Posts Tagged ‘who is this person’

And one lesson is sinking in to a degree, and I think it’s the most important one:

Let go of that Currier and Ives postcard holiday thing in your head.  It’s not easy to do.  It’s a lesson worth sharing.

I let go of my usual four-day Thanksgiving weekend.  For two decades, these four days have been my holiday highlight, mostly because I’m increasingly indifferent to Christmas.  The two days I had with my husband for the annual Star Trek Movie Marathon were really nice.  We didn’t have the skid for it this year.  But instead, we three had a Harry Potter Movie Marathon that lasted over a two or three week period and we watched the movies as we had time together.  That was nice, too.  Chase was around for the last Star Trek, which is his favorite, anyway.

I made Thanksgiving brunch.  I haven’t had attachment to turkey with cranberry sauce for two decades.  It seemed that my husband and I were the rare ones who were happy to try new things, new dishes, new time of day….but it was a really nice brunch.  There was strain and family dynamics at the table….but it had nothing to do with my awesome food.  Or with me or Mark or Chase for that matter.

I have let go of the fact that my skid and his dad put up the lovely tree with lights (and forgot most of the ornaments).  The Godzilla ornament and the Packers candy cane are there….what else does this house need?  Do I really want to fuss over it?  Nope.  Are there going to be pictures of this tree that we’ll save and cherish forever?  Nope.  Ever since I threw out 25 years worth of my handwritten journals before I moved in with Mark, I’ve come to terms that nobody actually cares so much about what I’ve said that they’ll keep it for posterity.  This year bit.  I think we can skip it and keep the photos from 2011, and have new ones for 2013.

I have let go of Christmas Day being December 25.  I’m pagan.  Who cares?  We’re having family festivities on the 23rd and that’s fine with me.

The ex-wife has Chase Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  In some stepfamilies, this would be fought over.  In court, it could be not only fought over but won easily.  We don’t actually care.  We were asked to not request him for any more extra time for the rest of the year when we asked to bring him back three hours later (at 8pm) on Sunday.  To this, even I said ‘whatever’.

We have stockings over our fake fireplace.  (It’s not actually fake….we just haven’t figured out how to get a key remade to open it up again).  I don’t worry about how the presents are, or when they’re given, and I’m not caring that we don’t have a “proper” Christmas dinner…we’re doing wine and desserts at my mother-in-law’s house.  Initially, the family agreed to this because nobody REALLY wanted to host.  Or rather, Mark and I did Thanksgiving, and I had hoped to work Christmas Day, like I have for the past six years.  And after there was significant cricket chirping, Jane volunteered….and planned Christmas gathering on her terms.  Which is fine.  Nice, even.  It is not appearing to meet with everybody’s expectations and ….should’s.

I don’t actually mind at all.

Know what I do care about?  My husband and I have the entire Christmas Day off…and have it to ourselves.  I want to take him to see Les Mis.  Or the Hobbit again.  Yeah, a large part of me wanted to go wear my Santa Hat in the ICU….just like every year for the past six.  But you know what?  I have a random Tuesday in December off with my husband and we will have fulfilled all family obligations.  We can have it…TO OURSELVES!  That’s so awesome!

I care a lot about the fact that I’m going to see my parents, when I thought I wasnt going to see them at all this year.  I care a LOT about that.  I’m flying home….don’t care at all about the $300some cost….and don’t care at ALL that it’s the weekend after Christmas.  I don’t care at all that they put up a plastic 2 foot tall tree that they decorated once, and keep decorated, stored in a box eleven months a year.  I think that’s wonderful and it makes me very happy.

Mom is delightedly making not one, not two, but THREE different kinds of gelato PLUS a homemade pie before I get home.  I estimate she has 5,000 calories planned for me.  None of it traditional holiday meal-type stuff.  All of it lacto-ovo-vegetarian because my parents love me, and they have absorbed the Rockford Italian culture that says food is love.  They just get that vegetable food is just as much love as the food we all used to eat, when my Dad’s cholesterol was much higher.

I think a Christmas evening at my mother-in-law’s place sounds nice.  Her house is comfortable to me, and it’s full of quilts, and it’s just as good being the family’s Geneva or Switzerland as our house is.  I think it will take me less time, this holiday, to blow off the strain and family dynamics.  Because it isn’t about me.  I’m gonna have egg nog and listen.  That’s what I usually do at tables of large people…most of the time, I listen.  Mark’s family is full of talkers, so this tends to work fine.

I’m happy about the cool presents I gave Chase, and even the iTunes my folks got him…am excited to see him open them.  I’m happy about the really nice coat I got for Mark, and the nerdy laptop fan that he’ll love.  I’m happy about giving my niece grown-up makeup….Gramma Jane got her some, too, but she’s going to be 14, and ready for big girl stuff.  It’s cool.  I don’t know what Mark and Chase have gotten Colton, my nephew yet, because I was told “you get the girl stuff, we’ll get the boy stuff”, but it’s always fun to watch him open presents, too….he and Chase run around together and have a good time.  The three of them are great kids, and they’re fun to watch run around and have a good time.

I’m not making kiffles this year.  I gained 10 lbs with the new job.  Nor am I making my Christmas cheesecake.  (Okay, maybe I’ll make Christmas cheesecake.) …..(All right, maybe ONE batch of kiffles, but only to bring to Jane’s house.)  Maybe.

I know I had the anxiety dream right before Thanksgiving….but deeper into the holidays, and things are going a little easier.  I’m taking what’s put in front of me this year….instead of deciding what should be there and noticing how reality doesn’t match.  I wish I could have gone back in time and told myself this before.  I just have to remember to KEEP telling myself this.

It’s like my Christmas tree.  It’s beautiful as it is.  I need to stop looking for things that should be there, and are not.  Happy holidays.


Dear Charlotte,

This letter won’t get to you directly, because I don’t know your last name.  I don’t even know if you live in Tuscon anymore.  I was nominated for this nursing award thing, and then I wasn’t.  But when I was still nominated for it, I was thinking about you.  And I wrote this.  You were a nurse living in Tuscon, Arizona ten years ago.  I’m sure you won’t remember me, or my grandfather, Jim.  Ten years ago, he died.  You were there.

Ten years ago in April I was a self-employed geek, commuting every other week to Tijuana, Mexico.  My client were some vile people who now run a very large and profitable organization in Mexico that buys incredibly cheap junk made by children in China and sells it to the Mexican middle class for pesos.  Horrible people.  The company owners, not middle class Mexicans or poor Chinese children.  I worked, sixty to eighty hours a week, moving data from one computer to another.

Yes, there are computers in Tijuana…everybody asks that.  No, I didn’t see any shows, to answer the other question.

Jim was a man’s man.  He grew up a stinky cowboy in Medicine Bow, Wyoming.  (He was always very careful to emphasize in great detail how stinky he was.)  He was eighteen years old when the Japanese Empire bombed Pearl Harbor, and he ran out with the others and joined the navy and became a machinist on an aircraft carrier.  He told me once that “World War II was a lot of fun, except for when the Japs were shooting at us”.  That’s all he would tell me about that subject.

He and my grandmother jitterugged through the 50s, raised two sons, had a wonderfully boring life speckled with dog shows, favorite cars, and picking wild blackberries for ice cream with their two grandkids….my cousin Michael and me.  My grandmother’s spirit died with a stroke and her body persisted for five more years.  We all learned to hate modern medicine and everybody in it in those five years.  So when my grandfather was diagnosed with lung cancer on top of his prostate cancer, he said the H E double hockey sticks with ALL of you, took his whippersnapper seventysomething wife to Tuscon in their fancy RV and made jewelry.  And chose hospice.

We hung out all week, me, Grandpa, Linda, Dad and my Uncle Joe.  Linda made brownies.  Dad read the paper and picked at his fingernails.  Joe wandered around doing whatever it is that younger brothers do in a family crisis.  I walked the dog, trimmed her toenails, read a book I don’t remember.  I sat with him on the bed, and when he woke up, I’d lean over him and ask, “Miss me?”  On one of those days he gave me his favorite black Stetson hat, onto which he had hand-tooled a silver setting with chrysolite stones.  I love that hat.

You came every day, Charlotte.  I have no idea how many times you told us how to give the morphine, and we listened very carefully, honest, because this is MEDICINE and it’s a NARCOTIC and we don’t know how to DO this stuff.  And it was REALLY REALLY important that we do it right because we’re horrified if we give to much and equally horrified if we give too little.  I think you had to repeat yourself a lot.  But every time you said it, you were patient with us.  He told Linda that you were the only medical person he could stand.  I know it’s gruff and rude, but that’s a Daisy Award from my grandfather. You have no idea the power of your kindness has been to me, to my family, the peace of mind we have had because of your gentleness.

 There I was, living the well-paid geek life and you did things for my grandfather that were…well, gross.  I had no idea people did gross things for other people.  I had no idea how grateful I would feel for your willingness to do these things for my grandfather to make him comfortable.  I didn’t know about that.  I didn’t know how grateful I’d be for that.  My family is dorky, we don’t know how to do this stuff.  I mean, we love each other, but we certainly don’t TALK about feelings or anything.  We are proper Midwesterners, for gods’ (God’s) sake.  Our streets are set to 90 degree squares.  People go to their respective houses of worship on weekends.  You eat meat, with potatoes, and a vegetable.  You’re either Packers or Bears half the year, then Cubbies or Sox the other half, and we just don’t talk about any of that other stuff.

On Thursday, we just sort of didn’t leave the fancy RV…we, me, Dad and Joe all sort of fell asleep in the recliner chairs and the ledge thing.  I gave Grandpa a dose of morphine in his iv at 1:15 in the morning.  And at 3, Linda screamed for my father.

And it was okay, I want you to know that…It was really okay.  Actually.  It was very….quiet after that initial bit.

I was at a board meeting in Tijuana the day they buried my grandfather in Green River, IL, next to my grandmother.  But I made it okay.  The Americans running the Mexican company got me to that meeting by using phrases like, “It’s only your grandfather.”  But I made that okay, too, because the Mexicans working for the Americans running the Mexican company approached me, one by one, with hugs and genuine sympathy.  Because every Mexican citizen I’ve ever met gets that whole ‘family’ concept.  They were the reason I finished the production phase of the work.  It was so okay that once we finished the data production phase, I fired my client to great satisfaction.  (My satisfaction, that is.)

I took three months off.  I went to Italy.  I read books.  I bought an $800 purple couch.

I started prerequisites for nursing school the following January and took an 83% pay cut to become an uncertified nurse aide at a hospital.

I don’t have any idea how many souls I have met in the past few years.  Being a geek at heart, I actually did the math.  As a floor nurse and uncertified CNA, I took care of roughly 700 patients per year.  As an ICU and dialysis nurse, that number is about 250.  I have probably taken care of about 3,750 people so far….I’m fudging for the variables of admissions, discharges and low census.

I do not remember all three thousand of those people.  And Charlotte, Jim is probably one of those faded faces in the thousands of people, maybe tens of thousands of people, that you have helped in your career.

They told me in nursing school that some patients would always “live” with you.

Some people in my almost four thousand people live still with me.  Reuben.  He is always first on that list.  The mother from India who we pulled back from HELLP syndrome to her healthy twins.  Sweet Jane with lungs full of PEs.  Chanel.  The WWII vet with bladder cancer, who hit my soft spot for that generation perfectly.  Kurt. That flinty COPDer I dialyzed over at Rose ICU whose prodigious bark hid just a sharp kitten love bite underneath.  Melissa, who taught me to hate “code white”s. The first woman whose ribs I cracked doing CPR and whose name I never knew.  Michael (who still cracks me up just thinking of him).  The nurse whose failed suicide attempt led to a day of her telling me her wonderful stories…and possibly, maybe, showed her that there was still one person, namely me, who wanted to listen, and maybe that was of value.  Miss Kitty, the refined 89 year old woman who named herself from her heroine from Gunsmoke until it became the only thing you COULD call her.  Crash, who offered to stick a snow shovel to his power chair when the blizzard of ’03 happened, so that we could get out after pulling three 16 hour days in a row with 12 to 14 patients each.  The family of Bob, who joined hands and sang Amazing Grace over his bed.  Powerful song, Amazing Grace.

These people are my secret jewels and most of them won’t ever know that.   Many of them have died.

You’ve had years of more patients behind you since even your probably forgettable encounters with us…just some practical, sensible stiff-upper-lippy-and-all-thumbs-and-elbows Midwestern family, utterly lost in the desert.

I want you to know what you’ve done.  I want you to know, somehow…I don’t know how…the power of your silly little kindness to my silly little awkward family.  The kindness that you probably do. Not. Even. Remember.

Sometimes I’m a cranky nurse.  ‘Cranky’ is probably a polite term for it, too.  I mean, come on, there are legions of nurses that are just plain nicer people than I am.  If I have less than 150cc of coffee before someone speaks to me, it just doesn’t go well.  I’m really blunt.  I am the granddaughter of Jim, and though I am more attentive to my hygiene, I have his rough edges that are sometimes resistant to polite managerial suggestion… in multiple annual reviews from multiple employers.  I’m mellowing.  Slowly.  I work at it.  I forget to chart things and sometimes those things are really important, and that lands me into a lot of trouble.  I should have more grace in my dealings with others.  I really, really, need more grace in dealing with others.  And some days I would really rather be at home, even if it’s just getting my laundry done, just so I don’t have to talk to people.  I mean, I just don’t know that I’m cut out for this some days.  Part of me is still geek, and grace isn’t easy for a geek.  I have entirely too many elbows and sometimes I really fuck up.  That’s how I get un-nominated for things.

I don’t know how you did it….especially to raw (emphasis on raw) material like me.  But there are days I pull really.  Really.  Hard.  For complete strangers because I am really offended by suffering.  I think it’s stupid.  Suffering, I mean, is stupid.  And I don’t like it and some days I really fight it hard.  And Reuben, Kurt, Miss Kitty and the rest got the benefit of that.

But you should really get some credit for that.  I have no idea how you did that.  Because I do not even know your full name.  You didn’t ever talk me in to anything.  Ever.  Until I can give you credit where it is due, I have to pay forward.

So, as self-consciously as I’m writing this….because somebody really kind nominated me for this cool award and this cool award won’t happen to me…I thought of you a lot.  I really do want to thank you.  I don’t know if the universe hears me.  Maybe there is a giant ear that hears these things.  The gravitational patterns suggest not, but science always tells us new weird things every year.

Thank you, Charlotte.  If I could pay you back with a million sunflowers pointing your direction in a gorgeous Tuscan July afternoon, I would do it.  If I could pay you back with the hazy rainbow morning light effects over the canyons in Utah and the ravens soaring above it, I would do it.  I would pay you with puppy breath from a hundred happy laborador retrievers if I could.

I got Reuben.  Kurt.  Bob.  Crash.  Miss Kitty.  I hope that’s a start.

Rachel the Kitchenaid food proccessor moved in, thanks to my state tax refund.  Thank you, Colorado, for returning my money to me.

Isa Chandra Moskowitz & Terry Hope Romero, in Veganomicon, say this of food processors:

“You can do without, but when you are staring at the latkes recipe with a tear in your eye, wondering how in the world you will fit shredding five pounds of potatoes into your busy day of video games and knitting circles, you need to get yourself a food processor.  If you can’t afford one right now, then get married simply so you can put this on your wedding registry.”

Spooky.  It’s like they know me.

Since you’re meeting Rachel, allow me to also introduce you to Elizabeth, my Bernina Aurora 440 with Bernina Stitch Regulator(TM).  She was a generous gift from my folks a few years ago.  She has her own room in this house, with all of her toys:

Not all of my household appliances have names.  Only Rachel and Elizabeth.  (Well, my car’s name is Sam, but he lives outside.)  Lest you mock, I’ll tell you that Elizabeth is worth more than my car.  And might be equal to the rest of the electronic equipment in the house combined (including the new flatscreen tv).  Elizabeth is a Swiss-made fine instrument, a thing of beauty.  When I sew with her, I have the feeling I’m asking Deep Thought to add 4 + 4.  It is humbling.

Rachel is American-made, and she has all these sharp attatchments I have no idea how to use.  Today will be our maiden experiment where we mush up potatoes!  Hey, it’s all new to me.  Be nice.

Speaking of Veganomicon, I’m cooking up a storm today because I’ll be working a 4 day stretch starting tomorrow.  So I’m planning on meals for the next few days for me and Mr. Man.  So, though I’m goin out for Mexican with one of my gfs, I’m making two new recipes:  Samosa Stuffed Baked Potatoes and Roasted Yellow Pepper and Corn Bisque.  Of course, I’ll be posting recipes.


p.s.  No reason I can think of why I choose good, strong Jewish names.  No good, strong Vietnamese or Russian names came to mind.

Happy Equinox!

Posted: March 20, 2011 in Uncategorized

This is my first post, so you don’t know that Mark Bittman is my Julia Child.   Specifically, his How to Cook Everything Vegetarian is my cooking bible.  And he doesn’t pay me royalties to say that, so you can trust me.

I picked the above (below?) recipe because I had a butternut squash.  Mr. Man (aka Mark, my fiance) and I typically eat healthier than most.  We’ve both been lacto-ovo vegetarians for a long time (24 years for him, cow-less for 21 and bird- and fish-less for 16 for me).  However, my diet’s not perfect, and I moved in to (now, our) house last March and somehow ballooned 15 lbs (since removed).  Nachos can be completely meat- and lard-free, you know.

I’ve always been a foodie, loving to eat terrific food at the best restaurants I’ve been able to afford.  But I haven’t been a food-assembler (if I said I was a ‘cook’, I’d be lying) until recently.  I made the decision to make food at home more for the following good reasons:

1.  Where I live, suburban vegetarians live in the 1st circle of culinary hell, with the small salvation that is the occasional family-owned Indian restaurant.  And sesame tofu’s great.  And a zillion calories.  And it gets old after while.  Okay, I’m a food snob.  I lived in Chicago.  I’ve been lucky enough to travel.  I am spoiled.  I know this.  The Rock Bottom Brewery has a good, valid place in this world, and that place isn’t known for its innovative cuisine.  Or…any…. ‘cuisine’, necessarily.

2.  Holy cow!  Did you know that home-grown zucchinis (which even *I* am able to grow) taste light years better than grocery store varieties???  And tomatoes come in different colors?  And that home-grown tomatoes taste amazing, even raw??  How come I’m the last to know this?!?!  (It miiiiiiight be that whole I-went-to-a-raging-feminist-university-thing-where-anything-domestic-is-automatically-bad-where-we’re-too-educated-to-cook-clean-or-sew…thing….I really tried to eradicate that and be all post-feminist and I’m really-a-decent-quilter-now, but I might have failed in some parts…)

3.  Mr. Man and I are not made of money.  I don’t know actually anybody who is made of money.  And the money we do have, we’re socking away for our honeymoon in Italy, (where the Italians cook, and make wine, and let you have them for a reasonable fee!  (What a fantastic country!))  Point is, I figure I can probably make palatable food at home at less expense.

4.  I gained 15lbs eating food that wasn’t fabulous.  That’s an insult to injury.  I’m a nurse for chrissakes, I know what foods are good and good for me.  I mean, I LIKE broccoli!  I’ve gotten rid of the weight eating unflavored leaves with the occasional sunflower seed  (I’ll tell you how fun that was), I’m thinkin I can probably make good food that won’t make me wide.

5.  I don’t have MSG or high fructose corn syrup in my pantry.  I kinda figure my corpse should decompose after I die.  I don’t want to be pickled with preservatives.  Just sayin.  (I’m sorry, I’m a nurse, and if grossness and frankness about body stuff is off-putting to you…well,…so kind of you to stop by, thank you, but this blog is just not for you.)

SO.  It’s the Vernal Equinox:  the spring point in time where night and day hours are equal.  Ostara, in some circles.  We’ve got a huge full moon out there, as big as it will be until 2029.  So, I chose a traditional Celtic (er, well) recipe:  Bittman’s Thai-style butternut squash.  Well.  It’s something hungry Celts in distant times would have eaten if they had, you know…coconuts.  Which.  They did not.  Unless they had very well-trained sparrows*.

I changed some things in the recipe, and I think Bittman, and all the fabulous cookbook authors I plan to read/study/try, would approve of people having fun with the recipes.  I will post the recipes, and the sources, in the hopes the chefs that came up with them don’t sue me.  I’m a new food-assembler and I’m journalling my experiments.  I will put of my significant changes for all of the recipes I post in italics, in case my versions are less than savory.  (I’ll let you know how it turned out, so you know what not to do, too…)


I have other purposes in mind for this blog.  I used to have a nursing blog, that I’d like to revive in part here.  Much of my time is spent in an intensive care unit, trying to stop people from dying….and sometimes just trying to get through the day.  It’s part of me, and every day I see unhealthy people.  Some are sick.  Some are hurt.  Some are unhealthy.  It’s the unhealthy ones that make me want to cook and garden and quilt and crochet do all that domesticy stuff that my 1st feminist university degree told me not to value.  Sick and hurt are like lightning strikes, that can and do happen to any of us.  Unhealthy is preventable.

Once upon a time, I journalled every day.  Before I moved in with Mr. Man, I had five boxes of spiral-bound notebooks, and I recycled them all one day.  I found that while I valued very much the act of recording the comings and goings of my stupid little life, I never needed to keep it.  Or reread it.  Or have others read it.  (Seriously, have you ever tried to slog through the journals of, for example, Anais Nin?)  I want to write down what I’m doing first for my own clarity, for reference of food I’m making, veggies I’m growing, maybe quilts I’m making, I dunno…  But also, it’s an efficient way for me to share recipes.  😀  And I don’t have to kill trees this way.

The reams of my hand-written journal pages were written to two different artists, now dead.  I always imagined I could hear their spirits, their voices.  Maybe I’ll do the same here, since I don’t expect an audience.  (Other than maybe my mom.  I love you, Mom.)  I’ll have to think about who I might write to now.  I’m happy, healthy, energetically diving into new aspects of living, getting a decent stride in my most recent career iteration, a bride-to-be (and stepmom-to-be)….and weirdly facing 40.  I didn’t know that 39 was one of those start-fresh years.  Mine seems to be.

Should be a good thing.  Welcome, anybody.


*  Mom and Dad:  It’s a Monty Python joke.