Sunday, February 28, 2010

Blog Update and Turkey Hat

Two things guarantee my absolute productivity. Number one: sporting a roasted turkey hat at the office. Number two: telling myself I have to clean my house.

Today I did the latter, and that means I have added a pretty awesome update to my blog and cleaned absolutely nothing in my home. Because I didn't say telling myself to clean my house makes me productive at cleaning the house, it actually makes me productive at anything but. Check out the "Labels" gadget to the right of the screen. I've now added labels to my posts so that, if you're so inclined, you can read back over posts that specifically refer to Mexico, or to the nursing home, or to restaurants. I'll probably add more in time, this was as much time as I was willing to commit to today. Because there is cleaning to be done and roasted turkey hats to be worn.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Basket Case

My best furry buddy had another tough night last night, but he made sure everyone else was suffering right along with him. He did not suffer alone nor in silence.

I noticed that one of Hakeem's fangs was sticking into his lip last night, and although that didn't hinder his love for food (nothing ever does), he did seem preoccupied with his mouth and he took to sleeping in a spot his never has before, which is one of those things cats do that bums me out because it usually means they're not feeling well. I made a quick call to Dr. Hedges who made room for him late last night at his office. On the way there, we picked up Hakeem's Grandma Judy, who is always very helpful when it comes to transporting the 25 pound beast to the place he feels deserves a special little place in Hell. Packed in his purple laundry basket with a purple towel underneath him and one on top of him, he entered the vet's office with the loudest, longest hiss in feline history. I told the vet tech it was just Hakeem's way of saying hello. She didn't buy it.

In the exam room, Hakeem kept up his defenses and, really, never let them down. I always spend an inordinate amount of time trying to convince the doc and the tech that he's the most awesome cat of all time and Grandma Judy usually slips in the story about the time we brought him to the nursing home and all the residents loved him because he was so nice, but I could tell the vet tech didn't believe us by the way she wanly asked, "Really?" I couldn't help but notice that as she held him down, wearing the elbow-length leather falcon handler gloves that kept Hakeem from killing her, she seemed rather skeptical.

Hakeem was screaming so much that the vet had no trouble spotting the bad fang, he just looked inside his mouth during one of my kitty's ten second-long screeches. Then the doc grabbed a medical pliers and simply yanked the entire loose fang from Hakeem's lower jaw, much to Hakeem's surprise. He said oftentimes in older cats the teeth will simply fall out when the root rots (yum!), which Hakeem's was trying to do, and he wouldn't even need any antibiotics. All fixed! Well, almost. Hakeem has that pesky anal sac issue I've mentioned before and, as long as I was paying for an office visit, I had the vet and tech express them. Yes, I'm talking about the anal sacs. All I'm going to tell you is that at one point, while they tag teamed my boy in his purple basket and the doc had Hakeem in - shall we say - a compromising position, Dr. Hedges suddenly yelled "Look out!" to the vet tech. I won't tell you why, I'll leave that to your imagination. Not that the tech could hear the vet's yelling over Hakeem's, I'm pretty sure all of New Brighton could hear him. But, the important thing is that my boy was back to his regular self the second he got back into the car in his purple laundry basket after his awful ordeal.

All's well that ends well. My boy has been purring for twenty-four hours straight and drooling where the fang is now missing. My dad said he's a feline hillbilly now. I'm afraid he might be right.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

If She Had a Boat

On Wednesday night when I stopped by Bernice's table at the Memory Care Unit to tease her about eating too little and to challenge her to a clean plate contest, she said something about probably not finishing her dinner because she had to get to the boat. I didn't think much of it, out-of-left-field statements being par for the course on Wednesday nights. But when I finished feeding Mary and Gudrun and I had received my first ever hug from Mattie, bestowed upon me as if she were greeting a long lost relative, I stopped in front of Clara as I put on my coat. Clara told me, as she pointed her finger down the long, ornately carpeted hall toward Bernice, that she was going to go see her sister, Christine. I told her that wasn't Christine, she was pointing at Bernice. She insisted I was wrong and continued to tell me that she was going to go spend some time with Christine. She got up and walked away as I took a couple of minutes to say goodbye to Leola and Lorraine.

When I finally made my way down the long hall, I turned the corner and found Clara pushing Bernice in her wheelchair, away from Bernice's room. I asked Clara what they were doing and she told me, very matter-of-factly, that she was taking her sister Christine for a walk. Worried that she wasn't fully on board with this plan, I asked Bernice what she was doing, and if she wanted to go back to her room. She looked up at me from her wheelchair and tears started pouring from her eyes as she said, "I need to get to the boat, I'm going to miss the boat." I'd never heard Bernice sound so much like someone with dementia, as weird as that might sound considering where I was. But Bernice always seemed to me that she was on the wrong ward. I sometimes thought that maybe she just forgot to turn off the stove once in awhile, or maybe she had trouble remembering where she set down her keys from time to time. This was the first time I really saw that her brain was not doing what it was supposed to do. "Please, take me to the boat," she pleaded, as Clara insisted they keep moving to her room where she and her sister Christine could talk.

"Hey, Clara, why don't you turn around and head toward Bernice's room, she's not feeling well," I asked Clara. "No, Christine and I are just going to go talk for awhile, I'll take care of her," she responded. I was finally able to persuade Clara to allow Bernice to push herself to her room, but Clara followed closely behind, promising she'd talk to Christine and be with her to make her feel better. As we got to the narrow doorway of Bernice's room, she refused to go in. "Bernice, you'll feel better if you go into your room and get some rest," I offered. But Bernice wouldn't have it, she cried harder and said, "That's not my room." I assured her it was, telling her there was a picture of her in there and her green Care Bear and the calendar I gave her last week. But she just cried harder that she was going to miss the boat, that she had to get to the boat. Kollie the nurse came into the room and tried to calm her down, but it was difficult because Clara was there, insisting that Christine should calm down and they could talk, which only confused Bernice more. I left, having nothing to offer in the way of helping, knowing Kollie could handle it much better than I ever could.

I sure would like it if Clara's sister Christine could actually be there with her, and I wish Bernice could really tell everyone to kiss her ass, she bought a boat, she's going out to sea.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

I Love to Torture My Parents

Well, this answers a lot of my questions. I came across this old family photo tonight as I searched for inspiration to write, and for the first time I noticed something beyond how truly 1970's this is. Forget my mom's Carol Brady shag haircut, disregard my dad's Cheech & Chong mustache, don't even think about my brother's "I'm with Stupid" t-shirt and old school Coca-Cola glass, and brush past the fact that I pretty much look like a boy in my flared jeans. Concentrate instead on what's really going on in this picture. Notice my parents as they gaze, if not downright adore, my brother. It's like I'm not even there. They are so in love with their firstborn that they can't even be trusted to pose properly for a family photo. His very existence is a magnet for them, while I pose alone, lost in a sea of just me and the camera lens, barely a blip on my parents' radar.

And so it goes.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Dinner in the Chapel

When I walked onto the Memory Care Unit on the second floor tonight, I could smell fresh paint and I noticed new signs with the residents' names on them outside each door. As I rounded the corner down the long hall decorated with outdated carpeting, I came upon an empty dining room. Not a soul was around and there was none of the usual noise that fills the air at the home. It was incredibly eery. I walked back down to the lobby where the disinterested front desk girl was barely able to waste her time telling me that the folks were eating in the chapel tonight as she pointed down the opposite hall.

When I turned the corner past the "chapel" sign and the floor-to-ceiling bird cage housing six colorful finches, I saw a set of double doors and entered. Indeed, dinner was being served in the chapel. The room was quite large, with folding plastic banquet tables strewn about haphazardly on carpeted floors. I couldn't help but wonder how the food would come out of the carpet. Everyone was seated in different groups than usual, next to stained glass windows depicting various biblical characters and cheap prints of Jesus Christ. Nobody seemed aware that they were in a chapel, despite the bible quotes on the walls and the bibles along the shelves. I made my usual rounds, saying hello to everyone, gently rubbing their backs, challenging them to eat every last bite on their plates. When I came to Katherine, the meanest woman I've ever met, I asked her, apprehensively, how she was doing. "Shut up," she responded. It was an improvement over last week when, out of the blue, she called me a bitch. I couldn't help but think she was warming up to me.

I took a seat next to Mary, which also happened to put me next to John. Usually John is at the next table and I love to look over at him because he's really cute and smiley. He's gregarious and talkative, but nothing he says ever really goes anywhere. It always sounds as though he's going to say something normal but then it trails off along with his gaze. You can almost see the words extinguished in the air while his brow furrows. But he always recovers quickly. Every time I asked Mary a question, "Mary, do you want to drink some juice?" John would answer. Every time. I loved it. His wife visited him last year during the Christmas party and my heart broke in half for her, watching as she held John's hand while they sang carols with the group. I couldn't help but wonder while she was making sure John was well cared for, who was taking care of her?

When I finished feeding Mary mashed potatoes with gravy and pureed carrots, while completely avoiding giving her the ham that I knew wasn't pureed finely enough and would cause Mary to chew and chew and chew forever, I got up to say goodbye to everyone. Bernice sat crying gently over her still-full plate but assured me she was okay. I waved over at the new lady, Ethel, rather than going over to talk to her because, frankly, she scares me. She's terribly skinny with thin hair and skin so translucent you can see all of the veins in her forehead and face. She looks like one of those fish, so popular in children's aquariums, that are clear so you can see all of their internal organs. Last week when I said goodbye to her, she took my hand and asked me if I was going to call her husband. She went on to tell me that he lives at 3424 Dupont Avenue South and that she wanted to talk to him so could I call him? Her eyes pleaded with me. I said I would try and then Nurse Kollie added, "Ethel, I told you I tried to call him but he didn't answer. I'll try again later." I don't even know if her husband is alive or if Kollie really tried or if he told her that to calm her down.

Tonight when I saw Ethel sitting in the creepy, white PVC wheelchair, it looked like she had bloody stitches all around her mouth. Thankfully, it turned out to be chocolate, but I already had that image in my head from the Shutter Island movie previews and I was totally freaking out on the inside. But since I embarked on this whole experience to face my fears in the first place, I decided to say a personal goodbye to Ethel and walked over to her chair. She repeatedly beseeched me to open the little gate on her odd wheelchair that kept her from falling forward to the floor. I tried to change the subject but she kept asking me to open the little gate. Finally she said something I couldn't understand and I nodded my head in agreement, hoping to appease her in some way, and she seemed to calm down and sat back down in the square chair and allowed me to finally walk away. I have no idea what I agreed to. Chances are Ethel doesn't, either.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Chicken Wing Fear

I have never prepared chicken wings. There, I said it. I've been busy, who has time? Actually, I just am so enamored of the Buffalo wings at our own downtown Minneapolis' watering hole, Runyon's, that it doesn't seem necessary to try this at home. But yesterday that all changed when I picked up my Steamy Kitchen cookbook and read the recipe for Baked Garlic Chilli Wings. Baked, huh? Ok, that was tempting. I just don't need another deep fried food in my life, I have plenty that I already love, thanks.

Job one: buy chicken wings. I didn't want to go the frozen route, so I drove over to Northeast Minneapolis' favorite butcher shop, Ready Meats, and tried to casually ask for two pounds of chicken wings after I noticed they were whole wings, not just the cute little drummettes I'm accustomed to. Once home, I immediately accessed the Internet to find out how to break down the huge chicken wing clusters in my possession. I had an idea of how to do it, but I needed a little encouragement. I found it in the form of a southern gentleman making wings in a two minute video. Thank you, kind gentleman. The whole experience was pretty easy, I just wasn't prepared for the thick folds of chicken skin webbing the drummette and the wingette, nor was I ready to find tiny little feathers. Yes, I understand the chicken once had feathers, I just didn't realize I was going to possibly eat them. Unless it's baked super crispy, I don't even like poultry skin, so this was a bit much for me. But I persevered, cut the pieces up, and threw them in a Chinese marinade for a few hours. Then I baked them up and did a quick stir fry of them in a wok filled with aromatics like garlic, green onions and ginger. Voila.

The result? Nice looking, good flavor, but I still struggle with the rubbery skin that results most of the time when you don't want to deep fry your bird. My friend Maria really liked the wings, so it was a success as far as I'm concerned, but I think I need to try again.