Tuesday, January 28, 2014

It's Been Good to Know You

Pete Seeger

May 3, 1919 – January 27, 2014

Rest in Peace Pete, 

you gave all you had 

and we took it 

with loving hands. 

    This is a beautiful and fitting song from Pete:


To my old brown earth

And to my old blue sky

I'll now give these last few molecules of "I."

And you who sing,

And you who stand nearby,

I do charge you not to cry.

Guard well our human chain,

Watch well you keep it strong,

As long as sun will shine.

And this our home,

Keep pure and sweet and green,

For now I'm yours 

And you are also mine.

Words and Music by Pete Seeger (1958)
1964 (renewed) by Stormking Music Inc.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Let Me Tell You About Mary …

First thing I have to get out of the way is the terrible stone of guilt in my chest that I let 20 years pass without sending her a letter or calling her on the phone, but I thought she was dead. Ian had dropped by to see her in the early 90's, and had a good catch-up. A few months later I unexpectedly ran into someone from the Valley and asked, "How is Mary?" and was met by, "Oh, didn't you hear? She died in the fall." I was so glad Ian had seen her in the Spring, but a little hole fell out of my heart.

I was 27 when I met her. We were staying in her neighbour's Bev's guesthouse for a few weeks while we looked for a place to live. I went with Bev to take a parcel up the long driveway to Mary's ancient grey farmhouse. Mary came outside, blinking in the winter sun. She was wary of me, a stranger, almost to the point of rudeness. You could tell she was sizing me up, 5' tall, 80 lbs. It was plain I didn't look like much to her.  

The second time we went to her farm, I took my boys. I think she'd called to say the ewes were beginning to lamb, and Bev had asked to see the new lambs. Our youngest was about 16 months old. He was big sturdy boy for his age, with golden ringlets I had not had the heart to cut, olive skin and eyes like chocolate pies. He was wearing a brown snowsuit, with a hood trimmed in fake fur.

We climbed out of the truck, and I got him out of his car seat. He was in my arms, straddling my hip, facing the opposite direction, but he turned at the sound of Mary's voice and reached up to sweep his hood back. She looked at him in utter astonishment for a few seconds then turned without a word and went into the house. When she emerged she was carrying a photo of a toddler, which could have been Zak. She handed me the picture and took the baby from my arms. "That's my son Stephen," she said, "and this one is the living image of him when he was a baby."

That's how our friendship began. We couldn't have been more different, but somehow we just clicked. She was tall, if not six foot, then certainly very close, brawny and muscular. Her skin was dark, her eyes black, her hair dark curls streaked with grey, usually stuffed under a wool cap. Her face was Slavic or Inuit, and there were gaps in her teeth. Her skin was as lined as old leather and I judged her to be 20 years older than she really was.

She'd been widowed young, raised her children and ran the farm her father homesteaded alone, living in the house he'd built when the Columbia Valley was really frontier country. Walking into her house was like walking  60 years into the past. No electricity upstairs, or heat either. Just the big stove in the kitchen and a wood stove in the parlour. The toilet was equipped with a path and had a fine view, seeing as it had no door.

We found a place to live, a few miles down the road, but we had to pick up our mail at the post office, which usually meant a visit with Mary a couple of times a week, and she repaid the visits, as she drove by on her way to town. Mary loved a bargain so she'd shop in both Golden and Invermere. I once pointed out she'd spent $5.00 in gas driving to Golden to save 25 cents on sweet rolls, and she laughed and said, "But it's the thrill of the chase." 

She raised sheep, grazing them in a great swooping meadow below the hill the house sat on. One day we were standing in the yard watching the sheep graze in the meadow below. Suddenly she darted into the house and came out with a 22 rifle. Raising it in one easy motion she fired. I had not seen what she was shooting at but she said with satisfaction, "Got 'im!" Seeing my confusion she asked, "You didn't see that ki-yute in my lambs?"  She walked down the hill into the far corner of the field and returned with a dead coyote. 

She had an old barn with a sagging roofline, and numerous sheds. She had chickens and rabbits, a cat and a dog, a couple of goats, and a fine kitchen garden which had to be double-fenced to keep the rabbits and chickens at bay. She had a little spring that ran a clear stream of water to her cistern and twice a day she'd fill an old stone trough with clear, cold water and wait quietly for all the sheep to drink, explaining that though the stream ran right through their pasture, a sheep won't drink moving water.

She ran a 40 mile trapline on snowshoes through the cold grey shards of the Rockies that tumbled to the back edges of her property. One winter day, as I made an unusually late mail run I decided to make a call on Mary and as I turned toward her drive she staggered near-frozen across the road ahead of me. I pulled into the drive, opened the big pipe iron gate and helped her into the passenger seat.

She was soaked through and too cold to talk. I helped her into the house, started a fire in the stove  and put the kettle on as she shucked off her water-laden parka. I had to take off her boots and her soaked clothes as she was too stiff with cold.  She was too modest to strip in front of me, so I got some towels and while she dried off as best as she could I got her big flannel nightie and woolen housecoat off their hook in the bedroom and some dry socks. She took off her wet underwear from beneath the covering of the housecoat. I towel dried her hair while she drank hot tea.

Finally she was able to tell me that she'd gone to cross the slough by the railroad tracks across the highway, just opposite the driveway, and she'd stepped onto thin ice, had broken through and gone under. Thankfully it was shallow water. By breaking the ice in front of her with the big staff she carried she'd managed to pull herself back onto solid ground and shed her snowshoes. She'd just staggered across the tracks when I pulled out of the parking area at the general store/post office.

The next year at Christmas she gave us six young Rhode Island Red hens to add to our small flock. This was a wonderful gift, because she raised beautiful laying hens which sold at premium prices. Once Spring came they were free to roam, which they did, always coming back to roost in our little barn at night. But one hot summer day when Mary came to see us, we were sitting on the porch enjoying a glass of lemonade when she asked, "How's them chickens doing?"

I told her they were doing great, they'd grown into great fat hens who laid an egg every day. She said, "I want to see them." This didn't seem much of a problem since we could hear them chuckling to themselves as they picked through the leaf litter in the treed slope just above the house. So Mary, Ian, Zak and I went into the woods single file, Mary leading the way, looking for chickens.

Suddenly Mary whirled and ran back towards me, screaming, "Hornets! Hornets!" In her wake was a swarm of small but fierce ground hornets. She had stepped into a nest of the things and they were boiling out of the ground. I yelled at the boys to run, and I ran.

Later we all sat on the porch with clay dug from our creek bed plastered on our numerous hornet stings, a blob of clay here, and a blob there, and another there and another there until we all got the giggles at how silly we all must have looked screaming and running out of the woods like our tails were on fire. 

It was Mary's antiquated gun I borrowed when we had bear trouble, and when rain threatened to get her newly baled hay wet and she couldn't find anyone to help her get it into the barn I spent an afternoon pitching hay bales that weighed almost as much as I did from her old truck into the second floor of her barn. "I wouldn't have believed you could do that," she said afterwards. "That was really something."

And here's what hurts. I was looking for some information about the area where we lived those many years ago, before circumstances pulled us so far away. And I found this. If only I had known.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Why Couldn't I Sleep Through Hell?

When I folded and went to bed at 2:00 am last night, it wasn't to sleep. It wasn't to do the obvious diversionary tactic married couples enjoy on nights when sleep eludes them either, more's the pity. We lay in bed, both trying to find any comfortable position that would allow sleep to arrive.

At some point during the day I'd slipped a rib from both front and back moorings on sternum and spine. I have one especially loosey-goosey rib that likes to travel. Dam* it hurts to breathe, and lying on it is misery. I prop myself with a rolled up towel front and back, to keep the rib from flattening, and every breath from being like a stab in the chest.  

The cats decided it was an ideal time for a round of Gladiators, and I was a launching pad on the chase route. (Right on the rib that was roaming). I got up shortly after 3:00 and took another pain pill, one from Wednesday's allowance. Meanwhile Tony hadn't slept at all, so we both got up and watched a video for a while. I went back to bed shortly before 4:00 and slept intermittently until 5:30 when Tony came to bed and went to sleep. Then we slept until 10:30 this morning.

We've agreed we should have just continued to sleep through the day and gotten up tomorrow. I can only describe today as tourism in Hell. It's been difficult to move. I've had trouble getting in and out of my chair. My muscles, from fingers to the soles of my feet, have been hot and intensely painful. I have been on the edge of tears most of the day.

Because I know that as soon  as I'm better I'll completely forget how much I hurt today and how useless I've been I decided to write it down while I'm still feeling it.

I go to the doctor and when she asks, "How have you been?" I chirp, "Fine, I've been fine!" This means she cut my pain meds by 3/4 on my last visit. On good days, when none of my joints are subluxated, when my scoliosis and neck vertebrae are behaving themselves, when I don't have a migraine, when I've not gone shopping, or vacuumed or cleaned the bathtub, or changed the bed linens, three pain pills a day is enough to let me sleep. On nights when any of the above has occurred three is entirely inadequate. Four, and sometimes five in necessary.  

I had never taken the eight a day I was prescribed by my previous doctor. But cutting my pain pills to three a day has meant I am often unable to sleep until 2:00-3:00 a.m. and I spend my days in enough pain to keep me from functioning even at my normal snail's pace. So now, I have something to go back to before my next appointment, because I have PTSD when it comes to doctors and all I can focus on is getting out of the exam room as quickly as possible.


Did I Sleep Through Paris?

It was that kind of day. It was a Tuesday and yet all day long I thought it was Monday. I have no idea where Monday went. Do other people lose entire days without so much as an eye blink?

I only realized it was in fact, Tuesday, when I said to Tony as I put tonight's dinner in the oven at 7:10 that tomorrow night's dinner would have to be earlier since I had arranged to talk to SM on Tuesday at 7:00. He looked at me and said, "This is Tuesday."

Well, if this is Tuesday this would be Paris, and for the life of me I can't see the Eiffel Tower, a corner cafe or anyone who looks like a Vogue model out the window, so he can't be right. SHI&. How do you lose an entire day?

Whatever I did on Monday whipped my butt, and as I write this it's vaguely pulling itself apart from Sunday. I picked up a half a dozen items at Sobey's, got $ from the ATM, washed the bed linens, vacuumed the floors, scrubbed down the bathroom…. Now I'm remembering why I forgot Monday. I'm too tired to remember it!

This flurry of household activity began when a rare energy wave hit me about 10:00 Sunday night. After sitting wobbly-kneed all day my attack suddenly lifted and I flew in and cleaned the kitchen, washed down the cupboard fronts, scrubbed the counters, washed down the table, chairs and hutch, washed the fridge, range hood, stove and dishwasher, wet-dusted all the bookshelves and table surfaces in the living room, and did a load of laundry.

This morning I barely managed to sweep the floors I was so stiff and sore. I have grumped and creaked around all day. But we were both creaky because Tony helped by taking out several loads of garbage, moving furniture so I could vacuum under it, folding clothes and helping make the bed. We had to move some furniture today because we'd bought a new rocker recliner and it was to be delivered on Monday, which got pushed back a day. Maybe that's what had me confused?

 At 11:00 the phone started ringing and rang the entire day. Each time I expected it to be the chair delivery, each time it was either a resident needing help, a sales call, a friend or someone other than the chair man.

Finally at about 1:00 the man with the chair showed up and I am now putting the first of many miles on it. Still, I mustered up the energy to make a fairly complex dinner (for me). It was delicious and we will eat the second half for tomorrow night's dinner. I include the recipe.  

Sweet potato and Black Bean Enchiladas
    2 cups cooked and mashed sweet potato
    1 cup cooked black beans
    1 chicken breast, cut into strips and browned in pan, then diced small
    1 avocado diced
    1 lime
    8 corn tortillas (soft)
    small amount of oil
    1/2 cup Thai Green Chili Curry Sauce
    1 tsp Mrs Dash Herb and garlic seasoning
    1/4 cup grated cheddar or Jack cheese
Mix mashed sweet potato and black beans together, cut open lime, squeeze juice into mix, with a spoon scrape out lime pulp and add to mixture, add Mrs Dash's.

Prepare baking pan by spraying with PAM.

In a hot skillet, cook tortillas one at a time in a few drops of oil just until they are heated through and soft. Transfer tortilla to a plate, spoon a heaping tbs of sweet potato and bean mix down the centre of the tortilla, add diced chicken on top.

Spoon 2 tsp Thai chili sauce on top of fillings, roll tortilla up and place in baking dish. When all are done spoon remaining chili sauce over top, then top with grated cheese.

Place in 350 F oven for 35 minutes. Top each enchilada with diced avocado before serving.

It is after 2:00 am, Wednesday. Pain pills are finally kicking in, I am going to bed.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

KIVA Loan January 2014

Our first KIVA loan of 2014 goes to The “HIJAS DEL ILLAMPU” (Daughters of Illampu) communal borrowing association which begins its fifth cycle in Bolivia's Pro Mujer (For Women) Microcredit Project, as a part of the Achacachi center.

The group is made up of eight members, led by Soledad, who is the president. Members of the association have various kinds of businesses. Among them are: selling fish, weaving blankets, sewing blouses, selling cheese, selling prepared food and selling fruit.

This loan will benefit all the small businesswomen, including Soledad. She says that this is the first time she has been a member of Pro Mujer. She joined at the invitation of a counselor from the institution who visited her at home and told her about the program.

Soledad has a business selling salchipapa, a dish commonly consumed as street food throughout Latin America. Salchipapas typically consist of thinly sliced pan-fried beef sausage and french fries, with a savory coleslaw on the side. The dish is served with lettuce and tomato, ketchup and mayonnaise and chili peppers. Sometimes a fried egg or cheese is added on top. 

Soledad says that she began her business several years ago when she saw that shoppers in the market had no place to buy lunch. This work allows her to support herself and her son.  But until now she has had little capital and has had to buy her ingredients in the local market, paying retail prices, leaving her with very little profit. Her part of the loan will allow her to increase her profit margin by giving her the capital to buy potatoes and meat from wholesale markets in the city of La Paz. 

You can help a group of hard-working small business women too, simply visit KIVA.org and lend $25.00. It's a wonderful experience. You get monthly reports on your borrowers, and the satisfaction of having reached out and made another person's life a little easier.

*One woman is missing from the photograph because she went to pick up her son at daycare.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Stickin' to Plan

Our meal plan is evolving. It's important for both of us that we don't cut calories too drastically, because in both of us that leads to persistent muscle weakness. But the shopping cart is filled with different things than before.

Though it's costing me in back pain and sleep I am cooking again, rather than buying prepared meals from the deli at Sobey's. The weather has been so terrible Ian has shopped for me the last two times, bless him. I did go to the WalMart for cat food and litter and some canned foods while Ian had the flu. My neighbour and I shared a cab.

But it feels good emotionally to be back at the stove, and we had some tasty meals this past week. I never deep fry anything and I've always been conscious of limiting fat when I cook. So I'm not worrying so much about calories in the food I make as eliminating the cookies, candy, ice cream and chips we were snacking on all too often, plus the high fat dishes I was buying at the deli.

When I can cut down on calories and get in some more healthy vegetables I do. When I made salmon croquettes this past week I substituted lightly cooked and coarsely mashed cauliflower for the one and a half cups of mashed potatoes the recipe calls for. The potato has 171 calories, while the cauliflower has only 42. You couldn't tell the difference in taste or texture.

I haven't gotten on the scales but my clothes are a little looser. For breakfast each day I've been making a smoothie with 3/4 c. of frozen fruit, either pineapple/peach/mango or cherry/blackberry/blueberry, a heaping tbs of 1% cottage cheese or Greek yogurt, and a scoop of protein powder that supplies 30 grams of protein, plus enough water to blend. This makes enough for breakfast and a mid-afternoon snack.

I found a recipe I'm going to try for Tony's breakfast, since he is intolerant of whey. He loves oatmeal and prefers it cold, so I am thinking of making this overnight oatmeal for him. I think I'd make three or four days worth, without any fruit, unless I put raisins in it, and just stir the fruit into one serving the night before.

We had a dinner one night that I didn't have high hopes for, as I sort of improvised on the recipe, but it was absolutely delish and I'll make it again this week. No point in giving you the original recipe, I'll give you the recipe as I made it.

Fish Curry

• 1 cup baked potato, diced
• 1 1/2 teaspoons coconut oil, divided
• Pam
• 8 ounces basa fillets, patted dry and coarsely chopped
• 1/2 medium red bell pepper, diced plus 1 tbs diced reserved.
• 1/2 medium onion diced
• 1/2 tsp Mrs Dash's Herb and Garlic seasoning
• 3-4 tbs Thai green curry sauce medium heat

1. Spray cold non-stick skillet with PAM, add 1/2 tsp oil, add diced onions, potato and red pepper and cook over medium heat until onions are transparent and potatoes are beginning to brown. Set aside in bowl.

2. Heat 1/2 teaspoon oil in a medium nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add basa and cook, stirring often, until just cooked through and opaque. Discard any liquid in the pan.

3. Return the potato, onions, and red pepper to the pan with the fish, add the Mrs. Dash's and the curry sauce. Cook until combined and heated through.

4. Plate and top with diced red pepper. Salt to taste.

Now, I'm hungry and am going to go find some lunch!

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Stopping the Screaming in My Head

"I want to stop the screaming in my head. I want to stop the endless internal monologues that I have to prove to myself that another person's words, or actions towards me, were wrong or baseless. "

I picked those words up from a blog I read on a daily basis, written by a man with a disability who is often frustrated by the treatment he receives from strangers when he's out and about in his wheelchair.

But those words could have been written by you, or me, or by 99% of humanity. It doesn't take a physical disability to spend half the day (or half a life) fretting over what someone said, or didn't say. What they did or didn't do. How we were treated badly. We all know people who can hardly function because they are still fighting battles that ended years, even decades before.

I've heard people say they won't stop being angry at someone because that lets the person who angered them, or hurt them, off the hook. But does that person feel your anger? No. They go about their daily routine oblivious to your feelings.

Lao Tsu said; Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one getting burned. When I'm angry I think, 'How long would I hold onto this if it were Lao Tsu's hot coal?" and the answer is not long! I'd be dropping that baby as fast as I could.

*In the Pali language there is a word, khama, (not karma - that's a different thing altogether). Khama means forgiveness, but it also means 'the earth'.  A mind like the earth is nonreactive and calm.

We can cultivate khama. We do not have to react with anger, strike back, or seek revenge when we are angered or hurt. To do so is to grasp the coal of anger and burn ourselves. To retaliate is simply to blow on the coal and make it even hotter.

The next time you can't bear to experience your sadness or anger, your despair or resentment, try look at the uncomfortable feeling as if it were an object: Instead of blaming your anxiety, anger and discomfort on others or on yourself, examine the feeling itself. Where do you feel it? What colour is it? Is it spiky or round? Does it has a flavour, a shape? How large is it? Can you reduce the size of it by directing compassion at it?  

The way you look on those who hurt you or treat you badly today will affect how happy you are in the future. In any encounter, we have a choice: we can strengthen our resentment or our understanding and ultimately our own happiness. Khama doesn't require that we love or even like another person, but forgiving those who harm you, or even people who simply annoy you, releases you from the weight of resentment and lightens your own spirit. Khama is a gift you can give both yourself and those you meet, on your own, without anyone having to know or understand what you’ve done. 

*Based on a teaching by Buddhist monk Thanissaro Bhikkhu

Friday, January 03, 2014

Dear Abby

Our cats have been chewing the covers of Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra and as a result seem to be experiencing philosophical crisis. We have put the Nietzsche on a higher shelf, but the damage already seems to be done. 

Here Hobbes contemplates his failure to fulfill Nietzsche's directive, "I teach you the overman. Man is something that shall be overcome. What have you done to overcome him?"

Smokey, who is not yet an accomplished reader, experiences existential angst while contemplating, "What is the cat to man? A laughingstock or a painful embarrassment. And man shall be just that for the overman: a laughingstock or a painful embarrassment. You have made your way from worm to man, and much in you is still worm. Once you were cats, and even now, too, man is more cat than any cat."

We are at our wit's end with these cats who want to discuss philosophy at 2:00 am every night. What can we do? Do you have any advice for us?

Concerned Cat Parents

Dear CCP's,  

Cats have short attention spans, except when they don't. They can be obsessive when a felt mouse or philosophical concept promulgated by Nietzsche or Schopenhauer takes their fancy. I suggest leaving something simple-minded for them to chew on, say Fun With Dick and Jane or anything written by Barbara Cartland.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Please God, not the PIG!

It's that time of year. January. Janus, looking both forward and backward. Enough with the looking backward, it is too long a view. I lost another cousin yesterday, and while she had a strong faith and her life ended in grace, peacefully, with her loving family around her, it's still a loss. We'd had a good deal of fun together, tracking down genealogical connections, and she's going to be missed. But the only way through grief is to feel it, let it have its turn, let it rise (as it does) and fall, in its waves. Bit by bit it sifts through the sieve of time and settles into the sands of what was then.

And so we look forward. My sweet husband has had a colourful week. He caught Ian's respiratory bug over Christmas and has wheezed and coughed himself blue since the 27th. He also fell out of bed, again, and is splotched like a pinto pony with huge purple bruises. He didn't have the muscle strength to get up off the floor by himself, and I don't have the strength to lift him. For a while I thought I might have to call for help but with a good deal of maneuvering and my lifting as much as I could we managed to get him where he could pull himself up onto the edge of the bed. 

A scale that weighs in animal units. Please God, not the PIG!
I looked at him, once a slim fellow, now with a decidedly unhealthy "Santa Claus-like" figure, and at my own once svelte form and decided we have to change the way we eat, with the goals of (for him) the equivalent of a two Smokey weight loss and (for me) a Smokey plus a Hobbes weight loss. 

Both of us are basically healthy, no elevated BP,  no cholesterol problems, no heart problems. It's our blooming weak muscles that cause us no end of trouble. So why are we burdening them with all this extra weight?
I know we eat because it makes both of us feel better, and we both love sweets, but this is crazy.

I have to get busy and find meals which are quick to prepare, high in protein and low in saturated fats and calories. I figure a plate, 1/2 greens (salad or cooked) 1/4 vegetable and 1/4 protein should do the trick. If I make a stew or crockpot meal I have to follow those guidelines. Smoothies made with fruit, cottage cheese and whey protein make a great breakfast. I'd best buy a food processor. 

I'm not about to post our weights here and shame ourselves. But feel free to wish us luck.