Winter finally came to town this weekend. We didn’t get that much snow, but it was one of those storms that just strolled in early Saturday, pulled up a chair, and made itself at home until finally leaving in the wee smalls Sunday morning.
Luckily, we didn’t have to be anywhere this weekend. We made the big haul grocery trip a few days before, so we didn’t have to worry about perishables and had a fresh supply of nonperishables. Such is the joy of having a pantry and a freezer.
Oh, what’s in them? Something like this:
Fish, canned and frozen
Chicken from the place that meets both our specifications
Jarred pasta sauce and canned tomatoes: crushed or diced
Rice, basmati and jasmine
Different canned beans and lentils. I’ve never been able to cook beans from scratch. Yes, it’s cheaper and more ecologically sound to do so, but beans just won’t cooperate under my direction. Except lentils.
A few cartons and cans of soups: chicken broth for homemade, tomato soup from Trader Joe’s, clam chowder, and a vegetable soup Aldi gets from Germany a few times a year
Onions and potatoes and garlic
Frozen blueberries and green beans
Baking supplies including oatmeal
Nuts and nut butter
Shelf stable Indian foods for the days when neither of us just can’t
I always have seasonings on hand so I can create tasty meals such as soups and curries out of a few items from the pantry. While I have the luxury of a dedicated room (about the dimensions of a good sized closet) for storing canned goods and supplies such as toilet paper and paper towels, I know a lot of people don’t. I wish they did. I know some other bloggers who have their stashes in plastic storage bins that fit under their beds or tucked into closets. That’s not a bad alternative.
Being well stocked mostly prevents the temptation of making runs for fast food, so our investment saves money as well. Plus if the weather goes bad, we don’t have to pick our way over crappy roads to go shopping.
And while we’re on the subject of pantries….please don’t forget your local food banks. With the chaos and insanity in DC, the most vulnerable (children, elders, and disabled) are at risk for being forgotten. Thank you.
Yesterday afternoon, rose gold light tinted the bare oak trees and open fields along the back road I take between our house and Oakley’s day care and boarding. The road skirts a semi-residential area with a reduced speed limit and light traffic, so no one honked at me as I slowed a bit to take in the beauty.
The days lengthen in increments of a minute here, a few seconds there. I didn’t have to turn on the headlights as I had to last week on the way home from picking up a happy, tired pooch.
Oakley hopped in the car, looked out the windshield and the passenger side window, then curled into a snoring ball on the front seat for the trip home.
I kept the radio on the classical music station for a score befitting a drive home under a winter sunset. Much had happened in the news yesterday, so I chose respite from it during the drive.
Once home, the aroma of salsa chicken* in the slow cooker greeted us. Oakley did his dinner dance, crashing afterwards into a hard nap on his spot on the sofa. Hubby watched woodworking videos on his tablet. I watched “A Craftsman’s Legacy” on PBS. We minimized news watching, choosing tranquility over the need for being well informed.
Somehow last night, things felt more OK than they have in sometime. The pieces scattered from by last fall’s losses are settling into their new shapes and forms. The lines in Hubby’s face have relaxed. There still are moments and there will be moments when missing his sister and brother in law overwhelm him, but like an outgoing tide, those will fade away in time.
For last night anyway, everything faded with the evening light.
*Salsa chicken: one jar of salsa of your choice (I like Aldi’s house brand Casa Mamita organic fire roasted vegetable) and enough chicken to cover the bottom of a 5-quart slow cooker. Take the skin off the chicken if need be, place in the slow cooker, pour enough salsa to cover on top, then cover and let it go until falling apart tender. Works with any part of chicken. Pick it off the bones if need be. Use in tacos, on salad, in enchiladas, or in rice bowls.
We started 2019 in the soybean field not with horns and confetti but with deep sighs of relief. Oakley, Hubby and I are healthy for the most part. My sister and her husband (who had quadruple bypass surgery back in September) were able to make the trip from Michigan for the holiday gathering at our brother’s. We have the basics and enough to share. We are truly grateful.
On New Year’s Eve we went to Trader Joe’s, then to our favorite Indian restaurant for tandoori chicken and a dessert that’s like a cross between carrot cake and pudding. We went home and pulled in the day behind us, choosing to stay off the roads. The combination of unrelenting rain, impaired drivers, and cops looking to meet the year end ticket quota put a damper on evening celebrations for us. We finished the day by watching Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett perform selections from the American standard songbook followed by Renee Fleming sing opera and jazz with the New York Philharmonic on PBS. We made it all the way up to 10, then retired. I listened to the big band dance party on WDCB, a local public station that specializes in jazz, blues, folk, and runs a four-hour block of shows from the golden age of radio on Saturday afternoons. A touch of old school tasteful glamor provided a pleasant end to the holiday. Except for the midnight interruption by the neighbors who observed the coming of 2019 by bringing out the heavy artillery, all was calm.
We woke to a mud-colored sky that spit snow and rain by turns. In spite of that, a sense of peace, of hope settled around me. Relief that 2018 had passed, and that the time to pick up and go on had arrived.
In the smaller, more personal world, the relief was akin to feeling as if I’d pulled into the garage after a drive in a severe snowstorm. We navigated the losses, the changes, and arrived in 2019 with dents and scars, but we’re here and ready to get on with it as the crowds exhort in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”
It wasn’t just me who felt it. Some predict that the energies of the universe will lead humanity in a positive direction this year. Others who watch politics believe that the new Congress will finally reign in the chaos emanating from the Oval Office.
Either way, I feel as if it will get better from here.
If you observe the holiday, merry Christmas. I hope Santa and other gift givers in your circle treated you generously and that all your Yuletide treats were tasty.
We celebrated the day quietly. Hubby occupied himself with wood, power tools, and other small woodworking devices. I thawed a bag of the leftover Thanksgiving turkey as a springboard for lunch and made a pan of brownies. Afterwards, Oakley and I took a ramble along a two-mile path meandering through a prairie restoration that’s about 15 minutes away.
On holidays and weekends, especially ones boasting above average temperatures, the forest preserve nearest our house gets filled with horses and their riders. That’s fine. It’s their forest preserve, too. However, I needed to clear my head and heart by getting into my zen space rather than dodging equestrians.
My mind had been going around and around since last night, questioning everything about myself over a movie.
Let me back up.
Last night, we ended up watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” instead of “Star Trek” and a Swedish noir mystery on our local MHz outlet. Its viewing has been a point of contention in our household since, oh, 1986. For some reason, Hubby loves that movie. Me? Nope. No way. Not with my love for international film. Epically dated bittersweet goo is usually not my cinematic thing.
But last night, the potent combination of a “Star Trek” episode that leaves me lukewarm at best and a “Beck” plot involving child prostitution was just too much. Couple that with the news and I just could not watch. The need for simplicity, the nostalgia for a time that never really quite was overrode routine. I gritted my teeth and let the saga of George Bailey unfold.
I actually enjoyed it.
Maybe it’s the losses and crises endured this year both personally and in the larger world that made me wish more than once that I could find myself splitting a beer with Grandma* at her grey Formica kitchen table so I could benefit from her wisdom.
Maybe it’s the scene where George served as an air raid warden during World War II as did Gram.**
Maybe it’s a function of age. The first time I watched it was when I was a college freshman in a film studies class that fulfilled a humanities requirement. We’d watched classics from France, from Germany; we’d discussed themes and motifs. And then a postwar hanky-soaker? Really?
For the first time last night, I watched it from start to finish. I’d just watched it in bits and pieces with many scenes taken out of context. When the light and shadows get blended together, the story balances out, cutting its own swath through the sticky sweet parts.
And God/dess help me, I truly enjoyed it.
Yes, we could do without the subtle racism and sexism. However, we could all use an infusion of common decency right about now, a reminder that money isn’t everything, and that community and service never get old.
I felt a little better about the world, and hope that more people will follow the path of George and Mary in the upcoming year.
*Grandma was my maternal grandmother. She lived just a couple of miles from us. Her many words of wisdom included “Beer is a strengthening drink.”
**Gram was my paternal grandmother. The town she served as an elementary school teacher and air raid warden bore a close resemblance to Bedford Falls.
Bread, milk, eggs? Check. Coffee and tea? Check. Oakley’s food? Check. Better part of a bail of toilet paper from Costco? Check. Phones charged? Check. New snowblower? Check. Ready.
We had the first significant snow Sunday night into Monday morning. Only about six to eight inches which would have been enough of a pain in the butt had that been all it was, but combined with a leading edge of freezing rain and sustained northeast winds of 20 m.p.h. and gusting up to 50, it was a problem worthy of school closings.
Easily solved for us, though. We just holed up, hunkered down, and remarked “holy crap!” every time a gust swirled around the house. The lights flickered for a millisecond, but otherwise we came through unscathed.
Well, except that there was the driveway to contend with after the snow tapered off midmorning. When the wind hooks as it did Sunday and yesterday, it scrapes the front yard almost clean of snow, but pushes all of it into the driveway and into drifts against the neighbors’ hedge. Hubby’s maiden run of the new snowblower took about 45 minutes. Now that he’s familiar with the its quirks, it shouldn’t take more than a half-hour next time. I peeked out of the upstairs window to see how things were coming along. He looked as if he was having fun; not quite at the level where he might be humming the theme from “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” as he and the machine wen through their paces, but happier than he’d been in a while.
Thank you for your understanding about my absence the last few weeks. We are still in the process of picking up pieces, reassembling them, and carrying on in the wake of saying “see you later” to Hubby’s family members.
His brother in law finally let go of this world and slipped into the next two weeks ago this coming Monday. BIL’s passage came almost six weeks to the day after Hubby’s sister made hers. Hubby went to the well-attended funeral. The officiant and the attendees all had kind words about BIL. He and Hubby’s Eldest Sister had owned a couple of pharmacies. They had done well for themselves, and supported an organization helping refugees settle into their new homes. And he had filled prescriptions for free so no customer had to make the Hobson’s choice between food or medicine.
And then Hubby found out that another sister (he has/had three older sisters) has cancer. She just started treatment, so we don’t know how this will play out.
After we finished that call, Oakley and I went outside for his bedtime potty run. I looked up at the sky and snapped “REALLY?!?!” at any forces, spirits, deities who were listening.
We are not alone in the tsunami of loss this fall. The passings of humans and pets; changes in circumstances; and news of one close friend’s husband entering the last stage of Parkinson’s show up in my social media feeds, emails, and texts. At times giving updates on conditions and passing on the word about transitions has left me feeling as Walter Cronkite must have when he read the casualty counts on CBS’ evening news during the Vietnam era.
Surviving these times involves focus on the tasks directly in front of us. Hubby came home and went back to work on his assignments for class. I walked Oakley a lot and made sure Hubby had reasonably healthy food to eat. We do talk about memories of the dear departed; he finds comfort in his religion.
And we stay on the routine, the rough schedules giving structure and meaning to the day.
The raw, tender edges of the gaps torn by their absences will scab over and heal in time. Yes, there will still be the openings that will never quite close again.
If any good comes of the health crises abounding on Hubby’s side of the familial ledger and my brother in law’s quad bypass surgery, it’s that we’ve both felt the Universe’s foot in our butts about making some overdue changes to our food choices and exercise goals.
The two of us have family medical histories that read like a CDC bulletin: cardiovascular disease, including high blood pressure; diabetes; cancer; strokes; arthritis. In fact, Hubby had an uncle who had the trifecta of cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. He still made it to 80, but the last few years were of highly questionable quality.
Needless to say, we don’t want that. It goes double for me since then nonsmokers in my family hang around until their 90s. Several lengthy conversations and not a little research later, we drew the following conclusions:
Both of us need to move our behinds a lot more. I added weight training (we have a machine in the basement) twice a week and committed to practicing with yoga videos from YouTube at least twice a week on top of walking with Oakley at least 30 minutes a day.
We needed to tweak our food intake. Even though there is nothing more soothing to the soul than carbs and cheese, a steady diet of it does no one any good. Especially when mac and cheese, albeit homemade, becomes the default meal.
Portion control is a factor. We are both guilty of eating out of the container and picking at leftovers and stress eating.
Both of us see kale as the vegetable equivalent of waterboarding.
We like ice cream and cake.
So how do we make these changes as painless as possible? We had been sort of kind of eating according to the Mediterranean diet. (Graphic on the right, not mine in any way shape or form.) For Hubby, it’s perfect because his roots sink deep into the soil of the Mediterranean Sea’s eastern shores. He just has to do some portion control and he’ll be in great shape.
For me, however, it was a tad too high in carbs, even unrefined ones, and fats, even healthy olive oil. Plus I’m wired to need more substantial sources of protein than legumes and nuts. (Now you know why I can’t go completely vegetarian.) Unlike Hubby’s, my ancestors wandered all over the map of the United Kingdom, western and northern Europe. What, then, should I eat?
Behold the graphic in the upper left: the Nordic, or Baltic diet. (Again, not my work.) A team of Helsinki researchers riffed on the Mediterranean pyramid to use products that are easier to find in northern Europe. It emphasizes lower glycemic foods such as berries; grains such as barley, rye, and oats; lentils; and more dairy products, preferably low fat. Oh, and canola oil, preferably organic. Plus potatoes.
The overlaps are in the seafood, leafy greens, nuts, yogurt, and small amounts of chocolate departments. We start meal planning from there.
We back off on the starch based meals and watch the amount of oil. Trina Hahnemann’s New Nordic Diet has a crazy easy cod and mussel stew recipe that’s become a go-to, replacing the mussels with shrimp if we can’t get to the fish monger’s. Just put everything in the pan and let it steam until done. I am eating rye bread most of the time–the really good bread Aldi gets from Germany. I am eating oatmeal.
If we can stay the course, we can still have a bit of cheese and we can still have pasta a couple of times a week in moderation.
I am happy. I will be more more so when the scale starts to move.
Times are tough here in the soybean field, even though we know they will pass. We continue the process of unravelling the knots of grief around Hubby’s recently departed sister. His oldest brother in law waits in the celestial departure lounge for his flight to the great beyond to be called.
And while on his last visit to Michigan to see Eldest BIL, Hubby found out that his second oldest sister has developed cancer as well. I’m not sure what her status is, but we will find out.
In the meantime, we get on with it as best we can, taking breaks to massage our faces so they don’t permanently freeze in the OMG position. We walk. We write. We do homework. We just go about our days trying to ignore the stalker ten steps behind us.
Times like these call for tough food. Preferably something laden with carbs and fat to boost the mood and give energy for daily activities. After a mid-September to mid-October like this one, we needed something that would stand up to the sorrow.
I tried making posole, a cross between a stew and a soup. Its roots run deep in Mexican history. The recipes I read called for the chicken (or pork) to be simmered in one pot, the beans in another, and the broth in a third. Everything would be combined in one pot at the end.
Truth be told, I’ve never had luck cooking beans. I also need to store up my patience for other things these days. I took a look in the freezer and pantry. Box o’chicken broth? Check. Red salsa? Check. Canned beans and hominy? Check. Great. Is there chicken in the freezer? Check.
Sometimes, I, too, can be organized.
I thawed four chicken quarters, then peeled off the skin. Into the slow cooker with them. Next came a jar of red roasted pepper salsa and half a box of chicken broth. If you want something closer to a soup, use the whole box. I wanted something more stew-like. I set the cooker on slow and let ‘er rip for about three hours until the chicken started parting company with the bones. I removed it from the pot and shredded it before returning to the pot. Then I drained the beans (a 15-ounce can of cannellinis) and the hominy (I think it was 15 ounces as well–it was the smaller of the two cans offered) and let everything coexist peacefully until dinner.
Hubby ate two bowls and dozed off in his chair.
Maybe it wasn’t authentic, but it sure did its job.
Last Friday brought the first frost advisory via the five o’clock weather report. I went out into the rainy late afternoon and pulled the last of the tomatoes so they could ripen indoors. Covering the plants last year resulted in watery, sour spheres despite a stretch of warmer days afterwards. Not something I wanted to go through again. At least in a brown paper bag they’ll get some semblance of color.
The cool rain didn’t bother me, even as it trickled down my neck and back. Earlier in the week we’d had to turn the air on after cooler weather briefly flashed its ankles at us. That had lasted for a few days until heat and humidity returned. Friday marked the end of the run for the heat and the beginning of weather more in line with the autumnal equinox.
I can’t say that I was sad to see September go. I let the rain wash it away.
I let it cleanse me of the anxiety over my brother-in-law’s bypass surgery. Four of the five blood vessels were 80-100% clogged with the gunk that collects in them as we age. Some can circumvent it with diet and exercise. In his case despite doing everything right, plaque still took up residence on his arterial walls. The surgeon was shocked that BIL hadn’t had a heart attack before this. No damage to the muscle, and just a couple of days after his surgery, he sounded more energetic if a little breathy. He was able to walk to the end of the block and back ten days after surgery.
I let the rain wash away the sadness surrounding the passage of the father of my high school best friend. He was funny, kind, and flew a B-26 in WWII. His students in the agriculture department at Michigan State were lucky to have him. He was 96, and living with problems peculiar to people of an advanced age. It was time, not to take from anyone’s sorrow. It was just time.
In the fading light, I looked upwards at the variegated grey clouds.
We’d had one call Tuesday night from Hubby’s oldest sister, one of the calls after ten p.m. that bodes unwell when you get to be our age. Second oldest sister was on her way out. Another round of sepsis came on and the weapons-grade antibiotic couldn’t touch it and it’s any minute now. Oh, and Oldest’s husband is failing, fading. Maybe six weeks according to the doctors at Cleveland Clinic. The radiation intended to kill off the cancer irreparably damaged his lungs, making them look like the red lace doilies used by children to make Valentine’s cards.
The call we’d hoped some miracle would stave off came about 2:30 Thursday morning. Second Sister had slipped the veil into the next world. She was only 64. A retired junior high guidance counselor, gardener par excellence, and active in helping refugees.
Hubby had been able to get an earlyish flight to Phoenix. He left at 5:30. Called me at 8:30 that night. I supported him as best I could. Funeral the next day, Friday. Family members flying back and forth between Detroit and Phoenix, tending to the living as they prepare to say goodbye to the passed and the passing.
The rain washed away the helplessness, the sorrow.
I took the tomatoes inside, then sat in my spot on the sofa. Oakley, sleepy from an afternoon at day care, snuggled his tush against my hip. I rubbed his ears. We don’t need words to talk. I read some poems. I watched some mindless filler on TV, too, until bed time.
Hubby arrived about three a.m. I heard his footsteps and the soft scrape of the chair across the kitchen tiles, and went back to sleep.
Many hours later, we talked of his travel experiences, seeing his family, and the service. We talked, too, about the need to get our estate planned and our advance directives down in ink. Neither of us want heroic measures. Personally, I want to include a clause that will warn anyone thinking of putting me on life support that if they do, I will haunt them to the end of days.
And while I don’t know how my funeral will go beyond hoping that people will say kind things about me, I do know that I want the memorial to conclude with a reading of Let Evening Come by Jane Kenyon, followed by a pause, and then for the very last thing, Spring by John Denver. (A live performance would be cool, but it’s up on YouTube if that doesn’t work out.)
I hope that’s many years off, though. Our immediate tasks are to tend to his brother in law, support his sister when that time comes, and go about the present and all there is there, letting the seasons cycle as they will.
In the meantime, I’ll let the rains of autumn wash me clean.
Since the last missive, colorful and interesting opportunities for personal growth took over the days. I just haven’t been able to write anything coherent here in WordPress Land. However, this wave of experiences abates, and I hope to hang out on a regular schedule again.
It’s been mostly good happening. I’ve been taking a writing and environment class at a literary center in Geneva. The teacher is passionate, enthusiastic, and better prepared than some instructors I had in academic situations. It’s a small class, only four students, and we enjoy each others’ company. I will be sad to attend the last session next week.
The draining part: we’ve been dealing with another round of automotive follies the last few days. It’s to be expected when one co-owns two vehicles produced before the millennium and one shortly after. We may as well count them as new with all the work Hubby’s put into them. Last year was the year of his Corolla needing quite a bit of work. I can’t remember everything that needed to be done, but it was pretty extensive. Then the air conditioning crapped out on it just after Labor Day.
This year, my VW needed help. My A/C crapped out. Since heat and I don’t get along, and since Oakley is my usual passenger, we moved that up on the priority list.
And then there was the oil leak.
And the lock that didn’t respond to the remote.
And then this past weekend, the latch activating the door over the gas cap quit working. Of course I only had an eighth of a tank of gas left. The well-intentioned attendant at the gas station offered to pop it open for me with a screwdriver. Since that would lead to the need for the quarter panel getting replaced (VWs of that vintage do nothing half way), I politely declined.
Hubby figured out how to open the door manually. Open the hatchback. Pull out the panel over the gas cap from the rear. Apply pressure from the inside. Still had to do some rearranging and moving of this bit and that part, but he was able to fill it up.
Better yet, he was able to get the gas cap door fixed and the new lock installed. Not a pretty sight to see the innards of the door stacked on the workbench in the garage, but he completed the task. No screws were left behind, either.
Somehow, literature concerning Toyota Priuses materialized in the last week. We may be materializing one in the near future.