Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Lent 2009

The season of Lent is nearly done. Another week and we'll be into the Triduum, and then Easter.

Most of my adult life I've felt that if one doesn't set some goals for Lent, one will have the penitence set for one -- and so it's better to set a little goal than have a whopper dumped on you.

Traditionally, folks "give up" something for Lent. Chocolate. Alcohol. Sweets. Fighting with their family. But for years, I've tried to add something for Lent. One year, I kept a dream journal, and was amazed at the spiritual insights I found, reflecting on those dreams in prayer. Another year, I vowed to read the daily selections of Scripture, and was comforted by the Word of God each day. One year, not so many years ago, I just set myself the goal of saying some prayers each day, and that determination, over the course of the forty days of Lent, helped me bring some focus back into my life.

This year, I chose to add to my daily routine the Rosary. I've always been resistant to repetitive prayer, preferring the spontaneous praise of God as I encounter Him in nature and circumstance. I don't know why I thought to pray a Rosary each day, but I have. It's been ... amazing.

The Rosary consists of these prayers: The Apostle's Creed, to start; the Lord's Prayer, Hail Mary, the acclamation Glory Be To The Father, and To The Son, and To The Holy Spirit. Condemnations of the Catholic faith include accusations of idolatry -- they say we worship Mary, the Mother of Jesus. Oh, whoops, people, you can search Wikipedia or even our own Canon Law or all the Catholic writings back to the time of the apostles, and you will never find a valid sentence to say we worship Mary. But we are human, and she was, too, and we look, in the Rosary, at her experience in contact with The Christ, and hope that we can understand the Mysteries of His interaction with us all.

I'm not going to devolve on a 10k word essay on the life of Christ -- at least not today -- but I will note that saying the Rosary every day has made me deepen my thoughts about what Jesus of Nazareth might have felt, offering His life for his people, becoming the complete and perfect Paschal Sacrifice, walking through the walls of Death and Hell and coming back to tell us ... "You can do this, too. Come with me, take my hand, and trust."

My hope for Lent is not what I can shrug off on Holy Thursday and say, "Whew, glad that's over" but what on Easter Monday I can say, "Look what I've come away with."

Sunday, March 29, 2009

And Oh, Yeah, the Drama

With unexpected speed, one of the nursing homes emailed me and told me they would be glad to admit my mother.

I admit that I cried when I got copies from my mother's trust officer of the cover letters she'd sent with the apps to the nursing homes. The Hearthside, a nursing home in State College, Pennsylvania, replied to me within hours of getting the application. I have no idea of the time frame involved, but everything is rolling along.

When my sister was dying, she was sent to The Hearthside, and via e-mail, I got to meet their social director, Karol. She was so kind and understanding! I met her in person after my sister died, and she was such a loving, vibrant person that I wish I lived near her. (Or better, if she lived near me.) We've kept in touch; when I knew I had to make a decision about Mom, she was the second person I consulted (first was Bernie, of course.)

With the acceptance of Mom's application confirmed, I sent off emails to the bank trust officer, my mother's pastor, and a letter to her physician with my Power of Attorney document enclosed. The pastor emailed me within minutes, reassuring me that I was making the right decision, and that he was vastly relieved to hear the news. The trust officer also concurred, and was pleased with The Hearthside's response time.

I cried some more.

What is left of my mother's body is a skeleton covered by veins and skin; there is no light of "Tere" in her eyes at all. Her spirit is blocked from its normal perception by the plaques in her brain, and all that works well is her fury, which spurs her gaunt frame to anger and a fight-response.

She never really understood me, but I miss the times we connected with humor or determination, and I felt that she was one of the most amazing people I had ever met.

All is done now, until the paperwork is finished. And then what?

I don't even really want to think about it.

Dangerous Food

Sunday dinner.

Our SaveMart grocery unveiled an economic incentive package this week: chicken wings for $2.49/lb, boneless chuck roasts for $1.99/lb, catfish nuggets for $1.99/lb ... and tri-tip for $2.47/lb. Oh, and add in a coupon for five pounds of potatoes for 99 cents.

Therefore, Sunday dinner was a super-easy meal: tri-tip, fried potatoes, and salad.

Tri-tip is easy because you just put foil down on a roasting pan, fling in the tri-tip, fat side up, and season it. I use sea salt, garlic powder, and cumin. Into the oven it goes, at 425 degrees for 35 - 40 minutes. (A meat thermometer says, "It's done" at an interior temp of 135 degrees.)

The toughest prep is peeling potatoes. One potato per person, and enough yellow onion, diced, to season lightly (about half a cup.) I have the good fortune to house a Cuisinart, so slicing the potatoes thinly is more like play than work. (Think pumpkin cannons or water balloons.) Vegetable oil in the frying pan, a couple pieces of onion so you know when to dump in the taters. When the onion scouts say they're starting to sizzle, you throw in the rest of the onion, and all of the sliced potatoes.

When the bottom layer is lightly browned, you turn them, of course. And then again. And again. Then you turn them down to "Low" and cover them until the family is drooling at the table.

It was a wonderful feast, the tri-tip medium to rare, the fried potatoes downright deadly. The salad was good, too, but the poor thing only ran interference to keep me from scraping all the fried potatoes onto my dish.

** Note: When the tri-tip measures 135 degrees, you take it from the oven and wrap it in foil for 10 minutes while you scream at the family to wash their hands, get the table set, get their drinks, turn the filthy TV off, and sit down and shut up. Then you slice it before you set it on the table, or else mayhem ensues. I've solved the difficult clean up and the wrap by lining the roasting pan with foil, which typical recipes omit because it isn't strictly necessary. **

The only pall on the dining experience was the swat team my husband called in. I did not appreciate the flak-jacketed jerk with helmet and bullhorn pointing at me and roaring, "Step away from the potatoes..."

Sunday, March 22, 2009

More Memories

Still delving into the vat of photos, I found this pic of Babe, my beloved Blue Ox, when he was a puppy.

I didn't own him then, but it is obvious that he was a little shit, just looking for a way to wreak havoc. And he must have, because his owner hated him by the time he was a year old and gave him to me.

By then he was a kind of a big shit, skinny at 85 pounds. My first sight of him in his previous owners' truck astonished me with his sheer size; my first interaction with him filled me with pity that he had been so neglected that he didn't even respond to his owners' yanking on his leash and shouting his name.

Of course, they didn't know his name was Babe, they called him "Max."

"How are you getting along with that dog?" his previous owner asked me at work one day, a couple weeks after she'd given him to me.

"I love him, he's such a sweet honey bunkins," I said, hearts flying off me, remembering the delight of kissing his beautiful face and having him rub himself on me.

"Honey bunkins?" she sputtered. "He was no Honey Bunkins for us -- he was -- MAX!!!" and she gestured a power thrust with her fist.
No, really, with something that has that many teeth, to lie on the floor and play patty-cake and belly-rubs with Alex (on the couch) and me (the knees) .... ummm, that's Honey Bunkins.

We all miss him so very much, every single day.

Why do we still cry after almost three years?

Jogging Memories

On Friday, Bernie and I tackled yet another section of the garage, where Things have been piled on Other Things ... kind of like a storage area chromosomally merged with a landfill.

"This thing has got to go," Bernie stated, kicking a hanging file cabinet on wheels. "It's worthless."

"That," I pointed out to him, "is full of all our old photographs."

And indeed it was. So we spent the afternoon going through folders of photos, savagely tossing blurred pictures, pictures of people neither one of us could remember, stacks of "double copies." He would scan through an envelope, make his cut, hand the packet to me, and I'd cut again. Some I remembered fondly, and others I hadn't remembered at all.

This is one of them. This is the house I grew up in.

The door to that house -- the back door -- my father installed, as well as the open stairwell leading to it and to the cellar. The original door can be faintly seen to the left of the window. That used to have steps down to the yard, steps which I remember because I used to sit on them and kick at Spot, the springer spaniel, who would grab my shoe and growl fiercely, making me laugh.

This picture is at least a year, or more later than Spot's demise. I would have been six or seven, I think. My parents had just opened their nursery venture, and turned the back yard into a retail sales area.

I recognized globe arborvitae, pyramidal yews, junipers, birch in their neat lines. At first when I looked at the photo I thought there were white flaws on the photo surface, only to realize with a laugh that those were price tags on the shrubs.

The trees in the right distance belonged to The Meadow, that fabled place of black raspberries and nettles, snakes and honeysuckle thickets, rape gangs and worlds filled with siren song of exploration. To see those tall locust trees and bushy box elders is to remember the many beatings I got for sneaking off into danger, and to remember all the paths and lookouts and sights and wonders I could never resist.

I don't know why my mother sent me this -- and one other -- old photo; she told me that she gave away her old box of family photographs to one of my father's second cousins, a comment that still makes me angry, as I am probably the only person in the living world who really cared about them. But I try to let that anger go, and appreciate what I've got -- so many memories set alight by just this one picture.

And now writing this, I understand that the unearthing of those memories is what has been setting off depressing nightmares the past two nights. Hmm.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Spine, My Erstwhile Friend

Almond orchards are at the end of their blossom; nectarines and peaches are taking their final bows before scattering pink petals on the wind. The buds on my cherry tree are swelling and will open next week.

There are a lot of things I've had on my mind lately, rants about the lives of finches, about how to avoid unnecessary illness, about the malignant power of hatred and evil. But this evening I just keep thinking about the call from the doctor today, telling me I had to make an appointment with a new doctor who does neck surgery.

Apparently the cervical spine MRI I had last Friday showed some anomaly. The language used was some doctorese I didn't quite catch; I don't know if the space is between vertebrae or if the space is where the nerves exit the vertebra. All I understood clearly was "severe narrowing of the ... " and the admonition, "No, you may not go back to riding your horse until Dr. Le clears you for it."

That means I'm off the horse at least until the end of April. Lovely. Alex and Lil have said they will try to do some riding of the horse and keep him sane, which is nice to hear. He's too good a horse to let go sour.

I guess I was hoping to hear that I could exercise however I saw fit that didn't aggravate the pain in my arm and shoulder. Feeling grumpy, I could just about work myself up to a cry if I didn't know that would clog my sinuses and make me feel snot-headed as well.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Behind My Chair

Why would a 65-lb dog try to squeeze himself behind a chair in a corner?

I can think of one compelling reason: when Molly the Damned Macaw is out of her cage, Howie is likely to wedge himself behind my comfy chair in the bedroom, Sebastian tries to look miniscule on the side of my bed farthest from the door, and I ... well, I usually shut the door and hide with them.

But Molly was not out today, but Howie was just in to slither in back of my chair. The whole bed was available, and he usually sprawls there, gloating that he is allowed on the bed but Sebastian isn't.

Earlier today, Howie weaseled his way under my desk in the kitchen, where my other computer squats. There didn't seem to be any particular reason for that, either.

"Watch the animals," my mother used to preach. According to her, they would let you know if there were ghosts about, or evil spirits, or freaky weather on its way. Or earthquakes. Or untrustworthy people.

Two days ago, I was looking at the hook-shaped clouds in the sky and thinking that the weather service was optimistic about the nice-weather-no-rain scenario for the next ten days; today the weather report was for a "chance" of showers tomorrow morning. But the wind is definitely up tonight and something is coming with it. Maybe a thunderstorm, maybe a windstorm.

This house is too young for ghosts; the only evil spirits in the house is the bottle of Wild Turkey John has stashed in the cupboard; and as I said, the only untrustworthy creature in the house in in her cage. That leaves a storm, or an earthquake.

I'm keeping an eye on that dog. If he grabs some bottled water and heads for the laundry room, I'm going with him.

Does This Dress Make My Arm Look Fat? Good!

The results of the MRI on my arm: a wad of fat trying to look tough.


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Comfort Fish

Some times all you can do is just keep putting one foot in front of another.

At this point, that's all I'm doing. 

The year started with a cold with a nasty cough to go with it; two days after I stopped coughing so much I woke with the pinched nerve; the day after I finished my course of physical therapy and felt good -- I came down with the flu.

All of us have had it -- Bernie is the last one. We had hopes that with the warmer weather, we'd be done with illness drama for the year, but no, that would be too easy. Monday night I was massaging a sore spot on my arm, and asked Bernie if he thought there was a lump of some sort on the bone. He felt my arm, and the next day insisted I make an appointment with the doctor.

I saw the doctor this morning; within an hour they'd gotten clearance for an MRI to be done tomorrow. 

This week I also filled out applications for nursing homes for my mother. What I'm hearing from her 24-hour caregivers is not reassuring to me; Mom is starting to do crazy stuff like stopping up the bathroom sink  and sneaking into the medicine cabinet to take extra doses of her pills. She also sprained an ankle, and WOULD NOT stay off it. Add in that the caregivers are having some kind of conflict with Mom's doctor, and that the caregivers are working double- and triple- shifts because they're short-staffed ... I guess it's time for her to move out of her home.

Am I stressed about all this? I don't even know. I feel like I've gone beyond stress and am just sitting here waiting for someone to say, "You have to do this, and then you have to do that, and so on, and so on.

Having taken all the steps I was ordered to do today, I'm good. I've started carrying my rosary with me all the time, so that when things start to feel overwhelming, I can remember to let go of the problems and just rest in God's grace. While I was waiting for the doctor's office to call me, I took a nice walk with Howie and let everything flow past.

And rejoicing that there still are love and happiness and humor and play in the world, I share with you one of my Christmas Fish that Alex and Lillian made for me.

Monday, March 02, 2009


I told our north-side neighbors that we'd be ready to replace the existing "fence" in March.

That was last fall, and sure enough, the evening of March 1st, the wind and rain pretty much took care of the decision. I have a call in to the marvelous company that did our back and southside fence for an estimate -- I expect to hear from him tomorrow, and hope to have a new fence within a week.

Both the neighbors and I wish we could put up a masonry wall between the properties; last year at this time, we might even have been able to swing it. But not now, not with times as uncertain as they are. Alas! I'll have to put up with my neighbor's obnoxious plumbago and perennial morning glory crawling through the cracks in the boards.

I guess there are worse fates.