The almost dog

Last month, I did a crazy thing.

It all started innocently enough on July 14 when my cousin shared on Facebook her local animal shelter’s post about a Mastiff-mix dog named Matteo. She commented, “Three dogs in a small house would be too much for us…but give this guy a look or a share. Love the gentle giants!”

matteo

Matteo

Look at that face! What’s not to love?!

I see dozens and dozens of posts just like this one every single week on Facebook from all over the country, and this particular dog was located more than 500 miles away from me. Something in his eyes drew me completely in, though, so I took the next baby step. I commented.

comments

If my cousin had made any other reply than the one she did, or made no reply at all, nothing would have come of it and we’d all have just gone on with our lives. But once the thing was set in motion, there was no stopping it.

On the Monday after she posted Matteo, she went to the shelter to meet him, and I followed along with her in my first-ever FaceTime conversation. Matteo was enthusiastic but not unruly, highly interactive with his visitors, and quick to sit for a treat that he took oh-so-gently. He even gave my cousin a quick kiss, which confirmed his considerable charm. I was sold. She was sold. We both so wanted this to be a love match.

On Tuesday, I made the decision to go meet Matteo and, with luck, bring him home with us, so my to-do list kicked into high gear. I had to figure out how to get there, how long it would take, how much it would cost, whether my homeowner’s insurance would allow me to have another dog, and so on. Did I have a collar and leash? A bed? A crate? Enough food to feed him? It was a 12-hour drive to get to him, and I knew he would be adopted quickly so I could not wait.

Fortunately, the shelter is closed on Wednesdays and no adoptions would take place, so I had a little time. There was a scramble trying to communicate with the shelter during their maddeningly limited telephone hours and open hours, but I was able to confirm before I left town that he was still available. So on Wednesday morning, I packed a bag, put the little dogs in the car, and off we went down the long, long road from here to there. I felt I was going on a blind date with every intention of coming home married. But I was ready, and I had the ring in my pocket in the form of Ruby’s old collar, fitted out with a shiny new tag for what I hoped would be my new big dog.

matteo collar

Put a ring on it

Two days of driving across four states later, I pulled up to the shelter half an hour before it opened on Thursday afternoon and waited nervously, very nervously. Matteo is so big, and my dogs are so small. We had no information about how he interacted with small dogs. I can handle a big dog and I already knew I’d love him, but the doggie meet-and-greet could go wrong in any number of ways, and that’s what was going to make or break this match. We all had to love one another or it wasn’t going to work.

The shelter is run by the city, and it is a busy, crowded, noisy place full of dogs and people in constant motion. I had a long wait and some paperwork to fill out before a volunteer finally brought Matteo out and put us together in a small yard. Just as he had with my cousin, he sat nicely for a treat and took it gently and allowed me to pet him without a single hesitation. He was frantic to be out of the kennel and out of the yard, so much so that I could not hold his attention without a treat in my hand. The shelter had named him Matteo at intake so the word meant nothing to him. There was no calling him to me or really, any interacting with him to be done at all except giving treats. I felt a chill.

Getting him together with my dogs seemed to be almost more than the shelter could accommodate. They insisted on having two handlers, one for Matteo and one for the littles, to ensure that no negative interactions occurred and that my dogs would feel no need to protect me from a strange dog. The female volunteer who took Matteo radiated anxiety about the meeting—her face seemed locked in a grimace of dread the entire time. The male volunteer who took my dogs, on the other hand, could not have been more blasé about the whole thing. He continually reassured me that all was just fine, while the female handler balked at each new iteration of interaction between the dogs. They progressed smoothly from walking past each other on leash to circling and sniffing each other on leash to moving around the yard together freely off leash to walking with me all together on leash. “That’s it, that’s as good as it’s gonna get for a first meeting,” the male handler said. “I think they’re good.”

My concern at that point was that Matteo seemed to want to interact only with the female handler and not with me or my dogs. There were no play bows, no nose-sniffs, no false charges or chasing around between the dogs, and Matteo never once initiated interaction with me. The three dogs essentially moved to separate areas of the large yard and ignored one another. I asked the female handler to leave the yard to let me see how Matteo would be with just us. With one last grimace, she walked out and closed the gate behind her. I turned to see Matteo running back and forth along the fence anxiously looking for her, and he would not return to us for the remainder of the visit.

Looking back, that’s the moment I realized Matteo was not going home with us, although it took me the whole rest of the evening to clarify that in my mind because I had invested so much time and treasure and emotion in getting there and meeting him and wanting this to work. But the fact was, no matter how I felt about him, he obviously felt no sense of connection whatsoever to me or to my dogs. He was not interested in joining our pack.

matteo

What a handsome boy

Despite all the effort expended, I chose to leave him there and drive home the next day, completing a journey of a thousand miles in 72 hours for what at first appeared to be, essentially, nothing.

It wasn’t for nothing, though.

I learned how big my heart is, and how much strength I have to do a very big, very scary thing for the right reasons. I also learned that my cousin and I make a formidable team and that I can count on her support 100%. I could not have done the thing without her.

When I got home, several people had just one question for me: “What were you thinking?!”

What I was thinking is, it’s been 9 years since I had a big dog that I felt could protect me and allow us to go places that I don’t feel safe going alone or with the little dogs. I was thinking, that absolutely beautiful boy got a raw deal by being dumped at that shelter, and I had the power to punch his ticket out to the sweet life. I was thinking, I can’t save them all, but I could save this one. I was thinking, I wanted to make a difference. And I almost did. If he had loved us back, even just a little bit, just for a moment, in that shelter yard, he’d be here with us now—probably snoring on the couch with the littles rolled up on either side to share body heat.

He was almost our dog. We were almost his family.

Matteo was adopted out the day after I got home, and I hope he now has the best life a dog could ever dream of—even better than the one I could provide. I hope he knows his name, and that he is loved, and that he is safe and happy wherever he is.

 

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Kokatat

When I was a young newspaper reporter who needed to fill some time in between covering car crashes and jury trials, my editor would send me around to local businesses to do profiles on their products. One of those businesses was Kokatat, a manufacturer of paddle sports apparel and gear in Arcata, California. I toured the factory and spoke with the owner, who told me that Kokatat is a Yurok Indian word that means “into the water.” I don’t remember anything else I learned that day, but I’ve never forgotten that.

The word is on my mind tonight as I remember a day in 2007 when my mother and I took her Golden Retriever puppy Sunny to the river for the first time. We were staying at a small resort on the McKenzie River soon after Labor Day, and had the whole place pretty much to ourselves. My big dog, Ruby, had passed a few weeks prior and I was in mourning. Spending time with a boisterous 6-month-old puppy was bittersweet—so much life ahead of her, but she was not my dog.

Sunny was my parents’ second lifetime dog. They waited nearly four years after their first lifetime dog passed to get another puppy, and she was their darling baby from the day they laid eyes on her.

The second morning of our stay, I let my mother sleep in while I slipped out of the cabin and down to the beach with Sunny. It was deserted at that early hour, except for a flock of four or five ducks that were poking around at the waterline. Sunny had been down to the river the day before and had shown no interest in going in the water, so I let her off the leash. She nosed around and false-charged the ducks a few times, while they just ignored her advances. But when she wouldn’t leave them alone, they decided as a group to set sail downriver. Seeing them all swimming away from her before she’d had time to really even get to know them was too much for Sunny. She didn’t hesitate before splashing into the water after them. They kept going. And she kept going after them. And before I knew it, she was out in the middle of the McKenzie and heading downstream fast. She was just a puppy who had never even been in the water before.

My mother was too far away to hear me when I yelled, and yelled, and yelled for Sunny to come back. Nobody was anywhere on the grounds of our resort. There was a fence that ran all the way down to the waterline at the edge of the property, which Sunny had just sailed past. I clambered over that fence and I ran as hard as I could to keep pace with her as she shot downstream. I shouted and whistled and begged her to come back until I was hoarse, unable to bear the thought of losing another dog so soon, let alone this dog.

I don’t know how far I ran before she finally swam to the shore and plunged into my arms, but she made her way out of the water that day. I walked her back to our cabin and came in to find my mother just waking up. She’d had no idea what had just happened. Our relief was gigantic.

That night, as we were talking of this and other things, I started to cry. Mom asked me why, and it took me a minute to sort it out. Finally I told her, “Ruby would never have done that.” I missed my dog that ran to the sound of my voice. Sunny was not my dog and she never did that; I marvel still that she came back to me at all. But she did come to me the one time when it counted the most, and for that I will always be grateful. My parents’ love for their dog is a mighty force, and they deserved to have her for the full measure of her life.

Sunny

Sunny

When we were at the cabin, Sunny would start each day by running into my bedroom and vaulting onto my bed. She would plant herself flat on top of me and enthusiastically lick my face to wake me up and I have to tell you: I have never experienced a better wake-up call before or since. I told my friends when I returned from the visit that the title of Best Dog In the World and the little tiara that goes with it had officially been passed from Ruby to Sunny.

Some time this summer, when nobody was looking, Sunny stepped to the edge of another river that she had no choice but to enter. A tumor in her spleen that had spread into her lungs was stealing her breath. She slipped silently into the water where the current took her, and she could not make it back to shore this time. My parents said goodbye to her this morning and sent her on her way to the Rainbow Bridge we all hope and dream awaits our pets and, someday, us.

My parents and their dog.

My parents and their dog.

She was a good girl, and much loved. She will live forever in our hearts.

Good dog. Stay.

Good dog. Stay.

We are who we are

I grew up a tough little tomboy perpetually riding in my older brother’s wake, and often wished I had been born a boy as well so that I could do all the things that he could do. Well into my teens, strangers would ask me, “are you a boy or a girl?” and my answer often surprised them. Even so, I have always known and accepted (at some stages more gracefully than others) that I am a female person in a female body. The longer I live, the more I appreciate the gifts of my gender, even while chafing against the restrictions it also imposes. When I entertain the idea of being male now, I find it distasteful. I won’t get into the details of why.

I will confess, I don’t really understand transgenderism and I know I’m not alone in that. Gender is an enormous component of one’s identity, and having any confusion around that is a ticket to all kinds of struggles: personally, interpersonally and socially. The first distinction we make about any person is “he” or “she.” With few exceptions, human beings are not able to conceptualize or tolerate anything outside of or in between those two poles.

But I do understand and give mad props to unconditional love and clear-eyed acceptance of people as they are even when they are not what we want them to be or wish they were. That’s why I so appreciate the story of Jeff and Hillary Whittington and their son Ryland as told in the CNN Films video “Raising Ryland.” (Sorry, video preview is not available.)

http://www.cnn.com/videos/us/2015/03/17/digital-shorts-parenting-transgender-child-orig.cnn

As soon as he could speak, 3-year-old Ryland began telling his parents that he was a boy and that he wanted to cut his long hair and wear boy’s clothing. They were understandably shocked and incredulous, and they could have shouted him down, mocked him, or isolated and punished him into complying with their understanding of which gender their child was biologically assigned at birth. But they didn’t. They listened to him. They supported him. They defended him. They loved him. And no matter what or who he chooses to be later in his life, he is always going to know that his family has his back, and that he is a person of value. There is no greater gift that parents can give their children.

The Whittington family.

The Whittington family.

In an open letter, Hillary Whittington warned all their friends and family that should they choose not to support her and her husband’s decision to accept their child as he is, they can expect that their relationship with the entire Whittingon family will no longer progress because “Our child’s happiness is most important to us.” Amen! Really, what else is there? Maintaining the appearance of “normality” for the sake of keeping society’s approval? Rigidly demanding adherence to a single definition of reality that their child is unable to accept? Living in isolation, shame and fear until somebody breaks down, or dies? All because of a simple quirk of biology? No.

We are who we are, and I hope that someday human beings will learn how to see one another as souls and spirits with infinite potential rather than as mere bodies born to play ancient, predestined roles.

I wish this little boy and his family all the best.

Turning the page

We here at Going Forward (meaning: me) are pleased to be finally turning the page over from 2014, leaving behind us a difficult year stuck in the doldrums, so to speak, with high hopes for fair winds and following seas to support all our efforts in the coming year.

One thing I’ve been remiss in over the past 12 months is my blogging, and I hope to be better about that. I will tell you that I’ve been having my share of struggles, large and small, but I won’t tell you all the details because, you know, the internet. My focus on surviving and resolving those struggles has taken up a lot of my time and emotional energy, leaving little left over to talk about it all here. 

I completed my certification as a nursing assistant in February, and decided not to pursue any job opportunities in that field for several reasons. I have found the knowledge I gained very helpful in assisting my parents, however, and that is the whole reason I took the course so I consider the time well spent.

My weight has been bobbing up and down all year, gradually trending upward. I pay a handsome fee to participate in Weight Watchers each month, but can’t seem to motivate myself to follow the program. Not sure what I’m going to do about that, although I think my options are, essentially, to fish or cut bait. I’ve determined that part of why I am not feeling so great right now physically is my higher weight, and that I definitely feel better when I am about 20 lbs. lighter. It’s just a matter of finding the mojo to get myself there.

My darling doggies are, as ever, the lights of my life. Rudy had a tumor on his foot this summer that required the removal of a toe, but he’s fully recovered from that now as if nothing ever happened. Reggie has maintained perfect health and excellent behavior all year, and I’m very pleased with and proud of both of them.

My parents have been holding pretty steady, with a few mishaps here and there but generally okay. I had hoped my mother would be walking on her own again by last spring, but she took a fall in her garage a few months ago that has slowed her way down and it looks like the wheelchair might be here to stay.

On the business front, I branched out from product photography into real estate photography over the summer, and got a crash course in how to light a room properly (which is much trickier than you might think). This endeavor proved profitable and allowed me to acquire a bunch of new photography equipment, including lenses and lights, that have expanded my repertoire considerably. I hope to substantially increase this service in 2015.

At home, I have invested considerable time and treasure in my cooking practice, and that has been tremendously rewarding for me emotionally. I have been creating my own recipes and riffing with confidence on others’ recipes to create dishes that delight me—and as we know, I am a huge fan of my own cooking. 😉 I spent 10 days with my folks over Christmas and cooked many meals for them that they immensely enjoyed as well, so I seem to be doing it right! I recently finished reading Michael Pollan’s book Cooked, and gifted it to my mom and my brother-in-law for Christmas. My sister and mom have read it and they both say that it has changed their lives. I had the same reaction. Highly recommended.

Like 2013, 2014 ended on an unexpected, expensive and stressful note. In 2013, it was Rudy’s mysterious illness over Christmas vacation, and the keying damage to my car while I was visiting my parents. This year, we hit a deer on our way to my parents’ house, which disabled my car with a busted radiator but fortunately did no harm to us. The accident occurred roughly midway between my house and theirs, so I had to leave my car in the nearest town for 10 days to be repaired and got to drive a brand-new rented Hyundai Santa Fe in the meantime, which was actually a rather nice consolation. When we came through to retrieve my car on our way back to our home this week, the icy roads and snowy weather were so treacherous that we had to stay overnight there. I have never seen such horrendous driving conditions in 12 years of going back and forth over that road, and have never in 30 years of driving hit a deer. I am hoping my deer-strike clock will now reset and I’ll have another 30 years of no trouble!

And so we begin another fresh year. I am really hopeful that the hard times are behind me and I am so very ready to move forward on so many fronts. Rev the engine, pop the clutch, let’s blow this popsicle stand!

Happy New Year, everyone, and best wishes to all of you for a healthy and happy 2015!

the-time-is-now-lets-do-this

This one’s for my niece

Fifteen years ago today, our family was blessed with the addition of The Lovely and Amazing Annabel. She is my sister’s first child, my parents’ first grandchild and my first (and so far, only) niece, and she and I have been buddies from the day we met, just a few weeks after she was born. Sadly, I can’t find the picture we took that day, in which she was bundled in a lovingly homemade tiny leopard outfit for her first Halloween and looking very wide-eyed.

I confess, I am not good with kids and never have been, even when I was still a kid myself and babysat for the neighbors. But this kid has always been different. She was never fussy with me, and was always game for any adventure with her Auntie. She was a happy, smart, funny, cooperative sidekick from the go, and really hasn’t changed much at all in that respect over the years.

baby-annabel

Helping mommy in the kitchen, summer of 2000. Baby girl was bald as a sweet little peach for most of her first two years, then her hair came in perfectly strawberry blond.

One  of my most precious memories is when she and her mom came to visit me when she was less than a year old, not even talking yet. They came to the back door of my house, and I went down to unlock it. Her mom was standing there on the porch holding her and when Annabel and I saw each other through the glass, we both broke into such huge grins of happy recognition that my sister said she felt like a complete third wheel for a moment because all we could see was each other.

yellowduck-annabel

All decked out in yellow fleece, Christmas 2001.

I wish I could find more of her baby pictures to share with you; she was exceedingly cute as well as exceptionally charming.

3dbirthday-annabel

We’ve been lucky to share several of her birthdays with her, including her third, in which she gets some help from her daddy to cut the cake.

photographer-annabel

I took a lot of pictures of her when she was little, and she sometimes took the camera and returned the favor. Her mom and I wanted to make sure she didn’t just get our knees in the frame in this one, so we got down to her level (she was only about 3 at the time).

grampa-annabel

Everyone loved “dat baby,” including her grandpa, who told her to point at the camera.

erikbday-annabel

The button-busting proud big sister, here with her mom and grandma, smiles big while holding her hours-old baby brother, August 2003.

dressup-annabel

Playing dress-up with her grandma at the tea shop, circa 2005.

christmas08-family

Modeling her new pajamas with her mom and brother, Christmas 2008.

irisgarden-annabel

My favorite picture of this beautiful girl, summer of 2009. She has my freckles.

christmas11-annabel

By Christmas of 2011, she was starting to look like a young lady instead of a kid–tall and slim and graceful.

summer12-annabel

By the summer of 2012, this kid I used to pick up and swing around was eye to eye with me when she stood in front of me; I expect she’s going to be tucking my head under her chin when she hugs me pretty soon.

eyes-annabel

She likes to draw anime characters, which I know just enough about to know that she rather resembles one!

cello-annabel

Among her many talents, Annabel plays the cello beautifully. I think she has a very bright future ahead of her with that instrument.

Almost from birth, Annabel has been a mimic, a ham, and a performer. She has her mother’s gift for memorizing movie quotes and memes and working them into everyday conversation, and can always make me laugh. She’s a kind, good-hearted kid who always thinks of others first and who can be counted on to do the right thing. I wish I had been even half so emotionally capable when I was her age! Sometimes when I talk to her on the phone, I hear my sister’s tones and inflections in her speech, and watching Annabel is like watching my sister grow up all over again. I can’t even tell you how that warms my heart because for all that I love my niece, I love my sister twice as much. I’m happy to have known them both all their lives.

Annabel has gone from fuzzy-headed baby to animated toddler to adventurous school kid to gangly preteen and now stands tall and graceful at the last outpost of childhood. She starts high school this week with a full slate of college-prep classes, and is already thinking about getting her driver’s permit. Pretty soon she’ll be graduating, going off to college, getting married, having babies of her own. It’s all going to go by in a flash, just the way her whole life has to date … at least for those of us looking on from far away who see her two or three times a year if we’re lucky and can hardly believe the changes we see from visit to visit.

But some things remain the same from year to year and I hope they always will, especially that unbridled delight Annabel and I take in seeing each other again after months apart. She’s my only sister’s only daughter, the only tiny bit of me going forth into the future beyond my lifespan. She carries with her all my hopes and dreams for love and happiness in her life, and gratitude for all the love and happiness she brings to mine.

Happy birthday to a Lovely and Amazing young lady. I love you forever and I am so very proud of you.


Remember, Theresa: Everything she is, you are. Everything we love in this child, we loved in you first. All your life.

Related: This one’s for my sister

 

Summer jam

Let me just start right off by saying: Mom, I owe you an apology. You were right, and I was wrong. I am very sorry I didn’t listen to you when I should have.

Freezer jam IS quicker, cleaner, less work, fresher-tasting and lower in sugar than regular cooked jam.

I was visiting my parents for the first half of June, and one of the many, many things we did in those two weeks was make jam with some of the finest, freshest, sweetest, juiciest strawberries you could hope to find anywhere. My mother, who has learned the fine art of energy conservation in rehab, said we should make freezer jam. Less sugar, she said. Less work, she said. Tastes better, she said. “But I don’t like freezer jam,” I whined.

Besides, I said, are we not just the sort of home-canning heroines who not only put up huge batches at a go but also choose the hottest day of the year to fire up all the burners on the stove for hours at a time so we can really enjoy the full flavor of the thing? I insisted that we do it the old-fashioned way, using the big canner that holds 10 pint jars, because we were going to make a double batch.

My sweet mother, god love her, only wants me to be happy, so she said fine, she’d help me make my cooked preserves while she quietly went about making her batch of freezer jam on the side that was finished long before the big canner even came to boil.

That was the main sticking point: the pot. That behemoth holds at least five gallons of water, and its circumference far exceeds that of the stove’s largest burner. We set it on high at 3 p.m. and it didn’t start rolling to a boil until after 5 p.m. By that time we’d hulled and mashed our fruit and combined it with sugar in a 7 cups to 11 cups ratio. Doesn’t that just make your diabetes sense tingle? My mother, it should be remembered, is diabetic, so she was not going to be able to enjoy this strawberry-tinted melted sugar anyway. But she was right there to help me make it, stirring the pot and adding the pectin and watching the time like the trouper that she is. Even though it wasn’t actually the hottest day of the year, thankfully, our kitchen was plenty steamy and she worked really hard so that I could make this jam just the way I wanted it. God love her.

We both scanned our memories as far back as we could as to whether we have ever processed strawberry jam (i.e., put the filled, sealed jars back in the water bath to boil for 10 minutes). We were sure we never had (and equally sure that neither we nor anyone we know has ever gotten sick from eating our jam), but we consulted three books on home canning as well as the package insert that came with the pectin and they all said to process. So, I turned the burner under the canner back to high (having turned it down to simmer while we pulled the jars out to fill) and waited. And waited. And waited.

More than 90 minutes later, the pot still had not returned to a rolling boil, we were both exhausted and irritated, dinner had to be postponed until we could free up some surface area on the stove, and the filled jars in the canner were never going to properly process. We both threw in the sticky, crimson-stained towel and said “never again.” Never, never, never again will we can with the big pot, and we will never again process strawberry jam. We boiled the jars, we cooked the fruit precisely according to directions, we sealed them properly—good enough.

Which brings me around to why I feel the need to make that sincere and heartfelt apology to my mother now.

While at the supermarket this afternoon, I passed a display of small plastic Ball freezer jam containers next to canisters of instant pectin. The recipe on the box said only 1 cup of sugar to 2.5 cups of fruit was needed for a 3-cup batch. So I tossed the containers and pectin into the cart, U-turned back to the produce section for a couple boxes of strawberries, and headed home to make jam.

freezer-jam-makings

It took me all of 15 minutes to wash, hull and mash the berries, and another 3 minutes to stir them up with the sugar and pectin before filling the jars. No cooking, no waiting, no sweating, no swearing, no anxious watching of the clock, no burned fingers. Just three little jars of richly red, deliciously fresh-tasting, perfectly sweetened jam that won’t crank my blood glucose levels off the charts.

finished-freezer-jam

That’s the way we should have put up all those delightful little Oregon strawberries instead of drowning them in sugar and cooking them to death.

Again, mama, I’m sorry I put you through all that for my own little nostalgia trip, just so that I could say I made jam the old-fashioned way one last time: the way you and I used to make it, back when we were both a lot younger and had a lot more stamina and enthusiasm for this kind of work. I just wasn’t ready to let go of the past and update my methods to something smarter and healthier and easier and appropriate to our current working capacities. I wasn’t ready to admit that I no longer have the energy to waste on projects that are entertaining but nonessential.

I’ve seen the light and I’m ready now, though. Freezer jam it is, from now on.

 

 

Odds and ends

I don’t have enough news for one whole blog post, so here are the briefs from the past couple of weeks.

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Rudy’s foot has healed up nicely, and he is 100% back to normal in every respect. He was mighty happy to get that cape off at last.

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I have managed to mow my lawn four times so far this year and yet have mentioned it on social media only once. But the season is still young and this is Going Forward, so …

lawn-mowing-posts

😉

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A couple of my readers are keenly interested in knowing this: I am averaging more than 7 hours a night on the CPAP machine, with no real problems to deal with. It’s amazing what one can get used to. When I first started with the CPAP, the mask caused pressure sores around my nose, the pressure blew my mouth open all night long, the air flow dried everything out, and I could not find any comfortable position in which to sleep other than flat on my back. I usually ended up tearing the mask off after less than an hour.

Now, I put the mask on, turn on the machine, roll over and go to sleep, and it’s still on my face when I wake up 7 or 8 hours later. I hardly notice it anymore, even when I sleep on my side, and it leaves no evidence of its use in the morning. The air flow coming into the mask is equivalent to a small hair dryer on a low setting—no wispy draft, in other words, but rather a brisk torrent—yet as long as my mouth is closed, I don’t even feel it. I was not sure this thing was ever going to work, so I’m grateful to have finally made peace with it. I don’t (yet) feel any different when I wake up in the morning, though, and have no way to gauge whether it’s helping me or not. I guess I have to assume it is!

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When I visited my parents several weeks ago, my mother sent me home with several goodies, including her last African Violet plant, which was not doing well since she’s been unable to take care of things around the house as well as she used to. It was a pale, droopy, sick-looking thing that hadn’t bloomed in living memory. I repotted it as soon as I got back to my house, and have been fertilizing it every week with African Violet food. It’s doing great!

african-violet

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I’m on a Mexican food kick lately, and I found an inexpensive molcajete (stone mortar and pestle) at the Big Box Store a few days ago that I just had to have. The care instructions say it needs to be “seasoned,” meaning you have to essentially sand off all the loose grit by grinding up a few batches of uncooked rice in it before making, say, guacamole. I tried that and got nowhere—rice is a heck of a lot more abrasion resistant than you might expect—so I went to the internet to find better instructions. The Mija Chronicles told me what I needed to know, although I didn’t like it a bit. This is how she says to season a molcajete:

Note: This is going to take a few hours, so make sure you’re well-nourished and rested when you start.

Gather about 1 cup each of dried, split corn and dried beans, and 1 1/2 cups of dried white rice. In Mexico, you can find these things at almost any mercado.

Toss a scant 1/4 cup of ground corn into your molcajete. Grind until it turns into coarse flour. You don’t want it too coarse—I’ve found that just when you think you might be done, you should grind for another 20 minutes or so, just to get a better texture. When the corn is done, scoop it into the trash. Repeat with the next round. Do this four times.

Repeat with the dried beans, which will also be ground four separate times, until they’re completely dissolved and flour-like. On the third turn of beans, start soaking about 1/2 cup of your white rice in water.

When you’re done with the beans, move on to the dried rice and grind it four separate times. Then grind the soaked rice three times. When you’re done, rinse your molcajete under water and use a little brush or small hand-broom to clean it. Turn it upside-down to air dry.

It took me an hour to get through three batches of beans before my arm pretty much just fell off.

Turning this…

molcajete-with-beans

into this …
molcajete-with-bean-flour

is some hard work. You can pound on those beans for 10 solid minutes and there will still be dozens in the batch that look as though they have never been touched by a human hand, let alone a stone pestle. And the worst part is that even after three rounds of grinding dried pinto beans into muy fine flour, thank you very much, the damn thing is still gritty. I learned too late that cheap molcajetes sold in big box stores are often made with (relatively soft) concrete and never lose their grittiness. Yay. We’ll see how my first batch of guacamole comes out before deciding whether to keep this thing.

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The first anniversary of my mother’s stroke came and went at the end of April. She was apprehensive about it, but I encouraged her to mark the day by celebrating all that she has accomplished since the morning she woke up in the hospital and could barely move. She couldn’t even sit up straight without assistance for weeks and couldn’t walk for months. Now she gets around her house quite handily with a walker and wheelchair (and has walked with a cane with her rehab therapist), is able to handle all the washroom chores on her own, and helps with meal prep, washing dishes, and many other household tasks. She and my dad have started going to the rehab gym at the hospital and working out three days a week, she’s able to get up and down the entryway stairs and walk with a walker from the house to the garage, and she’s even taking a t’ai chi class and talking about driving again. She’s a remarkable model of strength, courage and perseverance. She doesn’t consider herself brave or in any other way remarkable, though. She just sees herself as playing the hand she’s been dealt as best she can. Well, we’re proud of her anyway.

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And finally, I have for you a fantastic recipe! Big Oven makes a Chicken in Basil Cream Sauce that will knock your socks off.

chicken-in-basil-cream-9

It is by far the best thing I’ve cooked all year, and I am looking forward to making it again tomorrow night. I followed the recipe for the most part … I seasoned the chicken with salt and pepper before breading it because otherwise it’s always too bland for my taste. Also, I used Peppadew peppers instead of pimentos because they’re easy for me to get and OMG-so-delicious: sweet and just a tad spicy. Try ’em if you can find ’em!

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Enjoy your weekend, everyone, and Happy Mothers Day to all the moms! 🙂