Friday, May 28, 2004

Something's Missing!

I'm worried!  Yes!  What is our world coming to?  I fear an entire generation of young folk is going to grow up without ever experiencing the fun of watermelon seed spitting.  What happened to the seeds?  Where did they go?  Aren't those glossy, slippery black seeds part of the watermelon experience?  All I see, everywhere I look, is seedless watermelon.  There's something asthetically pleasing about the look of that deep pink/rosy red melon dotted with oval black seeds.  Is it gone forever?  Say it ain't so!

Good God!  What's next?  Seedless pumpkins?  A whole generation not knowing what it's like to feel the slippery sensation of a pumpkin seed flying across the kitchen floor while carving a Jack 'o Lantern?  I shudder to think!

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Some Local Fun

I live in an agricultural town in which even in these progressive times, we retain a yearly event that is truly charming.  Every year, prior to the Memorial Day weekend we have our Future Farmers Country Fair.  This is an event that so many kids are involved in that there is no school the Friday before Memorial Day weekend.  It is closed due to a local holiday.  Every year it's the same thing, very predictable and very quaint.  It's always held at our Recreational Park in the same spot where happy, nervous seniors will be graduating from high school about three weeks later.

The kickoff for this yearly event is always the same as well.  Everything starts with the famous Twilight Parade which begins promptly at 6pm on Thursday evening.  Everyone, and I mean everyone, comes out for this parade.  The streets that the parade route follows are always packed with chairs, benches and seats of all kinds.  Even in this cautious, fearful age, people of the town set up their seating early in the morning (some where already in place when I left for work at 6:30 this morning) and the chairs are never disturbed. 

This is my 19th year of watching the parade and I long ago observed that folks seem to sit in the same place year after year.  There is always this lively crowd that sits next to us who holds up cards with numbers a la the Olympics as entries march by.  This is funny because it's always a 10 that they all hold up.  This often works to our advantage because the groups streaming by are usually inspired to "do their thing" in front of the card-wielding well wishers; the local ballet troupe does a little number, the Karate or Taekwondo groups show us some of their jumps and kicks, things like that.  It's great fun.  There are so many people in the parade that I often wonder how there can still be enough left over to watch it.  One of my personal favorites has always been the Shriners.  These fellows are always decked out in their fancy Shriner finery and the shoes they wear with the curled up toes never cease to crack me up.  These guys are getting so old, they no longer walk.  They ride on a little trolley that looks like a little version of a San Francisco cable car.

The parade ends at the Rec. Park, the entries are judged and the fair officially begins.  There are no rides (except, of course, the ubiquitous pony rides).  There's lots of different food to purchase and eat and every little organization in town has a homemade booth with some sort of attraction to try to raise a little money.  Many years ago, my drinking glass collection was made up of an assortment of shapes and sizes that my small son had won for me.  Toss a dime in the glass, if dime gets in glass you win the glass.  I guess he was pretty good; he brought home a boatload!

There are animals to see; sheep, rabbits, goats.  There's a place to sit for awhile and watch 4H kids strut their stuff and their animals.  It's the kind of fair where it's safe to let your small child--say 8 year old--experiences a little freedom from the parental sphere and venture out with a couple of friends.  The fair lasts Friday and Saturday.  All Sunday morning, even way down the hill to our house, we can hear the fast paced call of the auctioneer as he auctions off the animals.  I used to be horrified by this and completely noncomprehending.  This is the means to an end that all these children in 4H have been brought up with.  They know full well what's going to happen to the cute little lamb they've raised and lavished so much time and attention on.

The whole affair is quite an experience and to me, always seems like a step back in time.  I like that and I'm always aware that I'm witnessing a slice of Americana that is swiftly disappearing as we hurry ourselves into our uncertain future.

I love a parade and tonight I'm going to enjoy myself yet again. 

Monday, May 24, 2004

Celluloid Pleasures

My husband and I went to the movies yesterday to see "Troy".  We were looking for some lively entertainment; nothing more.  That is exactly what we got and that's okay.  This was hardly some stupendous epic destined to become a classic.  There were lots of clang-clashing, sword wielding battle scenes (found myself turning away from the screen a lot) and it's always pleasant to gaze upon some good looking people for an hour or three.  Heavy duty deep drama, it ain't!

I love movies.  If I had my way, I'd go out to the movies at least once a week.  If I had pots of money, I'd spend some of it on a huge TV screen with an excellent sound system and a copy of every film I ever wanted stored neatly within my grasp.  I love going to the movies with a small group or with just one other person with whom to share the experience.  I love taking myself to the movies, to sit there in the dark theater and lose myself in the big screen. 

I don't like scary, graphic slasher-type movies (isn't the real world scary enough?), I pass on most comedies and I dislike intensely films such as "The Matrix" that, to me, are just a lot of computer-generated gobbledygook  I'm usually clueless as to what's going on and they make me feel incredibly stupid; this I can do on my own for free with no outside help!

Movies are the ultimate escape.  There's a film to suit every mood.  Somehow, it's very comforting to me to have at my disposal films to laugh with, think deep thoughts with or cry with.  The latter option is strictly a "woman thing", I believe.  If I really love a movie, I can watch it again and again and yet again.  Most really good films require at least two viewings because there are always things you missed the first time around.

When I was a little girl, there used to be this wonderful program called The Million Dollar Movie which would broadcast the same movie at the same time of day for one week.  Oh bliss, oh rapture if they happened to show one of my personal favorites.  I distinctly remember settling down in front of a small screen that projected a grainy black and white image to watch "Moby Dick" (the original with Richard Basehart and Gregory Peck) for five days in a row.  I loved that movie; still do.  Back then, we weren't allowed to spend endless hours in front of the tube but I remember being granted special permission to indulge in this film.

Just off the top of my head, here are some of my favorites, not listed in any particular order:

Tombstone/ How The West Was Won/ Rob Roy/ Coal Miner's Daughter (funny choice because I'm not a Loretta Lynn fan)/ Carrie/  Full Metal Jacket/  Rocky/  Vertigo/  The African Queen/  The Maltese Falcon/  The Best Years of Our Lives/  The Wizard of Oz/  Now, Voyager/  The Ghost and Mrs. Muir/  Dances with Wolves/  Midnight Cowboy/  Dr. Zhivago/  Gone With the Wind/  Somewhere in Time/  Raiders of the Lost Ark/  Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade/  Allegro Non Troppo/  Fantasia/  Gladiator/  A Hard Day's Night/  The Bride of Frankenstein (original with Karloff)/  Young Frankenstein/  LOTR Trilogy/  Star Wars/  Empire Strikes Back/  Return of the Jedi/  A Christmas Story/  A Christmas Carol (the Alistair Sim version)/  Cabaret/  Platoon/  Walt Disney's Lady and the Tramp/  Walt Disney's Sleeping Beauty

And that's a beginning list without even thinking too deeply.  As you can see, I'd have a dreadful time if ever I had to choose my top three or even five favorite movies. 


Sunday, May 23, 2004

Up, Up and Away

In this part of the country where I live, hot air balloons are a common sight during the many months of nice weather.  The other morning on my way to work, I was very surprised to see one shrouded in fog.  It seemed to me that the people in the gondola weren't quite getting their money's worth.  It was very chilly and I'm sure they weren't getting much of an aerial view.

These storybook conveyances of flight have always fascinated me.  Before I moved here, the only hot air balloon I was familiar with was the first one out of OZ that Dorothy missed.  Imagine my delight when I began to see these beautiful inverted teardrops peppered throughout the sky.  I used to be so mesmerized by them that I had difficulty keeping my eyes on the road.

These balloons are aloft only in the early morning hours when the air is relatively calm.  My husband who was fully aware of my love affair with these things gave me a gift certificate for a balloon ride many Christmases ago.  I had an entire year to decide what day I wanted to go.  When the day neared that I had chosen for my ride, my mother impulsively decided she would accompany me.  Great!  I was thrilled to have her company on this great adventure.

This was an adventure for me, too.  I'm a very cautious person by nature, not at all known for great acts of derring-do.  However, I thought nothing at all of climbing into what looked like an oversized picnic basket and sailing away, upward on nothing but hot air.  One thing I don't think people realize is the terrific noise of the flame that has to be constantly ignited to maintain the proper amount of hot air.  It's positively deafening when one is standing right next to the pilot as I was.  Also, even though the ride lasted for an hour, it seemed more like 15 minutes.  The time just rushed by.

It was a wonderful experience and I wasn't afraid for one second.  Nowadays, when I see a balloon I can think to myself with much satisfaction--I've been in one of those.  This, from a person who won't go on carnival rides much past ferris wheels and carousels! 



Friday, May 21, 2004

Weekend Assignment No. 6

Ah, here's a subject I can warm to.  Carol was my best friend in second grade.  We were in Kindergarden together and remained best friends until I had to move away in the beginning of sixth grade.  She lived up the road from me and we played at her house almost 99% of the time.

It seems to me she had more interesting things to play with at her house.  This was fine with me because there were always bottles of Coca Cola to drink and there was a completely furnished den on the first floor of her house.  At our house, the basement was the first floor.  We spent hours down there watching old Tarzan movies (I was madly in love with Johhny Weissmuller) and playing "Soda Fountain" at the bar which was in the far corner of the room.  This bar really fascinated me because we had nothing like this at my house.  There was a huge stuffed deer head on the wall that held my fascination/revulsion for years, as well! 

If I remember correctly, we had only one major falling out in the five plus years of our friendship and it didn't last too long.  She was a great girl, lots of fun and always the most popular girl in the class.  As I was her sidekick, this often seemed to work out to my advantage.  We kept in touch for some time after I moved.  Many years ago, I found her address and we exchanged some cards and pictures.  We didn't keep it going, however, and are no longer in touch.  We may once again run into each other.  Who knows?

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

I Sing the Praises of Popeye's Girlfriend

I just finished reading some interesting information (in one of my favorite journals I follow) about the differences between butter and margarine.  I'm inclined to think neither one is very good for us.

In response to the middle-aged demands of a more heart-friendly diet, we have turned to olive oil as a replacement for most uses of butter and margarine in our household.  It's a radical change and takes some getting used to but after a while, you wonder how you ever existed without it.  We are bread lovers in my family and over the course of the last couple of years, my husband and I have adopted the Italian habit of dipping nice, crusty bread into a mixture of oilive oil, herbs and crushed garlic.  Once mixed together and warmed a bit in the microwave, it holds up well to all sorts of bread.

I never use commercial salad dressings on salads any more.  Two tablespoons of olive oil and one tablespoon of rice vinegar are all that's needed.  Guess what?  You can actually taste the vegetables instead of just the salad dressing.  Quite a new experience!

Yes, there are lots of calories and fats in olive oil but they are good fats (very little saturated fat!) and, used in moderation, they are good for our bodies.  Olive oil seems to be very good for the skin as well.  I take pretty good care of my skin anyway but I swear that it's softer and in better shape in general since I began regular ingestion of the stuff.  Why,  I expect to wake up looking like Sophia Loren any morning now!

Garlic features largely in our diet too.  We add it to just about anything that doesn't move!  Other than the corkscrew, I think our handy-dandy garlic press is the most used piece of equipment in the house.  I sincerely believe garlic is very good for us.  I am seldom sick and my husband who always used to come down with every cold that looked his way, rarely gets sick any more.  Of course, let's be realistic; stopping smoking four years ago, drinking much less hard alcohol and lightening our diet down to a reduced-fat level certainly didn't hurt any either.  I know one thing's for sure; I'll never die from a vampire's bite!

Here's our recipe:

Garlic Herb Bread Dip

3 large cloves of garlic put through garlic press; use all of it.

5 to 6 sprigs of fresh marjoram; strip off leaves, should have 1 to 2 Tbs. leaves

2 large fresh basil leaves, torn up small

A few shakes of red pepper flakes

Few grinds of coarse black pepper

Shake of salt

3/4 to 1 cup olive oil

Combine all ingredients in microwavable bowl.  Heat in microwave on High for 1 minutes, 20 seconds.  Allow to cool.

Before serving, heat again on High approximately 30 seconds.

This dip may be used several times and it's okay to add an additional 1/2 cup of olive oil once when the mixture gets low.

Try this.  I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.




Monday, May 17, 2004

This, I Do for a Living?

I am ready to scream!  I am so exasperated!  Why, oh why, is that not one of the mood choices on this format?  (AOL, take note.)  It should be!  I've just come back to work fresh from vacation and the place is a zoo.  Yesterday was the day from hell, today was even worse; prognosis for tomorrow?  Not too promising.

Why do you suppose I'm more comfortable caring for and working with old folks rather than young ones?  Is it because I'm heading in that direction as opposed to where I've already been?  There are many similarities between these two groups.  They are impatient, forever whining, self-centered and each one of them is the only one who matters!  Whew!  Here's a little peek into my day:

It's 6:50 in the morning.  The building stands silently.  My pager (which works as our call-bell system) lies quietly in my pocket, ready to spring into life.  Once turned on, it will continue to beep on and off for the entirety of my shift.  The walkie-talkie I wear on my belt will begin to sound as well; reminders from the nurse on duty, requests for help from other caregivers, requests from residents filtered down through the receptionist at the front desk to me.  It is constant, neverending and by the end of the day, I am more than ready to take both pieces of equipment and hurl them mightily through a window.  Of course, I do not do this but the temptation is great!

I go about my day.  Things really spring into action about 7AM.  This begins the busiest hour of the entire day, a day's worth of work packed into sixty minutes.  Wake these folks up, help them to dress, take them to the bathroom, help them wash up, etc., retrace my steps to make sure that those I woke earlier have not fallen back to sleep and finally, escort them either by walking or wheelchair to the dining room.  All this by 8AM when we must be ready to switch hats and suddenly become Super Waitress!  On my hall I have five, sometimes six wheelchairs and one very slow walking resident to escort (interesting to note, this resident is our oldest at almost 102 and never uses a wheelchair!)

This takes a long time but somehow we manage to get our butts into the kitchen, get the necessary order-taking clipboards, take orders, serve hot cereal and pour endless cups of coffee!  We serve the breakfast meal, clear tables and it is impossible to get from one end of the dining room to the other without being beseeched upon with non-stop requests.  What's truly maddening is that so many of them ask the same thing of everyone who passes by; consequently, by the time you return with whatever it was they wanted, there's already one (or two) of whatever sitting in front of them.  I know perfectly well that this is all due to the short-term memory problem so many of these people suffer from.  Sometimes, however, you just can't help feeling that they think you're incredibly stupid and can't remember a simple request.

To be continued:

This, I Do for a Living?

This is my least favorite part of my job.  The day shift, which I always work, gets saddled with two of the three meals every day.  A great many of these most agreeable Dr. Jekylls turn into Mr. Hydes in the dining room.  The patience required to smile pleasantly, remain gracious and hold back what you really feel like saying to some of these folks at all times is very difficult to maintain.

After the meal, we move in reverse.  One at a time, the wheelchair people are pushed and those who need escorting are taken back to their apartments, each one positive that they are always the last to be taken back.  They are all in such a rush to return to their rooms and for what?  Nothing more than to nap some more, stare into space, nod in front of a blaring television or just sit and assume the classic posture of the eternal boredom of old people in any kind of facility; elbow resting in lap, palm of hand help up, cupped, to hold the side of their face.  Behold the expression of rejection, dejection, despair and depression.  Throughout each day there are lots of different activities offered but a pitiful few and always the same few take advantage and enjoy them.

For the rest of the day not devoted to mealtime, I make beds, tidy apartments, empty trash, assist with showers, toileting and am, along with three other caregivers during the day, at the beck and call of about 73 residents.  This is a mere inkling of the environment in which I submerge myself every day.  I make it sound like a dreadful place to work which, of course, it isn't. 

One big difference between working at a convalesent hospital and an assisted living facility is the stark fact that the convalescent folks, for the most part, are past the ability to express themselves.  The people living where I work are cognitive enough to fully understand what their lives have been reduced to and what lies ahead.  It is not encouraging.  Oh yes, people are living longer but to what purpose?  There's no longer any place for them in the world, there's not enough money to pay for insurance for many and once one outlives their savings or the money received from the house they sold, they can no longer affort to live in a facility to which they were moved to in the first place.  When life becomes little more than a continuous cycle of eating and a fixation on elimination, where's the quality of life in that?  There are many residents who are not quite reduced to this level yet but enough are to make me wonder.  I see what's in store for me every working day and know that, in time, I will be one of them.  I sometimes laughingly joke that my motto is "hope I die before I get old"!  Funny thing is, I don't think I'm joking one hundred percent!

And why do I work at such a job for a living?  It's mostly because these seniors are not unlike a national treasure, an archive of sorts to learn so much from years long past.  Also, I may well be living in these circumstances one day and hope there will be someone with my patience, kindness and skill to care for me.  What goes around comes around.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

A Softer Side of Death

The day to honor our mothers has come and gone and my thoughts have dwelled upon my own.  She has been absent from my life for eight years and eight months.  I miss her every day of my life.

In the course of my job, I am exposed to the inevitable, final drama of death frequently.  When one works with the senior sector of the population, there's no avoiding it.  I have worked in a convalescent hospital and currently work in an assisted living facility where I've been employed for seven and a half years.  The "assisted living facility" is a fairly recent option of where mom or dad can live when they're not safe to live home alone but not quite ready for that last stop; aka, the nursing home.

I have seen many people come and go in my combined years at these two places.  Some move on to other facilities, some move back in with their families when they outlive their savings and many die.  Prior to this second career of mine, the only experience I had with death was my grandmother who died at the age of 93 a year after I got married.  I loved her, of course, and was sad but we weren't so close that it affected me all that much.  I was still emotionally untouched by the visitation of death.

I have cared for the terminally ill, kept company and held the hand of those in the process of dying.  I have tended to and cleaned the body that remains after the soul, that spark of life, whatever you want to call it, has left.  Like so many people, I used to fear death.  Through these experiences, however, I learned that death can be a welcome thing, an end to a long and happy life that many are ready for and wish they could hurry along.  I get asked countless times, "Why am I still here?  Why don't I die?"  Or a variation on the theme, "I wish I could go to sleep and just not wake up in the morning.  Can you help me?"  Now, these remarks and this request used to really throw me for a loop!  Years of experience have since taught me to say, "that's one thing I can't help you with; tell me something else I can do for you!"

My parents were always older than my friends' parents.  They were almost 40 when I was born.  This was back before it became a trend to start your family in your late thirties, early forties!  This is one of the big reasons why I didn't want to be left behind on the east coast when my parents retired to the west.  I knew they weren't going to be around forever and I didn't want to be so far away.  Fortunately, opportunity knocked at my and my young husband's door which we opened and welcomed in, resulting in our moving across the country just about one month after my parents' arrival, but that's another story.

I was blessed with the pleasure of my mother and dad's company for 19 more years.  At the age of 81, my mother was admitted to the hospital for elective surgery of a second hip replacement.  The first one had been most successful and it was time to take care of the other side.  Considering how well she did the first time around and anticipating a brief hospital stay, I did not visit my mother and decided to wait until she came home where my oldest sister would nurse her back to health as she did before.

She didn't make it.  Still thinking everything was going along well, I answered the phone one late afternoon.  It was my dad who said very quietly and simply, "she's gone."  "Gone?  Gone where?  Who's gone?" I asked.  My mother died during post-surgery physical therapy due to a detached blood clot; a fairly common risk of this type of surgery.  This was a fact of which I was completly ignorant.  I was devastated and totally unprepared for this possibility.  I was 42 years old and this was the first time a death affected me deeply and personally.  I existed in a downward spiral of depression for a long, long time.

Over the years, I have come to realize that this way may indeed be the better way to experience a cherished person's death.  Much better than watching a loved one die by inches as weeks, months even years go by.  I've watched so many families who've been left to deal with the results of terminal illness, Alzheimer's and a multitude of diseases that have ravished their parents' body and mind.  What could be worse than your parent not recognizing you as their child nor retaining any memories of an entire lifetime? 

Because of my mother's sudden demise, I was spared those miseries.  It's taken me this long to be able to even put these thoughts down on paper.  She was such an interesting, vibrant, different sort of mother.  I've yet to meet anyone quite like her.  The shame and regret I feel for not going to see her following her surgery are burdens I will carry with me until the end of my life.


Thursday, May 6, 2004

Still Married After All These Years

Our wedding anniversary is soon approaching and this is a big one, our 30th.  We were married years before it was possible to videotape the ceremony and reception.  All we ever had was a copy of a little cassette tape on which our recorded ceremony could barely be heard.  A most unsophisticated little tape recorder was hidden in the fireplace we stood in front of to exchange our vows.  I guess it was buried a little too deeply among the flowers to pick up anything decently.  This tape has long since bitten the dust.

How I would love to have a videotape of our wedding ceremony to be able to watch whenever I chose.  It's difficult to remember so many little things because I was moving around as if in a fog; it was somewhat surreal!  I couldn't quite believe we were really, finally getting married.  We had been engaged for almost three years (!) and together as a steady couple for two years before that.  It seemed to me The Day would never get here.

We decided to get married in the living room of my wonderful old home.  Neither of us were church goers and it seemed ridiculous to show up one day in a church to get married.  God is everywhere and we knew his grace would shine down on us no matter where we stood.  It seemed fitting; that living room was witness to a great deal of love between us over the five years prior to the wedding.

It was decided that immediate family only of the bride and groom would attend the actual ceremony.  My mother and big brother more or less choreographed the ceremony and music and did a most splendid job.  I well remember our little rehearsal the morning of the wedding.  I believe I spent the entire day in my robe until it was time to don my wedding gown et al.  We were all laughing and joking as my brother timed my descent down the stairs to match the music I had chosen.

Oh, it was so dramatic!  We used some music from The Moody Blues "Days of Future Past", a lovely little piece that finished with a triumphant, sunrise-like burst just as I reached the final bottom step to take my father's arm.  Dress rehearsal was over and the actual event was at hand.  As my feet alighted that final step, all former joviality vanished when I saw my father and I suddenly found myself so overcome with it all, that I dissolved into tears; tears of joy, relief, sentiment--a most unexpected rush of emotion.  Even now, as I write about this 30 years later, my eyes begin to glisten at the memory.  It was extremely intense. 

My Dad walked me over to where my husband-to-be was standing and the ceremony began.  The background music magically switched to Debussy's "Prelude to The Afternoon of a Faun" and I continued to cry....through the entire ceremony.  I struggled to get myself under control enough to be able to speak my vows when it was time.  Apparently, I didn't do very well judging by the squeaky, broken little noises that came out of the cassette tape!  I must've nodded my head vigorously enough at the appropriate times to make everything legal. 

By the time we were officially announced man and wife, there wasn't a dry eye in the room.  Once again, the music switched gears to Mike Oldfield's jubilant "Tubular Bells".  Imagine my utter horror when this same music appeared several years later in "The Exorcist"!!  My mother declared the affair the most tearful, intimate wedding she had ever seen and she was quite right.  I only wish I could've seen it all from my guests' point of view. 

Sunday, May 2, 2004

Party Time

Today we went to our granddaughter's birthday party.  She turned four earlier this week but her mom planned the party for Sunday, my weekend day off from work.  Little Kid Parties are not my thing at all and I was rather dreading the whole affair but it turned out to be a most pleasant and entertaining time.

My daughter is very good at organizing parties, any kind of party, (doesn't get it from me) and my son-in-law has a natural knack with small children.  This is something you either have or you don't.  I don't; never did and never will.  These two are missing their calling.  She could be a professional party planner and he could be a professional party director--they could make millions!

The festivities were held at one of the newer parks in town, fully loaded with lots of neat play equipment and (its claim to fame) a separate, fenced-in dog park.  She and I arrived early to claim a picnic table and found a perfect spot under a huge oak tree.  This turned out to be most forturnate because the temperature climbed to around 90 degrees.

A nice mixture of adults and small children was present.  My daughter wisely stipulated that all parents would stay and partake please, thereby not turning the party into a drop-off, day-care affair.  Let's see, if I remember correctly, aside from the birthday girl, there were around seven other children and all were amazingly well behaved.  No major crises, a bumped knee here and there but that's a given when you let small children (any children) loose in the world! 

We did the pinata thing which was not too gruesome to behold, lots of nice gifts were opened and admired,  a short, easy kid game with prizes for everyone, pizza, party favors and ta da!  The birthday cake aglow with four candles, the birthday song heartily sung and after sampling the cake, made by my thrifty daughter and very good, children were gathered up and thank-yous and goodbyes were said and it was over.  A perfect birthday party for our dear little grandchild, most beautifully accomplished by my most beautiful daughter.

I can only hope that neither of my children will suffer from some sort of deep-seated, life-long trauma because I never threw them a party like this when they were anywhere under the age of eight!  From what I've seen so far, I think they'll be okay.