Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The [Pie Crust] Recipe the World Has Been Waiting For

This is my pie crust recipe. It is easy and not persnickety at all. Unlike most "never fail" recipes this requires no ice water, vinegar, delicate fork tossing, or pixie dust. You can re-roll it. You can touch it a lot. You can stir it too much. It still turns out well. The only note I have is don't get creative with the mixing method as that's where the magic lies.

 Never Fail Pie Crust

2 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
4 pinches baking powder (not soda)
1/2 cup water
1 cup shortening

Mix flour, salt and baking powder. Remove 1/2 cup of flour mixture and mix with water [makes a paste]. Set aside. Cut in shortening to flour mixture.* Pour on paste. Stir until blended. Roll out on floured board. Bake single shells in 400 degree oven 11 minutes.

Yield: 2 good sized pie crusts.

Original source: Janet Chance in The Pedalin' Gormet, a ward cookbook

* Personally I use a pastry blender I bought ages ago to cut in the shortening. I recommend buying one if you make pie crust or biscuits very often, but here's how to cut shortening in with two knives.

Exhibit A, a pastry blender:

Saturday, September 15, 2012

What We Take With Us

My mother used to say that every time she saw chickens she thought of me. As an afterthought, she would add how much she hated chickens. This didn't happen once. It happened repeatedly. "Every time I see chickens, it just makes me think of you. Ug, I hate chickens!" It made me laugh every single time. One time I repeated it to her verbatim. A horrified look crossed her face as the she heard those two ideas side-by-side for the first time. "I suck. I am so sorry!" I laughed and explained that I understood. I loved my chickens. She saw chickens and thought of my love for chickens, then the thought of how much she hated chickens. A perfectly logical thought progression.

Recently, I've been thinking of my mom every time I see oleander. I loathe oleander. It's pokey and huge and poisonous. Terrible to try to eradicate. But my mom loved it because her mom loved it. It thrives in drought, a bright spot the drab brown of our Northern Californian summers. But man, I hate that stuff.

At the beginning of August, my yvil sister and I buried my mother's ashes. Y had collected a batch of little trinkets to bury with her, the dogs' name tags, little charms with all of our birthstones, a rainbow girls thing-a-ma-bobber, and a Starbucks latte, prepared just the way my mom liked. I brought nothing.

She placed the plastic box of ashes in the hole and scattered her meaningful trinkets over and around the box, and wedged the latte in there. I went to the edge of the cemetery, picked some oleander blossoms, and placed them on top of the other things. They were lovely: poisonous, pokey and lovely.

They reminded me of my mom, of my relationship with my mom. Are there two different ways of looking at something? We'd take opposite stances. Sometimes that could get a little impassioned, hating something the other person loved. But always we loved each other, even when we were so angry (or hurt) we could hardly speak to each other.

When we had only days left, did we talk oleander or chickens? No. At the beginning of the end, when her capacity for speech was really winding down, she had one thing to tell meI love you. When she was signing Christmas cards, she could hardly write her name, but she wrote IloveyouIloveyouIloveyou all joined together. She loved me. She hated chickens, homeschooling, attachment parenting, home birth, and the Mormon church, but she loved me. In the end, that love was all that mattered.

Friday, September 14, 2012

What We Bring With Us

Yesterday, Jacob's math teacher called home. I was rather surprised that anything Jacob did would warrant a call home. He's kind of perfect at school. In fact, that is what the call was about. A kind teacher called to tell me that my son was acing his AP Calculus assignments, that he was well-behaved, and insightful, an asset to the class. Needless to say, I love hearing that. I should probably write her a thank you note. 

There is nothing in Jacob's genetic make-up that would give him a natural edge in math. Certainly, his elementary teacher was only middling in math and not enamored of it. (In fact, my limitations as a math teacher are why Jacob chose to attend public school as a sophomore. "Math books and CDs only explain it one way, Mom.") Neither nurture nor nature should have produced my math boy, but Jacob has excelled from the very beginning. He has both love and aptitude for the subject. This talent as much as anything else convinces me that children developed as individuals with their Father in Heaven prior to their birth.

It's interesting to see how the attributes that my children showed so early on are developing. Elaine was an observant baby. She watched people, listened to them, absorbed. Now she is one of the most insightful people I know. She notices nuances in people's words and body language. She finds people fascinating. I always ask her to tone-check sensitive emails (things that might easily blow up) before I send them off. Invariably, she catches subtext. Not surprisingly, psychology is the field that fascinates her. Gifts. 

My husband is a talented musician. From the time he was a wee child he knew he wanted to play the trumpet. Nothing in his family would have taken him that direction. It just was part of him. His family thought he was just being a kid and it would pass. When he was five, they gave him a toy trumpet which was greeted with joy, quickly followed by disgust as he realized that it was a fake. Seven years later his parents got him the real thing and a teacher, a great teacher. Music still feeds his soul.

I myself was a born reader. My mom tells the story of finding me teaching the neighborhood kids to read when I was four. No one taught me to read. I had "Sesame Street," "The Electric Company," and a gift from God. My Natalie similarly began to read early with very little instruction. Just a gift and a passion.

I love this stanza from Wordsworth's Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood.

 Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
          The Soul that rises with us, our life's Star,
              Hath had elsewhere its setting,
                And cometh from afar:
              Not in entire forgetfulness,
              And not in utter nakedness,
          But trailing clouds of glory do we come
              From God, who is our home:

At one point, I believed I would shape my children to be what they ought to be. Now, I know better. Yes, I do influence them, but they are vehemently their very own selves, formed before they gained physical bodies. I'm blessed to be able to watch them blossom into those selves.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

In Which I Attempt to Convince Myself of a Truth

Yesterday, I was feeling yucky. I looked up at my daughter and said, "I don't know what's wrong with me. I just feel so bad."

"You're kidding, right?"

"No, what happened? Oh . . . right."

Then I remembered what I'd been distracting myself from all week. Something yucky had happened, something that blew me out of the water, something I didn't want to deal with. And I buried it. Under distractions: being busy, being mom, watching SciFi, reading everything I could get my hands on. It worked, I forgot the problem. I was sort of dazed this week, unable to concentrate, and whenever I got a minute and my mind began to focus on the issue, I shoved myself head-first into something that would make my thoughts SHUT UP.

Distraction worked and it didn't work. The pain was still there. My subconscious was picking at the scab. I had symbolic nasty nightmares all week. I still felt like crap; I just wasn't as sure why.

I know I need to write. Some people need to run. Or to paint. Or to dismantle a car engine and put it back together. I need to write. Writing is the way my brain processes yuck, takes my issues, those chaotic feelings, and forms them into sense. Then my psyche lets the problem go. When my thoughts threaten to drown me, if I write them out then I clarify those thoughts, work through them. I have a journal entry or a bad poem or blog post instead of free-floating anxiety. Seems like a fine idea.

But I've been avoiding writing. Because the clarity hurts. Writing hurts. But after I write, the things stop killing me. My subconscious lets them go. When I wrote about my mom's death I sobbed through the process. I sobbed as I read the post twenty times, then I moved on. The nightmares stopped. I could think about what happened in passing without being thrown back into the situation. There's hundreds of instances on my blog, in my journals, in my correspondence of times when this process has happened.

With distraction, I feel better in the short run. With writing, I feel better in the long run.  Like exercise and good nutrition, like getting enough rest, like the golden rule, like reading the scriptures daily, the easy way is the wrong way. And not easier. Truly. 

Monday, April 23, 2012

Wonder What Brought That To Mind

Elaine and I were walking tonight, chatting away, when she mentioned that she didn't like the creepy aspects of Dr. Who. Perfectly normal things suddenly were creeping her out. Things like statues. And shadows. We both glanced back at the driveway we had just passed. And saw. . .

No sign of the Doctor though.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Twenty Years Ago

January 17, 1992
Jami and Sam were married in the Oakland temple.

It's been a very eventful twenty years. If I'd been married in a standard wedding ceremony, I would have vowed to have and to hold my sweetheart "for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part." We've had better, worse, richer, poorer, sickness and health. We do love and cherish each other, but I am glad that all that work we've put in through the worst, the poverty and the sickness is going to pay off a little longer than until death. (Let's face it the better, richer, healthier times are their own reward.) Our vows are for eternity and distinctly include a third party, our Father in Heaven. Without him, we doubtless would have quit. With him, we have a relationship worth having for eternity.

I don't remember much of the ad lib part of my wedding ceremony, where the man sealing our marriage for time and all eternity gives his thoughts and advice on marriage, but I remember one thing vividly: his testimony of the importance of the atonement of Jesus Christ, of repentance, and of the need to forgive each other as God forgives us. I remember how intensely I felt the Holy Spirit confirm the truth of those words. As I've thought about what to say about a marriage that has weathered the stormy seas, I just want to say to those on those seas that there is joy and sun ahead through the atonement. Truly, God heals. "Whatever Jesus lays his hands upon lives. If Jesus lays his hands upon a marriage, it lives. If he is allowed to lay his hands on the family, it lives."

Don't get me wrong. I love my husband. I enjoy having and holding him. His quirky sense of humor makes me smile. His humility inspires me. His voice melts me. Tonight we are going to ditch our six kids and go do something fun. Even so, our anniversary is a day, just one out of 7,304 so far. I look forward to many more and to an eternity beyond our years.

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Truth Ain't Always Comforting

My mom died early in the morning on December 21st. Everybody wants to die peacefully in their sleep. Everyone wants to hear that someone they love died easily. I've been lying pretty steadily to my mother's friends and relatives. If you want that, stop reading now. Read my lie and stop: Yes, it was easy and peaceful. I miss her very much.

The truth is: My mother's death was the most horrific thing I have ever witnessed.  I have never seen suffering that intense (and I've been a part of 11 drug-free births). Listening to her take her last couple of breaths may well have been the most beautiful sound I've ever heard. I miss her immensely, but no one in their right mind would wish even one more second of life upon my mother.

Her pain control had never been great. On average, I'd say the last two weeks of her life were spent at an 8 on that infernal pain scale. (See here and here for irreverent explanations of the pain scale. Language warning on the second link.) The hospice team took us slowly through a gamut of meds. We started with Norco (a codeine and acetaminophen mix), moved to long-acting morphine pills, then to liquid morphine, Fentanyl patches and finally a Dilaudid IV pump. Each time Vlas, the hospice nurse, visited he would call the doctor and increase the meds. (He advocated for my mom compassionately and aggressively. God bless him.) And none of it worked until we got to the Dilaudid pump. It, combined with six Fentanyl patches, knocked her out and allowed her to rest peacefully. We had the pump for two days.

They give you a booklet that explains the signs of death. Several books actually. And the yvil sister and I read them and read them. A week prior to her death my mother was doing everything that indicated that she could die any minute. (Except the mottling of hands and feet—that woman died with pretty pink hands and feet.) The waiting was excruciating. (I am not a good wait-er under the best of circumstances.) The hardest was the death rattle that went on for days. She would stop breathing for 15-20 seconds several times an hour. I found myself holding my breath with her, hoping there would be no more. Hoping she'd die peacefully in her sleep.

At about 2 am, the death rattle changed. I could tell death was near. I prayed my sister would be able to sleep through it. Not likely. Mom began moaning, and that moan turned into a noise that was as loud as a scream, but not as shrill. After about forty minutes, Y came in.

The Dilaudid pump allowed four extra doses an hour at the press of a button. I have never been so precise before in my life. Fifteen minutes, press. Fifteen minutes, press. I slapped our last Fentanyl patch on her (for a grand total of  seven 100 µg per hour patches).

My mom had bought a book, years ago, about how to kill yourself in a dignified manner in the event of an incurable disease. She'd had me read it and asked if I would be very angry if she chose that route. She never got to that point while she was lucid. (Very disturbing, that book.) I pulled that out now. Not to kill her. (I'd already had to reassure Y that Mom would never have wanted her to go to jail for any reason, ever. Even though she'd said "kill me" days before.) I pulled the book out to figure out how much liquid morphine is lethal, so that I could give her as much as I could without actually hastening her death. I quickly determined that liquid morphine was hard to get to a lethal dosage once you've been taking it for a while and that the lethal dosage was quite high, well beyond any amount we could get into her. I began giving the dose that had been prescribed for breakthrough pain, slowly because she couldn't swallow and it had to be absorbed under her tongue. All the while: fifteen minutes, press; fifteen minutes, press; fifteen minutes, press.

Three and a half hours later, the moaning/screaming/death rattling subsided into mere moaning/death rattling. A half an hour after that it stopped altogether.

When she came to confirm death, the hospice nurse asked why we hadn't called for help. They could have increase the dosage of Dilaudid the pump was giving her. In hindsight, we'd had time, but at the time we didn't know.We thought we were minutes away. Additionally, the night hospice team sucked. And the night dispatch nurse sucked even more. (Had a couple of prior attempts at nighttime advice to confirm that one.) It would be an hour before they could get there. And the pump took more than an hour to set up originally. Additionally, we were too busy giving her the pain meds we had and holding her hand.

I felt betrayed by the hospice literature. By all the people who had had sweet peaceful deaths. By everyone who had ever touched my mother medically. I'd never heard of anything like this. I felt like my sister and I were dumped into the middle of a complicated surgery, handed a bunch of scalpels and sutures and told to figure it out. I still am in shock. It's been two weeks and I am still in shock. My mother-in-law hadn't died like that. My aunt hadn't. My uncle hadn't. They all died of similar diseases. If I had some sort of way to forget, I'd take it. But I don't. I get to be sucked back into the memory at random moments. To dream about it.

Finally, I just decided to write it. To get it the heck out of my head.  To save innocent bystanders who are politely wondering how I am doing. (The answer to that is just fine, most of the time.) To provide a cautionary tale to others. (Ponder long and hard about dying away from medical personnel. Weigh the risks of heinous medical interventions against the risks of dying with a sudden increase in the need for pain meds with all help at least an hour away.)

Don't worry about me. I have an amazing group of friends who have been there for me this whole journey. I will heal. I don't know how many times I will have to tell this story before it loses it's power, but I know that it will. Eventually it will become a memory, instead of a reality. Thank you to those of you who made it this far—thank you for holding my virtual hand while I've told my story.