If I Were Still Alone. . .

It is ironic that Mama Kat’s Writer’s Workshop chose this as a challenge of the week.  It is exactly part of my current struggle in an ongoing saga of, “Who the hell have I become?”  I am middle age-ish and in the midst of Erikson’s Generativity vs. Stagnation stage,  I am frustrated at my lack of being “settled” somewhere- anywhere, just settled.  Ya know, pick a career and make a go of it!  Be somebody!  Excel!  Accomplish! Settle!

I am in the process of moving from three part-time jobs to ONE full-time job.  While this sounds like heaven on earth, finding the job has been nothing if not completely stressful. Like, wake up at all hours of the night and not be able to go back to sleep resulting in pretty much continual exhaustion, stressful.

Over the past three weeks I have, admittedly, entertained thoughts of, “What if it were Just Me?”, “What if I had never married and had kids?”, “How would this be different?”  The answers?  Well, I’m SO glad the Writer’s Workshop asked! 

The ten things I miss about being alone, in no particular order, are:

1.  The freedom to come and go as I choose.  Having the ability to make my own schedule was amazing and simple and wonderful.  Lonely at times, but I was a good friend to myself and I had a good time.

2.  The freedom to eat whatever I want, whenever I want.  Sometimes, given the amount of stress I have, the whole “We must eat at 5:00 thing is overwhelming indeed.

3.  The capacity to move across town or across the country if that would be best for me.  I can find jobs in my chosen field, just not in my current locale.  Major bummer.  It’s either uproot my kids and hope my husband could find work elsewhere, or suck it up and maybe change career paths- SO not my choice!  Grrrrrrrrrrrrr.

4.  The ability to make all decisions based solely on what’s good for me. See above.

5.  The freedom to go home at night and sit in front of the TV and do blessedly-NOTHING, which includes thinking!  The ability to get lost in, say, Matlock where every detail is taken care of in a mere 60 minute time slot. 

6.  Expendable income.  I just want to be able to buy, say, a latte without having to scrounge change from the floorboards. 

7.  The ability to pick up and go out at a moment’s notice.  You know, when a friend calls and wants to just go downtown and hang out.

8.  The freedom to spend the amount of time I need doing research and writing.

9.  Peace and quiet.

10.  A clean house.

THOSE are the things I miss most. 

Mama Kat's Writer's Workshop

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This Moment

Here I am. Just me.

I’m tired. It’s a good tired. I did a bunch of yard work earlier. I’m in old jeans, my favorite, or rather, what used to be my favorite shirt. My son wore it and stretched the sleeves by shoving them up to his elbows. Lesson learned- don’t loan your son your team jersey.
I’ve got a chai latte and my blog. The cat is nearby purring and my favorite news show is on the TV. I must be old! Even as I type the words, “my favorite news show?!!”, my fingers catch. What has become of me?
I am on one end of the couch and my daughter is at the other. Our feet intertwine and I sense these days are nearing an end, so I cherish each one.

I am planning my meals for the week- Parmesean Chicken, Gnocchi, hot dogs (Wednesdays are quick meals), Red Beans and Rice, and, ummmmm, well, I’m sure I’ll think of something.

And that’s where I am on this Saturday. Just Me. Just here. Just hanging out.

My Love Affair With Film

My obsession with photography began in college when I enrolled in a photography class as my token “art” credit.  I was no good at drawing and no one trusted me with any other medium- for very good reasons- and, so, by default, Photography it was.

My professor spoke with SUCH a New Jersey accent that hearing and understanding became as much a part of the course as taking and developing the pictures.  We mixed chemicals, learned about f-stops and aperatures and different types of paper.  We completed our assignments, turned in our chemicals and collected our grades.  And that was that. 

Or so I thought. 

Pretty soon, I found myself investing in  my own 35mm (I had borrowed one for the class) and scoping out local photography stores for the coveted Agfa film.  I still LOVE Agfa when I use film.  Film, ah, film, remember those rolls?  Black and White, or Color, ah, yes.  Those were the days were they not?  While I frequently pine for the days of film, I really prefer the immediacy of digital.  The SD card does have its advantages.

I love photography because with it, I can be here:

Or Here:                                                       

  Or Even Here:

I can be looking at these:

Or any of these, no matter what season it is:

 

And I can recall all of my thoughts and emotions surrounding these mementos:

 

 

 

I can escape.  I can be in a happy place from the near or distant past if I have captured the moment in film.  I can rejuvenate and evaluate where I am and where I want to be.  I can appreciate the beauty of each moment and anticipate more to come.  And, that, is how I came to love photography.  A picture, to me, is worth so much more than a mere thousand words.  It is a million feelings.  It’s another of those things that makes me, “Just Me”.  I can look at my photos and know so much about me and who I am as well as who I will be in the years ahead.

Panna Cotta

I LOVE dessert!  I love sweets, mostly chocolate ones, but all sweets are a delight.  I especially have a fondness for the creamy, custard-like, smooth as silk wonderment that is Panna Cotta; an easy, yet elegant dessert.  I enjoy cooking and making people feel special because I cooked for them.  I am especially fond of this recipe.  I have been making Panna Cotta for years, but decided to try this recipe I found at David Lebovitz’s blog.  If you enjoy cooking, good cooking, you really MUST check it out! 

 The recipe is simple:

4 cups  heavy cream (or half-and-half)

1/2 cup sugar

2 teaspoons of vanilla extract, or 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise

2 packets powdered gelatin (about 4 1/2 teaspoons)

6 tablespoons cold water

 

1. Heat the heavy cream and sugar in a saucepan or microwave. Once the sugar is dissolved, remove from heat and stir in the vanilla extract.  (If using a vanilla bean, scrape the seeds from the bean into the cream and add the bean pod. Cover, and let infuse for 30 minutes. Remove the bean then rewarm the mixture before continuing.)

 2. Lightly oil eight custard cups with a neutral-tasting oil.

 3. Sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water in a medium-sized bowl and let stand 5 to 10 minutes.

 4. Pour the very warm Panna Cotta mixture over the gelatin and stir until the gelatin is completely dissolved.

 5. Divide the Panna Cotta mixture into the prepared cups, then chill them until firm, which will take at least two hours but I let them stand at least four hours. If you’re pressed for time, pour the Panna Cotta mixture into wine goblets so you can serve them in the glasses, without unmolding.

 6. Run a sharp knife around the edge of each Panna Cotta and unmold each onto a serving plate, and garnish as desired.

Personally, while I like lemon toppings, I really like this Red Wine Sauce, also from David Lebovitz’s blog.

Red Wine Syrup  Makes 4 servings

 1/2 cup (125ml) red wine

3 tablespoons (50g) sugar

1/2 to 1 small basket of strawberries (about 4 ounces, 100g)

1. In a non-reactive skillet, cook the red wine and sugar until the bubbles get thick. Once the syrup is reduced to half its original quantity (1/4 cup), remove from heat and scrape into a bowl to cool completely.

 2. Rinse, hull, and slice strawberries. Toss in syrup, let stand for a minute to two, then spoon onto custards.

Try it yourself and see!  in the meantime, visit MamaKat’s Writer’s Workshop for some ideas of your own!

Graduation

My grandma has been in a nursing home for several years now.  The decision to move her there was difficult and painful at best.  She adjusted and we adjusted.  She made new friends and adapted and we felt like she was safe, it was good.  Life reached a new “normal” and we all went about our daily routines. 

About three weeks ago she began a decline.  She has experienced several over the past couple of years and has always bounced back or,  at least, reached a new “normal”.  She’s been a little confused, an elderly mind stuck in a relatively healthy body.   She has had numerous minor strokes over the past two decades.  This last one though, wow!  It changed things. 

The call came from her favorite nurse.  She gently, kindly explained to my mom that perhaps it is time for hospice to be called.  It became apparent that my mom, as her POA, needed to go check on her.  Now, my parents are getting older themselves, and more and more they need me.  I am a newcomer to the Sandwich Generation and not quite established in my role as such. 

 My dad is not in the best of health himself and it was decided that I would go with my mom to check on grandma.  We set out for our 7 hour drive.  I drove all but about a half hour of the trip.  Normally, mom and I would split the time between us.  It seemed odd that she really needed me to drive it all.  As I relived the events of the previous twenty-four hours, in actuality, it was my decision to make the trip in the first place.  She vacillated between going now or next weekend.  I picked now as it appeared time was of the essence.  She seemed strangely relieved that I had just taken charge of the situation.  I felt as if I had stepped into uncharted territory.  It was a new thought process and its apparent discomfort made me dismiss it from consciousness.

We arrived.  We met with hospice.  Mom signed all of the paperwork.  We met with the funeral home where grandma had already made arrangements many years ago.  We received information about the dieing process and we began the difficult task of looking death in the face, of saying good-byes and letting go.  As I sat holding my mom’s hand, she suddenly looked a little old herself; a little less certain, a little more fragile.

Grandma met us with a blank stare.  When she finally accessed her long-term memory and zeroed in on my mom we were relieved.  At least she knew who mom was!  This was progress!  She slept through a lot of the visit.  In between were words spoken sporadically as though they were just randomly picked from the air.  We tried to derive their meaning in much the same way you try to decode a toddler’s one word sentences.  It was sad, just sad, and haunting.  She seemed to be teetering on the brink of one world, all the while, gazing cautiously into the next.

We checked into a local hotel that evening.  The next day we would try again. 

To our surprise, she was more alert the following day.  She was able to use three word sentences and express some complete thoughts.  One exchange went like this:

Grandma:  You have big teeth!

Me:  Yes, I do.  Mom and dad spent a lot of money on my teeth!

Grandma:  Pretty.

Me:  I love you!

Grandma: Yes.

This went on throughout the morning with various states of awareness.  Suddenly, there was a burst of lucidity, a shot of adrenaline from who knows, or cares, where! 

Grandma:  Did you graduate?

Me:  Yes.  I finally made it!  (I actually graduated some 19 years ago, but hey).

Grandma:  I love you!

Me:  I love you too!

We continued to weave in and out of the present with brief stops at various “past’ places along the way:  an old college play, the birth of my children, my marriage, states I have lived in over the years, candy she used to keep in her dish, card games and songs, hymns actually.  We shared some chocolate and the hour got late.  It was almost dinner time and we needed to head for home- another 7 hour drive.  Grandma needed to head to the dining room- the new one they moved her to, the one where they feed you. 

Good-byes are always hard, but this one, knowing it might be the last one, was about more than I could bear.  She kept holding onto me as if she too were afraid of the finality it might hold for us both.  This fiercely independent woman now sat with a grip on me that she was unwilling to loose, much like my children did when they were preschoolers trying to “keep me” from leaving  them.  I lingered a few minutes more.  When I finally sucked up all of my remaining strength and walked out of the room I moved quickly, jaw set, eyes forward.  I found myself almost running to the door, suddenly gasping for air, clean, cold, thin air, free from the odors of old age.  As the sharp wind hit my face, I became aware of the hot, stinging tears running down my cheeks.  I had held them in with great effort, but they were suddenly too large a load to shoulder.   I walked faster and faster, leaving my mom behind in my hurry.  I made it to the car and once again, gained composure, suddenly aware that my mom was also crying and needed my comfort. 

And right then, in that moment of enveloping my mom in my own arms, in this awkward reversal of roles, with the northern Illinois wind whipping my scarf in its wake, I stepped across an invisible stage into another of life’s chapters- uncharted territory indeed.

Yes, Grandma.  I graduated.  Today.

Slop Bucket List

Inspired once again by MamaKat’s Writer’s Workshop, here are the Top Ten Things I NEVER Want To Do:

10.  Camping- in any form- tent, camper, lodge, etc.  I am not a high maintenance kind of girl.  I don’t require designer things or to have my nails done.  I don’t need lattes from Starbucks or fancy jewelry.  However, I DO require indoor plumbing, a heat/air system and a nice soft bed free of bugs and rodents as well as the possibility that if I close my eyes, one might appear.

9. Play in a Band:  I sing and I enjoy it.  However, I just don’t like loud music.  I never really have. 

8.  White Water Raft:  The only white water I want to see is from the current in a jacuzzi.  That’s as adventurous as I get.  Sorry. 

7.  Professional Bra Fitting:  Ladies, there’s just not that much there in the first place, and I really don’t need someone else to call attention to my short-comings.  Also, true confession- I have never wanted to be any bigger than the size “A”  I am.  When I was pregnant and they got to the enormous size of a “C” cup (not even kidding), they were, frankly, in my way.  They made exercise difficult and they were sweat traps.  So, I’ll just be an “A”.  I like it that way.

6.  Wear Contacts:  If God had meant for us to intentionally stick things in our own eyes, He would not have made blinking a reflex!  Think about it.

5.  Be A Nurse:  I am a compassionate woman.  I am.  And, perhaps being, say, an obstetrics nurse would be okay.  However, to get to that point, there are a lot of “dues” to be paid, and frankly, I’m just not willing to voluntarily clean up anyone’s bodily fluids.  I am a sympathy puker.  I’m not thinking that is on the list of attributes that make an effective nurse.  So, while I am amazingly grateful to those nurses who have been there for me at various stages of stomach upset and post-op insanity, I am unwilling to pay that price to “be there” for total strangers. 

4. Go Sky-Diving:  Why?  Why would anyone jump from a perfectly well-functioning airplane?  Why leave the relative comfort of such a vehicle, opting instead, for a thin piece of nylon that is “supposed” to launch via “pull cord”?  Hello?  What if the chord breaks?  Malfunctions?  What if. . . .?  Well, the possibilities are endless, so uh, no thanks!

3.  Go caving:  Again, why?  Why crawl into a space inhabited by God knows what with a light attached to your head?  I want to go into a place with lights ON in the ceiling, operated by a switch.  Oh, and that dank, musty smell?  I’ll skip that too please.

2.  Run a Marathon:  Again, why?  Is something chasing you?  Did you lose a bet?  Seriously?  For fun?  I don’t get it.  My running shoes are for “running” errands.  They provide a nice bounce in my step at the grocery and Target.  That’s all I need, really.

1.  Eat raw oysters.  I love fried oysters.  Anything fried is good, and so wonderfully bad for you at the same time.  But, the slime of the little critters is beyond my ability to swallow and the mere thought of allowing it to “just glide down your throat” as some have suggested, makes me gag!  So, thanks, but no.

You Never Really Own A Cat

I had the heart-wrenching experience of having to put my cat of  18 years “down” today.  I can say it was one of the most difficult decisions I have ever made.  She had experienced a fine life, a well-to-do life for a cat.  What more could a cat hope for?  I mean, really?  I picked her up off of the streets, brought her in and made her right at home.  Well, sort of. . .

 . . .  Actually, she showed up 18 years ago and just never left.  She sat outside my apartment 24/7 like some sort of regal guard cat.  I tried to shoo her away, tried to ignore, tried to crowd my porch with “stuff” so that there was no room for her free-loading self to lay claim (literally) to the real estate and stake out her space- all to no avail.  She picked me.  Somehow, I had fallen into her good graces, met her criteria, passed her “pet owner test”, and was chosen.  Apparently, she had squatter’s rights.  She was undeterred by the flower pots, grill, chairs, etc., strategically placed to encourage her to find another patio to claim.  She simply scooted them out of her way and lay basking in the sun all day, every day, until fall came.  When the temperature began to drop, so did her patience level, because, up to that point, she had been, for all purposes, an amazingly long-suffering animal.  However, when nights got chilly she took measures into her own paws. 

She meowed and knocked on my door at all hours of the day,and,  more annoyingly, night.  She tripped me on my way out each day and basically made a pest of herself in the most affectionate, cute, demanding, in-your-face  kind of way.  In an exasperatingly weak moment, I brought her inside, took a photo copy paper box, filled the lid with shredded newspaper and a small bag of cat litter I had stored in my trunk, (I’m from Northern Illinois.  We carry it for traction in the snow if we get stuck.)  and dared her to relieve herself anywhere but in that box.  With that, I turned off the light and went to bed. 

In the morning, there she was, sitting in front of the TV,  as if this were a normal day and she had been doing this day after day for years.  She stretched and yawned a great big, “Good morning!  Sleep well?”   In retrospect, it was at that precise moment that I was “owned”.  I inspected, and to my surprise, found no “deposits” anywhere but in the litter box I had so haphazardly fashioned the night before.  Still, I thought it was a fluke and put her back outside.  That evening, the same process, and the next and the next, and . . .  well, you know the “rest of the story”. 

So, I decided that if she were really going to be “mine”, since my neighbors, who were obviously “in” on her scheme, kept referring to her as “your” cat, well, perhaps a vet trip was in order.  I loaded her up and off we went.  When we checked in, the tech handed me some forms to fill out and asked me her name.  I froze.  “Umm, well, she doesn’t have a name.  She’s not really mine.” 

As the words left my lips, the absurdity of what I had just  blurted out, to the very confused tech hit me.   Seriously?!  Who gets healthcare for an animal that doesn’t belong to them???   “Well, I have to write something here.  What would you like to call her?” 

And,  in that instant, she became Shadow, because that’s what she was, my Shadow, Mine.   Everywhere I went, she followed. 

 And it stayed that way, for eighteen very blessed years.