Wednesday, November 11, 2015

A Year

Anyone who regularly reads this blog knows that about a year ago, I was very sick.  I wouldn't be surprised if nobody regularly reads this blog as I am terrible about posting, but there might be one or two left.  This is for those one or two.

Okay, has been a full year since I got that horrible sinus infection aboard a cruise ship on our journey back from lovely Hawaii.  It has been a year since that sinus infection turned into pneumonia and nearly a year since I ended up getting an overdose of pneumonia drugs and landed in the hospital.  Not just any hospital, but geriatric psych hospital...for a week.  And I got home just in time for Christmas.  It was a bad time.  I wish I wasn't thinking about it, but a person does think about anniversaries, even if they're not celebratory ones.  However, I am celebrating.  I'm feeling good about the year, what we've done, what I've done, the fact that my brain healed along with my body and that we could travel without my getting sick.

We waited until June to take any trips, but the first of the year was to England--my third time there since my son's family moved there for his job.

We had a Falconry Adventure!  This is a hawk on my granddaughter, Ali's, gloved hand.  Granddaughter, Zuzu, is nervous and Aunt Laurie even more nervous! Trainer on the left.

On another day we went to Hever Castle, where Anne Boleyn grew up.  Beautiful grounds.  The target at the entrance was there because there was a WWII tribute going on.  It's a 13th century castle located in Kent.

The grounds had lovely gardens--this twisted tree was the perfect spot to take a picture of  granddaughter, Zuzu.

We found ourselves near Arundel Castle when my son took us to the Goodwood Festival of Speed (race cars from all decades--one of the best car shows in the world)  This is a view looking down from the Arundel's Keep.

This is my son enjoying the Goodwood Festival. He said, "I love the smell of racing fuel!" Here we are standing very close to a race track that leads up The Hill Climb.  Any of the cars that came there could race up the hill climb for time, including the very old ones from the early 20th century all the way to Corvettes, Ferraris and a Tesla.  And we saw this:

The setting of the world two-wheel time record, in a Juke of all things, set at the Festival. 1.16 mile hill climb course, in 2 minutes, 10 seconds.  The driver was breaking his own record set the year before at the Goodwood Festival.`

We visited many places, but we also were visiting our son, Christopher and his family and oldest daughter, Erin and her husband, Kent, also living in England.  Our son lived in Surrey for 3 years, until August of this year.  Our daughter lives near St. John's Wood and will be there for possibly two more years.

Daughter, Erin, taking a load off, at the Goodwood Festival of Speed.

We visited, we ate, we walked, we went to see The Book of Mormon in London, we played, we watched movies, Ali and I wrote a long book about cats and so did Zuzu and I (a shorter one).  This dish, eaten at a restaurant near Arundel Castle, was called the VIP Pizza.  It is definitely a Very Important, Incredible Pizza!  Zuzu decided Daddy might need some help.  I don't think he did!

We spent a month in England.  When we got home we tore into our bathroom remodel.

We tore out everything, right down to the studs, redid wiring, plumbing, all the fixtures, floors, walls and we ended up, 11 weeks later, with this:

It was worth all the hard work and I did my share of heavy labor, too.  We are extremely happy with the results.  We have a shower with a view, heated floors, floor lighting for nighttime bathroom trips and I have a Japanese toilet.  Look it up on the internet.

Not long after the bathroom was done, in mid-September, we took a car trip to Calgary, Alberta to visit Michael's cousin, John and his wife, Shiela.

Michael's cousin took us to some of his favorite places not far from the city.

The Quaking Aspens (or Trembling Aspens, as John called them) had turned beautifully golden and the weather was  uncharacteristically warm for Calgary in September.  We came home via the Trans-Canada Highway.  It was a delightful 5 days.

At the end of October we went to Pahrump, Nevada, so that Michael could participate in a Corvette Performance Driving School and we stayed here, at the Spring Mountain Resort, near the driving tracks:

The room was very comfortable, huge bathroom, great kitchen, wish we could have stayed longer--and we had this view at sunrise:

After two days at Spring Mountain we drove into Las Vegas and stayed in a room in the Bellagio Hotel with a view of the their magnificent fountain:

One day we bought a bottle of wine (at Costco!!) and that evening we sat at our window and drank wine from provided wine glasses and watched show after show.  The only downside was that the music isn't piped into the rooms, but sometimes we made our own music ;)

So, here I am, just to prove I was there, in the gorgeous pool area of the Bellagio Hotel, just before we went somewhere else to have breakfast!  

It's been a good year, just enough travel, revitalizing scenery, laughs with family, giggles with grandchildren, historic places, luxurious accommodations, life-enhancing experiences.  This is practically a Christmas letter!  Thanksgiving is coming and Christmas, too, way too soon!  Gotta get ready! And hey!  When we were in England we found out we have a new grandson on the way!  In December!  He might be called Enzo... you know, after Enzo Ferrari, my son being the car enthusiast that he is.  Actually, it is Zuzu who has decided this will be the name for her new baby brother.  Perhaps she doesn't want to be the only family member with a Zed in her name!  In December we will have grandchild #7.  What a great ending to the year.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Stuffed Grape Leaves

To satisfy a couple of my friends, I've decided to do a learning post about stuffing grape leaves.  One friend reminded me I hadn't posted since January, when I wrote about the horrendous time I'd had with a prescription overdose.  She said, "What about people who haven't seen you since they read that post?  They might think you're still sick.  You have to write something new!"  The other friend has grape vines and a recipe for stuffed grape leaves, but she thinks my recipe sounds better.  Well, I don't know if it is, but I'll put it in the blog so I can show her pictures and give her good directions.  This way I will satisfy two friends--if I'm making stuffed grape leaves, which isn't all that easy, then I must be feeling pretty healthy, right?

Okay, here goes:  First of all you have to have a source of grape leaves.  As you can see above, I have plenty--and this is only one of my three vines.  You can get some from me, if you think you want to try this.  Secondly, pick the right size and texture of leaf.  Here is a picture comparing two leaves:

The one on the left is big, maybe 5 inches across or more and is leathery.  The one of the right is the one you want to use.  It's small, but tender.  Here is a picture to give you perspective:

It's bigger than it looked, isn't it?  Pick about 6 of these bigger leaves to put in the bottom of the pot, under your rolls and to put on the top of your rolls, before covering.

Pick lots of leaves.  I started with 30, then went out and picked a bunch more.  I think I ended up making 50 rolls and still didn't use all the filling I had made.  Wash them in cold water, then place in a large bowl or pan and add boiling water.  That will cook the leaves a little and soften them a lot.

Here is the recipe for the filling.  This is from The Complete Greek Cookbook by Theresa Karas Yianilos, a great cookbook for learning how to cook Greek food.  I also have a Greek mother-in-law, and that's even better!

Byzantine Dolmathes

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 to 1 lb. ground beef
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, pressed
2 cups water
1/2 cup tomato sauce
1 cup rice, uncooked
1 teaspoon each mint and parsley, chopped (use more if you want more green like me)
1/2 teaspoon salt
pepper to taste
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon (I ran out of cinnamon this time and used allspice instead)
1/2 cup dried currants
1/4 cup port wine (optional)
1/4 cup pine nuts or walnuts

    To cook in:     2 cups water
                           Juice of 1 lemon

Fry meat, onions and garlic in large frying pan on medium until meat is cooked.  Add water and remaining ingredients.  Bring to a boil.  Cover and reduce heat to simmer and cook until water is absorbed 10-15 minutes.  Set aside until cool enough to handle.

To Fill:

Lay grape leaf on a plate or board with the stem part near you and the point of the leaf away from you--these should be turned upside down with the veiny side being the part you are filling.  Use about a tablespoon of filling in each grape leaf.

Fold the bottom leaf section over the filling (2 lower leaf sections), fold over the next two sections, and then roll tightly.

Two side-leaf sections rolled to the middle.

The finished product.

Put 2 or 3 big leaves in the bottom of a dutch oven and stack the filled rolls in circles in the pan.  I had rolls about three deep by the time I was done.  Place them seam side down so they will be less likely to come apart while cooking.  When you have all the rolls in the pan, put more big leaves on top of them and then a plate to keep them pressed down.

Arrange carefully

Big leaves and plate--then pour lemon water in and cover with a lid.

After preparing the pan for cooking, combine the juice of one lemon with 2 cups of water and pour into the pan, covering with a lid.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a low simmer.  Cook for 45 minutes.

Carefully take rolls out of pan and place in a serving dish.  Drain the liquid into a measuring cup to use in the sauce.

Avgo-Lemono Sauce:

2  cups broth (if you don't have enough from the grape leaves pan, add hot water)
2 eggs
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (juice of 2 lemons)
2 Tablespoons cornstarch

 Beat together broth and cornstarch.  Cook over medium-high heat until thick.  Beat eggs and juice together. Add small amount of hot broth to egg/juice mixture, then pour the rest back into hot broth.  (Putting a small amount of hot broth into the eggs, heats it up enough so that it doesn't curdle when it's poured into the broth.)  Stir and pour sauce over grape leaves or serve separately to spoon over individual servings.

I made the wrong sauce so this picture doesn't show the nice thick sauce the above recipe makes.

Here's a little history of the stuffed grape leaf.  Early Greeks used fig leaves and leaves from the mulberry and hazelnut trees, but this recipe was born when Alexander the Great demolished Thebes and food was so scarce the Thebans had to cut the little bit of meat they had into mincemeat and roll it in grape leaves.  The ornate Byzantine world refined this recipe further to include nutmeats, currants, and spices common to Persia and India.

So there you are!  It takes a bit of time, about 1 1/2 hours to put together and 45 minutes to cook, but the finished product is impressive.  Make them and have people over to dinner!  Or serve them as an appetizer at a party.  Impressive!

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Terrible Time

That's what I call what happened to me shortly after I posted the last installment of the Corvette Cruise trip.  On November 8th I was feeling pretty well. I had enough energy to write and to put pictures in the post.  The treatment for pneumonia, from Group Health Urgent Care, was working.  But things started to go south soon after that.  I had finished the last of the high-powered medications my doctor prescribed for what she thought (wrongly) was Legionnaires Disease, not just pneumonia.  The doses were very high, way higher than recommended for simple pneumonia.  But she was sure enough that I had that disease to call the Public Health nurse, who called to interview me about where I'd been and when symptoms started, etc.  We'd been on a cruise ship back from Hawaii when I started to get sick, so to my doctor and to the Health nurse, that was suspicious.

As it turned out, I didn't have Legionnaires.  When I drove down to have a follow-up X-ray on November 24th, I was clear of pneumonia.  But I shouldn't have been driving.  I couldn't remember how to operate the heating system in the car!  About half-way to Silverdale I realized I'd better really focus, because something was wrong. I went to an Alumni lunch on the 20th, but I was in a fog. Maybe some noticed, but I don't think they did.  By the time Thanksgiving came I could barely function. I couldn't make decisions about tiny choices let alone big ones; I couldn't sleep and I began to cry.  According to my husband I was crying 3 times a day.  He thought I was sleeping long hours, but I wasn't because my mind was racing.  I remember going to a Corvette club meeting where everything seemed "wrong".  I couldn't hold a conversation with anyone--I couldn't remember names or incidences that everyone was talking about. By the end of that week, the first week in December, I had come to the point where I had trouble dressing myself.  My husband was getting very, very worried.  He called my friend, Kay, who is the person I've been closest to in my life, and who is also a therapist.  She came to see me and thought I might be in a "deep depression".

On that assumption, Michael took me back to the doctor.  I lay on the examining table in a fetal position, crying, while Michael told the doctor what my behavior had been.  When the doctor finally got me to talk to her, I was sobbing something about my mother.  She diagnosed me with PTSD and increased my prescription of anti-depressants instead of sending me to the behavioral center.

Michael arranged a session with Kay.  All I did for 1 1/2 hours was cry.  Kay started to question her original thoughts about depression.  Why, she asked herself, would Chris, who has never had much more than a mild depression, suddenly be acting this way?  She asked Michael if he'd be okay if I stayed the night with her and he agreed and suggested she try to get me to take a shower, something he'd been unable to do in the last few days.  I stayed there that night and I took a shower and enjoyed the cozy bed.  But the next morning, I thought Kay's house was my house.  And when we got home and I got upset about something, I demanded to "go home".  I was shocked and confused to find out that I was already home.

That's when the paranoia started.  I'm not going to go into great detail about that, but one of my paranoia stories was that my husband was a burglar in the house and a day later when he took me to the emergency room at Harrison, I thought he was someone the police were after and that I was part of the plan to capture him.  They did every test in the book on me that night--MRI, EKG, brainstem tests, urine samples, more X-rays, looking for something that might explain my behavior.  All tests were negative.  I was unaware of all the tests except the MRI.  The machine looked like a wooden construction to me.  I thought someone was playing a joke on me. The nurse sounded like a woman in our Corvette club. I don't remember anything about the trip to Emergency or the trip back home.

Michael was starting to talk to his cousin, Mary, in Greece.  She is a pharmacist.  In Greece that position has much more responsibility than in the States.  She can prescribe and dispense medicines and has owned her pharmacy for many years.  She wanted to know what medications I'd been taking and when she heard about the huge doses of Zithromax (Azithromycin) I'd taken, she was extremely alarmed.  Within the next few days I went even further downhill; I didn't open my eyes, I had to be told to come to the table to eat, Michael made all the meals, had to tell me how to undress for bed, had to tell me how to dress in the morning.  He tried to get me to exercise, thinking that might help the meds get out of my system, but finally I was too far gone to reason with and he took me to Group Health Behavioral Health Center in Bremerton to get help.  Michael told them the story of the Zithromax and two doctors tried to talk to me; I wouldn't/couldn't talk to them. They finally told Michael he should take me to the Emergency Room of Harrison again while they tried to arrange a bed in a psychiatric hospital.  After 3 1/2 hours in Emergency a bed became available at Northwest Hospital right next to the U of W Hospital, in the Geropsychiatric Center.  Michael kept calling it the Psych Ward, which conjured up images of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Nurse Ratched.

For me, it was a bewildering place to be.  Since I was suffering from paranoia, my brain and I made up stories/theories of why I was there.  At first I thought I was there with my writer's group and we were helping the staff teach new employees how to handle their elderly patients.  In the interests of teaching them, I flung my cream of rice around, spilled my water on the table and banged my spoon on my tray.  Someone asked me, "Are you ready to go back to your room, Christine?"  They made a note, that I saw later, about my behavior that day.  All day long for the entire time I was there, 7 days, I made up theory after theory.  The rooms were labeled with papers inside plastic sheet protectors--Sue, Lorraine, Jack, Linda, Norma Jean (!).  I thought Jack Archer was in the "JACK" room, but I didn't see him there.  I thought the woman named "Norma Jean" was a staff person, watching me.  For a time I thought ALL the other patients were doctors, observing me.

Thankfully, I had visitors while I was there, to give me support and break up the long days--someone from our alumni group visited nearly every day.  Ralph, Marty, Vicki A, Jim Petersen and my dear, old friend, Anne.  Others sent cards, first Christmas cards, then get well cards.  When I was finally able to reason again, I was overwhelmed with gratitude for my friends.  The visits and phone calls from friends and family, even one from London, filled the bleak days of confusion.  I hated being stuck in either my room or the activity/dining room.  I didn't have a bulletin board or any decoration at all until Kay stuck some cards up on the wall to brighten it a little.  I couldn't read because I couldn't focus my mind.

There was a Christmas tree (fake) in the activity room, which was sort of nice to see at first.  They played carols on the CD player and at night turned to a sports station on the radio.  Since all of us were 65 or older, we enjoyed the old tunes and the sound of radio sports.  There was a TV in the appropriately named TV Room where the women who had been there for awhile watched DVD movies, all of which I'd seen.  But one night there was a Seahawks game and even in my paranoia, confusion and sadness I had a great time watching it and whooped and yelled just like I do at home.

I asked my husband to bring me some pens and a notebook and when I got those I started to write many times a day.  I wrote what I could remember of what had happened at home--I wrote down some of my "paranoia stories".  I wrote about changes I wanted to make in my life, I made lists.  I tried to remember.  My memory was fried.  The first several days I didn't know who I was.  I tried out theories of being my husband, my ex-husband, my son-in-law, my best friend, my son, my daughter-in-law.  I don't remember how long it took for me to realize I was Christine.  One day I was asked who I was, I said "Christine" and a woman said, "No.  That's Christine over there in the corner, asleep", as she pointed at a man.

I was told later that the psychiatrist couldn't figure out how to diagnose me.  He didn't come up with anything, ever.  That's because I was suffering a strange reaction from medications, not the usual mental health or cognitive problems that usually brought people to this part of the hospital.  So they just observed me--the nurses took notes that are in the record.  After the first day I was a model citizen of the ward--I ate my meals (horrible gluten-free meals of dry salmon, dry chicken and dry pork, scrambled eggs and cream of rice);  I exercised in the hallway, using the railing like a ballet bar, I made friends with another woman, I participated in all the groups (craft, sitting exercise, social work, goal-making), I didn't make any trouble like on that first day.

They let me go home two days before Christmas.  The best meal I have ever had was the Topnotch burger on a gluten-free bun that I had at Silver City Brewery the night Michael brought me home.  It was leaking hot, fatty juice, had some kind of  delicious sloppy dressing on it, a beautiful slice of red tomato, a crispy piece of lettuce and even the bun was heaven.  The juices ran down my chin and my arm and I was transported.  I've never appreciated a meal so much.  I took a shower as soon as we got home.  I had taken two "showers" at the hospital, but the fully tiled shower room was fixed so that nobody could hurt themselves--hand-held shower with a short hose, too short to strangle yourself--water lever 2 feet away from the shower so you couldn't scald yourself, and liquid soap that wasn't soap.  Maybe they worried someone would drink it.

Being home, being clean, full of delicious food and going to sleep in my own bed, with my husband there to keep me warm and protect me from the paranoia that still filled my head--nothing could have been better.  I still  had a ways to go, but I was on the road back.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Corvette Cruise IV

There must be a couple of you who were waiting for the next installment of the Corvette Cruise--well, a couple of things got in the way.  First, we took a 16 day cruise from Vancouver, B.C to the Hawaiian Islands and then during the last days of the cruise I got very sick and later found I had pneumonia.  But now I have enough energy to write at least and so here we go on the next leg of this journey.

This is Sayre, Oklahoma, where my grandson, Patrick, lives.  We tried to meet up with him but he thought we were coming the next day and was off doing something else.

Nice sign, fake horse and the town is pretty dead.  Friendly people at a nearby convenience store and garage tried to help us find Patrick.  They found where he worked, but when they called he wasn't there.  Like I say, off doing something else like a typical 25 year old.  Bummer.

Best Rest Stop ever!  Right across the border between Oklahoma and Texas.  Snake warnings all over the place but great restrooms and even a kid's play area.  When you're on the road you notice and appreciate these things!

Another great Rest Stop in New Mexico.  And since it is close to Roswell, NM, Chester visits. I liked his Hawaiian shirt.

This bronze of a dinosaur bone outside the rest stop, lured us to head for Tucumcari, New Mexico to the Dinosaur Museum.  Tucumcari is one of the few remaining towns along Route 66.

Some of the old Route 66 businesses still exist, but as in the last picture, there are many more that are sad ghosts of the past.

While waiting for the Dinosaur Museum to open we went to a historical museum.  It spanned the 1800s to the 60s, at least, maybe even later decades.

From radios we'd all recognize from the 40s...

To an old spinning wheel...

To a pair of high-button shoes...

A Ma-Bell switchboard....

To an ancient hair dryer...

A real wooden leg and some cowboy hats displayed on a limb...

Would you believe this is a juke box?

And this is a gambling machine?

They even had some covered wagons, this was a military one 

And a chuck wagon, complete with pans and a big coffee pot.

I've never been to our Kitsap Historical Society's Museum.  I wonder if it's anything like this one, with a huge variety of stuff from many decades, or if it's organized and tidy.  I better go see!

That's all I can get onto this post, so the next one will include the Dinosaur Museum and then we'll be heading down the road, out of New Mexico and into Arizona, Flagstaff, and the Grand Canyon.  I had never been to the Grand Canyon before!