Monday, April 9, 2018
Friday, March 30, 2018
Today at around five o'clock in the evening I got the call from hospice that my dad had died
It was anything but an unexpected death, which I suppose is obvious from the fact that he was in hospice. That was my doing. As his legal guardian, it fell to me to make the decision to move him out of the ICU, where he had spent the past nine days, and into a hospice, where the pretense that he might possibly recover would end, along with all the futile, painful interventions that maintained that pretense.
I've been shuttling back and forth from Bellingham to Tucson frequently in the past year, along with my sister. Last spring, or early last summer, I forget which, my stepmom called us and said she couldn't care for him at home anymore. We were unsurprised. Frankly we wondered how she had been managing for the past several years. Dad had a stroke in 2002 that left him hemi-paralyzed, and his health had described a slowly declining arc ever since.
The visit that followed my stepmom's pronouncement was pure hell, a hell that illuminated for me every single thing that is wrong with American health care and the American way of caring (or not) for the elderly and disabled. My sister and I had to make one awful, wrenching decision after another. Dad resisted with all of his strength facing the truth that he needed a level of care that could not be provided at home, and he used every tactic at his disposal. In the end we left him in the local veteran's hospital on a psych hold, and I started emergency proceedings to become his legal guardian.
There followed several months of bureaucratic nightmare waltz. Dad was transferred from one facility to another. I think he went through five placements in a fewer number of months. He was in and out of the hospital. I, formally instated by a judge as his legal guardian, received midnight calls from emergency room physicians asking me what I wanted them to do.
"If I do nothing, he's going to die," said the voice on the other end of the telephone.
This happened more than once.
Those awful episodes were interspersed with weeks of semi-recovery in various nursing homes. The nicest one had chickens and a nurse who helped him plant some seeds in pots in the small courtyard. Dad was always a gardener. I don't think there has been a single year of his adult life he didn't have some sort of garden, even in these latter years. My brother-in-law built him raised beds in his yard in Tucson, beds he could plant and weed from his wheelchair.
That reminds me, of course, of all the time he and I spent dreaming about a little five-acre farm. During the years he lived with me and my daughter in the blue house in Seattle. It was a game we played, the "Self-Sufficiency" game.
The self-sufficiency game (love you, Dad)
This time, this last time, the call came that dad was in ICU again, and nobody was really sure what was happening. The first doctor I talked to said he thought it was a pulmonary embolism; the next one said septic shock. Shortly it became clear that whatever the precipitating event was, dad was extremely ill and not very likely to recover enough to make it back to the nursing home. Not that anyone was willing to come right out and say that - but that's a post for another day.
My sister and I both flew down. Dad was in and out of consciousness. We spent a week more or less at his bedside. It was clear, to me anyway, that he was declining, but oh so very, very slowly. It was only after we both had flown home that he became entirely unable to eat or drink, and it was when they started talking about a feeding tube that I said "No."
"Get me hospice," I said.
My mother and my brother have both named me as their medical power-of-attorney, as did dad a couple years ago. I'm not entirely sure why this duty has devolved on me, but I believe that in my mom's case at least, she sees me as the child "most likely to pull the plug." She has made it clear to all of her kids that she has zero desire to hang around in agony one minute longer than necessary, but I'm the one she has designated to make it so. She trusts me to kill her. I can't help but wonder - in dark moments like this one - if my family sees me as unfeeling.
Sometimes I wonder the same thing about myself.
This is the second spring in a row that I have had to fly to Tucson during kidding season. For two years in a row, I have left my husband and kids, who are not experts by any means, to cope with goats giving birth and getting the kids off to a good start. Last year there were complications, and this year I anticipated more complications. Flopsy was once again carrying a ridiculous number of babies, and I knew they would need active help. I did all I could, which was to ask knowledgeable neighbors if they could be on standby, and give their phone numbers to my husband.
Even as I sat at my dad's bedside in the hospital, even as I interrogated his cardiologist or his nurse, I was thinking about Flopsy and her quadruplets. I couldn't help it. Dad was manifestly in good hands - being cared for by people far more qualified than myself and obviously good at their jobs. The same could not be said for my goats. I wanted to care only about my dad, to be in one place completely, at his side and nowhere else, but that just wasn't possible. Not for me. Maybe it never is possible for anyone, and I'm being unreasonably hard on myself. How would I know? This is the first time I'm doing this. Thank all the gods I made it this far.
Luckily, the goats gave birth without major complications and the neighbors came through in spades. Mental note: I need to by a few Starbucks gift cards. In fact, I was sitting outside in the fragile evening sunshine enjoying the sight of seven little goatlets prancing about the lawn when the call came. Dad had passed away quietly, deep in a morphine dream, without pain or agitation, after two weeks of hospitalization.
My dad was a fighter. He did not Go Gently into that Good Night. He resisted every step of the way, with courage and stubbornness. There are certainly easier ways to live and to die than the ways he chose - or the ways that fell to him though fate and genetics - and for my part I hope I find those easier ways. But I admire him his fighting spirit. No one can say he didn't do his damndest to the very end.
Sunday, March 25, 2018
Posted by Aimee at 5:31 PM
Saturday, March 10, 2018
As usual, I have a couple of different fermentations going on in the kitchen. At this point in time, after years of tinkering and experimenting, home-fermented foods are simply an everyday part of our diet - which is as it should be. Fermented foods have been an integral part of the diets of people in all parts of the world for centuries, if not millennia.
Fermentation is the answer to many problems - how to preserve fresh vegetables through the winter; how to turn easily spoiled milk into delicious, storable cheese and yogurt; how to increase the digestibility and the vitamin content of tough root vegetables; how to get drunk and party through a long, drab, grey season.
Fermenting is a traditional and easy way of preserving fresh vegetables through the cold season in four-season climates, like northern and Eastern Europe where most of my ancestors came from. It is the only method of preservation that actually increases the nutrient content of the food being preserved. Bacterial action produces high levels of B vitamins, including the hard-to-find B12.
My Kefir. A few years ago I bartered for some kefir grains and was sadly disappointed to learn that I couldn't put them in fresh, raw goat's milk. When I tried that, they died overnight. Turns out - as I could have learned from a very short investigation online - if you want to propagate a particular SCOBY (Symbiotic Community Of Bacteria and Yeast), you need to cultivate it in a relatively sterile medium. Raw milk is chock full of it's own community of bacteria and yeasts, and they are stronger and more vigorous than whatever you are trying to grow. I was basically starting WW3 every time I put a few kefir grains into raw milk. And my soft, domesticated culture lost every time. The kefir grains I bought turned into sludge and disappeared.
The last time we went to Oaxaca, two and a half years ago, I got new kefir grains from my mother-in-law. She calls them "bulgaros" and she calls the product they create "yogurt." In fact (or at least in English) yogurt is something different - simply milk cultured with certain bacterial strains, and it can be propagated indefinitely just by adding old yogurt to new, scalded milk. Kefir is a different animal - a SCOBY. You can make new yogurt from old yogurt, but you can't make new kefir from old kefir. You need the SCOBY - the grains.
These look like little niblets of cauliflower. Keeping them alive and growing is fairly simple. Put a tablespoon of kefir grains into a pint of pasteurized milk. Let sit for 24-48 hours. Strain. The thickened, digested milk that you strain off is kefir. Wash the grains in water several times, swishing and draining. Then place in new milk. Some books will tell you to wash the grains in milk, and not water. Don't believe them. When I did that, the grains melted over time into sludge. As soon as I started washing them in water every two days, they grew amazingly. Which is what my mother-in-law had been trying to tell me, but for reasons of cultural imperialism and white privilege I had been ignoring her wisdom in favor of some white dude who got published. If you are lucky enough to have access to an intact system of food production, utilize it! Go figure.
Sauerkraut. I probably wouldn't make sauerkraut very often except that my daughter Hope loves it. I like sauerkraut just fine, but its not what I would call a staple food. It is, however, one of the easiest and cheapest ferments One head of green cabbage, and one or two tablespoons of salt, depending on the weight of the cabbage. Shred cabbage finely , massage with salt, pack into a glass jar and pound down tightly with a wooden pestle. Let sit on the counter at least one week, then test for sourness. If you like the taste, rinse quickly under running water, squeeze, and pack into smaller ja and put int he fridge.
Making bread. I lost my sourdough starter several months ago. This is a quick focaccia bread, made with store-bought yeast. Still yummy, however. I love baking, it makes me happy and nothing makes the house smell so good.
Monday, February 26, 2018
Monday, February 5, 2018
It's February in the far northwest, which means it is the time of year that otherwise ordinary, well-adjusted people begin to contemplate going on a tri-state killing spree just for a fucking change of scenery.
Posted by Aimee at 9:42 PM
Friday, February 2, 2018
Thursday, January 18, 2018
It is the dark days. The quiet time, the resting time. The goats are pregnant - most but hopefully not all of them - and lie around munching their cud and avoiding the rain and the mud. The pigs spend their time rooting around in the mud, looking for a bit of beet or a squash or something they might have missed from breakfast. They are just growing, growing bigger and ever closer to their date with the butcher sometime in February. The chickens huddle up in the hayloft, laying their few winter eggs inaccessibly between the bales.
And we, the people, spend as little time out in the barnyard as possible, to tell the truth. It hasn't been awful, the weather, but it hasn't been nice, either. It's par for the course Pacific Northwest January weather - wet, windy, and grey. Nice weather for watching movies and reading books, not nice weather for trimming goat hooves or fixing fences. Not that those tasks can be put off forever, of course. Just until... just until... well, maybe next week.
Because of the gleaner's pantry, it is always preserving season around here. Lately we have been getting a ton of apples. Last week I brought home a dozen bags of assorted varieties of organic apples. First I made four quarts of applesauce, then I noticed that we already have an awful lot of applesauce that we aren't eating in the cupboard. So I broke out the dehydrator. It has five trays, and can hold about a dozen thinly sliced apples. Then it tales about six or eight hours to dry them the way I like them, so dry they are crispy. The dehydrator has been going for three days straight, and we have three gallon-sized ziplocks full of apple rings in the snack drawer. The kitchen smells great.
There's nothing much on the immediate horizon. The goats aren't due to give birth until late March. Holidays are over, no big celebrations coming up until Easter. My birthday is next week, but it isn't a landmark birthday (46) and I don't expect much of a to-do. Times like this I think I should take up knitting, or set up my studio again and try to get back into painting. Or maybe try again to journal every day. Or at the very least, do some ambitious cooking and baking.
We do have to eat some of the meat from the freezer to make room for the pork that will be coming in soon. Maybe it's time to have a party, and make a big old feast.
Saturday, December 23, 2017
Posted by Aimee at 10:44 PM
Tuesday, December 12, 2017
Friday, December 8, 2017
Sunday, November 19, 2017
It's my turn to host Thanksgiving. The job revolves between my mom, my sister, and I, with my mom usually taking two years out of three. Just these past couple of years she has unckenched a little, and been a little bit more willing to cede the hostess role. Even as a guest, however, she still commands the menu by the simple method of bringing every single dish she would cook if she were hosting herself.
Posted by Aimee at 6:46 PM