Friday, May 8, 2020

A Very Disturbing Post

Being someone who has always loved to bake, has naturally led me to creating some wonderful confections which my husband Skip has enjoyed on his frequent trips through the kitchen.  For example, a malformed cookie's life expectation is 3 minutes on the cooling rack.  A muffin is approximately 5 minutes unless it has cinnamon in it, then it is most likely less than a minute.  I cannot frost, ice or garnish without finding something amiss.  

"Where's that cookie I set aside?" I ask Skip as he wanders back into the kitchen for another perusal of the baked assortment.

"Which one?  You mean the one with the oblong edge?"


"Oh.  I ate it," he answers without any hesitation.

"I was saving that one as a sample once I tried the royal icing flooding technique," I complain.  "Now I'll have to practice on one of the good ones." This makes no impression on Skip who is still smacking his lips and brushing cookie crumbs from his shirt.

I am about to make caramel corn and ask him where he is going to be since I know that I would prefer that he remain in his office while I am working.  The thing about Caramel Corn is that once the caramel is cooked it must be spread on the naked popcorn very quickly before it cools too much.  I can't navigate the pot, the spatula, and sauce around his sampling fingers too successfully.  Skip's flash and grab approach works with some things but not others.  In the instance where the hot caramel is still bubbling as I pour it, he's liable to get burned.  I shoot him a warning glance that says, "If you value your life, you will leave the kitchen NOW!"

Hurt, but not frightened, Skip extricates himself from further dire warnings telling me that he is going outside to mow.  Now's my chance.  I rush to start the process hoping to be finished before he returns.  Before I can remove the pots and pans, he has returned to deliver one small jab back at me.  This no doubt comes from the banishment pronouncement that I laid on him minutes earlier.

"As long as you're baking and such, you should make more dog bones for Kira."

I look up from what I am doing and remind him that I have the leftover dough from the last batch I made.  It is still in the freezer.

"She doesn't like those," He reminds me.

"Yeah.  I know.  That's why I haven't made any more for her," I reply.

"You need to make the ones with more peanut butter, he tells me.

"Those are the ones with more peanut butter!" I answer defensively.  "They're the same ones she has always enjoyed."

Skip shakes his head.  "No.  I couldn't taste the peanut butter in this last batch."

This news is disturbing on so many levels.
1)  Skip is perhaps losing his sense of taste.
2)  Skip is giving baking advice
3) Skip is giving advice on how to bake dog biscuits
and finally...the most disturbing of all...
4) Skip is eating dog biscuits!

Let me paint you a picture of what has happened over the years.  I decided to bake gourmet dog biscuits because our Siberian Husky is finicky and frankly, in her mind, she deserves homemade dog biscuits.  So I found a good recipe to which I added an extra dollop of peanut butter, some vanilla extract, and even a teaspoon of hazelnut extract. I cut the dough into small rectangles so that the  treats could be used as small rewards. The aroma was intoxicating as they baked to crispy perfection.  Kira awaited the cooling process for her moment to sample, and when that moment finally arrived, she pushed her way to the front of the line past Skip whose chin was elevated and whose nose was twitching right along with our dog's.  Kira ate her small sample with gusto begging for more.  Skip quickly volunteered to throw her another piece.  His hands grabbed a small fistful somewhat like one might grab cocktail peanuts.  He shook his closed palm and tossed one to Kira and then tossed one in his mouth crunching loudly.  "Mmm.  He proclaimed.  These are really good."

"Stop that!" I yelled. "Those are for Kira."  I might as well have shouted in the wind.

Skip continued this practice throughout the entire supply of treats.  I would hear him rummaging in the plastic container for treats for Kira two, three, four times a day.  Then I would hear both of them crunching.

"One for you and two for me!"  He would tell her.

Kira glowered at her master and retreated to the family room.  Then one day, she seemed to lose interest in the treats altogether.  I wonder if it had something to do with not wanting to share.  Perhaps if I added ground liver and fish oil, Skip might stay away from them and she will go back to enjoying doggie treats again.  Anyway, for now, I am trying to decide if I should bake some of the doggie treats for Skip after I finish the caramel corn recipe.  No doubt he will be back in the kitchen in a half an hour so I better get a move on!  The man will be hungry as a DOG, and I will need to toss him a snack or two or three.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Isolation: The Upside

This sheltering in place during the Corona Virus is showing me that we humans are a resilient bunch.  Oh yes, we grump about not being able to take it anymore and yet we remain steadfast in our determination to avoid infection.  We are bored and wonder how we are going to last another day. But human ingenuity wins out after a while. I guess that's the upside of all of this.

Yesterday was the Kentucky Derby...well, it was supposed to be the Derby but that didn't happen.  Instead, some genius created a program, designed an algorithm, and televised a horse race that was noteworthy on many levels.  For one thing, it was virtual. For another, it took 13 Triple Crown Winners in history and pitted them against each other in a horse race that was both fascinating and exciting.  It was ingenious how they could do that.  I wanted to ask questions and wished that they had a chatbox on our TV like they do on our Zoom calls.  How could they do this to the viewing audience?!  I wanted to know, 'What if Seattle Slew had veered left?  Would Secretariat have still won the race?'  I also wanted to know, 'What if it had been raining?  Would that have changed the results?'   'How did they choose which horse race to use from each of the horses?'  I had so many questions and no one to ask.

Skip got up from his spot in front of the TV and fixed me another bourbon cocktail.  We had to rough it because there was no mint for a Mint Julep so we were drinking sweetened bourbon with orange and cherry.  Mmm.  Not bad.  (See what I mean about ingenuity?)  On our second round of cocktails, he announced that there was a turtle race being run and sponsored by Old Forester.  "Sure!  I'll drink to that!" I told him.  The race was rather amusing but not so much as Skip's commentary.  He was hungry for sports.  He had gone too long without live sporting events and now, faced with a turtle race his attention turned to each of the entries.  He commented and analyzed, sipped his drink while studying the attributes of each turtle and noted their names by repeating them to me as he often does when we watch other sporting events to help involve me.   I sighed and nibbled my cocktail peanuts feigning interest. The trumpet sounded heralding the beginning of the race.  (It was the actual Derby bugler) and then the announcer (the real Derby announcer) introduced each of the turtles. The field of seven was populated by the likes of Seattle Slow, Green Mamba, Galapa-Go, What the Turtleneck, Rocket to Nowhere, Steve, and American Tortuga.  All were ready at their post.

3-2-1, out of the gate, and they were off.
They weren't.
These shelled reptiles chose to build the tension a bit longer.  Their 2 minutes of fame stretched into 3 minutes without anyone making a move. Then, suddenly one of the turtles, I think that it was Galapa-Go decided that it was his chance to score viewer fans by moving out of the circle.  With slow-motion, he turned away from the others and began his slow journey to the finish line.  But wait, the excitement was only just beginning.  Some of the others chose to turn and race as well.  "And they're off!" yelled the announcer.  I can't say that we watched with rapt attention but it held our interest enough as the potential winner, Galapa-Go decided the last minute to turn away from the finish line thus leaving it open for another, What the Turtleneck to challenge him at the last minute.  I turned to get more ice for my drink and perhaps missed some of the finer nuances of the race, but ultimately witnessed the historic nail-biting finish as one determined turtle stuck his neck out and crossed the finish line. Since 1945, the last time this race was run, the new winner, What the Turtleneck had achieved a first place victory to the cheers of the announcer, of Skip, and no doubt thousands...nay millions of hungry racing enthusiasts to earn his place in history.

And so the sun set on another day of the Covid-19 isolation.  But on this day, I learned that some things...some traditions will not be stifled by a virus.  Mankind finds a way to rise above the challenges with which he is faced.  He not only perseveres but through creativity, he excels.
Fun-Factor Score:   Man - 1,  Covid - 0 .

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Covid Cooking. A Guide to 'Fine Dining' During Isolation


Here we are in our 4th week of isolation with the refrigerator looming bigger than ever in our kitchen and our lives.  We are low on some things and someone needs to brave the Covid-19 epidemic to make a run to the grocery store. My husband, Skip is the designated grocery store shopper equipped with mask and gloves, hand sanitizer, plastic bags, wipes, and Lysol spray.  Each week we have taken greater precautions until the last trip to the store when I told him that he was not allowed in the house until he stripped off his clothes in the garage, washed his hands thoroughly, then took a shower.  Meanwhile we took in the groceries that were perishable and left boxes and non-perishables on the garage floor.  To my shock and bewilderment, I found that Skip had bought more perishables than non-perishables.  There were two large bags of lettuce and a large plastic container of fancy-mix of lettuce.  Another large tub was filled with spinach and then there was a huge bunch of asparagus, lots of corn on the cob, tomatoes enough to feed an army and other assorted fruits and vegetables.  I panicked.  What was I supposed to do with all of that stuff?  Those bags of lettuce only last about three days.  Asparagus goes mushy really quickly.  Tomatoes develop black spots within just a few days, bananas go brown and spotted, and strawberries get moldy.  Just the thought makes me gag.  Skip also bought a large whole rotisserie chicken.  My mind was spinning. How would could I make use of everything before it rotted, turned to mush, and had to be thrown out?  Being resourceful, I rolled up my sleeves and took out the salad bowl.

Week 4 menus

Day 1:
Dinner - I made a HUGE salad to have with the chicken.  I added leftovers from days past.                  (Waste not want not!)  It was a smorgasbord of flavors that turned out to be quite tasty.
Day 2: \
Lunch - Salad with chicken pieces.  There was still so much chicken left.  I think that I overdid it on the salad the night before, but we also had a huge amount of greens just sitting there waiting to turn into sludge, so I remind myself that I shouldn't be wasteful.
Dinner - Chicken soup and salad. (I used the leftover chicken to make the soup and lots of                  the fresh vegetables in the stock.)  Even though the soup turned out delicious, it was hard to disguise the fact that we had just had the same ingredients at lunch.  I was hoping that our digestive systems didn't stage a mutiny.
Day 3:
Lunch - Fruit and salad   I also cooked the asparagus but just didn't have the interest in eating it, so I stuck it in the refrigerator for later.           
Dinner - Leftover chicken soup with pasta added; but please, God, no more salad!!!  I was popping Tums and praying that my indigestion would go away by bedtime.
Day 4:
Lunch - Geez...some of the lettuce is slimy!  We threw it out but managed to get lots of the lettuce into the bowl along with spinach and tomatoes for, guessed it...more SALAD!  I added some of the cooked asparagus that really needed to be eaten and also found some leftover chicken slices in our lunch meat drawer.  They were borderline greenish but Skip ate it without comment.  I fear he might be losing his sense of taste and smell.
Mid-afternoon snack: fruit smoothies.  The fruit was beginning to look a bit off so I pureed and disguised it in a smoothie.  Skip said it was a bit 'zingy' which in my mind meant that the strawberries were probably starting to ferment.  Just for good measure I gave us both some Tums feeling a little queasy about all of that roughage. On a positive note, Skip definitely seems to have recovered his sense of taste and smell.  He nailed the fermenting fruit, and then when he passed the trash can he smelled the rotting asparagus bottoms I had discarded.
Dinner:  I took the cooked asparagus and pureed it in a bit of chicken bouillon and onion salt.  I added it to the last of the leftover chicken soup.  It was delicious!  Now I wish I had more asparagus, more chicken and more of the soup vegetables.  (I can't believe I just said that!)

It is now Day 5 of our 4th week of isolation and my stomach aches.  I may have overdone it with the fruits and veggies.  I am craving French Fries, pasta, and unhealthy snacks.  We are out of popcorn. The Cheetos that we bought during week 1 of isolation (and that I yelled about having in the house) are nothing but a long-ago fond memory, and we have eaten all of the baked goods I made during my ambitious baking spree during week two.  I am looking at some old fruit that is beginning to become questionable. The veggies are pretty much gone, along with most of the other perishables and dairy products.  Our walk-in pantry which was so well-stocked that it challenged our ability to walk in to retrieve anything now beckons us.  I remember that somewhere in the very back amidst cans...lots and lots of cans of soup, there are some crackers. CRACKERS!!!  Should I retrieve them or wait another day?  But what are my choices?  Cautiously I enter the disarray of cans and packages of dried goods.  They are the kinds of foods one only considers during the worst of situations.  Oh wait...yes!  This is the worst of situations!!!  I reach for a hidden package of rice-a-roni and realize its expiration date was a year ago.  REALLY?  I had no idea that Rice-a-roni had an expiration date!  I prepare it anyway, and mix it with a crumble of leftover hamburger from last week.  I take out a package of grated cheese that I had the good sense to stick in the freezer and spread it on top of the mixture then allow it to melt in the microwave.  Mmmm.  Delicious.  True pantry gourmet.  We eat it and dream of the time when we could dine out.  But alas, those times are gone as we wait out the Shelter-in-Place orders to be lifted.

Now, I lift my pen to paper to write out the menus for the next few days.  Maybe we will have some sausage gravy on stale bread.  That'll be fun.  Then we can have frozen soup veggies for dinner.  Desperate times lead to desperate measures.  We will survive!!!

Monday, February 10, 2020


I guess I pictured going into my old age engaged in a peaceful passing of time with both of us sitting in rocking chairs reading, listening to music, watching television and laughing occasionally over a joke or two.  Skip would mumble something and I would respond with a word or two.  I might say something like, "What would you like for dinner?" and he might answer, "Anything is fine."    Isn't that how we picture old age?

Instead, I have discovered something I never would have expected.  My husband, Skip has gone through a huge change.  He's not the person I married.  Skip used to be an introvert, very quiet, totally cerebral.  It was a perfect match for me since I talked a lot and he was a good listener.  Suddenly, though, he is exhibiting behavior that makes me think that some alien being has inhabited his body and has taken over his brain.  When we go to parties he is the one most likely to meet and greet, to stand in groups chatting amiably about this and that...the king of small talk.  I, on the other hand, shrink off to a corner to talk to one person.  I went to a party a month ago and I literally searched for something...anything to say.  Of course, in my defense, I was sitting amongst a group of non-working trophy wives who were complaining about struggling to fit into their size 4 jeans.  One young lady actually complained that she had found a grey hair!  I would have spilled my drink on her if I wasn't consumed with getting quietly drunk and needing all of the vodka in my glass. Anyway, back to Skip, he was on the other side of the room entertaining a group with interesting trivia when I looked up to be 'saved'.  Ordinarily I would have caught his eye and even before I suggested it, he would make small gestures of needing to depart.  He would be moving towards the door while I would be wrapped in conversation.  But now, with this current role-reversal, I was wearing a hole in his side as I poked him in reminder that it was getting late and we had to go home to feed the dog.

A few months ago, when I really began to notice this change I asked him if he had been drinking (naturally assuming that it loosened his tongue and inhibitions) but in many situations he is doing nothing more than having a coffee or a glass of iced tea.  In fact, the other night, I was trying to work on a Sudoku puzzle and he wouldn't stop talking.  "Did you know that the longest word in the English language has 45 letters?"

"Really?  What's the word?"

"Hang on...oh, I can't find it.  Hmmm.  It here somewhere.  I just had it on my phone."  (I waited while he continued to thumb through the myriad posts that come to him on his newsfeed.) "Oh, here it is.  It's  a medical term."

"Of course it is!  We don't use those."  I went back to my puzzle but within seconds Skip was throwing out some political commentary from an obscure authority on the subject of the upcoming election.  I feigned interest but when he abruptly changed the subject to discuss taxes and the newest tax laws I began to yawn.  He was still talking when I began to sing a melody in my head that made me smile.  I was in my 'Happy Place' which meant that someone was droning on and on and I had stopped listening.  Finally, It came to me. 'Just be direct,' I told myself.  Then I looked him in the eyes and announced, "Skip! You are blabbering!" Granted, he was informative and interesting, he was sharing and conversational, he was being the perfect husband.  But to me, I was on noise overload.  The TV was on and he was competing with that, with my inner voice, and my puzzle-solving ability.

"What do you mean I'm blabbering? I thought that you might like knowing these things." 

"I do, I do.  But right now, you're being a blabby-butt!" I turned up the volume on the TV as Skip retreated into quiet reflection for a few seconds.  I noticed that he looked hurt and so I apologized.  "Oh Sweetheart, it's cute.  It's just so unlike you."

Skip smiled at me and encouraged by my returning smile he hit me with a full discussion of a project he's working on that involves technological tools I've never heard of.  I took a deep breath and returned to my silent song.  My Sudoku puzzle had to wait until Skip went to bed.  In the morning my husband was awake and chattering on about the latest developments in his newsfeed. ('La-la-la-la,' I sang in my head.)  Now I really shouldn't complain.  Most wives married to the same man for many years would give anything to have lots of conversation rather than spend long quiet evenings just sitting and watching TV.  But honestly, after a full day of brain activity, I just want to vegetate over mindless TV.

The other night he did it again...this time with friends.  He was on a roll and I was trying to unsuccessfully insert a comment when it hit me.  Skip was blabbering and the new term for it was born in the deep recesses of my brain: Blabberskipping!  "Skip!" I announced with dramatic flourish. "You're BLABBERSKIPPING!" So now I've coined a new word.  It doesn't help the fact that I am experiencing this metamorphosis right before my eyes, but at least I have a term for it.  You're welcome, America.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Up in the Air: Travels and Tribulations

Skip and I went to his annual company meeting in Seattle and decided that as long as we were traveling all that way from North Carolina we should definitely go visit his sister, brother-in-law and mother in Idaho.  We flew out of Raleigh at an ungodly hour to catch our plane to Chicago.

Admittedly, I am a nervous flyer.  I find it difficult to accept that it is safe to fly high up in the air, relying on people I don't know who have manufactured a mechanism that is,in my mind, too heavy to stay aloft, has too many moving parts to be certain that something will not malfunction, and has too many miles of service not to have some sort of mechanical break down.  At best, if and when that happens, we are inconvenienced with delays, but the worst...well, we know what that might be! It's that thought that keeps me awake and filled with worry.

Neither of us slept well the night before and were extremely sleepy when we got to the airport parking and shuttle service.  Thank goodness our shuttle trip didn't require a security check since I am sure that I would have had to go through the same ordeal that met us at the airport.  I made the grave error of wearing a sweater that was trimmed in metallic threads.  BIG MISTAKE!  You'd think that I was wearing an explosive vest.  I was pulled to one side and had to wait for a special agent to check me.  I was asked to remove several items of clothing, wanded, and then subjected to the whole body scan. Finally a female TSA officer walked me over to a sign with a colorful graphic of the human body.  Pointing at the sign, she explained where she would be touching me (inappropriately) and then proceeded with the examination.   I asked her if she wanted to buy me dinner first but she didn't find it amusing. She also closely examined a pin I was wearing.  She shot me a suspicious glance and rotated the pin to see if it was in fact some sort of dangerous weapon. Finally satisfied that I was no danger to anyone she handed me my pin, my scarf, and told me I was free to get my things and go to the terminal.

Once I put myself back together we hiked to the gate...a remote outpost at the very end of the terminal. Halfway there, my energy gave out and my muscles began to cramp.  I looked for volunteers along the way who might hand me a cup of water to cheer me on, but sadly, the marathon walk had no event organizers like one expects to see at most marathon events.  Evidently, we participants were on our own with the finish line still 10 or 12 gates away.  When we finally arrived at gate 3959 Z (or something like that)  I plopped down on the nearest hard plastic seat and whimpered that my most comfortable walking shoes were evidently not that comfortable any more.  My little toes were screaming at me and I was sure that there were a few raw spots on my heels.

Our airplane, a sardine can with wings, was outfitted with seat belts designed for Barbie and Ken.  Clearly, anyone over 100 pounds with an average-sized lap could not fasten this contraption without some major contortions.  I let the belt out all the way and still had to suck in my breath and tighten the glutes in order to fit the two sides together.  I watched as the flight attendant rushed down the aisle supposedly checking to make sure we all were good little passengers who had secured ourselves with our seatbelts and stowed all personal belongings in the above compartments or under the seats. She barely glanced in my direction and couldn't possibly see if I had my seatbelt fastened since it was hidden from view by my metallic sweater/exploding vest.  I finally decided that my look of discomfort was probably enough to assure her that I was wedged safely and securely in my seat.

Our pilot, an experienced man who knew how to keep me calm by not doing nose dives, loop-dee-loops and other such stunts, safely delivered us to freezing cold and snowy weather in Chicago.  I unwound myself from the cramped seat complaining that my back had a spasm that wouldn't allow me to stand up straight.  We were at Gate 1A (or something like that) and had a connecting flight at Gate 10,385 ZZZ (or something like that).  There were no carts or helpful attendants.  We had to WALK!  I don't know how other people could do it because my tongue was hanging out, my feet were barking louder than a pack of hounds chasing a fox, and I was sure that I might die somewhere between the Starbucks and McDonald's about 2 gates down from where we landed.

"Do you want something to eat?" Skip asked helpfully.
"Oh no thank you.  I'm still full from the stale cookie and cold cup of coffee they gave us on the plane," I answered sarcastically.

We had a two hour wait for our connecting flight so I was able to catch my breath and recover enough to limp to the next plane. From Chicago we had a long flight to Seattle.  The plane was full and we sat three across in seats meant for Lilliputians.  I'd like to know who the Marquis de Sade of airline seat designers is so I can personally thank him for my ever so enjoyable trip where I was so tightly ensconced in the seat that I couldn't get up or down without a great deal of effort.  Hence, I tested my bladder endurance and pushed myself beyond what most people could do.  It became my personal challenge. Could I make it to Seattle without using the lavatory?  I hate using in-air lavatories.  We always hit turbulence just about the time I walk in and lock the door. Trying to balance myself after sitting in a cramped position for several hours is bad enough, but having to engage in a half squat and keeping my focus while worrying about plunging to my death in that compromising position is even more stressful. Therefore, I try to avoid getting up from my seat to use the facilities.

Oh boy!  There was an on board movie that I hadn't seen.  I grabbed my earphones and plugged them in to enjoy watching something that should not have been shown on a small screen in a lighted cabin.  The scenes were too dark and I found that I only caught small glimpses of the action.  I missed about 75 percent of the movie and finally gave up in disgust.  It was time to close my eyes and get some sleep.  Just about then was when food service began in first class seating just in front of the flimsy divider curtain that hid nothing but the fact that we were in coach.  The fragrance of bacon and eggs assailed my senses exacerbating the fact that someone was offering me a glass of water and pretzels.  I decided to push the envelope and get another drink of water before realizing that it might make me have to go to the bathroom.  UGH!  What was I thinking?!  With another two hours to go in the air, I was beginning to feel that distinct feeling of discomfort.  By the time we landed in Seattle and taxied to our gate, I was in full panic mode running down attendants and passengers alike to get to the rest room.

The walk to the next gate involved picking up our luggage and changing airlines, so there was no casual stroll to a nearby gate.  We had to walk from one end of the airport to the other to find the remote outpost where our luggage was delivered. The airport diverted all traffic to the right wing of the terminal to take us downstairs.  From there it was another hike to the side of the terminal from which we came, just under the gate where we had landed.  I questioned the wisdom of this, particularly since we had to then hike on back upstairs to check in and go through the dreaded security check yet again.  By this time, even though I was told I had a pre-check tag that meant I didn't have to take off shoes, scarf, jewelry, etc. I knew better.  Of course I would set off the alarms. So, rather than subject myself to more humiliation I removed my offending items, placing them on the conveyor belt, and walked through the magnetic detector.  The alarm went off and I nodded knowingly.

"It's my sweater," I told the TSA security lady. She gave me a withering look and told me to walk through the body scanner.  I did so obediently and then pointed to the metallic threads. Another withering look and a pat-down then freed me to rejoin my husband who had dutifully collected my miscellaneous items from the conveyor belt and X-Ray machine.  Now came our sprint to the next gate at the other end of the world!  Oh, but that wasn't all.  Now we were told that the gate had changed and we had to walk even further.  Finally reaching the departure gate we were told that this plane could only be boarded by walking outside.  There was snow on the ground and freezing temperatures.  I bundled up in my coat, scarf and gloves as we followed the dotted lines on the outdoor boarding zone to then climb up a ramp to the airplane.  By now my feet were numb, not because of the cold weather, but because my blisters had blisters from all the walking.  I couldn't feel my toes at all which was probably a good thing, and my muscle cramps had taken up permanent residence in my calves.

A short hour later we were standing in the Spokane airport waiting for luggage yet again.  This time, the walk was in the other direction and just as long.  Fortunately, we were through with catching airplanes and only had to rent a car to drive an hour to Idaho.  I thought that a car rental service might cleverly locate just outside of baggage claim, but that would be a silly notion.  It makes far more sense for a car rental desk to be at (you guessed it) the OTHER end of the airport as far away from baggage pick up as it could be.  I do not usually use expletives, not even under my breath, but I might have thought three or four of them with every step I took.

By the time we actually got in our rented car, the snow was coming down pretty steadily and what should have been a 45 minute drive to our hotel in Idaho became a grueling stop and go ordeal of
1 1/2 hours.  I worried about spinning out on the slippery roads.  It was rush hour traffic and snow plows couldn't get through to rid the highway of the collecting snow.  We finally pulled up to our hotel to deposit our luggage, freshen up and then get back on the road to go visit Skip's family.  Needless to say, wine awaited us when we arrived.  Thankfully it didn't continue to snow until after we had left and gotten back to our hotel.

The next morning we awoke to a winter wonderland and cleared roads which made the drive back to the relatives much easier and certainly beautiful albeit freezing cold.  After two days, it was time to return to Spokane to catch a flight to Seattle and my jittery nerves returned to allow for more stress and anxiety.  Security check-in was much easier.  I wore nothing that could set off alarms. Still, my boots didn't make it through and I had to remove them because they apparently had a metal shaft.  Oh, and Skip didn't make it through with me because it seems like he had forgotten to turn in his car rental keys when he dropped off the car at the rental return.  The TSA security people didn't like this at all.  I was questioned by the agent asking who that man I was traveling with was and why did he make an abrupt departure from the security gate?  Just looking at him, one would easily be suspicious that he was a terrorist for sure.  His graying hair and open honest expression is a dead giveaway. I'm sure that both of us are now on some list.

The gate to our aircraft was located in outer Mongolia (or something like that).  When we got there we were told that the aircraft was slightly smaller and the overhead bins would not accommodate much in the way of carry-ons. They neglected to mention that the plane was an old-fashioned propeller style. The propellers were located just outside my window.  I was so nervous, I couldn't even talk.  I pointed at the propellers in shock and horror making some sign of distress while Skip reassured me that it would be just fine.
I squinted and checked each bolt and blade to make sure that nothing looked like it might be loose or ready to fall off.  As the propeller blades began to rotate I cinched my seat belt tighter and prepared for take-off which miraculously couldn't have been smoother or easier.

Once back on terra firma I was breathing again and happily enjoyed a couple of days of respite before having to go through the entire flying ordeal to return home.  The hiking and hauling of luggage, the tight seats and discomfort, the security check-ins, the difficulty with gate changes, lack of sleep, no food service on the airplane and no time to eat a decent meal on the ground all culminated with our final leg of the trip from Dallas to Raleigh.  We were seated three across.  Skip was in the middle and a very large gentleman sat down on the aisle seat next to him.  I felt sorry for Skip who looked like a piece of lunch meat wedged between two slices of bread.  It turned out that our seat companion was far more interested in talking than sleeping or watching the movie.  His booming voice could be heard several aisles back and I knew that the dirty looks that we were getting came from that fact.  I tried to rescue Skip by asking if he wanted his headphones so he could watch the movie but he told me, "No.  You can use them."  (Why do I even bother trying to save him?)

When we landed in North Carolina a gave a silent prayer of thanks.  Once again we were delivered safe and sound. All in all, I can say that the next trip we take will be a driving one.  I don't care if it is 1 hour or 15 hours!  All I know is, somewhere there is a TSA agent who owes me a dinner and a flight attendant or two who owe me a very strong cocktail.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

An Empty Place at the Table

This is the week that will test me.  It will be our first Thanksgiving without my mother.  I am beginning to bake and cook now.  The aromas of cinnamon, apple and sugary pumpkin fill the air.  Suddenly I remember those moments when I stood at my mother's side and stirred bubbling saucepans filled with those same fragrant ingredients. She was in charge.  She lovingly taught me her secrets to timing and technique for the perfect Thanksgiving meal. I think back to holidays past and remember.  I think about the family and friends, the poignant moments, the special feeling, the excitement knowing that soon we would hear the doorbell ring and would gather with grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles. They are all gone now save a few cousins who are thousands of miles away.

When it was time, when I had a family of my own, I began to make the Thanksgiving meal. Smiling through tears I recall my mother's comments, her teaching, her patience as I attempted my first Thanksgiving dinner.  My mother assisted, taking care not to intrude.  She had passed the baton. It was my turn to become the matriarch and she stood beside me as sous chef.  We invited new people to our table.  There were our own children now.  But always...always there was a place for parents. My mother and father graced our table for each of the holidays.  As the years passed (all too quickly) a place where my father once sat was empty.

My mother's role changed again.  She had Alzheimer's and as the disease progressed she was no longer my assistant. She became an appreciative guest, happy to sit at the table and proclaim that each dish was her favorite. All too soon, the shift occurred as my mother's Alzheimer's Disease erased her memories and decimated her thoughts.  Our final Thanksgiving was devoid of her ability to taste or enjoy the food on her plate.  She ate without tasting.  She sat without seeing.  She heard without understanding.  But still she was with us.  I could look across the table and see her smile, feel her presence, assured that she was still filling a place at the table.

But now, today, as I began to place things, counting out the dishes and the silverware, I shift everything over removing the space where my mother once sat.  I will miss her smile on Thursday.  I will miss filling her plate and helping her with her napkins. I will miss pouring a tiny taste of champagne for her.  I didn't know that it would hurt this much.  I didn't know that the emptiness would be so unbearable. My grief overshadows my memories momentarily and I struggle to regain them, to once again recall the laughter, the jokes, the cheer.

Through blinding tears, I shift my gaze to the window.  It is windy outside.  The dying leaves flutter to the ground and the autumnal colors create an artist's palate that is beautiful to behold.  Everything changes.  Seasons change, people change, lives change.  I am reminded of the beauty of cycles.  Birth, life, death, birth, life, death.  I witness it in the natural things.  Our magnificent oak tree stands as testament to nature's cycles.  Always...there is such joy as after the stark winter, the first leaves emerge: the promise of new life...the fulfillment of nature's promise.  Yes, my mother is gone but there is also a promise of new things, of new experiences, of new life on the horizon.  I dry my tears and return to my work.

I stir a saucepan full of cranberries and smile to myself as I remember my mother's suggestion to add a little more cinnamon. I am so thankful for all that she was and did for me: her little reminders, her teaching, her help and her support. There may be an empty seat at the table this year, but there will never, ever be an empty place in my heart.  It is full of her grace, her beauty, her love, and her presence.  It will be a happy Thanksgiving.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

No Time for Tea

She asked me to join them for tea.  My mother and father were seated at the round table in their attached apartment, napkins folded neatly, two plates placed in front of them, two cups ready to be filled with the hot liquid, and a small plate of home-baked cookies placed in the center of the table.
My father was less than enthusiastic about drinking tea, but humored my mother with her daily ritual out of love and devotion to her.  I, however, didn't exhibit the same loyalty to the practice of stopping everything to imbibe in a cup of steaming hot Lipton (my mother's personal favorite.)

"No thanks, not today," I told her.  "I need to get back to work."  I held the borrowed cup of flour in my hand ready to go back downstairs...back to my own kitchen in my own home even though their apartment was merely a doorway away from my kitchen.  I needed to finish the cooking and get the dinner started before I returned to my work projects.  Within 15 minutes I would be back at work, talking to clients, answering emails, adding notes to my files.  There was no time for chit-chat with my parents, no time to spend idly sipping tea, tasting Mom's cookies, and hearing about how she thriftily used the stale grape nuts cereal to add extra crunch.

"Well at least take a taste of my new recipe," she insisted as she held out a cookie on a napkin.

Reluctantly, I took a small nibble already detecting that once again, she had left out a critical ingredient.   The expected sweet taste was missing.  The cookie tasted like a dog biscuit.
Mom was becoming forgetful.  Her baking skills were diminished by her inability to focus.  It was begining to happen too often and I knew that soon, she might have to give up cooking altogether.  For now, my father didn't seem to notice and the two of them continued to dine in their kitchen upstairs, contented with the bland fare, perhaps remembering that Mom used to be a great baker and convincing themselves that she still was.

"Well?" She asked expectantly. "What do you think?"

"They're good," I lied rushing back downstairs.  I knew that a plateful would be delivered to us within a few hours for us to 'enjoy' at our leisure.

I left the door ajar and could hear my parents talking quietly together.  They were planning what they would watch on TV that night.  I heard discussion about eating leftovers from the night before for dinner.  Mom asked if Dad had remembered to take his pills.  There was just simple, every day, unimportant conversation and yet it spoke of the normalcy, the simplicity, the harmony and the beauty of living together so many years.

That was about two months before my father passed away.  He had Alzheimer's, a bad heart, and prostate cancer.  We didn't know at the time that he was terminally ill.  We were told that he still had lots of time left.  He was still cogent, conversant, (almost) self-sufficient, pleasant to be around.  Oh there were tell-tale signs of course!  He began mixing colors...outragious blends of maroon and orange.  He lost things.  He forgot things.  He got confused.  But still he smiled, joked, and lovingly indulged my mother and her need to sweeten each day with her baked confections.

When I think back to those days, my care giving duties were minimal.  They took care of each other in ways I never could. Their 61 years of marriage were enough to sustain them even when they began to need supervision and more care than they could provide themselves. I used to laugh about their antics, their signs of aging that were both frustrating and endearing.  They were both hard of hearing, distracted, slowing in oh so many ways.  But they smiled and laughed, remained positve and upbeat.  They loved each other like no others and set a phenomenal example for all of us to follow and emulate.  To look back at those days, to remember how they were together and with us, I feel the bittersweet lump in my throat.  It isn't regret.  It isn't guilt.  It's something else.  Maybe just a yearning to experience them once more...just for a go back to that time when I innocently believed they would live forever.

The lost opportunity to sit with my parents, to enjoy 15 minutes of relaxing, talking, remembering, listening and experiencing the activity of doing nothing more than enjoying each other's company weighs more heavily on me today.  I had a dream...a message in my sleep that alerted me to the fact that I am allowing time to slip through my fingers.  How do I stop this?  How do I seize all opportunities to cherish each waking minute.  I thought about my time caring for my parents as a difficulty, a diversion from doing my own work and exploring my own interests.  Yet now I appreciate the richness of the experience. It allowed me the time to spend with them. It gave me irreplaceable memories.

It has been 17 years since my father passed away, and one month since my mother joined him. Today I am free to do as I please without the responsibilities of caregiving.  However, the joy of having them nearby, of reaching out to touch their arms, to trace the lines on their faces, to feel the warmth of their skin, lingers in my mind and heart.  They will always be a part of me. I just wish...OH how I wish I had a chance to sit and have just one more cup of tea at their little kitchen table, hear their laughter, see their smiles, and taste the wonderfully awful grapenuts cookies.