Monday, December 24, 2007

"The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear." -Elf

As the days have gotten shorter, the darkness longer, I have been feeling increasingly stressed this holiday season. There is the usual stress of dealing with the commercialism and materialism of Christmas, planning and executing a huge gathering in a small house, and not being able to give as much as I’d like because I’m really broke. (Yes, this does seem to be a USUAL circumstance.) This year, there is the added stress of a Grandma’s illness, the dog’s illness, a broken car, and a broken relationship with my friend, T (recovering heroin addict, now on a month-long fix of methadone, benzos and alcohol). I have not been feeling very festive.

This week of solstice, I have had a few glimpses of light that have brought me cheer. It would make me really happy to share these little things, which have brightened my days.

One day I happened upon a local blog I had not visited. (OK, I was looking for a funny cat video.) There was an amazing painting that immediately captured my attention. (Dec. 19 entry, I don't know how to link to it specifically). The power of art can be mysterious and wonderful. When I saw this painting, I felt a sense of joy. I have revisited the blog several times to view the painting.

Last night, I was traveling east on 474 getting ready to cross the river, when I saw four deer between the road and the trees. As soon as I said, “oh, look at those deer”. There were two more. And two more and two more, all the way to the bridge. What made the view more spectacular, was that the deer seemed to be in a spotlight from the bright and gorgeous full moon. I was mesmerized by the moon all the way home. It was glowing big and bright and kept being framed or obscured by moving clouds. Sometimes as the clouds would pass in front of it, they would be eerily transparent. I could see the different density?, thickness?, in different parts of the clouds. It was like looking at cloud X-rays.

The most surprising (to me) burst of joy, I experienced during my son’s band concert. The band was playing a holiday medley of songs and the program had the lyrics to carols. The audience was supposed to sing along with the band on the conductor’s cue. I am not Christian; I don’t feel any strong sense of Christmas tradition; My singing voice is about as atrocious as Jennifer’s; but as I was singing “Oh come let us adore him, oh come let us adore him, oh come let us adore hi ii im, Christ the Lord”, I felt a swelling a Christmas cheer. I sang loud and joyfully and really did feel a sense of peace and goodwill in my heart.

I have been trying to recapture that feeling all week, driving around, singing Christmas carols to myself, but apparently it is more effective when you are part of a crowd in the really cool new Five Points Community Center in Washington with an awesome High School Band playing back up music. But hopefully my spirits will improve soon. I can make it through (and hopefully enjoy) the next two days. Then I will look forward to New Year’s Eve (Little E’s birthday). And the days are lengthening and the light is returning. (In my head I have an ominous preacher voice saying “And in my spirit, so shall it be.”)

Monday, December 3, 2007

Living with Doobie (I wish that title was not misleading)

When I started caring for my grandma, I also started caring for my grandma’s dog, Doobie. (He was once my brother’s dog. My brother named him.) Doobie is a 14-year-old lhasa apso. I love animals in general, but I am not really fond of being around this dog. He smells bad and barks a lot and wants in and out all day long and recently, has been peeing on the carpet in Big E’s room every night.

The first time or two he had an accident on the carpet, I mentioned it to Grandma and she had some exaggerated emotional outbursts in which she would essentially cry because he would need to be put to sleep. I was really confused by this response and after a few hours had my own exaggerated emotional response, (the only time I ever remember swearing to my grandma), “I can’t believe you think I would value a fucking carpet more than an animal’s life”. She cried. I cried. We agreed to take him to the vet. This was over the summer. The vet talked about other things like his cough and skin condition and wanted her to spend a lot of money on X rays so he could prescribe a diuretic for the cough, which could make the peeing worse. At that time we decided against the X rays and ended up focusing on getting some medicine for his itchy skin. After that, I have not mentioned the peeing on the carpet again and figured when she and the dog move out of the room, we will just get new carpet.

Doobie was due for a distemper shot, so we took him to the vet on Friday. Doobie has cataracts, and according to the vet, can barely see. He has a “bad tooth”. He still has skin problems and a heart murmur and a cough that is due to a heart problem. I mentioned the accidents to her, and she said Doobie is so old, that he might have a form of dementia like human Alzheimer’s and not remember to go out to pee. This really stuck an emotional chord with me. She then talked us into getting the X rays and also testing his kidney function.

Grandma and I went to the waiting room, I and just felt so weighted down. I already feel overwhelmed caring for my ailing grandmother; I do not know how good I will be caring for her dog as well. I started seeping some tears, feeling sorry for myself and scared about what the future holds and how much stress I can handle.

After awhile, the vet called us back to look at the X rays and discuss the results. As she told us about Doobie’s congestive heart failure and early stage kidney failure, I just started crying. She kept telling me how sorry she was, but how Doobie can still have a decent quality of life for a while. In fact, with medication, he will probably be more comfortable than he has been for many months. I smiled and thanked her.

While we were waiting to get checked out a couple of the technicians came up and hugged me and the vet stepped out to tell me again how sorry she was. I didn’t tell them that I wasn’t crying for Doobie. I was really just crying for myself.

When we got in the car, Grandma started to cry a little too and said, “Well, Dinky sure has lived a long happy life, hasn’t he?”

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Times, they are a changin'

This morning, I was taking 14 year old Big E to school and having him summarize the scene of Romeo and Juliet he had to read for his English assignment. As he was finishing talking, we heard the “Dear Aspen” segment come on the radio station, The question was something about a guy wanting to play with his girlfriend's “pooper” and wanting to know if he should ask permission or just give it a go. Aspen’s advice was to NOT ask permission, “just give it a little tickle”, and if she doesn’t seem to protest, it is OK to proceed. I felt compelled to disagree. I mean, I guess this might be OK advice for two adults who have been together awhile and have made it clear they are comfortable experimenting and know they will be open and honest about their likes and dislikes. But in general, I think it is best to get clear permission before touching any private areas of someone else’s body. I think this is especially good advice if you are directing it to the radio listening public, which may include teens or preteens. (That may be the target demographic for this station.)

So, not knowing if he had even listened to the segment, when it was over, I said, “I disagree.”

Big E- “About what?”

Me- “About her response to that question.”

Big E- Silence

Me- “Did you hear the question?”

Big E- “No”

Me – (willing to drop it, but worried that he DID hear the question but was too shy to say so) “Well, the guy was wanting to know if he should ask a woman’s permission before touching her anus.”

Big E- weird laugh

Me- “You definitely should ask permission.”

Big E- weird laugh

Me- (pulling up to the school)- “So, have a great day, honey!”

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving, Anniversary

For the past eight years, we have hosted our family thanksgiving dinner at our house. We have had anywhere from 20- 35 people over. It is always a great time, but it is a lot of work and a lot of money to host such a large gathering. Grandma usually takes sole responsibility for preparing the turkey downstairs. I usually do the side dishes upstairs. This year with her cognitive impairment, and the basement still being a wreck, it would not work to have grandma do the turkey. Besides being a vegetarian and not willing to prepare meat, I could not lift the turkey even if I was willing. I think Husband could do it, but in thinking of all the cleaning and shopping and work involved, I decided not to host this year. I feel a little guilty and will miss the connecting with my relatives whom I don’t get to see very often. But I feel like I need to take care of myself and take a break this year. By Christmas, I hope to feel up to having a full house of food and family again.

We decided to go to our church Thanksgiving potluck. The church provides turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes and everyone brings side dishes. I am going to bring twice baked sweet potatoes, which are more savory than sweet. I made these last week with a little less sage than the recipe called for and everyone here liked them a lot. I also had planned on making an agar agar fruit juice gel. I like agar agar, and it is so good for you. I have taken this to potlucks and dinner gatherings before and it doesn’t seem to be a wildly popular dish. I think I am still going to bring it, but jazz it up a bit, maybe take inspiration from a rainbow jello mold. I want to try to make it pretty and tasty. So this might take a few hours tonight.

Oh, and it is my anniversary today. Wedding anniversary, seventeen years. I still do not know if we are going to do anything. I would like to go eat at my work, but am really broke. If I did go there, I’d like to get a nice, overpriced bottle of wine and of course dessert. It would add up to more money than we should spend right now. My only other idea is to go to Sonic, which I really enjoy. Or go to the strip club, which we also enjoy, but also is expensive. I will see if Husband has any great romantic ideas (which can’t include sex because I am still under post-op no sex orders). Otherwise I am picturing eating a Super Sonic breakfast burrito, no meat, maybe having a couple of drinks at strip club, and spending a few hours making agar agar mold (that sounds gross, since in biology classes, they use agar to grow mold).

Well, I wanted to get writing again. I hope everyone is having a great holiday with good food, friends, and family. I am thankful for these things in my life, and for my loving husband who has put up with me for these seventeen years.

Sunday, November 4, 2007


Even though I was not looking forward to having surgery, I was kind of looking forward to the week off work. I was picturing relaxing and doing leisurely activities, while getting some things done that I enjoy, but sometimes feel I don’t have time to do. I bought two heads of organic cabbage to make sauerkraut and looked up recipes for homemade biscuits. I was going to read a couple books and have time to write lots of blog posts, maybe about making sauerkraut, drinking absinthe, and reading books. I am now realizing that maybe there is a reason they tell you to take a week off of work. I am sore and exhausted. My mind is too groggy to read a book, let alone post about it; and I don’t think I can bend down or lift the cabbage out of the vegetable drawer, let alone shred it up and beat it down into sauerkraut.

Surgery knocked me on my ass. And I have been sitting there since. One nice thing, though, has been receiving notes of care and concern from people at my church. I don’t actually attend church very often and many new people don’t even know who I am, but I posted a note to our message board, saying I was having surgery, and requesting people think healing thoughts for me. This is kind of like requesting prayer, except that many people at my non-dogmatic church do not pray (myself included). It was very heartwarming that about thirty people responded to me, sending me well wishes, and in some cases, actual prayers.

I really like the idea of being open about my wants and needs and feeling free to make requests from people whom I know care about me. This actually gives them the opportunity to give to me. This is part of the philosophy of Non-Violent Communication, , which I am studying and trying to incorporate into my life. I do not have the mental strength to go into details about it right now, but it may be a common theme in my posts. I hope so. I almost feel sheepish about saying it, because sometimes I do not act consistently with this philosophy, but it is something I strive towards.

My brain and body are tired so I am off to rest.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Chasing the green fairy

I haven’t caught her yet. I have had a fascination with absinthe for years. I was pleased to learn earlier this year that it is now (for the first time since 1912) being legally produced in America. I was even more pleased to see it listed in the UFS ad this Sunday. I made it a goal to finally try this drink very soon AND figured it would be an interesting blog topic. My plan was to, of course, write a review of Lucid absinthe , but also include pictures of the traditional way to make an absinthe drink and the changes the green liquid undergoes. I would also include interesting historical and health-oriented facts about the drink. (I never embark upon a potentially hallucinogenic adventure without doing my research.)

I was slightly disappointed that absinthe was the topic of Stephen Colbert’s “The Word” last night. The word was Absinthetinence.
Stephen Colbert is encouraging young people to abstain from imbibing absinthe. He seems to be perpetuating the myth that absinthe causes insanity, whereas, in reality, today’s legal absinthe is no more brain damaging than any other alcoholic drink. Also, if absinthe wasn’t gaining in popularity already, I bet everyone at Colbert Nation is out purchasing some right now. Soon, the web will be loaded with blog entries about absinthe, and I wanted to be one of the first (maybe around here at least) to try it/ write about it.

Oh well, review still to come. I am having surgery tomorrow, so I can’t drink alcohol for a couple days. I do not want to spend the money right now for an absinthe glass, or spoon, or fountain. So I will probably be using a snifter, a slotted spoon and a sports bottle. I will still be able to make a traditional louche. If you are not familiar with absinthe, don’t worry; I will give you all the details about this fascinating liqueur. My plan for later this week: recover from surgery with a bottle of absinthe.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Stepping Up

I have been watching one of our food runners start to take on more tasks in the kitchen. Usually her job duties would be limited to putting food on a tray and taking it to the correct table. Occasionally the food runners also serve as expeditors, telling the chefs what items are coming in on the tickets. A couple weeks ago, I started noticing a food runner, B, chopping onions and blending soup. She has been continuing to do more and more food prep duties, even cutting meat. I have been kind of impressed.

Saturday night, we were pretty busy. The kitchen was running semi-smoothly for just having lost our executive chef and also training a new line cook and salad worker who do not speak English. Chef P, who has suddenly become the executive chef, and been putting in crazy hours, had not prepared any new desserts and by the end of the night we were out of desserts. We thought we were through with service for the evening and Chef P went home. Then we had a couple parties show up wanting to eat, so Owner 2 was debating what to do. B said, “I’ll cook. I know all the dishes.” R1 said, “And I will make some dessert.” So B made some perfect dishes and R1 made some less than perfect dessert (Blackberries sautéed in brandy and red wine with some brown sugar, served over vanilla ice cream; it tasted good, just looked a little sloppy). So we served the two parties who were very happy with their dinners. One of my customers said, “Give the chef a raise!”

I recently read a book called Service Included by Phoebe Damrosch. It is a memoir about working in a fine dining restaurant. It was a good read and I liked it because I identified with her story of being new to serving, and also wanting to excel at it. In her restaurant, all the workers called each other “chef”, as a sign of respect. She did not explicitly say this, but I am assuming that this practice also helped keep in mind that everyone in a restaurant is contributing to the same goal of providing a great meal for the guests. I don’t know how actual chefs would feel about that practice (most chefs I have met are VERY particular about being called CHEF), and I am not going to suggest we try it at my work, but Saturday night I complimented B and called her “chef”.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Restaurant

I work as a server in a small, local, fairly new restaurant. I really like my job. I try to do my best in spite of minimal or conflicting training. I really want this place to be successful, but it has really had its ups and downs already. I keep being hopeful that it will get better. I think people don’t know about us yet and we are still smoothing out some rough spots. Some days are great, the tables full, the compliments flowing. Some days I sit there without a single customer. Sometimes I disagree with the way things are done or get irritated with my employers or coworkers, but in general I would say I am still in it for the long haul and hoping it works out.

I thought I would use this blog to express some of my thoughts about work (hence the name). But I haven’t decided how secret I need to be yet. I know as soon as I reveal a few details about the restaurant, some Peoria people will know exactly where I work because I have read posts or comments on local blogs about my work place. I guess that is OK, I am just still unsure about how I feel about my fellow coworkers knowing if I post about work.

So even though I haven’t figured out a theme to this post or a purpose for sharing, I think I just want to write about my weekend at work. Maybe through writing I can process my thoughts or feelings, or, if not, maybe start to paint a little picture of my world at work and the beautiful but bizarre restaurant I have an exaggerated sense of commitment to.

Friday, when I arrived at work, I was told by my coworker/ kind of manager, R1, that we are changing uniforms. From now on we are to wear colored dress shirts instead of white ones, without neckties. I expressed my disappointment and took of my tie. He proceeded to tell me that also, from now on, he and I are supposed to be more laid back. (The going without ties thing is supposed to help us with the appearance of being laid back.) I felt confused by this for a couple of reasons. 1. I am already very laid back. Before this job, I don’t think I had even eaten in a fine dining restaurant. I knew nothing about wine. I knew nothing about food. (I still struggle with this because I am vegetarian and don’t know much about cuts of meat, and also, customers seem to want to know if you personally have tried the things you are recommending). Anyway, I always try to make my customers feel super comfortable. We have a lot of people who show up “not knowing how nice it is” and seem to feel out of place because maybe they are wearing jeans or something, and I always try to be very reassuring that they are welcome and we want them to have a great experience. I enjoy being at work and am not ever snobbish or pretentious. I am laid back! 2. A couple of months ago, a server was fired for being too laid back. The actual action that got him fired was standing with his hand on his hip. I was really upset about this at the time because I thought this man was a really good server and willing to learn. If the owner would have said, “Do not stand with your hand on your hip”, I’m sure it would have never happened again. But, at my work, people get fired A LOT.

So, a couple hours after R1 told me about changing uniforms and being laid back, he also thought to mention that our executive chef had gotten fired on Thursday. I think he was our fourth chef we’ve had since opening. Two quit and two got fired. We have also had five managers quit or get fired. And countless employees.

Aha! I have thought of the theme of this post. Consistency (well, lack thereof). I think the restaurant is at a crucial point in which we need to start having some consistency. Our menu is always changing, rules always changing, chefs always changing, even our décor. I know our owners are trying to tweak things to make them better, and that is probably acceptable for awhile when a business is new. But after the newness is over, the constant changes are unsettling for the employees and the customers.

Now we seem to have a good team of servers, good managers, and if our sous chef is becoming executive chef and stays with us, I am hoping we will finally have some consistency.

I am concerned about the length of this post. I think I will write a shorter post about Saturday as a separate entry. I wonder if people will be interested to hear the stories of a local restaurant.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

San Diego is pretty tonight

Even before the Alzheimer’s, my grandma has always found the oddest things to be “pretty”. Napkins or paper placemats from restaurants were folded neatly in her purse to be taken home. A box of candy got distributed to relatives and she was happy to have the pretty box to save. She saves deflated balloons and the pretty ribbons they were once suspended on. For years she has taken the same pictures of the same trees in our neighborhood in autumn. Sometimes I find myself being irritated with her constant comments about the beauty of every little thing, and then hate myself for whatever psychosis possesses me to resent this unique capacity. If only more people (myself included) could find beauty in this mundane world, maybe the world, (myself included) would be more peaceful.

In the big picture, I want to learn this lesson, and not think of something as ugly, just because it is unfashionable or cheap or tacky. But I do have to draw the line somewhere and find a balance between accepting what my grandma deems pretty, without being irritated, and allowing myself to disagree.

When my son was preparing for his first homecoming dance, I was (briefly) considering making a corsage for his date, instead of buying one. I mentioned this to my grandma, and that I might use roses from our own bushes, but would need to buy some baby’s breath or a few accessories. She had been eating Worther’s candies, with pretty gold wrappers. So, she started crumpling them into a twirly design, and said “This would be pretty, you could put some of these pretty things on the corsage”. My mind is saying, “Umm, they are fucking used candy wrappers. I don’t think so.” But my voice said, “Well, I was thinking of using all natural components in the corsage, but thank you for the suggestion”.

As her dementia is increasing, this idiosyncrasy of hers is standing out to me more, and I am trying to process it differently. We were watching CNN a couple nights ago about the forest fires in California. There was an aerial view of the flames and my grandma said “Oooh, look at that. That is pretty.” I said, “It’s a forest fire. There are wildfires all around San Diego”. A few minutes later, when the screen was showing billowing smoke, she said, “Oooh, look at that pretty cloud. If I was there I would take a picture of that.” When I explained that it was smoke from the forest fires, she did not know what I was talking about or have any recollection of me telling her about the fires a few minutes before. I am learning to not ever point out if she has forgotten something or ask, “Don’t you remember, we just discussed this?”

Some people with Alzheimer’s go through drastic personality changes and develop a lot of paranoia. They can become hostile and accusatory. I wonder if maybe they already had some of these personality traits that just become exaggerated. Maybe my grandma will just have her loving, docile personality traits exaggerated. Maybe I am being naïve, but if she continues to become more affectionate, and clingy, and enamored with how pretty things are, I feel I should be grateful and accepting. It could be much worse.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Where do I go from here?

I think it is time that I start my own blog. I’ve been slowly being lured into the blog world, at first swearing to myself that I would never have the time or interest to even read blogs. I don’t really have the time, but I keep doing it anyway.

Occasionally I think about writing one, but I have been reluctant. I don’t know how to start. Do I just start writing one day about what is going on in my life, or things on my mind, what is going on in the world, that I have noticed? For every story in my life, it seems there is some complex history behind it and I don’t know how to just start in the moment.

If I were to write an entry about a walk in the woods with a fellow church-goer, in order for the story to have context, I would feel the need to elaborate, “the man who used to stalk me when I was a stripper but now whom I am trying to be friendly with since he goes to my church and we both share an interest in Non-Violent Communication”. Or if I want to write about my grandma sharing a room with my 14 year old son, it seems necessary to specify that not only was there a pipe burst, which caused her whole basement apartment to flood, floor to ceiling, but she then developed shingles and post-herpatic neuralgia, requiring constant medical care and now has Alzheimer’s and we are still trying to remodel her basement bedroom, but then there was another flood caused by the sump pump and also she is an OCD hoarder, so it is about impossible to clean or organize anything, even when we do get it remodeled.

I think my readers would (or already have) stop reading due to boredom and/or confusion. So I will need some practice in summarizing, and choosing which (if any) pieces of information are actually relevant.

I am also wondering about the purpose of writing a blog. Is it meant to be cathartic for the writer, or entertaining for the reader? I suppose in the best instances it would be both. My goal, would be that it be an outlet for me to express myself, but I also maybe hope to make connections with people who may read and offer input or differing viewpoints. So I think I will give this a try, and see where it leads, if I enjoy it or not, if anyone actually reads it or not (does that really matter?).