This week, I helped my dad and stepmother move into an assisted living facility.  It was hard.  It was sad.  And it was encouraging and hopeful at the same time.

My dad suffers from dementia.  This is, I’m sure, a really hard thing for adult children to go through everywhere.  I, of course, think it’s particularly hard for me  because my situation is “unique” … right?  Yeah, right.

My dad was always one of those people that was “on it.”  Very smart, very sharp … the sort of person that others looked to for answers.  He spent his entire career working for one of the big oil companies and, back in the day when he was first promoted to a management position, he was the youngest executive in the history of the company.  That’s pretty major, at least in his daughter’s eyes.  We shared a dry sense of humor and a love of Saturday Night Live’s Not-Ready-for-Prime-Time Players (back in the day of Gilda Radner and Chevy Chase), and Monty Python’s Flying Circus … especially the skit about the Ministry of Silly Walks.  It was always his approval that I valued above all others.

Now, he is still very much “present” in the moment, thank God.  He doesn’t ever not remember who we are, or where he is.  But in preparation for this move, I watched him try to perform a simple task – filling out forms.  On one, he needed to list me as an emergency contact.  On another, he simply needed to sign and date the form.

For the first, he managed to get through a slow and painstaking dictation of my street address, but as soon as that was over he moved on to the next question, completely unaware that a city, state and zip code were still required (and particularly important since we don’t live in the same city).  On the second, he managed the signature with only a little prompting but when it came to entering the date, he was lost until my stepmother offered, “Do you want me to do it?”  “Yes,” he replied, as he pushed the form toward her.  I could see his obvious frustration and … I don’t even know what word to write next … disappointment? anger? shame?  They all apply, and yet none of them is quite right.

The worst part of dementia may be that it doesn’t take its victims overnight.  They have a long process – the length of which depends on the form of dementia – during which they are fully aware that they are “losing it.”  My father has always been my hero.  It breaks my heart to watch his struggle.  It breaks my heart that there is not a day that I can say “goodbye,” that I can let him know how important he has been to me, how much I love him, how much I admire him, because it would feel like I was writing him off and it may be too soon to do that because tomorrow may be just the same as today.  Or it may not.

My stepmother has stage 4 melanoma.  I think it’s been about 2 years since her initial diagnosis, and she has been an incredible trooper through all her treatments and has responded well in every case.  She started pembrolizumab 3 weeks ago and we are all very hopeful that she will respond well to this too.  But she is also the primary caregiver for my father, and she is unwell, and exhausted.  And she has now started treatment with the ‘last resort’ drug – approved only about a month ago and the one they turn to when all other options have been exhausted.

So I guess that’s as good a time as any to turn away from the hard and sad, and toward the encouraging and hopeful.

They moved into a lovely facility, took a small amount of their own furniture, and have made a new home.  There are programs especially for my dad so that he will continue to exercise his brain as much as possible and slow the progression of the disease that is stealing him from us.  And these programs will keep him busy and occupied so that my stepmother has more time to rest and focus on her own healing, rather than be constantly preoccupied with looking after him.  I am encouraged that they will have access to professionals that can help them navigate these tricky roads ahead.  I am hopeful that they will get the kind of support that they need, the kind that I can’t offer living in a different city.

They are too young to be there … only in their early 70s, whereas most of the other residents are in their 80s and 90s.  Still, I hope that they can be happy there.  And in the meantime, I will continue to say my prayers for them and hope that they might stick around a little longer to give their grandchildren more of an opportunity to know what awesome grandparents they were lucky enough to get.


3 kids, a dog, and an RV

‘Tis the season for road trips — if time and money were out of the equation, what car-based adventure would you go on?

My dad worked for an oil company … one of the big ones.  He worked on the refining end of it, and we moved around a lot because we would go to wherever the refinery was being built, and those things are built all over the world.  We would stay in one place for about 18-24 months and then it was on to the next job.

Whenever I say that I moved around a lot growing up, people frequently respond with a question:  “Army brat?”  I reply, “No, oil brat.”   Other oil brats will understand.

When I was around 8, we lived in Edmonton.  We are not Canadian, but that’s where the job took us.  One of my very favorite memories as a kid was the year my parents rented an RV and we took a family road trip/vacation to Banff National Park and Jasper National Park, dog and all.  I don’t remember what we did, and my recollection of the parks themselves are vague, at best.  It’s been a LONG time since I was 8.  So why is this one of my favorite memories, when I don’t seem to have that many actual memories of it?

To be honest, I have no idea.

And yet, if I had the time and money for an epic road trip, that’s exactly what I would do with my own kids.  Well, not exactly.  We are near the Texas gulf coast, and Canada is a really long way away.

But I would rent an RV and load up the kids and the dog go see places like the Grand Canyon, the Petrified Forest, Carlsbad Caverns … and stupid stuff like the Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, the Very Large Array in Socorro, NM, and Coffee Pot Rock in Sedona, AZ.

And maybe we might end up having the kind of vacation that, 40 years from now, my kids reflect upon fondly, even if they don’t remember exactly why.

Who I Am and Why I’m Here

OK, it’s time I got a bit ‘remedial.’

While trying to kick myself in the butt about this blog thingy, I found an old series called “Blogging 101” which, of course, I totally missed because I’m never here looking at what’s going on which is why I need to kick myself in the butt about this blog thingy.

This is where the ‘remedial’ comes in.  I’m going to try and go back and do the Blogging 101 series, even though it’s over and has been for quite some time.  I’m just going to do it on my own.  Whatever.  Because it certainly can’t hurt, and it just might help.

So …. first assignment:  Write and publish a ‘who I am and why I’m here’ post.

Here goes ….

I’m Susan.  I’m a mother to three smart, beautiful, poised, confident daughters who are completely awesome, most of the time.  I don’t currently work outside the home but will probably have to rejoin the workforce soon to make ends meet.  It would be great, though, if I could find something part-time, or that I could do from home, because I really love being home with my girls even though there are those moments when one or more of them is not completely awesome.

Why I’m here is a much more difficult question to answer.  I’ve never thought of myself as a writer.  A proofreader/editor, perhaps, but not a writer.  I’m great at finding errors and inconsistencies in the writing of others, but ask me to come up with original content and I will either laugh or have a panic attack.  Then I saw a story on the morning news recently about how many people write emails that are too long and they should be, like, 3-5 sentences only, or something like that.  And I realized that my emails are waaaaaaay longer than that.  I go on for paragraphs, and paragraphs.  I’m downright verbose.  So … I don’t know … maybe there is a repressed writer somewhere inside me after all.

Also, I’m really trying to get my life together.  To get the house clean and organized, to put a nice dinner on the table most nights, to take better care of my family and myself, and have some fun along the way.  I’m loving all the blogs out there that share recipes, crafts, DIY projects, organization tips and so many other things.  Do I really think I could have something to contribute to that area of the blogosphere?  Well, probably not, but maybe writing it all down will help keep me on task and if I manage to pass on some useful information while I’m at it, all the better.

So there will be posts about cooking and recipes, kids, DIY projects, crafts, cleaning and organizing and whatever else may be affecting my life at that moment.  But this is not a food blog, or a mommy blog, or a home handyman blog or a crafts blog or whatever.

So what is it?

No idea.  I guess I’ll find out.

Slow-Cooker Sunday

Sooooo … I think I mentioned in my last post … back when the year was new … that I would like to cook more often, and use my slow cooker more often.  The problem with the first of those desires is that it is WAY too easy to fall back into the trap of convenience foods.  Like … the day after that statement is made.  And of course, the problem with the second of those desires is that there’s no need for a slow cooker if one is using convenience foods.  So if I was going to make a lasting change, a better plan was needed.  Here’s what I came up with…

A schedule!!

I know!  Life-changing, right???

I figured that the easiest way to stick to a plan of actually cooking something was to know what I was going to cook!  And since my free time and creativity are both at critically low levels, I further figured the best way to make this work was to come up with a “cuisine schedule,” and I put that in quotation marks because using the word “cuisine” and associating it with what’s going on in my kitchen these days really is a stretch.  Quotation marks are definitely needed.

There was a time that I sat down once a week and planned all the meals for the week.  But that was before I had three kids and all hell had broken loose with school/sports/scouts schedules.  Now, when I tried to plan a week’s meals, I have to admit I felt overwhelmed!  There were too many choices, and too many picky eaters!  So I had the brilliant idea (if I do say so myself!) of categorizing the week.  We’ve all heard of Meatless Monday, right?  Maybe even Taco Tuesday.  But why stop there?  Why can’t Wednesday have a theme?  And Thursday?

Why indeed!!!

So here’s the Improv House “Cuisine” Schedule

Meatless Monday (my biggest challenge here is to not allow every Monday to turn into pasta night … have to think outside the box!)

Tex-Mex Tuesday (because I don’t really want to have tacos every week, and because I’m lucky enough to live in Texas, where we have Tex-Mex!)

Whatever Wednesday (to allow a little creativity, but only once a week so it’s manageable … could be soup, sitr-fry, casserole, seafood … ya know, whatever! … a great day to try out something that doesn’t fit into any other category, or something that looks so promising I can’t possibly wait until the category rolls around again)

Throw-it-Out Thursday (this day is set aside to eat all the leftovers from Monday thru Wednesday, before I have to throw it out)

Pizza Phriday (it’s a tradition – my day off from thinking about what to make for dinner … the letters don’t work … let it go)

Seafood Saturday (this is the hardest day to honor because the schedule is so unpredictable, but I’d like to have a day to experiment with different seafood dishes, so here it is).

Slow-Cooker Sunday (I said I wanted to use my slow-cooker more, remember?)

And today is … not Sunday.  But let me tell you about a recent Sunday because I discovered an awesome slow cooker recipe that, until now, I haven’t found time to post about.  Because my life is like that.

I mentioned my picky eaters, right?  I have to say that it’s really hard to invest a lot of time in preparing a meal that you’ll offer to picky eaters because they totally don’t appreciate all of your efforts and the time you spent preparing their meal.  They ingest the obligatory bite or two and dump the rest into the trash.  That’s a good feeling.  Not.

So I browsed for a not-too-offensive slow cooker recipe, and happened upon this recipe for Slow-Cooker Honey Almond Chicken that looked promising.  OK, true, 1st daughter is not a fan of nuts.  OK, also true, none of my daughters are particularly fond of snow peas (I know the recipe calls for snap peas, but those look like snow peas to me in the picture).  It looked delicious to me and, despite that fact that I wouldn’t actually be eating it (since I’m not eating meat or poultry these days), I decided that I should definitely make it for my kids.

I’d like to say it was a huge hit.  The truth of the matter is, it met with mixed reviews.  But that’s only because I fed it to kids, and kids are not rational.  2nd daughter, at least, loved it and asked if I would send the leftovers in her school lunch the next day.

The chicken, apparently, was a little dry – which can happen to chicken breast in a slow cooker.  I might convert this into a stir-fry recipe for Whatever Wednesday, or if I make it in the slow cooker again I might try using chicken thighs instead.  I had some of the snow peas and sauce over rice and I have to say that I thought the flavor was AMAZING; a definite keeper!!  These kids of mine don’t know a good thing when it’s right in front of them served over rice.  And it was super simple to throw together since there are just a few ingredients.  Little trick I learned, though …. don’t toss those snow peas in until you’re sure that you are 15-20 minutes away from being able to put dinner on table.  As it happened for us, 2nd daughter took quite a bit longer than she told me she would to finish her science fair project and get it off the dining room table so that there would be space for my lovelies to eat.  The result was that the snow peas were rather beyond “crisp-tender.”  Still yummy, though.

You may also remember from my last post that my old slow cooker had apparently retired from cooking, so I had to pull out my newer, gargantuan slow cooker which would have been way too big for this little recipe, so I used the handy divided crock insert and decided to try to cook the rice in the other side.  That was somewhat less successful, but that’s a story for another post.

What’s for dinner tonight at your house?

Blog Post #1 …

If you asked me for my New Year Resolution, it would be to find out who I am.

– Cyril Cusack

Monday, January 6th, 2014.

The girls will (finally!) go back to school tomorrow and life as we know it will resume.  More or less.

I will start the new year with a clean refrigerator …

… is NOT what I was thinking this morning when I woke up.

But I needed to go buy groceries because there was a serious Old Mother Hubbard situation going on in my kitchen.

“Wait … before I go buy groceries I better clean out the fridge.  It’s garbage day anyway, and there are still too many holiday leftovers in there.  Start with the top shelf.  There’s that carton of chocolate milk that’s been in there a bit too long.  (Toss.)  And how long does whipped cream in a can keep after it’s been opened?  And wait … WHAT THE HECK SPILLED ALL OVER THE SHELF???”   It was a weird yellowish color that reminded me of cumin, but I haven’t been cooking any Indian food so what gives???

Don’t answer that.  I don’t really want to know.

OK I don’t know about you, but once I’ve completely cleaned off the top shelf so that I can take it out and wash it, I’m committed.  It’s a whole-fridge clean.  Everything had to come out, every shelf wiped, every expiration date checked.

So that was my morning.

And … I don’t know … is it just me or does anyone else do this too?  When I’ve cleaned out the fridge (like, seriously cleaned out – not just tossed out the leftover pizza and moldy cheese) I find that whenever I go into the kitchen, I have to stop and open the fridge … ya know, just to admire it.  It’s so clean.  It practically sparkles.  I will (seriously!) open the refrigerator door for no reason except to appreciate how clean it is.  Is that weird??

I think it’s a sign that I need to clean out my fridge more often because it’s clearly WAY too much of a novelty.

Anyway … fridge is clean.  Off to the store I go.

I had decided that I would send my beloved children off to bed on the night before their return to school with a hearty dinner of Broccoli-Cheese soup and crusty bread (OK, in truth, I imagined that I would serve that Broccoli-Cheese soup in a bowl made from a hollowed-out roll of crusty bread, but then I remembered that I’m neither Martha Stewart nor a restaurant called Panera Bread and so I snapped back to reality.  Large boule of crusty bread, sliced, on the side will do nicely, thank you). I don’t make resolutions, but if I did, one of them would be to get back in the kitchen and start cooking again.

So after returning from the store I set about washing and chopping broccoli, dicing onion, etc.  Popped it into the slow cooker, get on with my day.  As I think I mentioned, I don’t make resolutions. But if I did, one of them would be to use my slow cooker more often.

2nd daughter, 6th grade, needs a new binder for the new semester because they will start their “Health” unit of P.E.  We’ve had two and a half weeks over our winter break to get this task completed, but I thought we should save it for the last possible moment.  Mission accomplished.  Off to the office supply store we go.

1st daughter, 7th grade, is certain she brought her gym clothes home on the last day of school waaaaaay back in December, but we can’t seem to locate them anywhere.  We’ve had two and a half weeks to find and launder these articles of clothing, but I thought we should save it for the last possible moment.  Mission accomplished.  Since they can’t be located and the absence of proper gym attire for P.E. results in a zero for the daily grade, off to the sporting goods store we go.

Upon returning home, I realize that there’s something amiss with my slow cooker.  At this point, the aroma of simmering broccoli should be wafting throughout the house but it’s not.  Turns out my old slow cooker had decided that it’s too old to get hot enough to … you know … cook.

Awesome.  Time to come up with Plan B.

In the end, I sent my beloved children off to bed on the night before their return to school with a hearty dinner of canned Campbell’s chicken noodle soup and crusty bread, sliced, on the side.

I’m hoping that, in the giant universe of parental karma, I will at least get points for trying.

And … I have a sparkling clean refrigerator.