Monday, May 31, 2010

The Torch Be Yours To Hold It High

Just a gentle reminder from Grams ... before you fire up the barbecue pit or head out to the beach or the lake today, take a moment to remember that freedom is is not free. Thanks to all those who gave so we could be free. To those who gave some and to those who gave all ... a heartfelt thank you. Grams will never forget!

As a child, I remember that we wore little paper poppies on our lapels on Memorial Day and this is why.  After World War I the poppies grew in profusion over the battlefields and cemeteries in Flanders, thus the poppies became a symbol of remembrance.   

Below is one of those poems that Grams had to memorize as an elementary school student in the 1960's.  I don't think they make kids memorize and recite any more and it's kind of a shame.  I can't recite it all any more, but it's message is so powerful that it has stayed with me all these years.  

In Flanders Fields by John McCrae

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead.  Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe;
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Spill and the Spin Both Make Me Mad!

Grams is obsessed with the oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico from the Deepwater Horizon.  Seriously, every time I sit down at my computer I pull up the video feed to see if anything looks different.  But I'm more than just obsessed, I'm mad.  I'm mad because I hate to be lied to and every time I hear someone from BP talking, I know I'm being lied to.   

Let me start by saying that I'm not an environmental activist of any sort.  I try to be responsible in small ways ... we use green bags for shopping ... we recycle ... we use refillable water bottles ... nothing crazy or hard, just responsible. 

We live in Corpus Christi. Texas which, while on the Gulf of Mexico, is well south of the area that is expected to feel any immediate impact of this spill.  We're not beach enthusiasts.  In fact, we haven't been to the beach in years.  It's a good 45 minute drive from where we live to Padre Island.  But I grew up here and as a teenager, we went to the beach often.  It was a favorite hangout and campsite for my friends and me.  The fact that my grandchildren may never enjoy the same kind of day at the same beach makes me mad.

The video of oil and gas gushing from the BP well just makes me feel sick.  I can't help but think that the millions of barrels gushing from that well are killing the Gulf of Mexico.  Even before I saw the first pictures of birds covered in oil, I thought about them.  I remember the videos from Alaska in the wake of the Exxon Valdez spill.  I vaguely remember news reports that the impact of that spill lasted more than a decade. This is already more than twice as bad and that makes me mad. 

I think about the beautiful sea birds that will be covered in oil,  about the fish that will die, about the fishermen who have lost their livelihood, the tourism industry that will dry up, the marshlands where turtles and other sea animals won't spawn.  I have visions of coastlines lined with dead fish, birds, turtles and other sea life and it makes me mad.   

I'm also very afraid of what will happen when a hurricane moves into the Gulf of Mexico this summer.  It's inevitable that it will happen.  I don't have any expertise in either offshore drilling or hurricanes, but I keep thinking that the combination of oil in the water and a hurricane sounds bad to me.  I know that when a hurricane moves into the Gulf of Mexico we get flooding tides on Padre Island and into Corpus Christi Bay.  I can't see any way that oil in the water would be a good thing.  I actually heard someone on television who said that a hurricane would be a "good thing" because it would disperse the oil over a wider area.  Personally, I think that's crazy. 

I got this sick feeling in the pit of my stomach when I first heard the news about the explosion.  I've seen an offshore platform up close.  I had the opportunity to tour the Shenzi platform that was being built nearby in Ingleside shortly before it was deployed.  I know that when something explodes on a platform in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico there's no place to go except into the water.  I knew that lives had been lost long before the news reported those losses.

When BP initially reported that only a few thousand barrels per day were leaking, I knew it was spin.  When they said they would be able to control and contain the oil before it got to the shoreline, again, I knew it was spin.  I know it's their job to show BP in the best possible light.  It's what they get paid to do.  They're telling us what they think we want to hear and they're trying to put the best possible face on a bad situation.  There is no way in hell BP did not know how much oil was spilling from that well. In this case, they're not just spinning, they're lying. 

I've worked in situations that called for spin and I've watched some of the best "spin doctors" do their work.  I worked for our local United Way when their national president was convicted of embezzling and misappropriating donated funds.  And when our local United Way admitted Planned Parenthood for funding and the local Catholic diocese called for a boycott I watched the spin doctors do their jobs.  I even worked for a media spokesperson for a while.  I recognize spin when I see it and in the case of BP, this is definitely spin. 

The most encouraging thing I've heard about this spill was an anecdotal news story from FOX News about President Obama.  At a recent White House meeting he reportedly shouted "Just plug the damn hole!"  I'm happy to see that he's mad!  I agree with him.  It's time to get good and mad. 

I know that eventually they will find a way to stop this spill.  Unfortunately, it looks like it will be sometime in August after they drill a relief well.  By that time the damage will be so immense and so widespread that the impact will be felt way beyond the shores of Louisiana and for decades to come. 

I've lived in South Texas long enough to be well acquainted with the oil and gas industry.  I have several family members who work or have worked in the industry.  I've seen "gifts" change hands at every level of that industry.  So many things are done to "grease the wheels" that it's easy to understand how regulations get bypassed and rules get bent.  I was already mad about all of that before this disaster.  Every time the price of gasoline goes up at the pump, I think about expensive cowboy boots that salesmen give to customers and about vendors who are coerced into supporting favorite charities if they want to do business with refineries, and it makes me mad.  Those are only a couple of small examples of which I have personal knowledge to illustrate how business is routinely done in the oil and gas industry. 

I could not find an accurate count of the number of active platforms and rigs in the Gulf of Mexico, but the map I've included here will tell you it's more than a few.  I believe offshore drilling is a necessary evil.  Although I miss the pristine beaches I enjoyed as a child, I understand the need for sacrifices.  I was glad to hear that President Obama has suspended exploratory drilling at depths 500 feet and deeper and formed a new White House Commission to study the safety of deep-water drilling.  I hope something good can come from this disaster.  I hope the results will be better regulation, better oversight, and better enforcement in the future.  And I don't think any more deep-water drilling should be allowed until technology is developed that will deal with the problems and challenges presented by deep-water drilling.  They should have known how to handle a deep-water spill before they had one.  They didn't and that makes me mad.

And, one more thing, to the spokespersons for BP.  The oil you are spilling from the Deepwater Horizon is NOT a "natural disaster."  Please stop calling it that.  There's nothing natural about it ... it's your disaster and you better own it.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Grams Made Mini-Honey Mustard Meatloaves with Roasted Potatoes

Let me start by saying that Grams is not a huge fan of meatloaf.  As far as I can remember my Mom didn't ever make meatloaf.  If she did it was probably so horrible that I've blocked it from my memory.  The only meatloaf I remember eating as a kid was that 1960's public-school cafeteria concoction of mystery meat and filler that was topped with a glob of cooked ketchup, which really grossed me out.

When Grams was a young bride, Grandad reported that he loved meatloaf and asked me to make some for him.  (This was before we reached the unspoken agreement that it was better for Grandad to cook than for Grams to keep producing horrible disasters in the kitchen.)  So I got out my trusty-dusty Betty Crocker Cookbook (circa 1970) and whipped up a batch of said meatloaf, as requested.

Needless to say, Grandad had an entirely different concept of meatloaf.  You see Grandad went to Catholic schools where meatloaf was not a mass-produced mystery meat.  In his mind meatloaf was a savory recipe which included a delicious brown gravy that was produced by "the Nuns."  So when I served up my version of meatloaf, Grandad had a temporary lapse of sanity and said something like "This is not the way 'the Nuns' made it."  As a matter of fact this may have been the very day Grams decided that cooking should be Grandad's realm. 

About a year ago we were at a funeral for one of our dear friends who was a priest and Grandad pointed to a very elderly Nun in the crowd and said, "That's one of 'the Nuns' who used to make the meatloaf."   I had to restrain myself during the funeral from jumping over a couple of pews and begging for the recipe.  Alas, I was unable to find her in the crowd afterward.  

Since I went back to cooking, I've experimented with a couple of meatloaf recipes.  What I've discovered is that if I make the meatloaf, it doesn't have that mysterious quality that I found so distasteful. 

Grams made this recipe for the first time last night for dinner.  It's been in my recipe file for quite a long time.  I'm not sure where I got it, but it's very tasty and I highly recommend it.  I made a couple of changes, the original recipe called for Panko instead of oatmeal and I use extra-lean ground beef instead of ground chuck.  Even Grandad approved and there was no mention of "the Nuns." 

1 Tablespoon olive oil
Nonstick cooking spray
2 Tablespoons honey mustard
2 Tablespoons ketchup
1 pound extra-lean ground beef
1 large egg, lightly beaten
½ cup oatmeal (processed finely in food processer)
1 cup shredded white cheddar (about 4 ounces)
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1 pound red new potatoes, scrubbed and quartered

Preheat oven to 450 degrees, with racks in upper and lower thirds. Spray a rimmed baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray. In a small bowl, mix together 2 tablespoons mustard and ketchup.

In a medium bowl, combine beef, egg, panko, ½ cup cheddar, ½ teaspoon salt, and teaspoon pepper. Form into four 2-by-4-inch loaves; place on baking sheet. Pour mustard mixture over meatloaves. On another rimmed baking sheet, toss potatoes with 1 tablespoon oil; season with salt and pepper.

Start with meatloaves on upper rack of oven and potatoes on lower rack. Bake 15 minutes, top the meatloaves with the remaining cheese, then switch the positions of the pans and bake another 10-15 minutes.  Remove meatloaves from oven and test potatoes.  If they're not done to your liking, you may need to bake the potatoes a few minutes longer.  

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Women On My Walk #2 - My Neighbors

Near the top of the list among the women Grams draws strength from are my neighbors.  Some of them are not just neighbors, they're good friends.  There are quite a few of them with whom I have a casual acquaintance, but two of them have become really close friends.

Mary Lou is my closest neighbor.  We've lived next door to each other for more than twenty years now.  She's the neighbor I can always go to if I need to borrow something or need help with almost anything.  She and her husband, Ron, are exceptionally good neighbors to everyone in the neighborhood.  They have almost everyone's spare keys; block parties are generally held in their driveway; and if you want to catch up on what's going on in the neighborhood, you can just pull up a lawn chair in their driveway.  Eventually everyone stops there to chat.

Mary Lou is the mother and grandmother I want to be.  I have always admired the relationship she has with all four of her adult children.  They are all successful and productive adults who love to come home and visit. They talk on the phone regularly and although some of them live several hundred miles away, she is involved in their lives in a positive way.  As often as is physically possible, she attends ballgames, performances and other things that her grandchildren are involved in. 

Diane lives about five houses down on the other side of the street.  She is the mother of one teenage girl.  Diane and I relate mostly about the "joys" of raising girls.  She often listened to my tales of woe when my kids were teenagers and I've been able to do the same for her.  Mostly we're just able to laugh at each others' stories.  I think the fact that my kids turned out okay gives her hope that her's will too.  Diane and her husband Clayton are the owners of a big SUV, that usually makes them the designated drivers when we all go out together.

The three of us have shared laughter, tears, and more than a few cocktails.  We've supported each other through raising kids, sick parents, husbands with health problems, home improvement projects gone horribly wrong, budget squeezes, and the deaths of our parents and grandparents.  We've oohed and aahed over each others kids dressed in prom clothes and wedding gowns. We've been to bridal showers, baby showers and parties together.  And, we've gained and lost many pounds together. 

The three of us have done all those things women do for each other.  We've cooked for each other, played games, shared recipes, complained to each other, and, most Friday evenings, we all go out to dinner together.  They're part of what I call the Friday Night Dinner Club.  We all pile into Diane's big SUV and just choose a restaurant and all go out to dinner.  More about this group in a later post. 

I think part of what makes our friendship special is that we're at three different stages of our lives.  We're about ten years apart in our ages, one in her sixties, one in her fifties, and one in her forties.  Each of us knows that the others have been where we are or will be there soon.  There is a lot of comfort in knowing that someone else has gone through the same thing we have and has survived to tell the tale.  These are two of the women who make my walk a littler easier and a lot more fun.  I'm glad we're neighbors and I'm glad we're friends.

Friday, May 21, 2010

School's Out ... Let Freedom Ring!

Today is the last day of school for our local district, at least for the students who passed their core courses and their TAKS test.  It was also an early release day.  They got out of school at noon instead of 4 o'clock.  I remembered when I was leaving my neighborhood at about 12:30 and was behind a school bus that was dropping kids off near their homes.

The first thing I thought of was that old Alice Cooper song "School's Out for Summer."
No more pencils
No more books
No more teacher's dirty looks

Out for summer
Out till fall
We might not go back at all

School's out forever
School's out for summer.
My second thought was a line from very sweet poem by Mary Dow Brine "Somebody's Mother" that I've loved since I was a child.  One line of that poem particularly stuck with me:
Down the street with laughter and shout,
Glad in the freedom of school let out...
It paints such a vivid picture of how good it feels to be finished with another school year.  

Watching those kids jump joyfully from the school bus and run down the sidewalk reminded me of that feeling of absolute freedom that I used to feel on the last day of school every year. The thought of three months of hot, luxurious freedom stretched before me ... sleeping late in the mornings ... visiting my Granny ... playing outdoors until dusk ... taking afternoon naps ... chasing fireflies ... counting the stars ... reading books I wanted to read instead of something assigned ... no homework ... afternoons at the pool ... soaking up the sun ... Friday night fish fries ... picnics on the beach ... summer camp ... days and days of nothing particular to do.  I was a child in the 1960's when children were not over-scheduled.  Parents didn't rush from practice to games to lessons with their children.  We had time to be children and summers were magical.

Even though it's been 38 years since I last attended public schools, that feeling is still fresh in my mind.  Nothing has ever matched the feeling of absolute and total freedom that I used to feel on the last day of school every year.  I hope kids still feel that way "Glad in the freedom of school let out" and I hope teachers feel it at least a little bit.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Women On My Walk #1 - My Daughter

There are so many wonderful women who make up Grams' support system that deciding where to start has been more of a challenge than I expected.  So maybe it's a little obvious, but I've decided to start with the person who has been the number one most influential woman in my life for 30 years now, my daughter, Katy. 

Where to start and what can I say?  I'll start by saying that Katy is the most supportive person I know, bar none.  And she doesn't support and encourage only me, it is innate in her personality.  She's encouraging, upbeat, and uplifting to everyone, family, friends and coworkers.  Friends and family members have often commented to me about how just spending time with her raises their spirits. She's beautiful inside and out.

It was clear to me very early that her vision is different from mine.  And I mean that literally.  She has an artist's eye and she was born with it.  When I look at something, I see the thing.  When she looks at the same thing, she sees what it is made of ... the lines, the textures, the curves, and the shadows. And she has the talent and skill to translate what she sees into something beautiful and artistic. 

When I need it, she's not shy about giving me a good healthy dose of reality.  When I was investigating gastric bypass surgery in a desperate effort to regain control of my weight and my health, she went with me to visit the surgeon.  She listened to what he had to say and asked lots of questions.  She was straightforward and honest about her expectations.  She turned to me and said, "Mom, I'm willing to support you in this, but you have to do what the doctor says.  You can't do this for a while and then stop.  This will be for the rest of your life."  So there it was, not said out loud but powerful even though unspoken.  Without being unkind or mean-spirited, she'd just made her point.  What she didn't say is "Mom, you've been on every kind of diet there is, but you've never stuck to any of them long term."  But her point was made and it's stuck with me.  Every time I get discouraged or think I can't do it any more, I remember the commitment she asked of me and that I made to her, simply this, that I will do what the doctor says.  And the few times I've strayed off plan, she doesn't hesitate to remind me of my commitment. 

The morning my Mom died, I called Katy and she immediately offered to come home.  We already knew that the funeral would not be here in Corpus Christi, but 500 miles away in Northeast Texas.  We also knew that Grandad would be having major surgery within the next few days so I told her just to wait until the arrangements were made and then we would decide in a day or so who would go to the funeral and who would come home for the surgery.  But as the day passed and I faced the reality of coming home alone to an empty house, around five o'clock I realized that I didn't want to be alone.  I called her and she was here within three hours.  It was such a comfort not to have to face that night alone.

When I wanted to climb Enchanted Rock, she was the very first to volunteer to go with me.  When I struggled that day, both physically and emotionally, she stayed right by my side encouraging me and truly understanding why this was an emotional thing for me. 

We have a very strong mother-daughter connection that I did not have with my own Mom.  But, it's more than that.  There's even a psychic connection.  Both of us just know when the other is in need.  Simply put, she's my best friend.  Rarely does a day go by that we don't talk on the phone.  When I need advice, she's the one I can always turn to.  She's level-headed and truly wise beyond her years.  She makes good decisions about her own life.  She lives her life consciously.  She's environmentally and politically responsible.  And I am proud of the woman she is.

Our relationship has not always been sunshine and roses.  After all, she was a teenage girl for six or seven years.  And don't even get me started on some of the young men she chose to date.  But when it came to choosing a life partner, she chose wisely.  She has a wonderful husband and they are building a great life together.  We still don't always see eye-to-eye on everything, but we love and respect each other.  Over the years we have successfully redefined our relationship to keep it suitable to our ages and where we are in our lives.  And, she's the mother of Our Little Princess.  What more could I ask for?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Women On My Walk

For several months now, Grams has been considering writing a series of entries about the women who are or have been part of my life.  Yesterday while making plans with a friend to go and see the upcoming movie "Sex and the City 2" I thought again about how important other women have been in my life.  I've been acutely aware of their importance for the past few years, since I've been dealing with Grandad's ill health and the loss of both of my parents. 

Several years ago I received an email with the subject line "Don't Forget Your Girlfriends."  I liked it a lot and saved it.  I have re-read it a number of times over the years and passed it on to my daughter when she got married.  I don't know it's origin, but here it is. 
I sat on a summer day, drinking iced tea and visiting with my mother.

"Don't forget your girlfriends," Mother advised, clinking the ice cubes in her glass. “No matter how much you love your husband, you are still going to need girlfriends. Remember to go places with them now and then; and do things with them, even when you don't necessarily want to. And remember that girlfriends are not only friends, but sisters, daughters, mothers, grandmothers and other relatives too. Women supporting and relating to other women is our responsibility and our gift.”

"What a funny piece of advice," I thought. "Hadn't I just gotten married? Hadn't I just joined the couple-world? I was now a married woman, for goodness sake, not some young girl who needed friends!"

But I listened to my Mom. I kept in contact with my girlfriends and even found some new ones along the way. As the years tumbled by, one after another, I gradually came to understand that Mom really knew what she was talking about!

Here is what I know: Girl friends bring casseroles and scrub your bathroom when you need help; Girlfriends keep your children and your secrets. Girlfriends give advice when you ask … sometimes you take it and some-times you don't. Girlfriends don't always tell you you're right, but they usually tell the truth. Girlfriends still love you, even when they disagree with your choices. Girlfriends laugh with you and don't need canned jokes to start the laughter. Girlfriends pull you out of jams. Girlfriends don't keep a calendar of who hosted the others last big party.

Girlfriends will celebrate for your son or daughter when they get married or have a baby, in whichever order that happens. Girlfriends are there for you in an instant, and when the hard times come. Girlfriends will drive through blizzards, rainstorms, hail, heat, and gloom of night to get to you when your hour of need is desperate.

Girlfriends listen when you lose a job or a friend. Girlfriends listen when your children break your heart. Girlfriends listen when your parents' minds and bodies fail. Girlfriends cry with you when someone you loved dies. Girlfriends support you when the men in your life let you down. Girlfriends help you pick up the pieces when men pack up and go.  Girlfriends rejoice at what makes you happy, and are ready to go out and kill what makes you unhappy.
Times passes. Life happens. Distance separates. Children grow up. Marriages fail. Love waxes and wanes. Hearts break. Careers end. Jobs come and go. Parents die. Colleagues forget favors. Men don't call when they say they will. But girlfriends are there, no matter how much time and how many miles are between you. A girlfriend is never farther away than needing her can reach.

When you have to walk that lonesome valley, and you have to walk it for yourself, your girlfriends will be on the valley's rim, cheering you on, praying for you, pulling for you, intervening on your behalf, and waiting with open arms at the valley's end. Sometimes, they will even break the rules and walk beside you. Or come in and carry you out.

My daughters, sisters-in-law, mother-in-law, nieces, cousins, extended family, and friends bless my life. The world wouldn't be the same without them, and neither would I.

When we began this adventure called womanhood, we had no idea of the incredible joys or sorrows that lay ahead, nor did we know how much we would need each other. Every day, we need each other still.
Over the next few months, I'm planning to do a short series of blog entries about the women who have become my support system.  I'm not sure yet exactly how many entries there will be.  Some will feature individual women and some will feature groups.  But I'm looking forward to telling you about some of the remarkable women who have made my walk both easier and more worthwhile.  Some of them are relatives and some of them are friends.  Each of them is accomplished, amazing and special.  These women have laughed with me, played with me, cried with me, eaten with me, fed me, encouraged me, prayed for me, advised me, inspired me, drank with me, celebrated with me, given me a shot of reality when I needed it, and one or two of them helped me "bury the bodies."

So when you see an ad for "Sex and the City 2" think about your girlfriends and all the amazing women on your walk.  Think about how they have been there for you and you've been there for them.  Women are amazing and wonderful creatures!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Grams Made Lavender Bath Salts

Every year at Christmas, Grams gives small gifts to all the ladies in the family.  Everyone gets exactly the same gift.  Over the years I've given a variety of items including house slippers, friendship tea, candles, mugs, and many others.  I call them my Elvira Elf gifts.  The point is to do something small but special for all the women.  Some years they're hand made, some years they're purchased.

However, since Grams stopped working full time, it's become essential to keep the cost to a minimum.  So last year I started brainstorming early to find a gift that would be nice but producing 15-20 of them wouldn't break the bank.  I hit on the idea of homemade bath salts.  Making them was surprisingly simple.  There are quite a few recipes and instructions on the internet.  The one I settled on is my own recipe, arrived at by tweaking several of the recipes I found on the web. 

I chose to make it lavender scented because it's one of my favorite scents.  I always keep a bowl of lavender sitting in my linen cabinet.  Not only does it smell wonderful, it keeps the silverfish away.

Christian legend says that lavender got its lovely scent when the Blessed Virgin Mary laid the clothes of the the Baby Jesus on the lavender bush to dry.  Early Christians believed that lavender kept away evil.  They often kept a cross made of lavender above their doors. 

I found pretty jars for $1.00 each at our local Big Lots.  I added a pretty lavender bow, a tag that said "Grams Made It" and included the legend on the tag.  I was very pleased with the result.  Here's my recipe.

1 cup Epsom Salts
1/4 cup Sea Salt
3 Tablespoons Baking Soda
1-2 Teaspoons Glycerin
8 drops Lavendar Essential Oil

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and stir to mix well.

You may substitute any other scent of essential oil and experiment with mixing fragrances and more or less glycerin.  You can also add food coloring if you choose, but I love the way it looks kind of glittery and white.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Grams Made Olive Cheese Balls

Of all the finger food I make for parties, this seems to be everyone's favorite.  In fact, if I'm expecting certain guests, I always double the recipe.  I've been making them for years and don't remember where the recipe came from.  They're easy to make and very tasty.  Serve them warm from the oven.

2 cups finely grated Cheddar cheese
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/4 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon paprika
1 cup all-purpose flour
approximately 36 pimiento-stuffed green olives (well drained)

Thoroughly mix cheese, butter, hot pepper sauce, salt, paprika, and flour.  Form a portion of dough around each olive.  Bake in a 400 degree oven for 15 minutes or until golden brown.

Note:  Olive balls can be made ahead of time and frozen.  Then just pop them into the oven and cook them just before serving. 

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Countdown Has Begun

Yesterday Grandad saw the Interventional Cardiologists in Houston.

We arrived at the appointment about 45 minutes early and actually got in early.  Over the next three hours, Grandad was examined by three different doctors; his vitals were taken; he had an EKG and blood drawn.  In addition he was generally poked and prodded by all three doctors.  Their conclusion was what we already knew, Grandad's heart is in atrial fibrillation.  In addition, his heart is in "full flutter."  Both of these are caused by a small area of electrical abnormalities in the upper chambers of the heart. 

They consulted with each other and then presented several options for treatment. 

The first choice is to try a different medication.  They explained that the medication he's been taking, Amiodorone, is considered the "big dog" of medications that regulate heartbeat.  If Amiodorone doesn't work, none of the others is likely to work, but they are willing to try something else if that's his preference.

The second choice is to shock the heart with paddles to restart his heartbeat.  After this procedure he would be required to continue taking the same medication to control his heartbeat.  This procedure works for some people, but is considered a short-term solution.  They do not believe this is a good option for Grandad.

The third choice, and the one they recommend, is cardiac ablation.  Cardiac ablation involves ablating specific areas within the left atrium near the openings of the 4 pulmonary veins which are the blood vessels that deliver oxygenated blood from the lungs to the heart.  The ablation is performed using a heart catheter through the arteries in both legs.  It can take as long as 4-5 hours and may have to be repeated 2-3 times for full success.   There is a slight (1-2%) chance of stroke.  The success rate for cardiac ablation is around 80%.

They did not discuss a heart pacemaker with us, although through research we know that it is the treatment of last resort.

We chose the cardiac ablation treatment and asked to be scheduled as soon as possible.  The first available date is Wednesday, June 8 at the Texas Heart Institute at St. Luke's Hospital in Houston.  He will have to be in Houston on the 6th or the 7th for preoperative testing which includes trans-esophageal echo-cardiogram (TEE) to assess the heart function and, specifically, to look for blood clots.  Any evidence of blood clots around the heart will result in cancellation of the procedure. The doctors must also make a complete map of his heart before surgery.  Once the procedure is complete he will stay in the hospital overnight and, if all goes well, will be released the next day but expected to stay in Houston for a few days. 

We are relieved to finally have a diagnosis and a plan for treatment.  But we were both disappointed that an earlier date is not available.  We have asked to be notified in case any time opens in the schedule.  They indicated that they do occasionally have cancellations and put him on the list to fill any slot that may open up. 

I appreciate the fact that a "panel" of doctors looked at the evidence and presented the options.  I'm a firm believer in the old adage that two heads are better than one.  I also appreciate them giving us the final say in the choice of treatment.

We are home tonight and tired but hopeful.  It feels good to finally have a plan.  Now we start the countdown.  As always, we appreciate your prayers.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Church

Grams and Grandad are in Houston this weekend dog-sitting for our Grand-dogs while Nick and Marie are in San Antonio. They live in northeast Houston, very close to Humble.  We decided that we would drive over to Kingwood for mass this Mother's Day at St. Martha's Catholic Church.  We had driven past it before and thought it would be nice.  We didn't remember exactly where it was so I "googled" the address, punched it into my Tom-Tom, and headed for church.  As usual, we were running on a very tight schedule.

We hurried the ten or so miles following the directions step by step.  As we made the last turn onto Woodland Hills Drive, there was a huge church on our right.  I thought to myself that the church was bigger than I remembered.  We turned into the driveway, ready to rush in just in time for the service to start.  The parking lot was full and there were cars parked along the side of the road.  We noticed a big sign in the parking lot that said "Free Valet Parking."  I must admit that I found that a little odd.  But again to myself, I thought that, given how crowded it seemed, valet parking was a great idea.  We were greeted by two very friendly "parishioners" who were dressed in khakis and golf shirts.  One of them drove off to park our car while to other one pointed us towards the "sanctuary."

As we turned to head towards the church I saw it ... a small sign that said "Welcome to Kingwood Baptist Church."

I quietly tugged on Grandad's arm, he leaned over and I whispered in his ear, "This is a Baptist church." The look of shock on his face was priceless.  He turned to the one remaining valet attendant and explained to him that we were at the wrong church.  I stood by quietly beginning to laugh.  The attendant jumped into a handy golf cart and chased down our car.  They were very gracious and invited us to stay for services at their church even suggesting that we could be "Southern Baptist for the day."  I jokingly told them that I was raised Southern Baptist, but I used to tell my Mother that I overcame it.  They didn't laugh.

As soon as we got in the car, I started laughing maniacally.  I got a huge kick out of almost getting Grandad into the Baptist Church for the day.  He didn't think it was as funny as I did, although he did seem mildly amused.

We made it to St. Martha's just in time for the opening hymn.  It was a special treat, because it was first communion Sunday at St. Martha's.  There is nothing sweeter than second graders dressed up for their first communion.  I'm happy to report that St. Martha's was just as crowded and just as friendly as Kingwood Baptist seemed.  The service was a lovely celebration of first communion and Mother's Day.  They have a fabulous choir, friendly people, an entertaining and interesting priest.   I really enjoyed being there.

However, I can't help but think that my Mother (God rest her soul) had a hand in guiding us to Kingwood Baptist Church for Mother's Day.  Some people never give up!

Thanks for the Memories and Happy Mother's Day

My children have given me many gifts since I became a mom more than 30 years ago. I've gotten many of your standard Mother's Day gifts including flowers, candy, jewelry, clothes and perfume. But of all the things my children have given me, the best gift of all is a lifetime of memories.

I've heard it said that being a Mom is the toughest job you'll ever love.  Whoever said that knew what they were talking about.  I love being a Mom.  But there were times when it was tough, tougher than I ever expected it to be.  There are good times and bad times.  Thank God, the good times far outweigh the bad.

Over the past 30 years I've experienced millions of momentary miracles and equally as many moments that made me wonder what the hell I was thinking when I decided to have these kids.

Those miraculous moments were sometimes followed by real downers. The thrill of holding my babies in my arms for the first time was followed by six weeks of postpartum blues while I thought about how having a baby may have ruined my life. While I tried to follow everyone's advice to "sleep when the baby sleeps" moronic telemarketers called trying to sell life insurance for our new little bundle of joy.

The hours of walking the floors all night with a colicky baby were quickly erased by baby's first smile.  Our first child slept all night by the time she was six weeks old.  I remember waking up that first morning and being absolutely convinced that she must have died in her sleep.  On the other hand, our second child never slept all night until he was five years old.  That's right, I said NEVER.  Not one full night of sleep in five years.  I would be trying to put him back to bed while choking back tears of exhaustion.  Seriously, I used to cry while praying for a full night of sleep.  

There were tiny little miracles like watching her curl her tiny little toes in the sand for the first time; followed shortly thereafter by her looking around the beach, turning up her nose, saying "dirty" and refusing to budge another inch.  She climbed right back into the car and refused to walk on the beach or go in the water.  Years later as a teenager, we always knew where to find her in the summer.  She was at the beach!

I especially loved it when my kids laughed.  There is something so innocent about how babies giggle.  And I fondly remember them standing in their cribs in the mornings sweetly calling "Ma-ma" over and over again in their little bitty voices.  A few short years later, that sweet smiling "Ma-ma" became "MOTHER!" while they rolled their teenaged eyes.

My children are vastly different.  She's a brown-eyed red-head.  He's blond with blue eyes.  She's always been quiet and introspective.  His personality is larger than life.  She's artistic and bookish.  He's mathematically inclined and sports crazy.  She's all about being organic and natural.  He loves things that are shiny and new. 

They have both always been very healthy and both are athletic.  They both played basketball from third grade all the way through high school.  He went on to play collegiate ball.  Some of my fondest memories are of sitting in the bleachers at the gym or a track meet.  She had to be dragged into her first year of "little dribblers" and didn't learn to love it until she had coaches who saw her potential and worked to develop her skills.  It came naturally to him.  He could dribble and shoot by the time he was five.  Seriously, he provided halftime entertainment at her little dribbler games.  As soon as the whistle blew, he was on the floor shooting from half-court and practically doing a dribbling demonstration.  Sports kept them grounded and provided them with a like-minded group of friends.  In the off-season they both played on AAU select teams which kept all of us busy and broke.   Both of them still remain active, enjoying bicycling, running, walking, yoga and basketball.

I remember how our daughter tried to hide her disappointment when her Dad bought her a used Ford Festiva as her first car.  She knew she should be grateful, but it was hard when several of her friends were driving shiny brand new cars.  But she made the best of it, thanked us graciously and never complained about being expected to drive her brother to wherever he needed to go.

Both of my children are unfailingly kind.  During his kindergarten class play the students were dressed as jacks-in-the-box.  When the little girl next to him knocked her box over, fell and started crying, he knocked his own box over so she wouldn't be the only one.

Then there was watching our second child mope around the house because he missed his older sister who had been gone away to college for a mere three months.  This after at least five years of them not being able to stand the site of each other.  It was amazing to watch the two of them run into each other's arms the first time they saw each other again.

I was proud of both of them when they graduated from high school and again when they both were awarded their bachelor's degrees.  I was even prouder to see both of them marry good and decent mates and begin families of their own.

I was so excited when she called me to tell me of her engagement and it was such an honor to be present when our son proposed to his future wife in front of her Aggie graduating class.  And there is nothing at all that can compare to witnessing the birth of your grandchild.  Just the knowledge that she wanted me there, in that room with her, was so touching.

Once, as a teenager, when she was annoyed that I had to know where she was going and when she'd be home, my daughter asked me why I cared so much. I firmly believe that my answer that day was inspired.  I told her, "You are my life's work. You are what God has given me to do. That's why I care so much." Honestly, it just popped into my head. And I still believe it. These children are my life's work.

Happy Mother's Day to all Moms, especially to my daughter!  And to my kids ... thanks for the memories.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Happily Ever After

The upcoming Mothers Day weekend makes me think about the kind of home I grew up in.  In large part, the kind of mother I became is a direct result of where I came from.  With a few exceptions, I doubt that even people who have known me since I was a teenager know very much about my family life.  I have never been good at sustaining long-term friendships and I think that's a product of my raising. 

Generally speaking, my parents had issues.  They fought like cats and dogs, they were verbally abusive and sometimes they were physically violent, both with each other and sometimes towards us kids.  It was more than just spanking; sometimes it was fists and belts.  Two of my five siblings are what's now referred to as "special needs." I would say that definitely added to their stress and undoubtedly to their expenses. 

They were never fiscally responsible.  It was not unusual for our cars or our furniture to be repossessed.  My parents never owned a home of their own.  We either lived with relatives or we lived in rent houses.  We moved frequently, because they didn't pay the rent and would be evicted.  (I'll note right here that I went to seven or eight different elementary schools.  My sister and I once made a list of all the houses we lived in that we could remember, the total was more than fifteen.)

We once spent an entire summer with no electricity and no running water.  Our neighbors allowed us to run a water hose for drinking water and for flushing the toilets.  Most of the time we didn't have a telephone. When we did have a phone, bill collectors called frequently.  Disconnected utilities were the norm for us. 

My Dad was an automotive mechanic.  He worked hard all his life.  He was a civilian employee of the federal government, first for the Army, later for the Navy.  Several times he was transferred, laid off and/or fired.  He had "anger issues."  I once saw him pull a shotgun on an electric company employee who was sent to disconnect our service and I know that at least once he was suspended for threatening a fellow employee.  I know now that my Dad had a condition that I'm pretty sure would be diagnosed as "intermittent explosive disorder."  One of my sisters has the same disorder.  Now it can be controlled with medication. 

Mom was a stay-at-home mom.  From time-to-time she did such things as sell Tupperware or cosmetics.  She battled severe depression and bi-polar disorder her entire life.  When she was in one of her low periods she would not get out of bed for days and more than once she threatened to kill herself.  Those times were hard to endure and the impact they had on me was deep and long-lasting.

They did not expect nor encourage us to attend college.  Several of us had opportunities for higher education, but our parents told us they would not help us and, if we did go, we would be on our own.  We were expected to go to work and to contribute significant amounts of our income to the household, and we did.  (To his eternal credit, my brother Charlie went to night school and eventually earned a bachelor's degree.)  We were all told that once we left home we could never move back home.  

As adults, my siblings and I have discussed in great depth why my parents were the way they were and why they couldn't or didn't pay their bills.  They didn't drink, gamble or live extravagantly.  We just don't know what was going on with them and we never will.  As an adult, I've come to understand that they probably did the best they were capable of doing.  It's what I choose to believe and it helps me make peace with it all.  

Don't get me wrong.  I loved my parents and, considering all this, I had a pretty good childhood.  As a kid, I didn't know this behavior was abnormal or unusual.  I thought everyone lived this way, but mostly I didn't think about it at all. As a teenager, it was embarrassing and I came to hate the way we lived.  I always knew that, if I ever had kids, I would make sure they had a sane and stable home life. 

Before our children started school, we moved into the home where we still live.  Our utilities have never been disconnected and we pay our bills on time.  Both of my kids went to kindergarten and graduated high school with the same group of kids.  They both have friends that they've known their entire lives.  They were yelled at, disciplined, and even spanked, but never abused.  And we helped both of our kids go to and finish college.  From the time they started school, they were taught that their education would not be finished until they had earned at least a bachelor's degree.  College was mandatory, not optional.  They're both educated, employed, and happily married.

The mother I am is the result of the kind of home I grew up in.  The difficulties I endured did not define me, they made me work hard to be the best Mom I could be.  I am content and satisfied with the kind of mother I am.  We have always had a peaceful and loving home.  I have great relationships with both of my children and I love being both Mom and Grams. It was a long trip, but I made it to my happily ever after.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Grams Made Asparagus and Bacon Quiche

I found this recipe in my e-mail inbox last week. I would give credit to the source but I forgot to make a note of it. I made it for dinner tonight and it is quick, easy and delicious. I highly recommend it.

1 refrigerated pie crust (like Pillsbury All-Ready)
1 pound fresh asparagus
6 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
1 (5-ounce) package grated Swiss cheese
5 eggs
1 cup half-and-half
1 teaspoon dried tarragon
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Unroll pie crust and place in a 9-inch pie plate. Fold pie crust edges under and crimp. Set aside.

Snap off and discard tough ends of asparagus. Cut asparagus into 1-inch pieces; place in a small microwave-safe baking dish. Cover dish tightly with heavy-duty plastic wrap; fold back a small corner to allow steam to escape.

Microwave on High for 4 minutes, or until crisp-tender; drain well.

Place asparagus in bottom of prepared crust. Top evenly with crumbled bacon and cheese.

In a small bowl, whisk together eggs, half-and-half, tarragon, salt, and pepper. Pour over cheese.

Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until set.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Catechism of Kids and Candy

Grams was raised in the Southern Baptist Church.  As an adult, I converted to Catholicism because that's what Grandad practices and I reasoned that I can serve God where ever he put me.  Since I know many who read my blog are not Catholic, I'm going to give you a little bit of background on the Catholic sacrament of First Holy Communion and the rites and traditions that surround it.

May is First Holy Communion season in the Catholic church.  Picture angelic little children ... girls dressed in white dresses and veils, boys dressed in dark trousers with white shirts and wearing their first-ever neckties.  (Those are my children on the right.)

In our diocese, children must complete at least two years of religious education (formerly known as CCD) by attending weekly classes.  It's traditional to make your First Holy Communion  in the second grade, so that makes the kids about 7-8 years old.

There are numerous horror stories where overzealous priests and/or bishops quiz kids about their Catechism or ask them to recite prayers aloud during Mass.  As you might imagine, these stories usually include kids who freeze up and can't answer said questions or recite a even single Hail Mary. Most modern priests have long since abandoned this practice and, if they do question the communicants or make them recite prayers, they do it before the Mass in one of the religious-education classes.

Mass usually begins with a procession down the main aisle of the church.  The procession is led by a "cross-bearer" who carries a large crucifix, followed by altar servers, the lector, Eucharistic lay ministers, and the priest.  On First Communion Sunday, the First Communicants join this procession, following right behind the alter servers.  It's a very serious and stately procession.  The religious education teachers have carefully instructed their students to walk with their hands folded prayerfully.  When the procession begins, the congregation stands and the choir sings.  Moms, Dads and Grandparents lean into the aisle and snap photos of their little angels walking in the procession.

The Communicants then sit together, right up at the front of the church, with their families and loved ones right behind them.  When it's time for communion, these First Communicants go first.  Again, many photos are snapped; although some churches prohibit photography during the actual Communion.

Grams and Grandad attend a very small rural church.  In fact, it's so small that most years we only have one or two kids making their first communion.  This year's class was huge.  There were five First Communicants.

To say that our priest is "old school" would be an understatement of epic proportions.  He's a very pious, serious and old-fashioned priest who has been elevated to the honorary position of Monsignor.   Most people his age would be retired, but given the shortage of priests, he's been moved to our small parish which is as close to retirement as you can get.  He still celebrates Mass every day for our tiny little parish.  And while I appreciate his service, I have noticed that the "old school" part of him can't quite give up many of the old ways.

This morning's Mass and First Communion went very well right up until the end.  It was clear that the CCD teachers, parents and students had all done their jobs admirably. The kids were well behaved and well prepared. 

After Communion, while the Eucharistic Ministers where clearing the altar, I noticed that one of the First Communicants got up and went to the back of the church, presumably to the bathroom.  Before the young man returned, Monsignor got up from his seat, came down off of the altar, and stood right in front of the kids.  For a moment I thought he was going to shake hands with the First Communicants and congratulate them.  But, alas, the "old school" part of him felt the need for one more lesson about the importance of attending church regularly.  It went something like this.

He started by saying in his loud and stately voice, "What and have we already lost one of our children?"  The congregation chuckled.

He continued "Well children, now that you've received Jesus through Holy Communion, it's your responsibility to attend church every Sunday or Saturday night.  But, since you're only 7 years old, it's your parents' responsibility to make sure you get to church every Sunday.  Because if someone saw a child your age walking down the street alone you could get picked up."  (At this point the voice in my head went "Huh?")

He continued by asking "Do you know your multiplication yet?"  A little voice responded "I know some."

Monsignor quizzed "Whats 24 x 7?"  I couldn't hear the response but, obviously, it was something that included "No, that's too hard." or some variation of that.

Monsignor decided to take a different tack.  "How many hours in a week?"  Again some inaudible response from one of the little people that indicated that the answer was above their education and ability. 

As Monsignor continued, the "missing" child came out of the bathroom and realized he might be missing something important.  This led him to dash full speed down the center aisle only to skid to a stop and slip, not so quietly, into the front row of seats.  (I, along with several other parishioners, stifled a giggle.)

Undaunted by the interruption, Monsignor decided to answer his own question.  "There are 168 hours in a week and Jesus only asks for one of those hours."  (Again, the voice in my head with the "Huh?" and I thought to myself "that's not exactly what he means.") 

Clearly these kids were not getting the point to Monsignor's satisfaction.  He decided an illustration was in order.  "If you had 168 pieces of candy and your friend asked for one, would you give it to him?"  A little voice answered clearly and firmly "No!"

Monsignor rephrased and directed the question to another child "If you had 168 pieces of candy and your brother asked for one, you'd give it to him.  Wouldn't you?"  Again, the answer is an emphatic "No!  He never shares with me."  The entire congregation busted out laughing uproariously.  

At this point Monsignor abandoned the question and answer part of the program and made his point that these children have reached the "age of accountability" and must now attend church to satisfy their Sunday obligation and, until they're big enough to get there on their own, it's their parents responsibility to get them there.  He then returned to the altar, gave his final blessing and followed the recession out of the church.

We left the church with everyone talking about the refreshing honesty of children.  Even the stoic and serious Monsignor was smiling with a twinkle in his eye as we filed out and shook his hand.