for my mother, but it seems that she lacks the strength to say anything. It also seems like she wants to say something.

The hospice nurses and social worker will continue to track her, and she still has the morphine pump. They gave the family two books about the physical process of dying after a long illness, and she's exhibiting several of the signs that both books talk about. It is simply a matter of time. While I thought that she could have stayed in the state that she was at the hospice for several weeks, her current condition is something that I think will not last very long at all. A day. Perhaps two. Not much more.

The majority of the family gathered at the nursing home yesterday, and the atmosphere was understandably grim. I mourn the loss of the more relaxed mood that we had at the hospice. The nursing home staff is nice, but...it is far noisier there than at the hospice house, and it seems that not all of the nursing home staff knows, or perhaps they haven't been told, that she's dying. While standing in the hallway yesterday, my cousin stopped several aides from going in to the room for blood work (which we stopped a week ago), to give medication in pill form (dude, she can't swallow), and even to deliver a meal tray that she wouldn't have touched even if she was awake.

I'm tempted to print out a big sign on my home printer that says something like "Knock on this door only if you want your head taken off by one of the family." No, it wouldn't help, and antagonizing the staff isn't a good idea, but it would make me feel better to be able to lash out at someone. It is easier to be angry than it is to be sad.

In reality, I don't want to be sad or angry. My Aunt isn't old, at 70, but neither is it like the work that I used to do with terminally ill children. Losing a six-year-old is tougher, in my eversohumble than an older adult. I want to be glad for the life that she's led, sad to lose her, but able to accept it.

Everyone is asking what they can do. That's the hell of it all, there isn't a damn thing that anyone can do at all. Perhaps that's the worst part of losing someone, the feeling of powerlessness that we all have. I'm a take-charge kinda gal. I fix things. If something's going on that I don't like, I DO something about it. Rarely do I adopt a wait-and-see attitude about anything. Looking at all that, you have to wonder how on earth the demons of depression ever managed to take up residence in my head. Ah, just add that to the ever-growing list of things I don't understand. So when someone is dying, I can't do anything about it, and that frustrates me. A. Whole. Lot.

Time to go. My mother just called with the news that she's instructed my sisters to get home from New York and Los Angeles. There are phone calls to be made and a few things to be done. Sadly, that soothes me a bit, that I can do something, anything.

Please don't allow this post to make you sad. Celebrate your own life and the lives of those you love. It is short and precious, and to be treasured.

Update: She passed away about 15 minutes after I originally posted this. Peacefully, surrounded by her sisters and her daughter. I wasn't there, but I didn't think I wanted to be there when she actually passed anyway. Thanks so much for all the kind wishes you've all sent over the past few weeks.

26 October 2007


Much like I think about the passage of time in the fall, I only bake pies in the fall. Apple, mostly, because the apple harvest has come in, but sometimes a pecan pie too. I'm not a big fan of cherries, so I don't make cherry pies in the summer, and I'd rather eat peaches whole or made into ice cream than in pies, so apple it is.

DH is a huge fan of apple pie or apple dumplings, which are actually a lot less trouble than a whole pie. But, y'see, I'll eat just one small slice of apple pie to see how it turned out; if I make apple dumplings, I'm going to eat at least 2 of them.

Surprisingly in someone so enamored of working in the kitchen, I've only rarely bothered to make pie crust from scratch. I have a weakness for Jiffy's pie crust mix left over from my childhood. My mother isn't a big fan of baking, so that's what she used. All you do is add water.

Lately, however, that hasn't been good enough for me. Last weekend I made two apple pies, one for a neighbor and one for us. When I tasted it, the crust was dry. Dull, lifeless, and dry. DH rarely complains about any of the baking I do, knowing as he does that I'll offer sweetly to let HIM bake next time. We'd wait for the next ice age before he would bake something, and since he likes his baked goods....well, he just doesn't complain. But when I asked for his honest assessment, he agreed with me that the apples were perfection, the filling was wonderful, but the crust was dry.

I collect cookbooks like other people collect art or knick-knacks. Of course I have a cookbook dedicated solely to pies. It was a gift from a friend, and while I've read it cover to cover, and been fascinated by the types of pies I've never heard of, I've yet to try my hand at any one of the sweet or savory pies that are on its pages. It has a whole section on pie crusts, so when I decided that I was going to make a pie crust from scratch, that was the first place I went for research.

Over the years, I have heard anecdotal evidence that suggests the best pie crusts are made with lard. Which, I've got to say, squicks me out to the nth degree. The book seemed to suggest this too, so I picked up lard at the grocery store, all the while thinking, 'ewwww' and 'I resolve to not eat one single piece of this pie. Bad for you. Bad. See this lard? See your thighs?'

I experimented with the pie crusts by using several different types of flour. Two kinds of whole wheat flour, pastry and regular, and one crust with the last of the all-purpose bleached enriched flour in my pantry. Never again, that stuff, now that I have discovered unbleached and unbromated flour.

The recipe that uses lard calls for vinegar, too. That bothered me a bit; who wants vinegar with their apple pie? But I stuck with it, adding all 4 teaspoons of vinegar that the recipe called for. Mistake. Not a big mistake, but in the finished pie, I could still taste the vinegar. I had hoped that the flavor of it would diminish with baking, because the smell of it was pretty pungent when I was working with the raw crust. It added something interesting to the taste of the crust, interesting as in 'what the heck is that,' not as in 'mmm, wonder what that is.' Next time, lots less vinegar. A teaspoon. Perhaps two. No more.

DH was not thrilled with the whole wheat crust. I've got to admit that I wasn't either. Its texture is tougher than the AP flour, the color of the finished product is lots less satisfying, and somehow, it seems wrong to have a pie crust made with lard (how much worse for you nutritionally can you get than LARD, ffs?) and trying to balance out the bad by using whole-grain flour.

There is no doubt at all that the lard crust was much more flaky, had better flavor, and was far richer than my old standby box pie crust mix. But I don't think I can ever bring myself to buy that stuff ever again. Icky. Really icky. When I was working with it, I tried to imagine that it was shortening, since it has a similar color and texture. I even turned the container of it around so that the side printed in Spanish was all I could see. Funny those little things you learn; Spanish for lard is manteca. Next time it will be butter. And better, too.

25 October 2007

Fall Color

I'm too exhausted to string more than a few sentences together. So today I'm posting pictures of the fall color in the area, which is the main reason that I like Oh-hia-ia at this time of year.

This tree is at the end of my driveway, and I noticed its magnificent hues driving home from the hospice yesterday. Instead of immediately heading to bed as I should have, I walked the neighborhood taking pictures.

Except for the ugly power lines in the way, I really like those two pictures because they show the variations in color that we have.

Amazing, isn't it, the colors that are on just one tree? Red, orange, yellow, green..

Dark reds, with many of the leaves already gone.

Again the tree at the end of the driveway.

More variations in color, a few houses down from mine.

The group of trees at the end of the driveway.

Attempting, yet again, to show the many colors on one tree.

Finally, a little dogwood that is right next to my garage. There's another dogwood in between my house and my neighbor's that is still green, but I couldn't get a clean shot of it so you'll have to take my word for it.

24 October 2007

From Hospital to Hospice

Just as the ad campaign says, what a difference a day makes.

We're no longer in the hospital, but at an inpatient hospice facility. This place is amazing, soothing, beautiful. I can't say enough nice things about both the facility and the staff, who are forever asking what they can do for us, for my aunt.

I've gained a whole new lexicon of words; palliative, subcutaneous line, comfort-care. A whole new understanding of what it means to pass on.

She's comfortable, and the decision has been made to discontinue any invasive medical procedures, which includes IVs. The hospice nurses take her blood pressure, listen to her heart and lungs, and administer the strangest medicine I've ever encountered in my life. More about that in a second. It is an enormous relief to not have them drawing blood, poking, prodding, waking her up. Anything she wants is provided in minutes. We should all be so lucky as to have people like this care for us at any time during our lives.

They don't administer medication in any manner that I've ever seen before in my life. Not in pill form, not through an IV, not inhaled. Instead, she has a morphine pump that gives a small dose of pain medication every hour. The line is directly into muscle tissue, and keeps her comfortable. But then the other medications they're giving her are absorbed through the skin.

They bring a syringe without a needle (can it still be called a syringe then? I don't know.) that has a brownish gel inside it. They rub that gel into her arm, around the veins in the wrist and up the forearm about halfway to the elbow. The meds include something to help with the swelling where her IV lines were, something else that has made her much more aware of her surroundings, something that has a calming effect. It is a rare and wonderful thing to have medications that clear the mind and soothe the pain.

Sometimes she's frightened. Dude, I'd be freaked right out of my mind if it was me. Mostly, though, she's peaceful, so much less agitated than while in hospital. Personally, I am at peace with the decisions that have been made to stop invasive procedures, to make her comfortable. I've had my meltdown moments, don't get me wrong. Mostly those come during or just after talking on the phone with other family members who are far away about what's happening at ground zero, as I've had to explain that yes, the end is coming soon.

I was on the phone with my youngest sister, talking about the last few nights that I've spent by her side and my sister said, "I'm sorry that you're the one {of the three of us} that has to go through this." I responded immediately, "I'm not." Because I am not. I'm glad I'm able to be here. This paragraph makes it sound a bit like I'm the only one with her, but if that's the impression that you've got, it is incorrect. My other aunts and several of my cousins also take shifts with her. I've volunteered to be with her overnight because I'm the logical choice. No kids, no job, therefore I can sit up all night and not have to worry about being somewhere on 2-3 hours of sleep. But as a result of my usual routine of gym, run errands, send out resumes, make dinner being disrupted, I can't tell you what day it is. Forget about what the date is, no clue.

There's a commercial for Travelocity where the gnome that is their symbol plugs an American appliance into a European wall socket. He gets zapped and flung across the room, and then as he's lying there, he asks plaintively, "Am I going to die?" and it is funny. My aunt hasn't asked us that; instead, the other night she told her daughter and I, "I'm going to die." It was heartbreaking, and neither of us knew what to say----'no, you're not' would be a lie----but it was spoken as plain, simple fact.

I don't believe in an afterlife in the traditional sense of heaven and hell. Telling me that she's 'going someplace better' holds absolutely no water with me. I haven't believed that since my young cousin died at 28 leaving her 3 young children to grow up without her. But I do think that my aunt will be at peace when she breathes her last, and I take great comfort from that.

22 October 2007


I'm staring my own mortality in the face these days. The last time I thought this much about the end of life was the same year that I got married, when my surrogate grandpa died. He was the father of my Dad's best friend, and I always called him "Grandpa." Likewise, my Dad's buddy has always been "Uncle" to me.

We were standing in the church where funeral services were held, Uncle J was talking to my father and I. I was so disappointed that Grandpa L had passed away just a month or so before my wedding, and we were talking about gatherings of families, weddings, funerals.

Uncle J looked at my Dad and said, "You know, WE are the older generation now."

I looked at him closely, and for the first time ever in my whole life, I thought he looked old. This strong and vigorous man, who had let me help him manipulate the controls on a backhoe, (one of my earliest memories) helped me out of an adolescent jam or two, (stories which will never be told) was looking every day of his age. Grandpa L's last illness was a long and painful struggle for the entire family, related by blood or not, and it had taken its toll on his son. I noticed his hair, nearly entirely white, and the lines on his face, and I thought, wow, he really looks a lot like Grandpa. If Grandpa died, so could he. So could my Dad!

That was hardly the first time I'd realized that sooner or later, we all come to the end of life. Nor was it the very first time I'd thought about my own mortality. When a high school classmate died the year after we graduated, I'd realized that I wasn't invincible. In the way that only an all-knowing 19 year-old can.

This time, it is a blood relation. I've spent some time sitting by her hospital bed, holding her hand, and talking to her about memories I have of her and her children from my younger days. Sometimes she recognizes me. Sometimes not. She slipped in to a coma a few days ago, and then the very next day was awake and talking to us again.

This seems like it is happening both so slowly and so quickly. A paradox, I know, but one common to death and dying. It seems like we go from active and healthy people one day to the end stages of life the next, and at the same time it seems that every moment of a loved one's suffering is ten moments too long.

One of us is at her side at all times, a ritual that isn't soothing for all its familiarity in so many cultures, the family gathering by the bedside. There are tears and laughter, lots of "do you remember?" But spending time at the hospital is exhausting, emotionally, physically, and mentally.

She knows she's dying. She isn't in pain, we've given the nurses and doctors explicit instructions on that front. I have no problem charging down the hall to the nurses' station and badgering them about her. But I've only needed to do that once; the professionals taking care of her have impressed me with their compassion, their empathy. The RNs astonish me with the amount of responsibility they carry; most of them seem so young to me.

I have no idea where I'm going with this post, or how to end it neatly. The weaving in of loose ends that I was writing about a week or so ago is completely beyond my abilities after spending the entire night at the hospital. Life's kind of like that, isn't it, with loose ends not tied up neatly? Messy, complex, and sometimes not very dignified.

19 October 2007


Sometime during the month of September, this blog had its 10,000th visitor. At some point in the last 30 days I've also written and published my 300th post.

This astonishes me. It shouldn't; for a while there I was writing a post a day and I've been blogging for two years...365x2=730....so the potential for number of posts is much larger than what I've actually done. The name of the blog is a famous quote, so people searching on Google for "Who said well behaved women rarely make history?" land here simply because of the name. (Laurel Thatcher Ulrich said that, just in case you were wondering.) So I get some traffic that isn't deserved, just because of the name I choose.

That's OK with me; several folks who read the blog regularly now stumbled on to it that way. Others land here looking for t-shirts with the quote. Cafe Press, people, Cafe Press. Or my own Zazzle site, either one works. (A little shameless self-promotion never hurt anyone, right?)

I try not to think too hard about the political changes that have taken place over the past two years that I've been blogging, the shift to more conservative schools of thought, the breach of the separation of Church and State by W's 'faith-based' initiatives, the degradation of our civil rights under the USA PATRIOT ACT (seriously, don't get me started), the semi-successful attempts by the anti-choice lobby to restrict a woman's right to do as she sees fit with her own body, and the loss of habeas corpus. I hasten to add that freedom of speech affords every single person in this country to have their own personal political agenda; what's good for the goose is good for the gander, after all, and what else am I doing here but pushing my own views?

It simply surprises me, when I take a moment to reflect, that so much time has passed. Even this time of me being unemployed, now more than 100 days long, has flown by. Hopefully, that's soon to come to an end, and once I'm working again the days and weeks will go by even faster still.

I think about the passage of time in the fall, when I still feel like I ought to be heading back to school, even though I graduated from college about 10 years ago. As if something's missing because I'm no longer part of academia. Every year, it seems, I look up one day and summer is over, the leaves are turning, and the year is dying. Gracefully, and beautifully, of course, but coming to an end nonetheless.

In the 7th grade, my geography teacher made us watch a series of videos about the development of the earth, the shifting of the continents, the development of various nomadic tribes. They were narrated by a man, but every so often, a woman's voice would come on and intone piously, "Time Passes." when they wanted to show that a few thousand years had gone by. The class was annoyed and then amused by this constant refrain of 'time passes,' so much so that eventually we giggled when she said it and imitated it in the halls. I can still hear it, even after all these years. I'm surprised to discover that it passes faster and faster the older I get.

18 October 2007


Ms. Condee has been in the middle east in the last week or so, trying to work with the Israelis and the Palestinians on a peace deal. I have this to say to the Idiot Administration about that. Too little, too late, boyos.

When President Idiot took the helm of the country after not being elected in free and fair elections in 2000, he abandoned utterly the efforts that the Clinton administration had been working on, and consequently, the progress that had been made under the democratic president regressed to the stage that we're stalled at now.

There were such high hopes at the end of the Clinton administration; remember the photo of Clinton beaming in the background as Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat shook hands on the White House lawn? This one?

We're more than 10 years past that point, it grieves me to note. A child born on the day that photo was taken would be 14 years old now.

When W walked away from any negotiations between Israel and Palestine shortly after taking office, I personally saw it as a betrayal, a betrayal of the hopes of many who uneasily share the lands surrounding Jerusalem. A betrayal of the promise of peace that this country is supposed to stand for. And a betrayal of the memory of Rabin, killed by a sniper's bullet.

The questions about who is right and who is wrong in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict don't interest me much. Ask either side about why they both want the city of Jerusalem, and both will answer, "Because we were there first." There is no way to solve such a disagreement. We can't go back in time and discover who first began building a city there, and I don't think we're ever going to have a substantive answer anyway. The ultimate question, as far as I'm concerned, is how long do all of them, Muslims, Christians, and Jews, want to fight about it? It is beyond my ability to comprehend that anyone would WANT to live under the conditions that they do, no matter which side of the debate you sit on. The Israelis fear for their lives when they leave their homes. So do the Palestinians. Arabic Christians don't have it any easier.

Of course, there are extremists on all sides, and unfortunately not everyone does want peace. That's why these negotiations are so important; it is too bad that the Idiot administration hasn't been able to see that until now. And they even admit it! Here's a direct quote from the woman herself..."This is the most serious effort to try to end this conflict in many, many years," says Rice.

If I felt betrayed by the administration walking away from peace negotiations, can you imagine how I felt when they began banging the drums of war? The reasons that part of the Islamic world hates the west are many and varied, but our involvement or lack thereof in Israel is part of it.

At least they're doing something, no matter how late and how little. Finally.

16 October 2007

Five Fine Questions

A few months ago, a blogging friend had the most unusual meme posted on his blog. It was an interview of sorts, and it intrigued me a great deal. The way is works is you leave a comment on the interviewee's (in this case, my) blog, and they come up with five questions which you then answer. So instead of getting tagged with a meme that you may or may not want to do, you volunteer for this one.

I volunteered. But John has a life outside of the computer, unlike me, so some time went by before he was able to get the questions to me. And in the intervening week, I've actually had a life outside of the computer; among some personal drama, I also had.....drumroll, please....a JOB INTERVIEW! Since we don't talk about work or potential work on this blog, I'd feel more comfortable if we moved on, wouldn't you? Thought so.

Here are John's five questions and and my answers.

1. You are a self-described hemorrhaging heart liberal. I am a hand-over-my-heart conservative. Why should people like us "waste time" talking to each other?

Because you can't shake hands with a clenched fist. We may never convince one another to change our personal point of view, even though we passionately hope to, but we can't fix a single problem by shouting at one another. Sane, respectful, rational, polite dialog never hurt anyone that I've ever heard of. And there's a lot to fix; we're agreed on that. Healthcare, Education, Poverty, the HIV crisis, the gaping holes in the deficit and the ozone layer...methodology and philosophy may differ, even be vehemently opposed to one another, but you have to start somewhere. A conversation is a good place to begin.

2. You have been convicted of a crime (hypothetically, of course!) and your judge passes the following sentence on you for your crime..."You can only eat one meal, watch one movie, read one book, and listen to one album for the rest of your life." What are your choices and why?

Ouch! Depriving me of musical and reading choices is like taking my oxygen away. Alright, begin at the beginning; one meal.

Pasta, with a tomato-basil-garlic sauce, and a glass of Syrah or Shiraz. I'd gain a ton from the carbs, but I could eat pasta 7 days a week and not get tired of it.

One movie; The Shawshank Redemption. Morgan Freeman's monologue at the end makes me weep every time I watch it. It is about hope.

One book; as I type this, I'm looking over the edge of my loft at my library below and the hundreds of books shelved there. Pick one? ONE? I think I could sooner choose one limb to lose. I'm sure most people pick something serious, some weighty tome, scholarly and pedantic in tone; I don't think I could. Although I'm tempted to say an unabridged dictionary, for the love of learning new words. The questions I'm struggling with here are: something I've read already and know and love, or something I haven't read and want to? Fiction or non-fiction? In English or Swedish or German? Argh! Much too difficult to answer for someone who has loved to read since her earliest memories!

Steven King's The Stand because it is very long and being a horror novel would take me a long, long, long time to read with my overactive imagination.

One album; again, very, very difficult. I have over 1200 songs stored in iTunes, and that isn't all of my music collection by a long shot. I listen to everything from opera to hip-hop, alt country to jazz standards. There isn't much music that I don't like. I think I'd choose Miles Davis's, Kind of Blue, because it was my first exposure to jazz, a memory I hold dear, and because every time I listen to it, I hear something new.

3. You spent some time in Sweden as an exchange student. What are the lingering life-lessons you carry from this experience?

Funny you should ask, I was also asked this question in that job interview.

The biggest lesson was that I can do anything. I forget that lesson from time to time, but I figured out at 16 years old that if I could learn a completely new language in 3 months then there probably wasn't much I couldn't do, if I was determined enough. Another lesson was that families, the world over, are far more similar than they are different. Our similarities have the potential to bring us closer together, to solve conflict. That's what the exchange program is about, really, is fostering peace. I learned that I could get up in front of an audience of any size and not die of terror on the spot; I've used that a lot over the years. Many people fear public speaking. I not only love it, I'm good at it. I learned to treasure time alone and solitude; some of my meditation practice takes me back to sitting on the shore of Lake Malaren in my hometown in Sweden, watching the waves, listening to and feeling the wind. The link shows a map of my Swedish hometown; look at the right side of town and a spot on the lake that says Skillingeud; that's where I went when I wanted some solitary time. I would also be freezing my rear end off most of the time, frankly! Which brings me to my last two life lessons....how to dress in layers to keep warm and that saunas are a woooonderful thing.

4. Name 5 simple things that bring joy to your day.
Every day or any day? I'm going with any day.
1. Sunshine, because we see so little of it here in Oh-hia-ia.
2. Laughing with my sisters so much that my abs hurt. The three of us need to be together for that one, but it is a joy.
3. My DH snoring loud enough to shake the roof. No, really. If he's snoring, that means that he's here, with me, and if the noise bothers me, I use earplugs. I'm lucky to have him , and even when the snoring bugs me, it reminds me that he's always there, solid, dependable, a source of strength for me that has never run out.
4. Deep breaths of crisp, cool air. I don't know if anyone who does not have asthma can appreciate this in the same way that an asthmatic can. Usually a sharp inhalation of cold air brings on an attack, so when it doesn't, that's a great thing.
5. My friends and family, without whom I would not be the imperfect person I am.

And now I've got John Denver singing "Sunshine on my shoulders" stuck in my head.

5. You enjoy cooking. My Beloved and I are coming over. What's for supper? (Spare no details. Make our mouths water.)

And what an interesting dinner that would be!

The true question here is do I start with dessert and work my way backwards or begin with the traditional first course and work my way forward? I had to look up the proper courses per Emily Post; but since I think a entree and roast course are both redundant and far too much food, I've trimmed it down to fewer courses than a formal dinner. Working (mostly) within my abilities, here we go!

1. Hors d’oeuvre~small rounds of fresh French bread, soaked with olive oil and covered with a blend of feta cheese, garlic, and spices, (oregano, salt, pepper, parsley) broiled in the oven until the bread is crispy and the feta is soft. Very messy to eat, as the olive oil runs all over everywhere, but worth the mess.

2. Soup~my host mother's soup, for which I have no English name. She calls it juha, but that's a phonetic spelling of a Croatian word that I know is just 'soup.' It is a clear broth, made from soup bones in a pressure cooker, and is simplicity itself. Seasoned only with salt and a very small amount of pepper. Tiny, tiny, tiny pasta is added for some bulk. Although I said I was working within my own abilities, I have yet to be able to re-create the exact flavor of her soup here in the States. I suspect this is due to the difference in the way cattle and chicken are raised (more organically) there.

3. Entrée~an Emeril Lagasse recipe that I've stolen and adapted over the years; beer-brined chicken. A whole chicken is submerged for 24 hours in a brine made of lots of salt, a little bit of water, and a whole lot of Guinness. Other beers or ales also work, but the Guinness just adds something unquantifiable to it. Plus some other secret seasonings. When it comes out of the brine, the cavity of the chicken gets a stick of butter and a whole head of garlic stuffed inside, and it is roasted. The most moist and flavorful thing you've ever had. Served with small new potatoes every color of the spectrum (purple ones from Prince Edward Island are pretty) and fresh green beans that have been steamed just until they're hot, still crisp.

4. Fish~Basa, a Vietnamese fish, steamed in packets made of parchment paper, seasoned with sesame oil, dill, salt, pepper, a hint of lemon juice and lemon zest. Served with crisp edamame.

5. Salad~one of my Kitchen Sink salads. Called so because everything but the kitchen sink is in it! Baby greens, all sorts of wonderful lettuces as the base. Sweet and spicy, things like arugula, endive, Boston lettuce, you get the idea. To that I add shredded carrots, diced celery, English cucumbers that have been halved, seeded, and chopped in to chunks, toasted almond slivers, dried cherries, golden raisins, small grape tomatoes. The salad is served naked, with no dressing on it to allow each diner to add the amount of dressing that they like. I make a vinegarette from scratch, using fresh squeezed lemon juice, lemon zest, fresh cilantro, sea salt, fresh ground black pepper, sesame oil and olive oil.

6. Dessert & Coffee~knowing that you are a coffee lover, I would have to serve coffee that my parents brought back from Nicaragua when they visited several years ago. I have no idea what it was called, where it was grown, or how the beans were roasted, but it was the best coffee I've ever tasted. Or a true Hawaiian Kona, not the 'Kona Blend' you find in the stores.
Dessert would have to depend on the season; in the depths of winter, a decadent chocolate delight, rich moist chocolate cake layers with dark chocolate ganache between the layers, frosted with chocolate mousse and garnished with sliced strawberries and white chocolate shavings. I think I gained ten pounds typing that sentence!! In the spring, a lighter cake, butter cake, which isn't chocolate, with raspberry filling, and a honey buttercream frosting, decorated with vines piped in a buttercream tinted green. In the summer, a chocolate angel food cake, lighter than air, with the addition of a swirl of chocolate sauce to grace each plate. Fresh strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries served on the side with whipped creme. In the fall, apple dumplings made from Honeycrisp apples, which ErinCee will tell you are the best, most wonderful fall apples. Apple dumplings, for those not in the know, are made rather simply; a pate sucre (sweet dough) is wrapped around a peeled and cored apple. Just before sealing the square of pastry around the apple, a bit of cinnamon, a tiny bit of nutmeg, and a dab of butter is placed inside. They're then baked in a glass dish containing a simple syrup (sugar and water, boiled together) to which cinnamon, nutmeg, and butter has been added. Apple dumplings are traditionally served with ice cream; I like mine without, but for those who like the al a mode version (including my DH) a homemade vanilla gelato, far richer than any ordinary ice cream. Gelato has many, many eggs in it, is a colossal pain in the ass to make, and worth every second of the effort. I'd make it with whole vanilla beans so that the tiny specks of vanilla seeds could be seen.

Anyone who left the table hungry would have to do the dishes.

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14 October 2007

Cultural Disconnect

A chance conversation with one of my uncles got me to thinking about being a part of, and yet separate from, American culture. My uncle, you see, is a big college football fan. I've written before about my dislike of football, American football, not the sport that is football to the rest of the world and we Yanks call 'soccer'. I like that sport. But the one that the NFL plays? Not so much.

It would seem if I were to judge by the standards of my uncle and his kids that I am beyond strange. And honesty compels me to admit that I am a bit strange. I grew to adulthood in the United States without ever once sitting through an entire football game, either on television or in person. I started working during my freshman year of high school and was never able to go to a high school game. Not that I cared; until I met DH, I had no idea what was going on down on the field during a game anyway. I was a sophomore in college before I actually sat through an entire game, and probably about 23 before I understood what was happening on the field.

Listening to my mother and her sisters talk about television, I thought again about how I've never really been connected to pop culture, even though I do know quite a bit about it. My parents didn't allow us to watch much TV when I was growing up, and by the time the television shows that were popular in the 90s came along, I didn't care about them anymore than I've ever cared about football. I've never watched an episode of Friends, nor of Seinfeld, nor Will And Grace or Everybody Loves Raymond. Neither has anyone else in my immediate family. My aunt was asking my mother if she'd seen the NBC sitcom Cavemen, and my mother was at some pains to explain that no, she hadn't seen it, and she was pretty unlikely to see it ever. Me neither. Anything with a laugh track...ugh.

I don't think that any of this makes me some sort of freak; most of my friends (naturally) feel the same way I do about television, although they do occasionally raise an eyebrow at the lengths and depths of my sports ignorance. Ask me if I saw 'the game' last night, and I'm likely to ask you if 'the game' was baseball, basketball, football or something else, because I'm never even sure which sports season it is. Mention a particular sports team to me, and I will probably know where geographically they're from, but I won't have any idea what sport they play.

That's not to say that I have no idea about local sports teams; I know the names and sport affiliation of most of the professional and college teams from Oh-hia-ia. It would be difficult to remain willfully ignorant about the Ohio State Buckeyes football team, for example, unless I lived under a rock or in some state of perpetual isolation.

But disconnected is a good word to explain how I feel about most TV and sports. To disconnect a phone call, you hang up. To disconnect your cable, you unplug it from the television. (Assuming, of course, that your cable isn't being disconnected because you didn't pay the bill.) A disconnect is an avbrytning in Swedish, literally 'a breaking off.'

Of course if you've been witness to any of my SN ranting over the last ten months or so, you're cracking up right about now, as you think to yourself, "She would go NUTS if I turned of her cable and she couldn't watch The CW on Thursday nights at 9 PM." And you wouldn't be wrong about that. But I feel obligated to point out that SN pulls in a regular viewership of about 4 million, a paltry sum indeed compared to the juggernaut that was Friends during its heyday.

I like being disconnected from the mainstream when it comes to things like that. I like that I'm a little out of step with the rest of the world on sports. I also like that my politics are far out of the mainstream around here, that I'm a little liberal island in the midst of raging conservatism. Even when it makes me feel like I'm constantly trying to re-acclimate myself to the culture of the country I was born in.

13 October 2007


A poet once said, "April is the cruelest month." I understand the sentiment, but I disagree with it. For me, it is October, always has been.

Autumn is the only time of year that I don't mind living in Oh-hia-ia. The extreme heat and humidity of the summer is gone, leaving behind a cooler and eminently more pleasant general climate. The bitter, bone-chilling winds of January are in the not-too-distant future, but not close enough to worry about. Snow rarely makes its first appearance until November or December.

The fall colors, more than rival to the famous colors in New England, are beautiful. We have the full spectrum of fall color, and it is spectacular to behold. The palest yellows, the same color as the light of a new dawn. Greens that were lush fade to mere memories of themselves. Gold, just like the fields of wheat that are being harvested. Reds, stunning in their brilliance. The 'red maples' have leaves of a nearly maroon tint, and they too fade to a lighter shade of themselves. Even the more common and less showy oranges and browns add to the display.

It happens gradually, leaves from beech or ornamental trees littering the ground in early September, before the rest begin to change. And then one morning we all wake to hints of red and orange in the trees. I live near a large metropolitan park, and driving along its twisting byways is a delight. As teenagers, we played 'road rally' on the park's drives, a stupid and dangerous (and fun) thing to do, because the hairpin turns don't allow you to see oncoming traffic. I drive slower there these days.

And yet, the weather is changing, and we have days like we've had over the last week, overcast, cloudy, rainy, and COLD. That is what makes this a cruel month; we go from flip-flops one day to needing jackets the next. Generally, I tell friends and family to complain to me about the cold after they've survived a winter in Scandinavia, because it isn't cold here. I normally don't bother with a coat until the temperature hovers in the 20-degree F (-7 C) range. But in the last week I've found myself reaching for a light jacket almost every day. Advancing age? Perish the thought.

My asthma always acts up in October, frustrating me, because most of the rest of the year it leaves me alone. The tickle in the back of my throat that signals an oncoming attack is nearly ever-present as soon as the leaves begin to fall. Each day with lower temperatures begins with an attack, deep, wracking coughs that make my eyes water, my nose run, and leave me gasping for air. Each evening, after dinner, as DH and I settle into watching television (him, usually) or reading (me), I have another small attack. It is these smaller evening attacks that end up making me more breathless, occasionally reaching for the rescue inhaler to stop them, something I'm too stubborn to do the rest of the year. But when I feel like I can't get enough air sitting in a recliner, it is time to accept that I might need the assistance that only the inhaler can provide.

As the month winds down, we go from skies of perfect autumnal blue to grey, where they stay for the rest of the year. We see brief peeks of sunshine between the stormy skies. I find myself looking at the ground rather than face that overcast sky. The days grow shorter and shorter, heading to the winter equinox. Losing the light is especially cruel. While I detest the heat and humidity of the summer, at least the days are long.

It is beautiful, though. This is a chill beauty, sometimes damp, but constantly changing. I miss the leaves when they're gone. The only upside to the falling leaves, as I see it, is that living in a condo, we are spared having to clean up the downed leaves. Instead we can simply enjoy their beauty (and bitch about the way the landscaper cleans them up). As a child, Saturdays in October were spent helping my father to round up thousands of pounds of leaves (no joke or exaggeration) so that the grass could be cut until the snow fell.

I turned the furnace on today, the biggest sign of the weather change of all. And I'm still freezing. Hand me that blanket, will ya?

09 October 2007

In The Weave

Often, when I am looking at a knitting pattern, because I am geek enough to read knitting patterns, I will build a color chart for the pattern in my mind's eye, trying to see if other colors would work better than the original pattern. Sometimes these experiments have worked; other times, not so much.

I have a multicolored 'novelty' yarn that changes from orange to blue to brown to green, which sounds like it ought to work up in to the most awful melange you could imagine, but it works, even when you're working with more than one skein of it. As you pull the yarn from the center of the skeins, opposing colors seem to fight on the needles for control of the blanket or scarf, but once knitted together, form a more harmonious pattern than I would have ever thought possible.

I think of my writing on this blog in much the same fashion; ideas that seem to have nothing in common, but worked properly and patiently together form a coherent thought. Perhaps I'm fooling myself, and perhaps I write rambling nonsense more often than a cohesive whole. Either way, I enjoy the process.

What I'm thinking about today is dirt, honest to goodness get-into-the-ground dirt, and food production. The genesis of this post was a few completely unconnected things. A friend's blog about her two adorable daughters playing in a sandbox, at a farmer's market that also boasts a playhouse and a lake and ducks to feed. The girls got, gasp, dirty in the sandbox. (I direct you to read the whole post here.) Then a spider spotted inside the grocery store (horrors!) and my thought that we're so far disconnected from where our food is actually produced. Or most of us are, anyway.

I loathe spiders. Loathe them. The story for why is for another time and place, but even the smallest spider has me, unfortunately, reacting 'like a girl'. I often say that I'm not a fan of anything with more legs than me, but spiders in particular...ugh. I think it is something about the way they move that creeps me out.

The spider that I saw in the grocery store was no bigger than a nickel, if I'm going to be honest. I could tell you that it was huuuuuge, but truth is that it wasn't. It was very black, and called attention to itself by being on a white linoleum floor. It had attached a strand of its web to a large cart being pulled by one of the store's employees, a flatbed cart with rails on either end to prevent the boxes of produce that she was carting to the floor from falling off. The spider trailed along at the end of its strand, sometimes being drug by the motion of the cart, other times struggling gamely to clamber back up the line which connected it to the cart.

Another employee stopped the cart puller and called her attention to the spider. I moved in another direction, away from the spider, and did not see them stomp on it, but I heard it. Because goddess forbid that there should be a single insect or any dirt anywhere near the food.

Most of the grocery stores in my area are controlled by a particular chain, and within probably a ten-mile radius of my home are at least five of their enormous brightly lit stores. I worked for them in college, and have no love for the chain, but my choices are fairly limited by the near-monopoly that they have in the area.

Every time I walk inside any of them, I think about Alton Brown and his television show Good Eats. He often shoots short segments of the show inside a grocery store, which he refers to as 'the average American mega-mart.' And mega indeed is appropriate. So much food housed in a single grocery store. So many choices, a bounty of overabundance. No wonder more than half of the country's population is overweight, and our collective consciousness pairs the word obesity with the word epidemic.

But at what point did we learn as a culture that food should come from these gleaming warehouses, not only evidence of bounty but of fantastic waste as well? The gleaming rows of produce without a speck of dirt (heaven forbid) or an imperfection to be seen. How far has that food traveled to get to your mega-mart? When, exactly, did we become so disconnected from the way our food is produced?

I don't use pre-packaged foods, like Rice-a-Roni, or box dinners at all, because they contain too much high fructose corn syrup (otherwise known as HFCS) and everything that I've read the labels on lately also seems to have tHBQ, which is a petroleum derivative ffs, added to it. All of that pre-packaged convenience food only separates us further from the dirt and actual production of food.

"Sure," you say, "but Luce, honey, you're at home full-time these days and can spend as much time in the kitchen as you like to prepare a meal, not to mention time to chase down the ingredients to make such things." And I say to you with my best imitation of a Brooklyn accent, "True dat!"But what is also true is this: we should all be concerned about where our food comes from, and how much or how little connection is has to its beginnings.

I have no neat, elegant solution. No way to fix the problem, tie it up with a pretty bow and present it to you. I solve it for myself by reading labels, buying organic AND perhaps more importantly locally produced stuff when I can, and leave the immense worry of the bigger problem of how much fuel we consume and how much waste we produce getting the gleaming veggies in the grocery store to minds much smarter than mine. Perhaps yours.

07 October 2007

Pithy Remarks

Every now and then I see a bumper sticker or two that crack me up enough to note them down and share them with you. There were two of them on an older car that cracked me up.

Don't assume I share your prejudices.


Empty out the prisons to make room for the Congress.

There was even one for my conservative friends; it made me laugh. This one was on a newer truck, festooned with American flags and a bunch of Republican propaganda.

Mystify a liberal; get a job, work hard and be happy.

05 October 2007

There's Beauty In The Breakdown

Well, no, really there isn't, but the line above is from a song I like and it is too cool to not use it for this post's title.

I've been having a bit of a relapse with the depression in the past few weeks, regressing to a stage where it is hard to get out of bed, hard to breathe, hard to move. Yes, I'm still taking the meds, but it really seems like out of the blue one day they just stopped working, leaving me tail spinning.

I made an appointment to see Dr. H, my adorable family doctor, because it is he and not my therapist who prescribes them. I see a psychologist, not a psychiatrist. Anyway, I had a list of things I wanted to discuss with him; not just my anti-depressants, but my skin which is broken out like a teenager's, I wanted him to run blood work to see where my cholesterol et cetera is, and I needed a flu shot. When I was working I could get the flu shot for free from my employer, both the olde evile bank and the non-profit offered the flu shot gratis to employees. As an asthmatic, it is important for me to get a flu shot. Or so "they" say.

One thing above all else that I appreciate about my family doctor is that when you are with him, you've got his undivided attention. You may wait in his waiting room for-freaking-ever while he's with someone else, but I really feel that he LISTENS to me. He's also quick to admit when something is beyond his expertise and refer you to a specialist.

He listened to my concerns about still being on the med and how much it frustrates me that I still need them; even though I haven't been feeling that they've been very effective lately, miss just one day's dose and I'm am nearly paralyzed with misery. We discussed other options; neither of us is willing, just yet, to scrap the Wellbutrin XL that I've been on since April for another med; instead he upped the dosage again. I'm of mixed emotions about that; if it helps, then fine. But what if it stops working just like the last dosage did? That's a scary thought, isn't it? He claims that you can't develop a 'tolerance' for this med; the anecdotal stuff I've read suggests that yes, you can, but for once I'm letting HIM be the doctor and taking his advice.

He noted that if this dosage (the max recommended daily dose of this medication) does not seem to push me up over the edge to a more healthy frame of mind that he next wants to add another medication. I'm not crazy about that idea, actually I hate it, if I'm going to be fully honest. I have no desire to be on more than one medication for a mental illness. One is quite enough, thank you. He tried to ease my anxiety about that by telling me about other patients that are on shed-loads of meds, which was very sweet of him, but wasn't very helpful, frankly, when he told me that both patient examples that he gave me have had numerous hospitalizations for their mental troubles. Yikes.

Then he told me something that was helpful; apparently patients with major depressive disorder who are also OCD end up needing the max dosage of SSRIs. He paged through my chart and reminded himself of my family history; rather than giving away secrets that aren't mine to tell, let's just say that there are one or two of my family who have OCD a weee bit worse than I do.

He seems worried about my anxiety levels; I don't think that my anxiety level is high, but the therapist has also mentioned that she thinks I have a lot of anxiety and since they're the ones with the medical expertise....well, that doesn't mean that I agree with them or want to take their word for it, but for now I'm letting it stand. The therapist is vehemently opposed to anti-anxiety meds like Xanax and Klonopin; Dr. H thinks that they have their time and place. I side with the therapist on that one. Xanax especially has a pretty quick half-life and you can and do build a tolerance to it.

Dr. H says that as long as I am managing to sleep that he'll not insist on adding Xanax; I told him the only time I can sleep is when I take the sleeping pill, but he says for now that is all right.

When he upped my daily dosage of the Wellbutrin from 150 mg/day to 300 mg/day, the change and feeling "better" was nearly immediate. It took just a few days for it to kick in. So here's hoping that a daily dosage of 450 mg/day is the answer.

In other news, completely off topic, I've actually found a few jobs to apply for in the last week and have been sending out resumes like mad. Here's hoping one of them pans out.

Oh, and I've got some massive geeking out posted on MySpace about Supernatural's return to prime time last night.

03 October 2007


Even whilst bemoaning the fact that the current presidential election campaign has been the longest and most expensive in our country's history, I'm still paying attention to it and an active participant in it. Which is silly, because if I want to encourage the powers that be to cease and desist with the huge money-sucking mess, I ought to ignore it and urge you to do the same.

But I've never been able to ignore politics, from about the age of 10 on, I've been highly interested in the political machine and the governance of not just the United States, but much of the world.

I caught a snippet the other day of Glen Beck criticizing Hilliary Rodham Clinton, which made me exasperated at his ignorance. And I don't think he's an idiot, let me be clear on that. I disagree with him a lot, but mostly I think he's a smart guy. He was talking about Clinton's new plan to give every child $5,000 for college or to purchase a home. Nice idea, impractical, but hey, no less crazy than some of the other things presidential candidates have been talking about lately.

During his critique, he brought out the dreaded word "Socialist." Which usually has every red-blooded American running for the hills, screaming "Commie! Commie!!" Allow me to edumacate y'all for a second; first, socialism isn't communism. Second, Dictionary.com defines socialism as a theory or system of social organization that advocates the vesting of the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution, of capital, land, etc., in the community as a whole.

Is socialism evil? Not inherently so. I think it has lofty ideals that don't end up working well in practice, because of the basic human trait of greed, but in a perfect world.....

Is it counter to capitalism? I hate to admit it, but sure, some of the ideals of socialism are directly opposed to capitalism, but again, that's a case of good ideas on paper not working well in the real world; the human factor.

It just frustrates the living hell out of me that people like Mr. Beck, in the interest of sensationalism and ratings, toss the term around as if it is something we all ought to be terrified of.

Personally? I'm more frightened of W's destruction of habeas corpus and the possibility that Mit Romney might be our next president than I am of a few socialist programs. I have not yet made up my mind who I shall vote for (and note, please, that the day in question is MORE THAN A YEAR from now) but my vote will go to a candidate who is pro-choice, first and foremost. That issue, more than any other, is a deciding factor for me. Socialist programs? Not so much a deciding factor.

02 October 2007

Can I ever?

I pulled a book off of my library shelf today, after thinking about a passage in the book and wanting to re-read it.

Instead of just turning to the passage in question, I read about the last 100 pages, refreshing my memory of the story in general. Melanie Rawn wrote six books in the "Dragon Prince" series, and it was the last one, Skybowl, that I wanted to refresh my memory of.

In the book, Rawn kills off many characters, but it is the death of one of my least favorite characters that brings me to tears every time I re-read it. The guy is a sanctimonious, overly religious, smug bastard, who does everything in his power to topple the rightful king, and I know the author's intention was that you not like this character at all, but yet, she manages to make you regret his death, to grieve for his passing.

How the hell does she do that? I've read all six of those books at least ten times, and I still tear up at parts of each book. While re-reading it today, though, I thought of my own little story, my unfinished novel.

My little book is cute, a fun beach-y sort of read, not an evocative, sweeping tale that will make you laugh, cry, and insist that all of your friends read right now. And that makes me a little sad, honestly, because while I know that I'm a writer, I don't know if I've got that sort of sweeping tale within me.

I don't know that every writer struggles with this sort of "I can't possibly be any good" feelings, but I know that many do. LM Montgomery wrote about it in her novels, and I've read things other published authors have said about their own doubts. But I just can't help but wonder if I can ever manage to evoke a reader to tears.

And if I'll ever finish the book.

01 October 2007

Telepathic Communication

DH and I have been together for a long, long time. We met in 1994, in the springtime, and were dating within a month or so of meeting one another. We've been together ever since. For those with poor math skills, that's 13 years. We've been married for 7 of those years. I can't imagine my life without him.

I think that when you are close with someone for such a long time, you develop the ability to communicate wordlessly. It doesn't necessarily have to be a significant other; I can do this with my sisters and a few friends as well. A shared glance, a certain tilt to the head that indicates a question, or mutual eye-rolling that you both know the meaning behind.

We were at a wedding on Saturday night, a wedding where our connection to the bridal pair is tenuous at best. Neither of us really wanted to go, but duty and obligation compelled us. A quick aside; I looked fabulous in a BCBG Max Ariza dress, purchased a few years ago. It has an asymmetrical hemline, knee-length on one side and calf-length on the other, black, with a floral silver print, and it has only one shoulder. Stunning, yes, but also probably a bit out of date. Not that I care; as I said, I looked fab. My hair is shorter than ever, as I did a favor for the hairdresser last week and he cut and colored my hair for free. It has a few red streaks now, and he warmed the blonde to a slightly darker shade, the white blonde streaks covered until summer comes again.

Regardless, we had agreed prior to leaving for the wedding that we'd leave as soon as it was acceptably polite to do so, since we wouldn't know many people there. As he does from time to time at social events, DH disappeared and I was left to my own devices, so I headed to the dance floor to participate in the near-mandatory dancing of The Electric Slide (hate the song, love to dance, can't keep up with the steps, laugh my ass off at my clumsy self each time) and a few other songs.

DH hates to dance, but will usually dance one song with me provided it is a slow number and that he likes the song. I left the dance floor after they played "YMCA" and started playing something by Rascal Flatts that I didn't recognize, in search of both my husband and a drink. I found him talking to an old friend, and he raised his eyebrow and inclined his head in the direction of the dance floor, asking if I wanted to dance without saying a word. In answer, I put the heel of my right hand on my forehead, in a "I coulda had a V-8" gesture, meaning, "Duh, did you have to ask? Of course I want to dance." He grinned in acknowledgment and led the way to the dance floor.

Later, when things were winding down and we'd seen some people who were not 90 years old leaving, I mimed walking with my index and middle fingers, asking him if he was ready to leave. He nodded, and we sought out our hosts and thanked them for a lovely evening. On the way home, we shared a laugh over the attire of some of the guests that we'd both noticed but hadn't said anything aloud about at the time.

I think it takes a long shared history to be able to communicate this way. It always entertains me when it happens, making me wish that true telepathy were possible.