Thursday, April 29, 2010

Hope Springs Eternal - But It's Getting Harder

Grams is always hopeful about Grandad's continuing health struggles.  In case you don't know the back story, you can read it here.  Every time he sees a new doctor, my hope rises.  So far, only to be dashed after a little time passes.  But, hope springs eternal ... and Grams tries to always be upbeat, positive, and hopeful. 

His issues with atrial fibrillation (A-fib) seem to be increasing.  Rarely does a day go by that Grandad does not have tiredness, faintness, weakness, shortness of breath and sometimes confusion.  These are only his major symptoms, he has others from time-to-time.

If you've read his back story, you know that since his problems began more than three years ago, he as seen at least 11 doctors.  We recently approached his primary care physician about the possibility of getting a second twelfth opinion.  We asked for a referral to a major medical center where we might possibly get a more definitive diagnosis.

He was very gracious and admitted to being stumped by Grandad's continuing symptoms.  He even apologized for letting this go on so long without being more proactive in looking for a resolution.  He reported that he has numerous patients who live with A-fib without major quality of life issues.  He then consulted with Grandad's local cardiologist and together they have referred him to Dr. James Wilson in Houston.  Dr. Wilson practices interventional cardiology. 

According to Grams' research, interventional cardiology refers to various non-surgical cardiovascular procedures. Interventional cardiologists use catheters to get inside blood vessels for diagnostic tests or to repair damaged vessels or other heart structures, often avoiding the need for surgery.

We will travel to Houston on Mother's Day.  Grandad will work out of his Houston office on Monday and Tuesday.  Late on Tuesday afternoon we will see Dr. Wilson for the first time.  We have been told to be prepared to stay a few days after that visit in case he decides that a procedure will be done. Fortunately, our son and daughter-in-law live in Houston and we'll be able to stay comfortably (and free) with them.  They'll also be able to sit with me if a procedure is called for. 

We have discovered through our own research and discussion with his doctors that there are a number of procedures that might be used to put Grandad's heart back into sinus rhythm.  Some possibilities include delivering a mild shock via electrodes inserted through a catheter, restarting the heart with a defibrillator, or inserting a pacemaker.  We really don't know if any of these would resolve his issues or not.  Some of his doctors have been very frank in saying that they don't think it would help.  Others say maybe. 

As always, we would appreciate your prayers.  Hope springs eternal .. but it's getting harder!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Democracy, Free Speech and the Presidency

Since Barack Obama was elected President, Grams has been deluged with emails and Facebook posts making derogatory comments about him and his presidency.  If you know me then you probably know that I actually voted for Barack Obama and am very pleased with some of the accomplishments of his administration. Time will tell whether I'm right or not, but I think he's on the road to being a great President.

But, I won't use today's post to speak in support of health care reform.  And, I'm very aware of the right to free speech afforded us by the First Amendment.  Grams knows that you have every right to say what you want about anything, within legal parameters.

What I'm sick of is reading blatantly untrue information about the President and his administration.  Here's the most recent one I saw yesterday and again this morning. 
President Obama has decided that there will no longer be a "National Day of Prayer" held in May. He doesn't want to offend anybody. Where was his concern about offending Christians last January when he allowed the Muslims to hold a day of prayer on the capitol grounds. As a Christian American "I am offended." if you agree copy and paste no matter what religion you are, this country was built on Freedom!!!
First of all, let me say, as a Christian American I am not offended.  That's right, I don't find this offensive in any way.  Because IT'S NOT TRUE!

That's right, this information about President Obama canceling the "National Day of Prayer" is complete and total crap.  CNN reported that  "A federal judge on Thursday struck down the federal statute that established the National Day of Prayer, ruling that it violates the constitutional ban on government-backed religion."  Did you catch that?  It says "a federal judge," not President Obama.

They further reported that "The Obama administration said in a Twitter message on Thursday that Obama intends to recognize this year's National Day of Prayer, which is May 6."  Read the entire article here.

The same Constitution that gives Americans the right to free speech also provides for separation of church and state and allows ALL of freedom to practice whatever religion we choose or none at all if that's what we choose.

Come on, people, if you're going to get all hot and bothered about something the President has done, at least get your facts right.    

If you want to know what does offend me, it's the lack of respect given to this President.  I have heard people whom I once considered to be reasonably intelligent people call him derogatory names related to his race, his parentage, his intelligence, etc.   

On this subject, my kids would say I'm "old school."  I think President Obama deserves respect because of the office he holds.  I had teachers who never, and I mean never, tolerated students who referred to any President of the United States by their last name.  It was completely unacceptable to refer to President Johnson or President Nixon or President Carter as Johnson, Nixon or Carter in every classroom I was ever in.  When that happened during class discussion, discussion was stopped and the teacher explained how the highest office in our government deserves and demands respect.  We were instructed to rephrase our statement correctly. 

This atmosphere that is so widespread in our county is detrimental to all of us.  So, just a friendly reminder, this is still a democracy!  Maybe your candidate didn't win this time, but Barack Obama is the President.  That's the way democracy works, sometimes you win and sometimes you lose, but the winner is always OUR president.  If you don't like that, work to change it next time.  But for now, can't we tone down some of this rhetoric (especially the part that's not true) and move on.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Skelton Family Reunion

Grams' family held it's first family reunion on Saturday, April 10, 2010, at New Berlin, Texas.  We chose the location because it's in Central Texas and we thought it wouldn't be too long of a drive for anyone.  No matter where we came from, the drive was beautiful.  Lady Bird Johnson's "Beautify America" campaign lives on with a spectacular bloom of wildflowers across Texas.  This year's is truly the most beautiful bloom I've ever seen.  This was the view from the New Berlin Community Center. 

First a little family background.  My family came from Cass County, Texas.  My grandparents, Charlie Ira Skelton and Helen Dotsie Zachary Skelton had five children; three sons, Charles, Buster and Oran  (my dad), and two daughters, Ava and Nava.  We lived in and around Bryans Mill until 1964 when my parents moved to South Texas.
  • Uncle Charles and Aunt Ruth had two children, Wesley and Carla.  
  • Uncle Buster and Aunt Susie had five children, Rodney, Tommy, Gail, Dotsie, and Rita.  
  • My parents, Oran and Louise, had six children, Jimmy, Charlie, Bylinda, Kay, Vicki (Grams) and Jan. 
  • Aunt Ava was married and had step-children but no children of her own.  
  • Aunt Nava never married and had no children.  

None of my parents' generation are living.  One of my first cousins, Tommy, died of cancer in 2000. That leaves 12 surviving first cousins who are the oldest generation of the Skelton family.  

Only two of the first cousins were not able to attend on Saturday.  We had a total of 43 people who attended the reunion; not bad for our first year.  Unfortunately, we did not get a large group picture, but we did get some pictures of the first cousins and of our kids.

These are the first cousins.  Standing from left to right, Kay, Bylinda, Wesley, Rodney, Dotsie, Charlie. Sitting from left to right, Rita, Jan, Vicki, Gail.

And our kids who were there.  Standing Nick, Greg, Eric, Zack, James.  Sitting, Katy, Andrea, Kelly. 

We had a great day getting reacquainted and learning about our families.  I learned that two of my first cousins are breast cancer survivors.  My cousin Gail has done extensive research on our family tree.  Her brother Rodney, is writing a book about the military service of the Skelton men.  He told us of our ancestors, three brothers who fought for the Confederacy in the War Between the States.  One was killed in battle; one was wounded; and one was captured, escaped, and was later wounded.  He also told us that my Dad and his two brothers were all World War II veterans.  He knows stories about my Dad's service as a tank commander under General Patton that I've never heard before.  I also didn't know that one of my uncles was wounded in the first wave to hit the beach at Normandy.

And I really enjoyed the pictures they brought.  I hope to get copies of some of them.  My dad and my uncles in their military uniforms look like old-time movie stars. 

And did I mention the food!  Everybody brought covered dishes.  The desserts were out of this world.  My sister Bylinda and her husband, Mack, barbecued brisket, sausage, chicken and pulled pork.  There was macaroni and cheese, baked ziti, boiled shrimp, just to name a few.  If you ever have the opportunity to eat Bylinda's cooking, don't pass it up.  She's really good and Mack is just as awesome with his grill.  Her macaroni and cheese is so good that my children have been known to fight over who gets to take the leftovers home.  Special thanks to them for all the extra work they did to make this a success!

We all had so much fun that we've decided to make this an annual event.  We're going to gather every spring for a day of family fun and fellowship.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Blackberries and Breakfast

My Granny is on my mind this week.  It's because we're having our first-ever Skelton Family Reunion this weekend.  I am looking forward to seeing all my cousins whom I haven't seen in more than 30 years.  More on that next week.

Since Granny is already on my mind, many things are reminding me of her and the magical childhood days we spent at her little house out in the piney woods of Bryans Mill, Texas. 

We never "slept in" at Granny's house.  As children we had too much to do; we had to get up early and get started.  We had to do important things like dig holes in the yard, have grape Kool-Aid tea parties,  walk around the mail route, take outdoor baths in No. 3 washtubs, walk to Scott's Store for a Yoo-Hoo or RC Cola, catch lightening bugs and count the stars.  We were very busy.

In my memory, the most special thing we did was walk down the road on warm spring mornings and pick fresh blackberries for breakfast.  Truth be told, we ate most of them before we got home.  But sitting at the kitchen table with a bowl of fresh blackberries and cream is one of my favorite memories. 

For breakfast this morning I had fresh blackberries with Greek yogurt.  They were the first blackberries I've had this year and I bought them at Wal-Mart instead of picking them.  It's not exactly the same, but they were delicious and brought back these happy memories.

Grams Made Sweet Potato Hash

Grams recently received a gift of America's Test Kitchen The Best Simple Recipes cookbook.  It came from my beautiful daughter, Katy, and she bought one for herself too.  We've both been enjoying cooking with the recipes and sharing our opinions about the outcomes.

Grandad and Grams love sweet potatoes, and this hash is delicious and easy, so this one will become part of my regular rotation of side dishes.

1 1/4 pounds sweet potatoes (about 2 large), peeled and cut into 3/4 inch chunks
6 slices of bacon, finely chopped
2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme

Place potatoes in a microwave-safe bowl with lid and microwave, covered, until tender, 4 to 7 minutes.  (Microwaves vary - it took 9 minutes in mine.)

Meanwhile, cook bacon until crisp over medium-high heat in a large nonstick skillet over medium high heat.  Transfer bacon to paper towel-lined plate.  Pour off bacon fat, reserving one tablespoon in skillet.

Add potatoes to skillet and cook, turning occasionally, until browned all over, 5 to 7 minutes.  Stir in thyme and bacon.  Season with salt and pepper and serve.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Land of In Between

Grams and Grandad are sitting smack dab in what I call "the land of in between."  It reminds me of a favorite childhood poem by A. A. Milne, "Halfway Down".

Halfway down the stairs
Is a stair
Where I sit.
There isn't any
Other stair
Quite like
I'm not at the bottom,
I'm not at the top;
So this is the stair
I always stop.

Halfway up the stairs
Isn't up,
And it isn't down.
It isn't in the nursery,
It isn't in the town.
And all sorts of funny thought
Run round my head;
"It isn't really
It's somewhere else

This little poem sort of defines where Grandad and Grams seem to be in our lives.  We're not really the "family elders" yet, even though we are grandparents.  Both of us come from large families where we're both middle children.  Both of our families customarily had large holiday gatherings for Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter and Independence Day.  For years we ran back and forth between our parents homes on Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter - dragging our kids along with us.

Since both of my parents have passed, my siblings rarely get together on holidays, although every few years we do gather at my sister Bylinda's house for Thanksgiving or July 4th.  We've all moved on to celebrating holidays with our own children.  Grandad's family still gets together to celebrate most holidays.  Those celebrations are usually relegated to the evening before the holiday so that his siblings can gather the next day with their in-laws.

The land of in between is partly the result of having our kids in two different cities from us.  Both of our children are married; one lives in Houston and one in San Antonio.  And so far our little princess is the only grandchild.  Right now, Katy's job requires her to be in San Antonio on the weekends, so getting away is difficult.  Nick's wife works in Canada and rotates home and away two weeks at a time.  All of this makes scheduling at least challenging and sometimes downright impossible.  Such was the case this weekend for Easter. 

Saturday night, we had a family dinner at Gary and Nancy's home in Sinton.  Their kids were home and Danny and Jeanne came from Burleson.  We had Mexican food, followed by lots of desserts and we talked a lot and watched movies. 

On Sunday, we picked up my sister Kay from her group home to spend the day with us.  We went to church and then out for brunch with Mama Ruthie, Laurie, Danny and Jeanne.  Then the three of us settled at home for an afternoon of movies.  Later in the afternoon we felt the need to get out of the house, so we went for a ride out into the country to see the new wind farm in San Patricio County.  Everywhere we went we saw families together.  They were camping, picnicking, hunting eggs, barbecuing and generally celebrating together.  It really made me aware of not having our own family together to celebrate.

Grandad keeps saying that, other than Christmas, holidays are not a big deal for his family.  He once said that about Thanksgiving in front of his mother, and she looked like he had slapped her.  So, while it may not be a big deal to him, it is to me and to others.

Our Easter experience made me realize that we need to remake our celebrations to fit changing family.  Grams has resolved  that before the next holiday, I will be more proactive in planning a celebration that will be satisfying to me.  Short of that ... I'll be planning a holiday trip so I'll be elsewhere.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Grams Made Quick Fish Chowder

Grams must admit that the idea of fish stew has never really appealed to me.  But, I found this recipe in an old issue of  Martha Stewart's Everyday Food magazine and decided to try it.  I've been making it pretty regularly for the past few years.  It's very quick and delicious and it's all done in the microwave.  And unlike most stews, it doesn't make a huge pot of stew.  It serves 4. 

4 slices bacon, cut into 1/4 inch pieces
1 small onion, chopped
1 small orange or yellow bell pepper, chopped
1 celery stalk, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
1 baking potato, peeled and cut into 1/4 inch cubes
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1 can (14.5 oz.) diced tomatoes in juice
1 bottle clam juice
2 skinless cod fillets (6 to 8 oz. each)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Place bacon and onion in a 2-quart microwave-safe dish with a lid.  Microwave on high, uncovered, until bacon is crisp, 6-9 minutes.  Stir in bell pepper, celery, and potato; season with salt and pepper.  Cover, and microwave on high until celery is crisp tender, 5-7 minutes.  Add tomatoes (with their juice) and clam juice; cover, and microwave until liquid is hot, 2 to 3 minutes.

Season fish with salt and pepper; place in dish on top of vegetables.  Cover and microwave on high until fish is almost cooked through, about 4 minutes.  Let stand, covered, 5 minutes to finish cooking.  Flake fish with a fork, and add parsley; stir to combine chowder.