Tuesday, April 29, 2014

We Don't Know What We Don't Know

Somewhat less than three decades ago, I spent a night in this hospital giving birth to my older daughter C. If you had told me then that my husband would leave me for another woman and start a new family, I simply would not have believed you.

If you had told me then that I'd be in this same building today under the same bright blue sky on similar a hot day with Santa Ana winds brewing--this time sitting on the bed of the man who loves me, I would have looked at you blankly and asked, "Who?"

The daughter is a grown woman now. The ex-husband exists only at the crumpled edges of my memory. But the man, sick as he is at the moment, is a presence as wide and warm and sheltering  as that blue California sky.

Monday, April 28, 2014

What I Cooked: Some Recipes from a very lazy cook

My friend Elizabeth, who is a pastry chef extraordinaire wants to know how I cooked those artichokes from a couple of posts ago. I've cooked artichokes before with friends or lovers who agreed to steer the operation--and the artichokes were fabulous. Left to my own devices this time, I did this:

I drizzled the olive oil as instructed, and in my typical lazy cook fashion, threw in a couple wedges of lemon and two or three large peeled cloves of garlic. (I don't salt while cooking! And pepper makes my mom choke!) There were 5 small/medium artichokes in the pot. I stuck them with one of my great-grandmother's cooking forks to be sure they were done.

They were delicious. I kinda followed the recipe for the mayo dip--and I put the bottle of olive oil on the table in case anyone wanted to dilute the mayo stuff.

As for the tahini dressing shown below, I did not have any miso and neither did the local supermarket. I'm pretty sure my friend Paula Googled how to make tahini, and I gave that conversation not quite enough of my attention (I was already cooking, I think). I did remember the part about sesame seeds in the food processor so we bought some of those, and I made a little paste out of the seeds and olive oil and then proceeded as the recipe instructed, but the stuff was still pasty, so I added more oil, vinegar, and a few more drops of maple syrup. Result: I'd eat that stuff on toast--if I ate toast. But don't ask me how much of this or that I added.

These recipes are from the new CSA I joined, Fresh Picks from Deardorff Organic Farm, and all five recipes were as good as the produce itself. I confess that I am a serial CSA-dater. Break-ups have ranged from friendly to I-never-want-to-see-your-tomatoes- again. Right now, it's all honeymoon with the Deardorffs. These people can garden and cook.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

What I Cooked, part II

Collard Greens Salad with Quinoa, Strawberries, Walnuts, and Avocado

My friend Paula is game. She likes to eat. She likes to travel. She's not afraid to change things up. I might not have made this salad without her here, and I certainly would not have made my own tahini for the tahini based salad dressing....but I did. One peek at the salad dressing labels at Vons with their to the moon sodium content and roster of weird ingredients sent us to the Asian food aisle where I bought a jar of sesame seeds instead. After a little dabbling, the concoction  transformed from paste into dressing. 

But the cutting of the collard greens was the most entertaining part. Remove the center stem, the instructions commanded, then stack the leaves, roll them up like a cigar, and slice them into narrow ribbons. The result was beautiful. 

We also had a radish and cilantro salad in a citrus dressing.

And ceviche from the local fish place.

We lingered at the table, and I am grateful for that.

The wind has been blowing manically since yesterday afternoon, non-stop. Having a houseguest has keep me from retreating to my bed and pulling the covers up over my head.

Friday, April 25, 2014

What I Cooked

At the end of a week during which my mom seemed especially tired, and a week during which every conversation with the man who loves me contained the words cancer, or chemo, or radiation, this is what I cooked:

Artichokes. Pasta with pistachio/spinach/basil pesto. Heirloom tomatoes with basil and fresh mozzarella.

My friend Paula arrived with a lots of wine and chocolate.

And she brought her dog.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I think I'll go eat some more chocolate.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Sea Lion Rescue

"I've gotta hang up," I told my friend Ellen. "There's a stranded sea lion on the sand--or maybe a dog without any back legs." As I got closer, I saw a woman standing and watching. I considered, for a moment, that she might have brought her handicapped dog to the beach to play in the waves. The creature really did look like a dog, and she seemed attached to the animal in a way.

But it wasn't a dog. It was a sea lion pup, and the woman had already called some kind of hot line. I called harbor patrol, and they suggested that the animal might get back in the water and turn out fine if it didn't have any apparent injuries. I could call back later, they said--or I could call CIMWI. I had to ask the officer to explain what that was, and then googled it on my iPhone and called them. I got a recording and a referral to their rescue line where I  left a message.

The woman and I stood guard, cringing when seagulls swooped in to investigate the animal that was now sleeping on the sand. I'd seen gulls go for the eyes of dead fish--and sea lion carcasses, too. We watched as a couple of walkers got too close and scared the animal back into the water. I struck up a conversation with them, and told them what I'd read in the paper after all the strandings last year--that the animals were cold due to being malnourished and without enough body fat, and that they needed to be out of the water to get warm. Sure enough, the pup came back out again after floundering a bit in the water, and it scooted higher up on the sand.

The woman and I continued to stand watch. We flagged down a beach maintenance crew, crawling across the sand in their pick-up truck, emptying trash cans. They called a CIMWI volunteer who lived near the beach. Within minutes he was there. The photos show what happened next.

First signage and orange tape to warn beach goers to go around the animal in order not to startle it back into the water.

Then the arrival of a second rescuer. Equipment: plywood board with handle (used as a barrier), a net, and a kennel.

The netting goes smoothly.

And so does the placement into the crate.

This lucky pup will be examined for illness and injury, and if all goes well, released back into the ocean with a nice layer of body fat.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Bird of the Day

Let's start with yesterday's bird:

Staking out a nest in a dead palm tree, the hawk refused to budge while two ravens lost their minds circling round and round.

Today a turkey vulture and some gulls fought it out over a sea lion carcass on the sand. I'd never seen a turkey vulture on the beach before, but they are pretty unmistakable. I can't think of another bird that is more emblematic of death. Nature's dracula-winged clean-up crew.

Say what you want about spring. Renewal and rising from the dead, birds chirping, bunnies doing what bunnies do. Yes, go ahead and picture this:

It's there right outside my window. And it's part of the story. But Mother Nature likes to clean her house too. Now excuse me while I throw another load of bedding into the washing machine.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Bunny Boat

For almost 20 years our family went to New York City for Easter week. We crammed in as much theatre as possible, ate dinner at our favorite restaurants, and, given the religious nature of the Someone, went to Mass at some church near Lincoln Center famous for its choir. It's always hard to reinvent family traditions after divorce, and since my kids were pretty much grown, none of us made an effort for Easter. I can't really tell you what's gone on in my life the Easters since my divorce--though I know that I've probably blogged about it year after year. But now for two years running, M and I have had brunch at the same bar overlooking the water. This year we kayaked there. Mimosas, fish tacos, mermaid murals and spending time with a daughter. Nice. Oh--and the Easter Bunny himself came by in his boat. Now all we need is chocolate. I think we're about to do something about that.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Context is Everything

If context is everything, then this was a delicious meal.

And if context is everything and you live in Los Angeles, then this is a river.

And, in the context of his situation, the man who loves me is where he needs to be. Weakened by cancer, chemo, and radiation, he's in a facility where he is being cared for to an extent that I cannot provide chez moi. As he put it, the place is not burdened by pretensions of elegance, but if you sit on the patio (as he and I did today)  and look up, the view is all right.

There are many reasons to be hopeful. He is better than he was a week ago. We may again get back to this:

And in the meanwhile, I am filled with gratitude for the love and support of family and friends.
Thank you.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Report from Pillville: Pillville Squared

The man who loves me has been in the hospital all week for a myriad of reasons relating to his chemo and radiation. It's felt like this around here:

And it would be swell if some giraffes or trapeze artists swept through here about now.

But instead my mom and I had an encounter with a man walking his personal mental health high wire in the podiatrist's office. He swept in without an appointment in a cloud of perfume wearing an obvious coating of make-up, talking about his gout and how he needed to get it taken care of before he was sent off to active duty in a submarine to deal with Putin, which he was entirely well-suited for because he was in an elite unit that was super-secret and had more expertise than the Navy Seals---AND he was a marksman/sniper. And the poor guy has cancer with metastases and has to have chemo, but the Army needs him. He kept telling my mom she looked like she was17, and that they should waltz.  Oh, and he played classical violin, but he was happy, too, as a rock musician. Holy shit.

And if that didn't make my hair stand on end, my entire do stretched to the ceiling when the doctor got out the sharp instruments, and I suddenly came to my goddamn senses and realized her INR (this has to do with blood coagulation) levels had for some reason skyrocketed  (which I had just discovered when I returned home and tested her while juggling (more circus imagery)  my lunch after visiting the man) and I divulged that to the podiatrist who very gingerly clipped her toenails and sent us home.

And all the way home I pondered my lack of humanity and how I must perform these days as the Amazing Woman Who Must Split Herself in Two. Step right up and watch me kill the emotional me while the administrative me is a fucking assassin filling out forms and searching the Internet, but don't ask me to smile at you.

And if I told you I once saw my dead father in my kitchen (no, not his ghost, but him in the flesh) or that I spent 10 months encased in a plaster body cast, or that I once let a North African immigrant pick me (and a friend) up in a Paris train station because we were penniless, and that we rode out to les banilieus with him and that he made us dinner and didn't rape us and that the only running water was in the courtyard of his apartment complex and that I still remember his name, or that I once spoke, through an amazing coincidence, to the son I gave up for adoption when I dialed information because he worked for the phone company, or that I auditioned for a crappy TV show singing and juggling while wearing a bikini, or that I saw the entire main street of my college town burst into flame because the moon set it on fire and everything merged into oneness, would you think I  was crazy. No doubt, right? The line is thin sometimes, dear readers, and I hope this man was actually "crazy" and does not have cancer. Because cancer is a bitch. And so am I. But so is mental illness. And I don't want that for him either.

So I made spaghetti for dinner for my mom and me. Spaghetti is comforting. And I feel comforted. We talked about Chelsea Clinton and how she is pregnant, and we both expressed our wishes that Hilary does not go all grandma on us and still runs for president. And that was fun spaghetti for the head. Spaghetti. Confetti. Giacometti. For some silly reason, I now feel like rhyming.

this is me
And in contemplating the passing of Gabriel Garcia Marquez this evening, I think it is worth noting that sometimes life is actually both magical and real. Really.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

New website/blog!

I've been a blogaholic for years now. Until recently, there were three Blogger blogs in my blog universe. Now my blog, Birthmother, has moved to Word Press and, in anticipation of my memoir's release with Shebooks, is currently set up as two-headed beast--blog plus author's website. Writer friends, other friends, mentors, teachers: let me know what you think.


Tuesday, April 15, 2014


This was almost a charming photo of a real life bunny sitting in the grass.

And last night I almost remembered the lunar eclipse.

Tonight, I'm remembering The Night I Saw This Moon.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Friday Morning Beach Report---a Day Late

fishing together in the fog

I took this picture on my early morning beach walk yesterday, but later got caught up in the caregiver vortex and didn't post it. The woman's pink sweatshirt caught my eye, and then I noticed the cane next to her chair. One of these folks made quite a bit of effort to get to the water's edge. It's a long expanse of sand from the street to the water, and yesterday the sand was loose and deep, making for quite the trudge.

She made it. They both made it. Hope they caught some fish.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

A Publishing Contract!

Shebooks, the fabulous new e-book publisher, will be publishing an excerpt of my memoir. The date is not nailed down yet, so you'll be hearing more from me about that soon. I'm thrilled to be in the company of some very fine writers.

You can read more about Shebooks HERE. I've been devouring them.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Where are YOU standing?

To the west of me, it looks like this:

To the east, like this:

And right across the street from my house, appears the borderland between fog and clarity. I feel like that's where I'm standing. How about you?

Monday, April 7, 2014

Report from Pillville: Pills

this was on the wall in the bathroom at the yogurt place where I took my mom after the dentist--which was after the doctor's office for a brief blood pressure check as a follow-up to her new meds

Of all the things I am thankful for, my good health is near the top of the list because it makes it possible for me to participate in many of life's other joys, and to care for those I love. I do a lot of things to care for my 61-year-old self on a regular basis ( yoga, t'ai chi chih, walking 10,000 steps a day, brushing and flossing, putting on sunscreen every morning, eating virtually no prepared or packaged foods), and then, of course, there's just plain luck. There are people who do all of these things and perhaps more, and yet some ill befalls them. When the bad thing strikes, there's always a pill to fix it, or to take away the pain, and then another pill to fix the side effects of the first pill, and then a third pill to fix the side effects of the second pill, etc.

I take no prescription drugs. No over the counter drugs either--except for an occasional couple of Advil. My mom has not been so lucky. I've lost count, but the list that reminds us what she takes hangs in the kitchen next to my drug manufacturing device (espresso maker).

This is just one of the slots in my mom's daily pillbox.

Every now and then, things get changed or the pharmacy fills a prescription with a drug that's the same drug but made by a different manufacturer so it has a different appearance (which alway turns me into an ax murderer for a few seconds)--so we consult my cheat sheet to help sort things out. The Internet is very helpful as well.

I think she'd prefer to just eat one of these every day.

As the man who loves me goes through chemo and radiation, his pills are multiplying, too. When I looked at his list and the pile of pill bottles yesterday, I thought I might need a pill--if they make a pill for anxiety about pills....  would that be pharmaphobia? Did you know that you could get hiccups from chemo? Did you know there's a pill for that?

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Working Title: The Weekend Halftime Report

It's too early for a weekend wrap-up, and anyway, I'd stuff today into a  body bag which would be more fitting than a summary. Suffice it to say that, after I mistakenly drove to a massage (caregiver therapy!) today when it's actually scheduled for tomorrow, I then sat in my car Googling "walk-in counseling" which yielded nothing. So I bought a smoothie and went home.

This would be a perfect juncture to thank all of you have been lending support through your comments. I really appreciate it. More that appreciate, I feel it. And I'm okay. And I'm adding in more ways of taking care of myself. I totally get that I need it. I'm doing it.

And there are good things. My mom doing okay. M is home for the weekend and handled the change out of our cable box and the installation of the new one. In that process, we had to find the original Time Warner remote which was in a box in the garage. All those remotes, and I can't control shit.

And here's today's dose of found beauty.

I'm going to go to bed early. Tomorrow morning, I will drive into L.A. to see the man who loves me. And I plan to come back in time for that massage.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Caregiver's Dilemma

As I trudge closer to the end of the backlog of errands and untended business that began to pile up when I realized a few weeks ago that it was not appropriate to leave my mother home alone much, I found myself with some time this morning. I asked myself what I needed as I sat in a coffee shop trolling the Internet, reading about caregiving. This got my attention.
  • 40% of caregivers die before the person they’re caring for
I don't know the source of that research, and I suspect it may be skewed by spouses caring for spouses in a slightly older demographic, BUT, I do feel the accumulation of these not yet two years since my mother moved in with me. Adrenaline swims just below the surface constantly--a sort of loch ness monster that shows itself only intermittently, but it's there just the same. Each crisis seems to make the monster bigger.

So I made some new resolutions--a mindfulness meditation class, massage, specific time slots dedicated to writing out of the house. My original plan when things got rough at the end of last year was to send my mom to adult day care so that I could have the house to myself, which seemed like a fine idea (except she wouldn't go.) But really, the damn land line rings almost every day with the pharmacy telling me one of my mother's 16 different prescriptions is ready--or one of her dozen doctor's offices is calling to confirm an appointment, so it's just as well that I'm going out. Especially these mornings out of the house are, at present, my only change of scene.

I had intended to go away for a long weekend today to a t'ai chi chih retreat while friends filled in to care for my mom, but when my mom was beset by another unexplained bout of headache and nausea all last weekend, and our hospital bag sat by the door waiting, I realized I couldn't risk leaving that to a friend if it happened again. Not to mention all of the weird shit I'd have to explain---if she accidentally pushes her button, if she falls asleep while she's eating, if she shouts in the middle of the night, if she moans like this instead of like that, if she growls like a bear. It's not just that my mother is old and frail, it's that she's old and frail and would scare the crap out of someone who's not regularly around her.

When I started this gig, I told myself it wasn't forever. It would not have surprised me if my mother hadn't made it a year--and that was terrifying. Now I find myself terrified  to think she might endure for, let's say, five years more. I ask myself if I can do that. I ask myself how I'll do that. If my caring for my mother will segue into someone caring for me like some fraught drama without an intermission. These are things I think of as I sit on the couch listening to my mother talk in her sleep while the oxygen machine clicks and wheezes.

It''s a good thing the sunset tonight looked like this:

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Is this a hospital bed.....or an April Fool's joke?

Note the industrial gray headboard and the remote control. Note the smile on my mother's face. This is not an April Fool's joke. This, believe it, or not is a hospital bed. How did this happen?

On Friday I came across THIS ARTICLE in the New York Times--a fabulous piece with quite a bit of good info for anyone on Medicare. (And by the way, the New York Times has dozens of great pieces about aging.) In the article was a link which led me to HERE, and from there I followed the state specific link to THIS SITE, where I clicked on the complaint form. The next morning, I filled out the form, attached it to a detailed narrative, also attached the doctor's prescriptions, the handout from the medical supply company, then took it to my local UPS store and faxed it.

Today around noon I got a call from a woman at the HSAG telling me she had received my fax and that she'd spoken to the medical equipment company and the doctor's office. She said she had instructed them to communicate with one another and work it out and to do their best to get the bed delivered before the end of the day. If that didn't happen, she said I could give them another 24-48 hours, BUT to call her back and let her know if I didn't get the bed.

We got the bed.

I'm going to call the woman back tomorrow and thank her. Maybe she can help with my alimony.

But we're feeling good here in Margaritaville/Pillville. Flyin' high.