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!

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