Tuesday, December 30, 2008

It's Almost Over

One more day and it's good riddance to 2008. It's also supposed to be my last time writing every single day, but my friends at Apple MobileMe put a dent in that plan and I shall continue daily for a few weeks in order to feel like I've fulfilled my 2008 resolution. Now it's time to figure out a new resolution for 2009. Anyone have any ideas? For sure my first order of business will be to drink a bottle of bubbly tomorrow night, but after that I'm drawing a blank. Anyone?  

Monday, December 29, 2008

He Just Gave Up

I have always been opposed to wearing sweats in public. It's not that I dress so well, but I'm usually able to pull it up a notch above sweats at least.  I wasn't even sure why I felt this way until my friend Jerry Seinfeld (we talked on the phone once a million years ago when I won tickets during a radio call-in contest to see him perform, so now I consider us pretty good friends) identified my feelings on his show. On Seinfeld, Jerry indicated that when George wore sweats outside his home, it looked as if he had just given up. But I try not to judge others, I keep this standard mostly for myself. Well, and for my coworker in this photo, who shall remain nameless. No, he's not wearing sweats, but he might as well be because they would have been an improvement over this wrinkly mess he sported to the office recently. He apparently grabbed a pair of pants out of the dirty clothes pile and off he went to work, though he claims they were clean. Look how proud he was to have me photograph him in this state. I'm too embarrassed for him to show his face. Clearly, he's just given up.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Easy Like a Sunday Morning

I'm trying not to have a bad attitude about Sundays. I know I shouldn't, they're lovely and lazy and open. But they also signal the end of the weekend, and the start of the work week. Today I spent the day baking artisan bread, which I smothered in my coworker's phenomenal black raspberry jam that she makes with raspberries hand-harvested in Olivia, Minnesota. She gives it as a gift each year and it is the highlight of my holiday. I also prepared ginger cookies and turkey taco meat for the week, had lunch with a friend at Namaste in Uptown, and finished off the night with a Stella Artois and friends at T-Bone Bingo at Grumpy's Northeast. I also fit in time to watch Sydney Lumet's film Before the Devil Knows You're Dead. So, really, what do I have to complain about regarding Sundays? I'm going to try to have a turnaround in the new year on my bad Sunday attitude. Sunday, you are my new best friend.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Slumdog Millionaire

If just the idea of India scares you, then Slumdog Millionaire will totally freak you out. If the idea of India is exciting and romantic and dream-inducing to you, then Slumdog Millionaire will absolutely seduce you. Actually, this film will probably do a little of both for everyone who sees it. The movie gives you the opportunity to live vicariously through the children of the slums of Mumbai, seeing all that is horrible and all that is beautiful about this country of contradictions. No matter how you feel about India, if you feel anything about it at all, go see Slumdog Millionaire. It's a stunning gem of a movie with a giant heart, bursting at the seams, to match.

Friday, December 26, 2008

There's a New Ginge in Town

Meet Rusty, the newest feline addition to the family. Rusty came to live with my nephew George recently when the kitty was found underneath my brother's truck in front of their house. A search of the neighborhood found no leads as to just whom was missing a tiny, orange kitty with a vertical jump that, relatively, blows Michael Jordan's out of the water. So now this little energetic orange tiger cat is there to stay, and to antagonize Eva, the twenty-year-old black matriarch feline of their household. Rusty spent Christmas day with the family at my parents' house, giving Eva a much-needed day off, where he joyously played with wrapping paper and cat toys and generally ran around a little more than Hakeem does.

Big ginge Hakeem sends a warm welcome out to you, Rusty, but says no need to drop by and introduce yourself. This is his territory.

A Creme Brulee Christmas

I am happy to report that success was achieved in the creme brulee arena tonight at Christmas dinner. After a full day of caramel rolls and monkey bread, mimosas and egg nog, turkey and stuffing, it was only natural to top it off with the richest dessert known to mankind. My sous chef, my nephew George, was more than happy to help me "burn" the tops of the dessert with a kitchen torch because boys like anything having to do with playing with fire. Come to think of it, so do I.

Merry Christmas to all of my readers!! You both are my favorite people ever.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Happy Arbor Day!

Dinner at the care center last night was about as far away from Christmas Eve as one could have been, except for Angie's pureed cranberries. Those were pretty Christmas-y. It might as well have been Arbor Day, really. But I guess it makes sense not to remind folks that it's Christmas and nobody is there to pick them up and take them home and give them presents and egg nog. It's not like they know, on the Alzheimer's ward, what day it is anyway. 

Mary was hungry and talkative last night, making bold statements about topics I couldn't begin to comprehend between bites of pureed fish. Meanwhile Angie wrapped her ivory-colored sweater around her head and thanked me for every single forkful of food I offered her. I was actually surprised Mattie didn't know it was Christmas Eve, all she did was ask me to confirm what day of the week it was. I'm especially glad she doesn't know it's Christmas, she's obviously so early in her Alzheimer's journey that there are definitely flashes of reality from time to time. That could only make it hurt more.

But Bernice surprised me the most last night. She sits at the next table, but I still call out loudly to her every time I visit, asking if she's finished eating or ready to try to make a break for it. It's harder than you might think to come up with new material to use on these folks because their worlds are so small! Last night from across the room, I smiled over at Bernice and from her wheelchair she gently touched the sleeve of her sweater, like she was showing it to me. I didn't know what she was doing so I went over to her and she said, "See? It's the sweater she gave me. Tell her I like it." I realized she was referring to the Christmas party my dad and I attended last week and Bernice was actually remembering it, even if the details were fuzzy (she had received the sweater from Santa Joel, not a female). But she remembered that I had been there when she opened it. She continued on, saying "I'm not wearing the socks, but I have them." I was astounded. Bernice had also received a multi-pack of Gold Toe socks from Santa Joel, an event I remember well because I watched my dad make a big fuss for her over what good quality Gold Toe socks are. Bernice was connecting a recent event to the present, it was amazing and fun. I wish it could happen more often. What a great Arbor Day present.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Savory or Sweet?

The other night I took my first shot at cooking Indian food, toasting and grinding whole spices to create my own garam masala. I used it to flavor a pot of chickpeas, along with ginger and tomatoes and onions, but something didn't taste quite right in the end. I'm not sure if it's because it's just a recipe I don't particularly care for or I did something wrong, but I tend to think it's the latter. Maybe I should stick to the sweet stuff. As I write this I'm waiting for my first ever creme brulee to cool off. I tempered whipped egg yolks and sugar with hot cream and vanilla and baked the six individual ramekins in a water bath. My friend Laura very generously gave me a kitchen torch for my birthday and I'm super excited to burn the sugar on top of the creme brulee custard on Christmas day! If the custard I'm making now is any indication, the family is going to have one awesome Christmas dessert. I'll keep you posted.

Monday, December 22, 2008

It's Always Time for Ham and Sausage

Sorry, no time to post tonight. Haven't been home. Christmas shopping, then a drink at the Peacock, then beers at the Knight Cap. It was Ham on the Hour, Sausage on the Half Hour night at the latter. According to their sign, this is how one celebrates the season. You won't get an argument from me. No, I didn't win and now I must cry myself to sleep. Thank you for your understanding.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Gordo Gets His Wings

Not surprisingly, Christmas on the Alzheimer's unit is a little different than your typical holiday celebration. My dad came along for the first time to help at the Christmas party so that he could put a face to the names I mention so frequently after my Wednesday night dinners at the care center. I brought along two sets of felt costume reindeer antlers with bells for us to wear during the party, and it would be an understatement to say that Gordo was reluctant to don them. But by the end of the party, he was glad he had obliged as the folks loved his cute antlers.

The event got off to a raucous start when Angie, my little Japanese friend, decided she was too warm in her turtleneck sweater and it was time, right there in the middle of everything, to take it off. I didn't catch her in time to not show off the privates as the turtleneck portion of the shirt got caught on her head and she flailed about a bit, struggling to get out of her predicament. As quickly as I could I pulled her sweater back down and suggested we open a window to cool her off instead. She thought that was a fine idea and bowed her head, thanking me. Santa arrived soon thereafter, much to the excitement of most of the residents. Their eyes widened like children and they giggled at the sight of the young man dressed in an overstuffed red and white suit who went by the name Joel. Santa Joel passed out gifts to everyone, two gifts per person and chaos commenced. Volunteers assisted residents in opening their gifts as needed, and we oohed and aahed over bejeweled sweaters and printed kitchen towels and necklaces. Everyone was excited to receive stationery and stamps and candy dishes, pajamas and bracelets. That is, everyone except Katherine. 

Katherine is relatively new to the unit and, for the most part, I've kept my distance because she's usually pretty grumpy and not in the mood for my brand of tomfoolery. She argues with the other residents and usually just wants to be left alone. I'm not trained in how to handle this sort of personality, so I usually let her be. But at the Christmas party, after she was led to her table and the presents were placed in front of her, she started to cry. She pushed her glasses up and dabbed her eyes with a tissue over and over and refused to take part in the festivities. I leaned over close to her and asked if she was okay, and she told me she didn't belong there. Immediately horror stories filled my head about people misdiagnosed with dementia made to live in small spaces amongst people who actually suffered from it. I wondered if she was telling me something, but there was certainly nothing I could do about it so I suggested she open her gifts, that maybe it would make her feel better. But she pushed the gifts away and asked that I give them to someone else because she didn't deserve them. Now I just felt terrible and tried to reassure her that she really did deserve the gifts, but she wouldn't hear of it. She continued on, telling me that she's really not very nice, which I knew but I didn't know she knew. And then she dropped the real bomb and said, "I don't deserve all this, I shot him." Okay, talk about not being trained for these situations. I had no idea what to do with that one. Was that memory or dementia talking? Was she simply placing herself into the plot of a TV show she had watched? I guess I'll never know. Katherine eventually settled down and ate some Christmas cookies and lefse. I'll never look at her the same again, though, that's for sure. And I'll watch my back.

After gifts were opened, Gordo worked hard labeling all of them so that the correct person would be sure to keep the gift she had opened. It was time to serve treats and apple cider and coffee, depending on the person's ability to swallow properly. We helped feed those who needed help and chatted with those who could chat. And then it was time for Christmas songs. We passed out song sheets that had all the words, but I didn't see a single person read them. Except me, because I know exactly one verse of most Christmas songs and the rest are a mystery. My voice is awful, but the old folks didn't seem to care. They were more interested in asking me about my "hat," which I had to explain were actually reindeer antlers. A cacophony of Christmas songs filled the air and I longed for it to be done with.

I give my dad a lot of credit for coming along, it's a tough place to be. Not that it's dirty or anything like that, it's just sad. As we walked out of the care center back into the real world, I joked with Gordo that I had filled out an application and reserved him a room there and that he could move in any time. He shook his head and said, "No thanks." As he said this the bell on his fake antlers rang. I guess it's true what they say, every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.

The Fun Never Ends

Oops, I forgot to post yesterday. I guess I was too consumed by thinking about why I live in a place where I wake up to a temperature of twelve degrees below zero and inches and inches of snow falling. I think it should only be one or the other, super cold or very snowy. The double whammy just isn't fair.

Today I'm just hoping my car, which is parked light years away from here because of the snow emergency, will start. There's nothing like a dead car to make a freezing cold snowstorm complete.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

I Wish I Knew How To Quit You, Barnes & Noble

There's a Barnes & Noble within blocks of my workplace, a quick jaunt on my lunch hour. Oh, I know about Amazon.com and other online book retailers, but sometimes you just need a fix of the real thing. So I wander into Barnes & Noble every week or so and immediately upon entering I'm seduced by the theme tables draped in beautiful, art-covered books. This week it was at the "Notable Books" table where I found myself running my finger along the dust jackets and picking up tomes to peruse the blurbs. I know I shouldn't do it, but I pick up Nam Le's "The Boat," a collection of stories that take place in such disparate places as Iran and Colombia. I lose myself in the description for "Factory Girls" by Leslie Chang which takes place in rural China. I read, briefly but rapturously, about a taxi driver in modern India in Aravind Adiga's "The White Tiger." And as I set down one book and pick up another that takes place on some exotic foreign soil, I can feel my stomach tighten with anxiety. All the things I'm missing, all the places I'll never see, all the experiences I'll never have are typed in neat, compact fonts on cheap paper bound into books sold at Barnes & Noble. The literary mega-store is a handsomely decorated warehouse of every city I can never even dream of knowing and every adventure I'll never get to try. I almost have to run out of Barnes & Noble after just a few minutes, but like a young kid drawn to a scary roller coaster, I always go back, knowing it will make my stomach feel funny but hoping that this time I'll find a way to conquer my fear.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Reason I'm Exhausted

Today was the office cookie exchange. I boned it Tuesday night and didn't have enough ingredients on hand to make all the cookies I needed to. So last night, after dinner at the care center, I had to make six dozen cookies. I didn't get to bed until 1:00am and then today, in addition to work, was the care center Christmas party, which merits much more explanation than I am able to provide tonight. I haven't been home since early this morning when I left for work, so I shall leave you with this shot of the ginger cookies I prepared for my coworkers. Please enjoy this moment of visual deliciousness.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Silent Night

It's been two weeks since I visited the folks on 2-South, but since nobody ever remembers me there I slipped back into the routine pretty seamlessly tonight. I was assigned back to Mary who was quite talkative, in a nonsensical manner. I asked if she was hungry and she responded, "They probably will just leave early." So I played along and fed her pureed hamburger, pureed baked beans, mashed potatoes and applesauce. Only a few weeks ago she was (messily) eating regular food, so she must have been choking quite a bit and they had to change her diet. She doesn't seem to care so I did my best to keep her from talking too much so that she could get some calories into her waif-ish body. Angie was her usual sweet self, but she won't feed herself anymore, something she did when I started six months ago. That was sad to realize. But she's so sweet, thanking me after each spoonful of peach yogurt I offer her. I place my hand on her back to encourage her, but it's so boney that I can't keep it there because I worry I'll hurt her if I pat too hard. She's like a nice, old kitty, emaciated but still purring. 

I call out to my gals at the next table, "Bernice, are you hungry tonight?" "No, not really," she replied. I complimented Lorraine and Leola on their seasonal red sweaters, but I'm not sure they even know what Christmas is anymore. As Bernice pushed her wheelchair away from the table and slowly attempted to go back to her room, I called out, "Hey, Bernice, where are you going? Are you trying to make a break for it? Trying to escape?" She always smiles a little on the outside but it feels like she is understanding my joke and appreciating it on the inside. Simple, hand-cut snowflakes hung on every window and Alma told me she made the green one. She says they folded a piece of paper and then made little cuts in it and opened it up to find a snowflake. Mattie says she didn't make one, she had a doctor appointment that day and missed out. Rosalie just sort of snorted when I asked her which one she made. Apparently paper snowflakes are not her cup of tea. 

Just as I was leaving, after most of the folks had gone back to their "homes," a young man showed up to play guitar and have a Christmas song sing-along. He started out with "Silent Night" and it was amazing to watch these ladies dreamily sing every word correctly while the guy accompanied them on guitar. One woman, the falsetto at the other table, joined in, never lifting her head from its wilted position on her chest. But she sang every word. As I glanced over to watch her, I saw another lady, one more table over back in the corner where I never go, slumped over completely asleep. I sang along, "Round yon virgin, Mother and child, Holy infant so tender and mild..." and I couldn't help but think how these folks had gone so far in life that they had come full circle and were now like young children, vulnerable and needy, tender and mild.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

What Was Missed

Two weeks ago at the nursing home I showed up in my usual work outfit, took my coat off, and sat down. I felt super lucky because the staff needed me at my old table, situated between sometimes spunky Lorraine and a very sleepy Dorothy. In fact, it was shades of having old Mattie there, barely responding to me as Dorothy reflexively accepted food into her mouth. But I was still happy to be back and made lots of jokes with the ladies at the table, half of whom only barely responded to me.

One of them, a newer member of the table by the name of Leola, had never said a word to me any of the nights I visited. Two weeks ago it was no different. She always looked right at me when I talked to her across the table, or maybe she looked through me, but she never talked. I didn't think much of it because that wasn't too unusual, I'm ignored on a pretty regular basis there. Just like when I go home. Then, when I finished feeding Dorothy and stopped trying to coax Lorraine to finish her fish, I got up and put on my coat while telling my table good-bye and be good. As I adjusted my winter scarf, Leola looked at me and said, clear as a bell, "Hey, Deb Ellis." She called me by my first and last name, which meant she was able to read the small name tag I wore every week, from all the way across the table. At no point was I close to her, so I was flabbergasted. "Leola, you can read my name tag from there? You're not even wearing glasses! That's amazing!" And then I jokingly added, "Are you wearing contacts?" but she didn't laugh. She continued, "I wanted to tell you I like your outfit." I was speechless. Not only did she have sharper eyes than most people half her age, but she commented on something relevant. I thanked her enthusiastically and the nurse told me, "Leola is really sharp, she's on the ball." I couldn't visit the home last week due to work, but I'm looking forward to seeing Leola again. As you can imagine, she's my new favorite.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Baby, It's Cold Outside

When I left for work this morning it was only six degrees below zero, and it didn't get much warmer throughout the day. It was miserable scraping off my car with the wind whipping exposed facial parts into a special kind of redness usually reserved only for those suffering from a nasty skin disease. When I stopped at the BP to fuel up my Pearlie, the gas cap door was frozen shut and I spent several minutes prying it open with a key while my fingers froze in a claw-like position. It's now nine degrees below zero which is forty-seven degrees colder than it was yesterday afternoon. Only in Minnesota.

I wanted to take a photo that would tell the story of just how cold it is here right now, but I know that's impossible. I settled for this shot of a lifeguard stand and a boat left on Lake Calhoun far too late into the season. I keep forgetting why I continue to live here.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Sour 16

Last year at this time I had fifteen dead mice accounted for over the course of a couple of months. Tonight a thorough cleaning of my furnace room has increased that number by one. I'm telling myself this guy was just leftover from last year and not a new interloper. 

Is that possible? Wouldn't he have deteriorated more since then? Please tell me it's possible he could be from the olden days. Oh god, please tell me it's possible.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Well, Imagine Seeing You Here.

New beginnings. Fresh starts. Welcome to my new blog, it's great to see you again. Access to the old blog is gone, but hopefully we'll find healing through fellowship. Just kidding.

I'm working on some changes to the look of this new blog, but thought I'd better at least get it up and running and I can work on the rest as I go. Thanks for your patience through this annoying time, I'm really glad you're here.