Sunday, February 13, 2011

Listening and Comfort Food

I had a conversation with my mom today. She is seriously ill. She has been diagnosed with cancer, and the staging process has been complicated by her other health issues. We are awaiting one more test, but the wait is agony. She has had several false starts, but cannot have a PET scan until her blood sugar is under control. This is not just a problem, it is an big issue.

Mom + Insulin Pen = Epic Fail.

So, my bro and I from a long way away, equidistant north and south are trying to do things from a distance. Mom has a good friend, local to her who has been taking her to appointments and watching out for her. (The woman is a saint in my book!) Still, as the medical contact, I am getting calls from Home Health, County Adult Protective Services and various social workers. They all are telling me what NEEDS to be done. Frankly, I want to tear my hair out. Mom is a mess and she can't take care of herself, but has refused most of the services offered to her. She gets pissy defensive and stubborn when confronted. One social worker said I should threaten her with a nursing home in order to convince her to accept help. Ha. As if.

They are all making broad hints that mom should be declared incompetent and put into conservatorship. Yikes. Well, frankly, she is not nuts or incompetent, she just "prefers not to" deal with it in a most Bartleby the Scrivener fashion. As much as this irks me (understatement), it is her choice. I grit my teeth and think "What can I DO??!". Well, today, Mom told me. I phoned her just to check in and she said, in the course of the conversation "your calling means a lot to me and it makes me feel supported".

Well, there it is. She has finally expressed something she wants--to be called. I provide health care to cancer patients and I promised myself, when she was diagnosed, I would not be one of those annoying family members, who browbeat Mom with what I thought she needed which really was what I wanted her to have done. It's about her, not me. I knew all these things from a distance, but it is damned hard to live this concept when someone you love is ill. She has been reticent to express her desires as far as her treatment has gone, but has gone docilely to her appointments. While I am not very hopeful of the outcome, we have slim hope. And while I wish she were more aggressive in fighting this and active in the decision making process, I need to respect her space. Still and finally, I have a starting point. I can do this. I can call her and be calm and loving over the phone, and let her chart her own course, even if it is one of withdrawal. The question is, can I keep my sanity while this is going on? I will still field phone calls from various social services and health people telling me what NEEDS to happen, but I need to learn to detach from them emotionally, while staying emotionally connected to my mom.

In the meantime, I am going bonkers over all this. In the interest of calming down, today, I made stew, despite the gorgeous weather. It is supposed to rain tomorrow and there will be leftovers to enjoy all cozy while the storm rages outside.

I got this recipe from my dad who clipped it out of the newspaper several years ago. It was originally supposed to be served in a baked, whole pumpkin, but that is a hassle, so I added chunks of pumpkin to the stew. I also added carrots and potatoes because, to me, stew seems lacking without them.

Pumpkin Beef Stew

3 pounds boneless chuck trimmed of fat and cut into 1-inch cubes
2 cups chopped onion
2 cups chopped green pepper
1 cup diced celery
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons light olive oil
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon ground thyme
1/2 cup dry red wine (optional)
2 cups beef broth, preferably homemade
2 cups 1-inch cubed, peeled pumpkin
2 cups cooked fresh green beans
2 cups canned diced, fire roasted tomatoes
2 cups 1 inch cubed carrots
2 cups 1 inch cubed potatoes

In a heavy, 10- to l2-inch skillet, brown the beef, onion, green pepper, celery and garlic in the oil over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Pour off excess oil. Stir in tomato paste, salt, pepper, bay leaf, thyme, optional red wine and the beef broth. (I add the wine)

Place stew in a covered casserole or kettle and bake in a preheated 325-degree oven 1 1/2 hours. After 1 hour, add tomatoes. 30 minutes later, add the squash, green beans, pumpkin, carrots and potatoes. Return to oven for 20 to 30 minutes or until beef is tender and squash is cooked.

This makes for a stew with a lot of sauce. You can thicken it at the end, by removing 1/2 cup and making a roux with 1/4 cup flour and returning to cook for the last 15 minutes. Serve with bread.

I prefer Brio bread, baked locally. I am totally addicted to the stuff--all varieties, but especially the rustic italian and the kalamata olive bread. YUM!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Goodbye Gabriel

Gabriel: April 15, 1984-Feb 2 2011

Gabriel was a cockatiel. He died today, sometime during the day. I went to check him just before supper this evening and he was lying on the bottom of his cage, gone, cold and stiff, so he must have died quite sometime before. My husband checked him this morning and he was OK, but mostly quiet. He was acting quite frail the last few days, so this was not unexpected, but he didn't seem acutely ill. He was old but, still, it hurts.

In 1984, I got it into my head that I wanted a bird. I was still in college and I thought a bird would work as a dorm/apartment pet. I got Gabriel from one of my father's junior high students who raised cockatiels. I had thought I wanted a conure, but since Dad had a bird connection I ended up with a male cockatiel. He was grey--not a fancy bird at all. I got him sight unseen and he was about 3 months old when I got him. The receipt said he hatched in April (I arbitrarily assigned Tax Day as his birthday.), clutched by Long John, a male with one leg, out of Clinger.

I was taking Summer School Organic Chemistry when I got my new pal and was also housesitting for a professor and his family who were away. They had a large house and a menagerie of animals, so Gabe (or "Reeb" as I came to call him) fit right in. He was standoffish when I got him, but I spent a lot of time with him including studying with his cage by me every afternoon, so we bonded. He wanted me and only me, most of his life. It is flattering to have a critter show such preference. It really is--especially one so wonderful as Gabriel.

He never really "spoke" in the true sense. More rather, he sang words and phrases. He said his name (Gabriel), c'mere! (come here), a noise that sounded like "coyleap!", meowed like a cat made a sneeze noise when I sneezed, copied the sound when I snapped my fingers, made a high pitched chicken like "buck buck ba-KAWK" noise, a couple of odd trills, a little whispered noise like "geeba geeba geeba geeba!", a purr noise, a cardinal bird whistle, some tooth sucking noises that copied me, a hunter's call and a BAD rambling version of "Pop Goes the Weasel" that was recognizable, but only barely. There were other random noises he made and he liked to talk.

He hated most men except one male roommate in 1986 and my husband, whom he took to right away. He could be crabby and bratty and loved, as a young bird, to walk around and bite holes in my textbooks like a conductor punching a ticket. I kept his wings unclipped and he like to fly around the room and to wherever I was, greet me and then stroll around biting books and papers. He was small for a cockatiel and quite skinny all of his life. I tried feeding him well, but he chose to subsist on vitamin fortified seed--the Big Mac of the bird world.

He was a healthy little critter until he was 23 when he began to have eye infections that seemed to clear up once I started adding extra vitamins to his water. Really I tried to push a better diet on him early on, but he rejected most fresh food. I worried about this, but he lived to be almost 27 years old, so I guess I did alright by him. When he went to the vet (for the first time ever at 23) and I told her how old he was she blinked and said she had never treated a cockatiel over 12 years old.

I will miss the way he would shift his eyes from the side to the front-- his "I am an eagle" look. I will miss how his beak made him always look like he was smiling. I will miss how he talked to himself. I will miss how he would talk when I covered his cage as if he were saying: "just one more minute, Mom!" I will miss his relentless curiosity. I will miss how he would bite my glasses, try to pick at my teeth or unhook my earrings--anything shiny was fun! I will miss how he begged to have his head and jaw rubbed. I will miss how he would whistle along with the T.V. when someone would sing or whistle. I will miss watching him play in the shower and how he loved to be sprayed with water and blown dry after ( on the cool setting, of course!). I will miss that he loved to talk to my feet as if they were his peers--they were more his size. And I will miss most that he really showed that he loved me, and wanted nothing more than to hang out with me.

He was a great little companion and I loved him dearly. His passing will leave a HUGE hole in my life, since I had him for the bulk of my adult life. I had almost convinced myself that he would last forever considering how long he lived. I am not planning on getting another bird. I can't imagine a better winged critter than Gabriel. He was a really cute, affectionate and clever creature with an enormous personality. Goodbye my little friend. I will miss you!!