Friday, December 31, 2010

potato chip potato chip

We had puttered around all morning trying to decide what to do, where to go with the kids.  My heart just wasn't into going anywhere.  I have been on the road all week for work, including an extra trip yesterday that didn't take long but still was me getting out.

I like to hibernate a bit on some of my days off.  Recharge the battery so to speak.  Have time to comtemplate, read, sleep, drink some wine and just chill.

That isn't happening with 3 grands hanging out for the weekend.  Jen is here too, til tonight when she makes her break for places a 40 year old would want to hang out at...and Jim

Jen got Maddie in the shower this morning when we thought about going to the state line for a lottery ticket.  (A six hour drive, plus another hour or so for stops and food and well, now you know why I didn't want to go...)  So Steve sweetly said we didn't have to go absolutely....

Maddie was incensed..."I'm all dressed up for nothing!!!" she hollered indignantly to no one in particular.  (In her new jeans, by the way and looking pretty cute too...)

So, I had to come up with something quick.  The boys were no problem, being scroungy and not having to quit Wii-ing was what boys live for.  But Maddie was giving me the evil-eye so I said the only thing that I could think of:

Me: Do you want to go help Gramps get the food for our HORS D'OEUVRES? (trying to make it sound exotic)
Maddie: what's that?
Me: ...snacks
Maddie: oh, ok (after pausing and looking at the ceiling for several minutes while she acted like she was considering it...I knew better...a trip to the grocery store with Gramps means she has total control over what goes in the shopping basket).
Me: do you want to help me write the list?
Maddie: yah, sure. (Spoken in a bit of a condescending tone.)

So I had to write the list out first, and then she copied it.  At least she started copying it, but these were words beyond the simple kindergarten stuff she was used to, so we ended up with me calling out letters and she wrote them out as I called them out.

Every time we finished a word, she crossed it out.  This list looks weird, but remember we are buying HORS D'OEUVRES snacks for two adults and three kids.  The cheese & sticks means regular cheese for us, and string cheese for the kids.  Sorta (I like string cheese too I am a bit embarrassed to admit.)

So we are working on Maddie's List.  And she is writing diligently.  She gets to the p in grape juice and says:

"How do you write a p?"

Me: like the p in potato chip.

Maddie makes a little circle looking thing. 

Me: what is that?
Maddie: it's a potato chip.
Me: I said P in Potato chip, not draw a potato chip.  (I am laughing out loud by now, and trying to tell Jen about it.  Maddie is mortified and getting mad at us for laughing, but the more I try to stop laughing, the harder I laugh.  I am getting close to the replacing-your-underwear type of belly laughs by now.  Jen is giggling uncontrollably.)

Maddie: Y'ALL STOP LAUGHING!!!! (Maddie indignantly draws a leg on the potato chip to make a P in graPe...I don't dare tell her the leg is on the wrong side of the chip...)

Slowly, we bring it under control.  Jen is still standing there when Maddie and I resume the list.

Me: apple sauce...
Maddie: how do you spell it?

This is when I turn into Evil Grammy...
Me: A....potato chip...potato chip...L...E... now Jen and I are cracking up again and I just let Maddie wing it the rest of the way, which is why her applesauce is written APSRS...

I recovered sufficiently from the laughing fit by "cookie dough".  Thank goodness, or Maddie would still be giving me the evil eye...

Good thing Maddie will be with Gramps at the store to translate the list...

On second thought, he spells just like that so he'll manage just fine....

Thursday, December 30, 2010

weird week

What a weird way to end the year.  But I am not surprised.  If things seem to be going along fairly smoothly, then something is going to happen to jack it up.  That is not me being a pessimist.  It is me being a realist.

The past couple weeks have been way busier than I thought they would be.  Partly because they were short work weeks.  We had three day work weeks back to back so I had to cram 5 days into 3.  In the mental health field that isn't a good thing.  I don't like not being able to take as long as I need to with clients.  They have a tough time at the holidays and I have discovered that a population that is mostly stable the rest of the year does a lot of unravelling during the holidays.  I can understand it though.  I am moodier myself.  I started out with great cheer and it had slowly fizzled.

Had some words with the oldest daughter the other day.  On the phone.  That isn't the way I normally like to interact when I am having a serious conversation with someone, but it just happened.  We got started, the words started pouring out, and before I knew it she was in tears on the phone.  Yes after raising her I can always tell when she is teary.  Mine didn't start until after the call ended, and then I vented to the nurse who shares an office with me, which didn't make me feel better but she was kind enough to listen.  I rarely vent like that.  I am not allowed (my own standard).  That was when it hit me.  The holidays were making me unravel too.  And not in a good way. 

I felt morose the rest of the day, didn't sleep much that night, and was still chewing on it the next morning.  Over the years I have become so in tune with my inner spirit that I can tell when I am not centered, or balanced.  When I get off balance, it affects my positive energy and also those around me.  I went to work still chewing on it.  I do that.  Chew on things that are bothering me until a) I figure out a solution or understanding of the issue, or b) let it go.  I wasn't to the letting go stage, and after a bit I realized it is ok for my daughter and I to have different opinions.  No matter what she said about me, I know how I feel and act and mostly am ok with it.  SO I began to understand where we were both coming from, on an emotional level, and finally I was able to spit it out and feel I had at least resolved my side of the issues.  It was a good thing I did too because something came up at work and required a calm spirit from me to deal with, and the outcome was good, but the day before it could have been a fiasco. 

I firmly believe the people around us pick up on the aura we exude, the mood we are in, the turmoil we feel, and it affects how others react to us.  I have always had an ability to calm down people who were in turmoil, mostly because I stay present in the moment and speak to them from a calm spiritual state.  My family calls me the rock for this reason, and that describes it as well as any word does.

So last night we celebrated Jack's 6th birthday.  My daughter was there.  For a while we just spoke politely to each other and kept it civil.  There came a moment when we were talking in the middle of the kitchen, and suddenly she grabbed me in a hug, and apologized and told me she loved me.  And I was telling her the same thing at the same time.

I was centered again.  And blessed to have a daughter who has been able to stay centered most of the time herself. 

Life is always good, even when it isn't, because I am learning and growing.  But at times life is so much better than good.  When you have hope during times of turmoil, you can make it to times of centered being....

Happy New Year to you all, and may you have a year of centered peace and happiness...

Sunday, December 26, 2010

the jello race

Christmas is a jello race.  From beginning to end, it is like trying to nail jello to the wall.  You get one piece nailed up, but when you get back with the next piece to nail up, the first piece has disappeared. 

Only the kids have energy at Christmas.  The parents and grandparents are overdosed on carbohydrates and shopping.  So while we all lay around like slugs after pulling ourselves together to watch the kids open gifts, the kids are nonstop.  Kids also don't eat for at least 24 hours at Christmas, and they only sleep when they can't stand up anymore.

Which means that Christmas dinner is really for the adults.  It is our way of drugging ourselves into an apathetic mind blur so that we don't have to watch the kids tear the house down.

Waking up the next day is like coming out of a coma.  You aren't sure what has happened, but you know it had something to do with a holiday, gifts, kids and enough food for a small army.

The good news is we have tricked my oldest daughter into letting us use her house because it is the largest.  My theory is that the farther the toys are spread out, the less messy the house looks.  But it really doesn't matter anyway, because it isn't my house.

I get to go home and leave Jen with the mess.  And the kids.  Do I feel guilty?  Not at all.  Being a grandparent at Christmas is the best part of the holiday at my age, and my reward for surviving the jello race for years with three small children.

Thank you Santa.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

the journey continues

kayla with my lipstick
 Just a few short months ago I went public.  I started sharing my thoughts and experiences with more than just my closest family and friends.  I've been writing things that happened in my life and sharing them for several years, first on paper and then in email. Then a few months ago, I was at my sister's house in California and had the fun of watching my 3 year old great niece Kayla go gaga over the contents of my purse.  I had given her permission to dive into it, something she'd never been allowed to do before, and what ensued was just too good not to share, and I decided to blog it

That was the beginning of a new adventure for me.  And since that time I have shared things that have crossed my path, and gone through my mind, and smacked me on the head.  I've shared my love of art, family, laughter, photography, and  now writing.  And I have been surprised and humbled by the encouragement and kind words I've received.

What I'd like to take time to say now is thank you all.  Thank you for reading, and following my thoughts.  I have learned so much this year, and without getting smarmy about it, I have been surprised at how the creative side of me, the side that sometimes lies dormant for years, has come alive and grown in directions I never expected.

This world of blogging has seemed quite strange at times, but I have made new friends and gained so much more than I thought possible on that fateful August day when I loaded some text and photos into this blog program and hit the publish button.

I look forward to each day's adventure, and to the coming year and the surprises and challenges that await me as my journey continues....

And I  invite you to share the journey with me...

Friday, December 17, 2010

remote lust

Last night we had dinner with my best friend from nursing school (the first person I met on the first day I attended class) and a friend of hers.  A nice couple, good dinner, laughs, camaraderie, just everything you want on a night before Christmas.  The way this time should be spent really, with friends and making connections, sharing the love and laughter. 

Then we got home and the rest of the night took a twist.  Two things I learned last night:

1. Never eat Mexican food after 7PM when you plan to go to bed early.
2. Ask for the small Margarita.

I had indigestion from hell last night.  I was in bed early so that I could get up early and get the food together I planned to take to the Christmas party at work today.  I was up early all right.  The first time was a wrong number.  On my cell phone!  And the person called not once but twice.  Let me explain that in my current job I take back up call 24/7.  I don't get that many calls, so I know when I get one it is serious.  I left my cell phone in the living room, only not in the usual spot.  I didn't have my glasses on so I couldn't see it.  Actually I couldn't have seen it anyway because the lights were out in the living room.  So I go over and pick up the house phone, because I always tell everyone if they can't get me on the cell to call the house phone.  So there I am at 10:47 PM, standing blindly in the middle of the living room, with the house phone in my hand.

Then the cell phone rings again.  I look at the phone in my hand like it has betrayed me, then start looking for the light.  The cell phone light, and finally spot it on the box of Pillow Pets I have ordered that I haven't had time to wrap.  I grab it and answer it.  And someone hollers at me on the other end "HEY GIRL HOW YOU DOIN?"  and I holler back "WHAT?"  and she repeats herself, louder.  I holler back "WHO IS THIS?" ....dead air....then she says "I'M SOWWY I HAVE THE WONG NUMBOO" and hangs up...

By then I am totally awake and have a headache from hell.   Should never have had the Margarita that late...I go take some ibuprofen and head back to bed.  Steve, being the conscientious husband he is, is awake and I explain to him what has happened.  I also have my cell and house phones by the bed so I won't have to run in circles like a dog sniffing for a bone if someone calls again.  The phones are silent the rest of the night.

I get up at 1AM to turn the heat down because it is that time of night, the time I wake up in a sweat, hormones or no hormones.  Realizing we have run out of gas at some point and the electric furnace is running our bill up every second by another dollar, I wake up Steve to share the news.  He panics and runs in to the gas heater and I hear several loud clicks, then he comes back into the bedroom and collapses into bed.

me: "are we out of gas?"
him: "yes"
me: "I thought so"
him: "but the tank said 15% the other day"
me: "the tank lied"
him: "yah"

I get up again at 2AM.  The pinched nerve in my neck is killing me (what was in that Margarita?) and so I look at the clock, figure I can get maybe two more hours of good sleep if I take some of the medicine the doctor had given me for this.  The nurse in me calculates scientifically (using the algebra they told us we had to know in nursing school to calculate drug dosages), and I pinch off a corner of a half a pill, take it, and then lick the pill dust off my fingers for good measure.  Very precise and scientifically.  I lay out the cream cheese to soften, figuring that by 5AM it will be about right, and head back to bed.

And somewhere in between one of those trips up and down, I had a romantic interlude with the remote.  I was moving around trying to get more comfortable and shoved my knee against something hard.  I nudged again, yep it was something hard.  Interested by now, I reached out a hand to feel it.  I kept running into cover, but there it was, poking me back.  I finally leaned hard into it.... 

The TV turns on.  In the glow from the screen I see Steve has his back to me.  I pull my hand out from under the cover and feel on top of it and find it.

The remote.  I was lusting after the remote.  In disgust I turn the TV off and go back to sleep for another fifteen minutes.  I don't wake up Steve. 

There are some things he just doesn't need to know.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

the smallest gifts

danish santa
The smallest things in life can give the most pleasure.  We race through life, busy with our daily routine, caught up in the race to take care of everyday things, especially at this time of year.  This is the case with me, I am not immune to the routine of things I have to do every day to get through the day, or work toward a future goal.  But occasionally something happens to slow me down for a bit, and make me more introspective about the really important things in life.

I belong to an art community of women online, brought there by a friend who has a love of art and creating like I do.  For months I sat and watched the interaction among the members, not really sure how to join in and participate.  I uploaded some of my artwork, and linked some of my blogs to the site, but I felt more like an observer than a member, even though I had been welcomed warmly by some of the lead members in the community.

my santa imposters
Then about 4 or 5 weeks ago I found my niche.  My jumping in spot.  One group had posted an invitation to swap Santa and Angel ATCs.  ATC stands for artist trading cards, for those of you who are not familiar with the acronym.  I love ATCs and anything small and thought it would be fun to participate, so I added my name to the list.  And even got my ATCs finished early, a real first for me.  The list was made, the cards sent, and we all waited. 

danish angel
 My cards arrived from Denmark a week or more ago.  They were lovely, and so artistic.  It was fun to see what someone had created from so far away and sent to me.  But my cards, sent to a place in the USA, didn't arrive.  And didn't arrive.  I was starting to get worried they wouldn't arrive before Christmas.

the angel i made

Then today it happened.  The person I sent the cards to let me know on the group thread they had arrived.  And let me know how she enjoyed them.

And that was when I stopped.  To savor the small things.  I looked at my  ATCs from Denmark again, and thought of my two new friends, the one in Denmark who sent my cards, and the one here in Illinois who received the cards I made.  How our hands had created these cards or opened the envelopes that held these cards.

But most of all I felt the pleasure, and the gratitude of knowing we had all shared something both tangible and intangible.  And that the smallest of things are sometimes the gifts that are truly priceless.

Savor the small things when they happen.  They are some of life's greatest gifts.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

the unbearable lightness of being

I rarely get sick.  I am disgustingly healthy, to the point that the only time I go to the doctor every year is to make sure he hasn't forgotten what I look like since the last time I saw him.  This week that changed.  I was struck down by a virus.

My son and daughter in law had it first.  They caught it from one of her family members.  I never catch know those viruses that last a few days and make you think you are going to die, and at some point make you wish you would die...that kind of virus.  I took off Monday to work on some art samples for our studio classes for January.  I can remember it like a dream.  I was standing in the bedroom cleaning up and making the bed and I got really dizzy for a minute.  Then about an hour later I had a small wave of nausea.  That was the only warnings I got.

Then WHAM, my muscles  started aching, I started having chills that lasted about 5 hours, and eventually I was trotting to the bathroom so often the seat never had a chance to cool off.  That was the mechanics of it.

The other side of it was the weirdness of the thoughts I was having.  I was laying flat on my back most of yesterday and today looking at the ceiling.  Things look so different when you are feverish and just slightly delusional.  I felt like I was almost outside my was this weird lightness, like I was floating.  I knew I wasn't really floating, and the only thing outside my body by then was my butt hole from  those trips to the bathroom.  Your thought patterns are different when you are sick.  I noticed at one point that the toilet paper Steve bought was that ultra strong, soft kind that doesn't leave pieces on your butt when you wipe.  I remember thinking that it was almost psychic that he bought that kind (we had an ongoing argument about toilet paper, I theorized that kind might last longer than that thin stuff that has a million sheets in a roll, and he kept snorting at me when I would bring the subject up).  I was so grateful that Steve had brought the soft kind home the other day, and it probably saved my butt from scarring.

I also noticed that my appetite was gone.  I mean totally gone.  And I remember thinking that if I could stay at that point for about 3 months,  I wouldn't have to make dieting my New Year's resolution for the thirtieth year in a row. 

Then there was the lightness of emptiness.  Believe me, after that many trips to the bathroom, the floating sensation I was having was becoming a reality.  I was a wisp of my former self, a hollow shell.  It is the only benefit of this thing that has ravaged my gut.  I am sure when I put my jeans on again they will just hang on my frame.  To the point I may need a whole size smaller.  It's no problem though, I have the wardrobe of three different women, and could dress for three years in just about any size without shopping.

Ok, so I'm still delusional.  And off to sample the toilet paper again...

Monday, December 13, 2010

hog heaven

I was a city mouse.  Steve was a country mouse.  And never the twain shall meet without something going awry.  It was true forty years ago, and it remains true to this day.

About a year into our marriage, we had scored a small cockroach infested apartment.  The cockroaches actually belonged to the neighbors next door.  The husband was a trucker, and his wife and baby had a penchant for going on runs with him, and just coincidentally forgetting to clean the food off the table or wash the dishes before leaving.  So when that happened, the cockroaches, being neighborly Alabama cockroaches, would pay us a visit.  But I had a crawling baby and that made my skin crawl.  So I spent a lot of time on cucaracha search and destroy missions.

One day Steve asked me to make butter beans again.  Yes, again.  I had learned that butter beans made your gut look like it was inflated by a tire pump, so we never wanted to eat them more than once or twice in a row.  That was how I measured butter beans to cook.  One handful, one day of gut filled gas, two handfuls, two days of gas, and so on.  So I  was in  my comfort zone with butter beans.

Then Steve asked for ham hocks in the butter beans.  Now I had heard of ham thrown in with beans while they cooked.  Mom used to cook them with navy beans (the butter bean's more refined bean cousin), but what the hell was a ham hock?  Was he making fun of me and telling me to throw a hammock in the beans?  I looked at his face carefully.  Even after a year I hadn't learned to tell when he was lying.  But he was serious.  Ham hocks.  I told him he would have to go shopping with me to buy them, since I didn't really know what part of the pig they came from.  He agreed, and I was trapped.

Turns out that ham hocks aren't much ham at all.  They are actually the ankle of the pig.  And those ankles are ugly.  They reminded me of something the crew of Star Trek would eat in outer space.  When I looked at those, I almost became a vegetarian on the spot. 

But at this point in my marriage, I still wanted to please Steve.  And I was still naive enough to think the way to his heart was through a pig's ankle.  So we bought them and took them back home to my kitchen.  It was the next day I decided to swallow my bile and cook the ugly things.  Steve had told me his mom just boiled them with the beans, so with barely a glance at them, I dropped them in the pot with a couple handfuls of beans.

They actually started smelling good.  They were smoked after all.  And had been connected to somewhere on the pig close to the ham.  This wasn't that bad after all.  I made cornbread, and while I was cooking, Steve's sister Jean called.   She was working in Birmingham at the time, so I invited her over for lunch.  Steve and Jean arrived not far apart from each other.  Our apartment was small, so our table was actually in the kitchen.  I was proud that I had actually made something southern that was edible (my triumphs in southern cuisine were rare at that point) so I dished up the butter beans and ham hocks,  cut the cornbread in generous slices and we all sat down to lunch. 

We were all sitting there chatting, and eating.  Suddenly I looked at my ham hock.  I mean I took a really close look at it.  I hadn't really looked at it until then.  And I saw it.  These little prickly stiff things sticking out of the ham hock, just a few.  Enough that I poked at them with my fork, then in curiosity I laid the fork down and poked them with my finger.  And while I was poking I said "what are these things sticking out of this ham hock?"  Steve and Jean had paused eating and were looking at me.  As suddenly as I said it, it dawned on me what they were.  And I said the fateful words:

"Oh my gosh those are hog hairs!"  I was fascinated by them.  I had never seen that part of the pig before.  It never dawned on me to check the pig to see if it needed a shave before I dumped those hocks in the water.

Did I mention that Steve and Jean share the same affinity for vomiting when they are grossed out?  We only had one bathroom. and I think Jean ran for the bathroom, which meant Steve dived out the back door of the kitchen at the same time.

What did I do?  I scraped the hair off the ham hock and pushed it to the side of my plate and finished lunch alone.  The ham on the hock was actually quite tasty, and the beans were perfect.  (Did I mention nothing grosses me out?)

I guess I don't need to add that Steve didn't want leftover butter beans and ham hocks the next day.  He also never asked for ham hocks in butter beans again.

Score one for the city mouse.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

the risks of puffing

I have been trying to go green.  Really.  I am getting better at not using as much plastic, saving aluminum cans, and using glass plates.  (Steve still uses that OTHER stuff, the styrofoam stuff, to eat on, even though I tell him in 5,000 years some archaeologist will be digging those things up intact and making an inventory of his dietary habits, which is actually kind of disgusting to think about.  What he eats that is, not the styrofoam.)
So here I am trying to be innovative and recycle everything I can.  I have this puff I use to wash with.  Those soft net things that come in a ball.  They last for a long time, and the only reason I ever get rid of one is because I can't get the soap out of it, which usually causes a funky smell after a year or so.

So today I am in the shower, and I notice that the nice tight little puff I had purchased last summer has gotten too poofy and soft, and is spreading out and getting bigger (kind of like my hips in fact).  I am looking at it, standing there under the shower head, and while I am examining it, I notice that the little thread hangy thing isn't sewn on.  So I spread the puff and have a look at the inside of it, the mystery part I have never figured out...what makes it a puff.  (At this point I am feeling a bit like a gynepuffologist.  Or maybe just a puffvert.)  I notice this little rope thready thing goes completely around it, and makes a slip loop over it (kind of like a choke leash on a dog), with this little disk thing holding it tight.  So being the genius I am at figuring stuff out and how it works, I pull on that disk, and loosen it up.  Sure enough, the noose that kept the puff nice and tight loosens a I loosen it a bit more...and then it happens...

The puff explodes in my face.  And THAT is when I found out that puffs aren't round.  They are long.  Several yards long.  It looks like the puff has committed harakiri and it's guts are hanging in a dangling pile from my fingers.  Then I realize something else.

I haven't washed my body yet.  And the thing I use for the scrubbing tool is a disemboweled mess.  I'm standing there, knowing I have to do something before I run out of hot water.  My mind is racing.  Then it comes to me in a blinding flash of insight.  I'll just FIX it and it will be recycled, nice and tight, and ready to serve my hips like a new puff.

Only I didn't notice how it was put together when it exploded all over me.  But I was a seamstress at one time, and I am a nurse, and that combination should be enough to get this nylon bowel put back together.

WRONG.  I tried scrunching it up from one end to the other.  It was too fat to get through the rope loop it came out of.  So then I try scrunching from both ends and meeting in the middle.  Why did I think the result would be any different?  I mean, it's the same amount of nylon hell no matter which end you scrunch from.

So I spend about ten minutes scrunching and twisting and nothing works.  And I am managing to work up a sweat....IN the shower, UNDER running water...speaking of which, is getting cooler by the minute...

About this time panic mode sets in so I grab as much of the blue net gut in my hand as I can get, stuff it through the rope loop, then start cramming what's still hanging into the middle of the loop.  It looks ok on one side, then I turn it around and notice the other side is pushed out like a big blue hemorrhoid.

By now I am cussing and shoving and getting colder by the second.  In desperation I start grabbing loops of the blue net hell from either side of the loop and tying them in knots...I manage to get most of it in place, grab the disk and yank the hell out of the thing...then I spend the last two seconds of hot water washing and rinsing with my new puff. 

I finish, hang it on the wall, then notice what it looks like.
I've googled some information on how to resurrect a puff that has died...I found an article on how to knit the gutted puff into a pot scrubber.  But there is just something so basically wrong with scrubbing your pots with something that has scrubbed your butt...

Wonder what Steve will think when he knows his deer chili recipe is cooked in a butt scrubbed pot.

discovering alaska, part 1

I've talked a bit about the beauty of Alaska and Alaska snow.  Now I will begin to talk about and share what I discovered in Alaska.  It was the most exciting journey of my life, and it changed me forever. 

I arrived as a travel nurse in Alaska at the end of December 2008.  I had no preconceptions of Alaska, having never visited, and the only images in my mind were polar bears and Eskimos.


tundra boardwalk

Lesson one, day one.  There are no polar bears in Bethel, Alaska.  Bethel is located on the tundra about 400 miles west of Anchorage and about 40 miles from the Bering Sea, on the Kuskokwim River.  So I emptied my mind of those notions immediately.  Bethel is a starkly beautiful place, isolated and just this side of desolate.  It is considered one of the larger towns in Alaska, and is the hub for activity in the part of Alaska.  It has the only hospital in the area, the closest other hospitals are in Anchorage, one of the larger is the Alaskan Native Medical Center (ANMC) in Anchorage.

me with one of the babies I cared for

Lesson two, day one.  The natives are only called Eskimos by non-natives.  There are multiple tribes of Alaskan natives, and the main tribe being served in the Bethel area are the Yupik.  There is a smaller number of Chupik that are also served, but the majority are Yupik.  The hospital in Bethel serves almost 50 villages throughout western Alaska, most of which can only be accessed by plane.  So plane travel is the most common mode of travel, the second and third most common are boats, and snow machines, depending on the season.  Cars rank way down on the list I found.

clara (a fellow nurse) in her parka, handmade by her as a young girl 
I could give you a history lesson, what I learned about Alaska, but I would rather share what my heart discovered while I was there.  That is what stuck with me, and the memories I carry are of the beauty, vastness, isolation, and harshness of the land.  The people taught me so much more than I can convey.  They are a quiet people, and the culture was so different from any I had ever been exposed to.  I had to make some adjustments in how I approached my patients.  The main thing I learned is to be patient, calm and to slow down and really listen to what was being said to me.  I thought I had all these skills, but I found that they were sharpened by what I learned from the Yupik.

view from the boardwalk toward hospital apartments
 From day one my eyes were on sensory overload.  Bethel is fairly flat, and being tundra, not many trees are native to the area.  So not much interferes with the view of the sky.  And that view!  It is so magnificent it takes your breath away!  The sky was a panorama that stretched so far and was so breathtaking there were many times I felt as though I should be able to reach up and touch the clouds.  The stark contrast between the snow covered ground and the blue skies was indescribable.  So I will let my photos speak for me.

walkway from the hospital to the apartment

traffic on the only paved road in bethel

kuskokwin river in winter becomes a highway

out for a walk to the store


 be continued.........

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

sleeping with the enemy

No, this blog isn't about advice on your sex life.  Nor is it information about mine.  It's about sleeping with the enemy (my husband).  Almost from our first night of sleeping in the same bed, we have had an ongoing battle.

Many years ago when I was young and stupid, I looked forward to sharing a bed with Steve.  It started out pretty good, and a double bed was even acceptable at that time.  (I wouldn't go near a double bed with him in it now, for reasons you will see shortly.)

The first inkling I had that sharing a bed with Steve wasn't going to be easy was on our second night together.  We had driven to Reno, married and stayed overnight (that was all we could afford) and so our second night as husband and wife was in our apartment...which is when I learned what short-sheeting a bed meant (it was a wedding gift from my mom).  After five minutes of trying to stretch out under the sheets, I asked Steve what was going on.  He was laughing too hard to explain to me what short-sheeting a bed was for several minutes.

That was the high point of our married life in bed.  It was downhill after that.  I found out that Steve was a blanket hog,  a habit which has grown worse over the last 40 years, to the point that he now wraps himself up like a mummy in the sheet and blanket, and if I wake him up trying to reclaim part of it to cover my cold butt, I get dog-cussed.  So I solved that problem.  I take a separate blanket to bed with me.

Steve snored for years.  To the point that he became apneic when he hit middle age.  I knew he was apneic because 1) I was a nurse by then and knew the pattern of breathing/not breathing and 2) I would lay awake at night counting the seconds of apnea, and then bitch at him the next morning to go to a doctor.  (It was easy for me to stay awake because I was menopausal by then and would wake up white-eyed many nights, and pass the time counting Steve's non breaths.)  That was when the CPAP machine entered our lives to help him breathe at night, and my affair with Darth Vader began....

There is the fact that you do NOT touch Steve when he is asleep.  His startle reflex is so violent that he looks like Rocky going in for the kill on Apollo Creed when you touch him.  So I make sure there are pillows between us.  That is my safety net...or zone, or whatever you want to call it.  I just know it saves me a black eye...

I jumped and quietly hollered the other night, but he still woke up.  I had stepped on Beary...Duncan's teddy bear that had rolled just under our bed, and thought I had stepped on a mouse.  Let me tell you, in the dark when you step on a Beary limb and it rolls under your foot, the resemblance to a live mouse is sickeningly I had no choice but to holler.  I'm made that way.

He'll tell you I snore (a defense mechanism...after all, I sleep with Darth Vader). and that I woke him up and almost caused him a heart attack a few nights ago because I was screaming.  What he won't volunteer is the fact that I had a charlie horse from hell in my left calf, and came awake screaming out of a sound sleep.  It went something like this:

him: what the hell is going on?
me: (gasping) A CHARLIE HORSE!  I'M DYING!!!!!!!!
him: you WOKE ME UP and nearly SCARED me TO DEATH SCREAMING!!!! (said in a nasty accusing tone loud enough to wake the dead)
me: I didn't *&%$(*% plan it that &%^$#%$% woke me up too *&*%@#!!!!
him: well....YOU WOKE ME UP!!!

There were many more choice words said by me that aren't printable....insert your favorite invectives and I probably said them all...  Did he ask me if I was ok?  NOOOOO...  He just rolled over and went back to sleep while I crawled back into bed and collapsed.

We sleep in a king size bed and I was wondering if they make a bed bigger than that...this one was beginning to feel crowded.  Or I could just fart on the intake of his CPAP machine...that would shut him up for a few minutes while he gasped for air...

...and the war goes on...

Saturday, November 27, 2010

the perfect sunset

Sometimes I am struck speechless by the beauty of nature that is around me.  In the odd moment, when I least expect it, I stop what I am doing and take a moment to notice nature.  It means I have to still my speeding thoughts, what is occupying me at that minute, and focus totally on what is in front of my eyes.

Last night right before dark was one of those unexpected moments.  Duncan (my 5 year old grandchild) was laying on the bed in the spare bedroom by me and we were watching a movie.  My attention wandered, as it often does, and I lifted the blinds to stare at the color of the sky, because the light was casting a yellow glow on the blinds.  I had my iPhone handy and snapped a few shots of the window and blinds, just idly passing some time.  Then something, I am not sure what, made me raise up on an elbow and look at the horizon.

And I saw the sky on fire with golds, and reds, pinks, and purples.  I am sure there have been sunsets before like that in Alabama, but at that moment I was struck by the uniqueness of it.  And the transient nature of it.  I knew in my heart and mind at that moment there would never be another opportunity quite like that one.  And I jumped up and raced to the other room, grabbing Big Girl on my way out the front door.  I ran to the edge of the yard and started snapping the lens.  I would stop every few moments to gaze at the sky and marvel at the beauty in front of my eyes.  I miss some photos that way, but I firmly believe you should live the moment, and if you are only focused on taking the photo, you aren't really aware of what is in front of your eyes.

As I took photos, I felt a peacefulness, a tranquility that I don't always have on board emotionally.  And I realized why.  You can't improve on nature.  It is perfect in all it's forms.  We humans work our lives away arranging this, and accomplishing that, setting goals to reach, relationships to work on, and all the stuff that eats up the minutes of our lives until our time on this earth is over.  Nature, on the other hand, just is.  There is no hidden agenda, no goal to reach.  Simply, there is just existence. 

So the next time you see that perfect cloud, or the pond that is still and inviting, or the perfect sunset, stop.  Take a few moments, empty the thoughts from your mind, and enjoy.  Take slow deep breaths and feel the still perfection of nature.  Feel the connection to it, live it for a few short moments.  It will never be that same moment again.  

Friday, November 26, 2010

lubing the holiday buzzard

Well, it was that time of year again.  Thanksgiving.  Only I wasn't giving thanks at the moment.  It was about 8PM and I was up alone with two wide awake five year olds, courtesy of a late nap for them and no nap for Steve, who bailed on me and left me alone to deal with the buzzard and the twins.

I was up for it though.  I'd had a nap and was feeling pretty spunky.  I had potatoes cooking for potato salad, and sweet potatoes baking for the casserole I planned to make.  I was in charge of those two sides, plus the dressing.  And the buzzard.

The buzzard this year weighed almost as much as I did.  Or felt like it when I hoisted him out of his plastic packing.  I dug the neck out of his gut, or where his gut had been, and after a quick body patdown I discovered the giblets, in the butt cavity (I know how TSA feels now).  Why do they pack the giblets in that little butt cavity, when they have that big old gut with just a neck stuck in it?  I had the roaster we had given Ma years earlier lined up to slam his butt in.  I washed and patted him dry with paper towels, and salted him, which actually felt kind of invasive in a weird bird body sort of way.  I had been watching the food network and knew that the best chefs rubbed huge amounts of butter on their turkeys to make them all nice and crispy-skinned and moist.  They added a lot of herbs too, but I wasn't brave enough to step outside the family tradition and turn our buzzard into an Italian or Greek buzzard, so I stuck with grabbing a stick of butter to rub on it.  Only it wasn't really a stick, it was the end of a stick, about a two inch long piece of butter.

the buzzard, prelube
 Now two things happened when I began lubing this bird (you really can't call what I was doing anything nicer than that, for reasons I will explain in a minute).  The first thing that happened is that the butter wouldn't rub on.  I realized then that the butter was supposed to be room temperature, not straight from the fridge.  So it kind of made the buzzard cringe, because all those little speed bumps on the bird stood up straight.  I could tell the bird was not enjoying this at all and to tell the truth I was kind of grossed out by it too, so I pondered what to do next.  And it hit me...I picked up the lump of cold butter, and held it in my fist until it softened up.  Then I slapped the butter back on the bird and the fun began.

I started rubbing it all over, and after a couple minutes I was really getting into it...about another ten minutes and I began to feel that maybe I had passed the boundaries of acceptable buzzard rubbing.  I was beginning to break into a kinky kind of sweat too, so I forced myself to stop (buzzardus interruptus?).  I picked it up to put it in the pan and realized my mistake...

I couldn't pick it up.  It kept sliding out of my fingers.  The kids were in the living room watching their third Christmas movie in a row, and I was thankful that they weren't witnessing the grotesque dance I was doing with the bird in the kitchen, trying to lift it up and get it in that roaster.  I was a determined woman and after a few moves that would have made Fred Astaire proud, I finally body slammed the buzzard into some aluminum foil and then into the roaster. 

look ma no knobs!
 The roaster was placed on the heater in the dining room (the only place I had room enough to put it, and Steve's suggestion).  Then I realized that the only way to plug it in was to turn the roaster so that the thermostat was facing the wall.  Which meant I had to find a flashlight so I could see behind the roaster and feel my way to 250 or 300 degrees Fahrenheit.  I managed that, and after I lugged the buzzard and put it in the roaster, I went to sit with the kids and try to catch my breath.  I was breathing pretty heavily by then and covered in a fine sheen of what looked like sweat but which was really leftover butter.  I didn't realize two inches off a stick of butter would lube a buzzard and me too.

I sat for a while and then finally after finishing up the other things I was cooking, I sent Dunc off to bed with his Gramps and Maddie and I headed for bed.

About 3 or 4 AM I woke up in a cold sweat as I realized two things. 

I had accidentally popped out the pop out button that tells you when the turkey is done.  And I had forgotten to figure out how many hours the bird would need to cook at the temp I had set (I still wasn't even sure what temperature I had set anyway, since I did it backward and in the dark).  I knew by then it was too late to do anything about it, so I drifted back to sleep, but had fitful dreams in my half waking state of food poisoning and a family trip to the ER the next day after dinner.  (We could always eat grilled cheese sandwiches if the buzzard was a flop my sleepy mind reasoned.)

The next day, the pop out button was popped out (no surprise), but the turkey was done, and my buzzard was devoured with relish, with no signs of food poisoning.  In fact, my karma must be turning, because this was probably the best holiday meal I have ever cooked, and that statement was made by the family without any bribery from me.

But I am still trying to get the butter off of me and out of my hair.  Dang buzzard.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

the beauty of alaska

Alyeska, Alaska
alyeska, alaska

Just sharing a few of my many photos of Alaska this morning.  More stories of my adventures in the frozen frontier to follow.

Enjoy the grandeur with me, and feel the peace of it, the solitude and oneness with nature.  It still takes my breath away to remember the rawness, the power, and the beauty that is Alaska.
mountainside at Aleyeska
mountainside at alyeska
Alyeska, Alaska bay view
bay view, alyeska

Alyeska, Alaska B&W
alyeska in black and white

steve and me
steve and me enjoying the snow of alyeska

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

alabama snow and alaska snow

dooj's house in washington state
 My sister sent me a photo on her phone this weekend of the first snowfall at her home in Washington state, and I started thinking about snow.  About the difference between snow in Alabama and Alaska.  There is more than a 5000 mile gap between Alabama and Alaska when it comes to dealing with snow.  They are worlds apart.

In Alabama it doesn't snow every year.  We mark our "hard" winters according to how much snow and ice we have had to deal with.  It may go below freezing during the winter, but never stays there long.  So our cold days come in what we call "spells", or periods of time. 

A prediction of snow in Alabama triggers a rush to every grocery store in the area to buy all the bread and milk and batteries.  You can bet that 30 minutes after the weather man (excuse me... "meteorologist") says we are possibly going to see 2 inches of snow, there won't be a loaf of bread or gallon of milk left in the state of Alabama.  The first time I saw it happen I was dumbfounded...I mean, how many people can eat 6 loaves of bread and drink 4 gallons of milk in the two or three days that it snows?

People also panic at the thought of not having power for any length of time.  So they buy every battery for every flashlight and radio they have, plus extras in case those go dead.  The flashlights are for seeing in the dark, and the radio is for up to the minute news about when the snow will melt (we don't believe in looking out our windows to find out what the weather is doing).  In Alabama the only thing as important as the meteorologist, are the death announcements (but that's another blog).  My husband had that mind set.  We might starve if the power was off for two or three days.  So worried about it was he that we had a wood burning stove as our major source of heat for over fifteen years.  That knocked off two dangers right there...we would never freeze (Steve would stay up half the night stoking that fire) and we would be able to cook on the top of the stove.  I had one problem with that...I am no pioneer woman...and that was what the 6 loaves of bread and 4 gallons of milk were for, I thought...sandwiches.  Plus we discovered the first time we tried to make the stove do double duty that it takes 12 hours to heat up a can of soup.  Or you can stoke the fire up (Steve's job) until the stove is red hot and heat it up in 2 hours.  If you do that, you have hot soup, and you also have a room that has gone from a comfortable 70F to 130F.  And that means you have to eat your soup in the closet if you don't want to drip sweat in it while you eat it.  But that's ok, because you have your flashlight with the extra 20 batteries.

The next most important thing that southerners do in Alabama when it snows is making snow ice cream.  I can count on one hand the times it has snowed in Alabama during my forty years here, and can tell you that every time they predicted snow I had my pots and pans sitting on cars and every perch I could find to catch "clean" snow (my mother in law taught me the difference), although I have been known to scrape the hood of the car a few times when there wasn't enough snowfall to make a huge bowl of snow ice cream.  And I did learn right away the first time I made it that if you overeat this delicacy, it will give you the scours.

longhouse in bethel, alaska
 Switch to Alaska, a world away from the south, and my first sight of snow up there.  The first day I landed I saw more snow than I had seen in my entire life.  I stayed at the Longhouse for several days waiting for my apartment to be ready, and thank goodness for my girlfriend Nancy, who made sure I was outfitted with subzero gear.  The day I landed at the airport in Bethel, the temperature with the wind chill factor (you ALWAYS include wind chill in Alaska when you are talking temperature) was -46F.  That's right.  Lose a toe or finger cold. 

The view from my window was amazing too.  The snow was about 3 or 4 feet deep, window sill height, outside my window.  I was kind of in shock.  And wondering if people up here ever had any bread or milk for sale.  

The snow isn't wet in Bethel either, it's a fine powdery dry stuff, similar to frozen sand.  If you pick it up, it runs right through your fingers.  In Alabama the snow was wet, and if you were blessed with those 2 inches the "meteorologist" predicted, you had enough to scrape up a decent snowball to smack someone with, although you always ran the risk of having a few rocks mixed in from scraping the ground to get the snow.  In Bethel, the only time you could make a snowball was when the snow started to melt, and that always happened every time the temperature went to 34F.  Melt, then refreeze when the temperature dropped, then more snow on top of it.  Which meant the snow was actually layers of ice, snow, more ice, more snow and so on.  And it meant that the percentage of broken legs and bones always went up in direct proportion to which layer was on top, the snow layer or the ice layer.

nancy leading

I had to learn to walk in Bethel snow too.  Which meant I walked behind my friend Nancy.  I had three reasons for doing that.  She had been there before me and knew all the beaten paths, even when they were covered by snow.  She had longer legs, so I could gage the depth of the snow by how deep she went in it.  And if she went down on her face, I had time to stop and save my own ass.  This stood me in good stead until the day I got brave and decided to step out on my own, and ended up with me mired in snow trying to dig my short legs out.

me, shopping day
So I learned the difference in snow by living at two separate ends of the country.  And I learned several lessons.

1. In Alabama you have to wear a coat if it snows.  In Alaska if you don't wear a coat, your survival rate is counted in minutes.
2. In Alabama, you lose power when it snows.  In Alaska, you cover your face and hands or lose them to frostbite.
3. In Alabama, there is no bread or milk when it snows.  In Alaska there is always bread and milk, because bread is $5 a loaf and milk is $10 a gallon.
4. People in Alabama think they know what snow is.  In Alaska, they know what snow is.

Snow can be magical, and it can also be deadly.  And it can be many different things, depending on where you live.  I was fortunate to learn the lesson of snow, here in Alabama, and in the remote Alaskan tundra.  And it is a lesson I will never forget.