Archive | April, 2013

A Mexican Vacation… and a Coconut Cream Pie

27 Apr

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In January my husband and I planned a trip to Mexico.  We used a companion fare ticket from Alaska Airlines and booked a trip to Barra de Navidad that would begin on April 24.  Once the plans were made, life went back to normal… until my Dad’s stroke.  Then the trip that we planned seemed unlikely… and I felt guilty for even wanting to go.

As the date to leave drew near, I spent many hours discussing insurance, surgery dates, payments for care, and myriad other details.   Once that was done I had to believe that my Dad was in good hands and that my husband and I could take a much-needed break.  We left early Wednesday morning and arrived about seven hours later in Manzanillo, Mexico.  A friend of a friend agreed to pick us up at the airport and he drove us to Barra.  We thanked him and gave him a bottle of Oregon wine for his troubles.

After a short rest, we walked down to the beach and enjoyed a beautiful sunset.  Then we bought tamales from a street vendor and ate them while sipping cold Pacifico beer.  That night we went to bed tired but happy.

The next morning I checked email (yes we are tied to our computers) and saw a message from my Dad’s case manager: Dad was taken back to the hospital. My first thoughts are unprintable but I will say, “Thank goodness for Skype!”  Immediately I called my sister and after a while we figured out that Dad had several things going on: dehydration, dizziness, and low levels of sodium.   Dad’s been in the hospital for three days now and I think that he is in the safest place he could be and the nurses at JFK have been amazingly kind and helpful dealing with his family that is so far away.

Since Dad was being well-cared for and I could not do anything for him I did what I do when I need to feel in control: I baked a pie.  This year in our little rental apartment we have a two-burner stove top and a toaster oven.  First I formed a graham cracker crust (with crumbs that I brought from home) and baked it in the little oven until it was lightly browned.  Next I mixed milk, sugar, eggs, and coconut for the filling and poured it into the crust.  We then went out in search of whipping cream to top it off but could not find any for sale in this little town so I had to settle for toasting coconut for the topping.

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Even without whipped cream I thought it turned out nicely… but who would get this lovely pie?  I thought of the people that we had come in contact with and settled on a young man who works in a shop that sells beautifully hand-woven works of art.  We asked him about the wall hangings and he told us that some of them had taken months to make.  He explained that many of those hanging had been made by other workers but that he also could weave and he first began learning to weave ten years before.

Maybe I felt a connection to that young man because I too learned my craft when I was young.  Whatever the reason, last night Emile and I walked back to the shop and brought a pie to that young man.   He was there with his girlfriend and as I gave him the pie I tried to explain in my best Spanish that the pie was a gift – to honor the beautiful pieces that he had created.   I hope that he continues to pursue his art throughout his lifetime for I believe it can make all the difference in the world.

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“If you ask me what I came to do in this world, I, an artist, will answer you: I am here to live out loud.”  
Émile Zola

 

Chocolate Cream Pie, Travel Woes, and Virtual Pies for a few Angels

21 Apr

Chocolate Cream Pie

Chocolate Cream Pie

As you know, I have spent the last three weeks in Florida with my Dad after he suffered a “major” stroke.  At first it seemed that my Dad would have surgery almost immediately to clear his carotid artery, but the doctors have decided that they would like to give my Dad more time to heal and so his surgery has been postponed until mid-May.  And since my Dad’s condition appears to be improving each day, and because I had committed to a few catering events, and because I missed my husband, I decided to come back home for a while.

In the days before I left, I tried to wrap up all the loose ends for my Dad that I could: arranging for the payment of bills, handling of laundry and mail, and most importantly, his health concerns and future care.   One thing that I considered tremendously important was to convey to the nurses and aides that I want (more likely need) them to watch over my Dad when I am not there to do so.   How could I do that?  Well, being me, I thought a pie might do the trick.

My nephew Wayne and I shopped for the ingredients after we had put my Dad to bed one night and two days before I left Florida I brought a chocolate cream pie to the nurses in my Dad’s wing.   They smiled and thanked me but I felt that something was wrong.  And after thinking about it, the best explanation I have is that those nurses don’t know me at all; they certainly don’t know, or care, about my pie blog and they just might not trust food from a stranger.  And though I truly hope this isn’t true, I don’t believe that the nurses ate one bite of that pie.

In retrospect, I understand; why should they trust me? Perhaps I should have just bought another pizza, but the “pie lady” in me wanted to show my gratitude with a pie that I had made.   And it was an experience making a pie without my usual accoutrements (cuisinart, pastry bag and tips, etc) but I figured it out and was proud of the final product… and even if the pie wasn’t eaten, it was given in the spirit of gratitude, and that’s all that matters.

On the day that I left, I arrived at the airport and was told that my flight was cancelled.   Thus began a 33 hour odyssey to get back to southern Oregon.  I’ll spare you the details here, but will mention that I spent time in six different cities before I arrived home (including catching a late night nap in a major west coast city).  What I do want to share is that I met three lovely people (angels?) on my journey… each of whom had a parent who had suffered a stroke.

The first was a man that I met in Fort Lauderdale who had just lost his Mom. His name was Steve and we spent an hour or so (our flight was delayed) talking about our kids, our parents, and this crazy system we call “health care.”

The next angel I met, was a lady named Connie.  She was my seat mate for a few hours and as we talked (and prayed during the most turbulent parts of the flight) she told me about losing both of her parents.  She knew the path I was traveling and was willing to listen to me as I rambled on;  she was a great comfort simply by being there.

The last angel I met was a man named Matt.  He was born in London but now lives in northern California.  We struck up a conversation as we watched our flight time change over and over.  His Dad suffered a stroke 18 years ago and has survived; unfortunately, their relationship has not.  What was most amazing about Matt was that when we realized that I was not going to make my last connecting flight, he offered to take me home and introduce me to his wife and child so I would not have to spend the night in the airport.

Tonight, I am deeply grateful that my Dad survived his stroke… and also very grateful to those people who I met along my journey home.  I wish that I could give each of them a pie… but because I cannot, I hope that my sincerest thanks will do.  Each of them has reinforced my faith in humanity… and that is an amazing gift.

It  is by suffering that human beings become angels.
Victor  Hugo

Pizza Pie for the Nurses in rehab… and a “Virtual” Pie for Jan in Boise

10 Apr

 

Pizza Pie

Cheese Pizza from Napoli Pizzeria

Yesterday was the last day my sister Janice could be here in Florida for a while… and it was also the day our nephew Wayne arrived from Memphis.   Usually at meal times we try to eat with Dad in the dining room but on this night we decided there was cause for celebration and so we called Napoli Ristorante and Pizzeria to order a pizza.  We discovered that there was a special on Tuesdays and so instead of getting one pizza, I ordered an extra one for the nurses who have been caring for my Dad in rehab.  It seems that bringing food (which I view as showing a little love) to those who care for our loved ones is a nice thing to do because sometimes those people (who work 12 hour shifts) don’t have the chance to take care of themselves properly.   Hey, just because this blog is about pies it doesn’t mean that I have to make every one… I just have to give them away!

Dad enjoyed the little bit of pizza he ate and we were able to spend time together as a family almost oblivious to the reason that brought us all together.  It was a good moment in an otherwise very stressful time.  In fact, while Dad doesn’t look “great” in this photo, Janice and I both know how far his recovery has progressed.  Just last week he was lying in a hospital bed eating what they lovingly refer to as a “soft, mechanical” diet and yesterday he was sitting up in a wheel chair making jokes and eating pizza.  We have come a long way and I am thrilled!

Dad with Wayne, Janice and Karen

Wayne (in his Navy Uniform), Dad, Janice, and me

One last thing I’d like to share is this phone call I had with Alaska Airlines agent Jan in Boise.  I wanted to extend my visit here so that I could be present for the surgery that my Dad was scheduled to have this next week (my original ticket had me leaving yesterday morning).   When I dialed the number for Alaska and told Jan what I needed to do and why she listened, took the information, and found me a return ticket for next week.  Then she told me that the change in fare was $58 and there was also a $100 change fee.  I asked how to appeal the change fee given the circumstances and then said, “Never mind.  I’ll worry about that when I have more time.”  Jan asked me to hold a moment and a few minutes later came back on the line and told me that she had asked her supervisor and could waive the change fee for me.   I was truly amazed and deeply touched that she did this on her own; in a time like this, every act of kindness is so powerful and appreciated more than you will know.  So, to Jan in Boise I would like to send a virtual pie for her assistance and her compassion – Alaska Airlines is lucky to have you!

“There’s very little in my world that a foot massage and a thin-crust, everything-on-it pizza won’t set right.”  
―     G.A. McKevett

The Journey Continues… and a Quiche for Nurse Glenn

7 Apr

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Pepper and Onion Quiche for Glenn… one of Dad’s amazing nurses

Two weeks ago my Dad was brought to the hospital after suffering a stroke.  Two weeks?  Seems more like two years.  My sister and I have spent countless hours with Dad at the hospital and we are incredibly grateful that he survived this frightening experience – but neither of us knew that our journey was just beginning.

Just as Dad was starting to get better, we were told that he needed to get into a rehab facility.   We were both too numb to know what that meant.  In my mind, there was some magical plan that we would follow to get my Dad healthy again.  That dream was shattered when the “case manager” at the hospital (who we had to seek out) handed me a list of skilled nursing facilities (snf’s as they are known in the industry) that were “approved” by my Dad’s insurer and told to select the one that (we felt) would best work for him.  “How do I choose?” I asked, as I read through the list of a dozen or more names.  “Well, you’d better go and visit them” she replied.

There is much I would like to say about this experience… and the problems with the complexities we are facing as we are learning about Medicaid, Medicare, etc., but I will save that for a time when my head isn’t spinning.  What I will say is that this is something that we need to learn way before a crisis strikes and I urge each and every one of you to talk with your loved ones about it because the day will come much sooner than you realize.  In fact, as we’ve been stumbling through this week I’ve wondered why “end of life” planning  isn’t a mandatory course in college because, like it or not, we are all going to walk this path at some point.

On a more pleasant note, my family has met dozens of nurses and myriad doctors during this time and most of them were absolutely wonderful.  I wish that I could single each and every one out and thank them for the kindness and patience that they have shown us during this most challenging time but I know that is impossible right now.  Instead, I chose one nurse to honor and that was Glenn, one of the nurses who spent a lot of time with us.   Glenn always answered our questions (and there were many) and he did so in terms that we could understand.  He showed my Dad courtesy (even when he was very busy and even when Dad was grumpy).  Most importantly, Glenn made us feel that he cared… and that was truly a blessing.

Butter for Pie Crust

Grating butter into the flour for the pie crust

Yesterday I bought a pretty Pyrex pie dish and  this morning I baked a pepper and onion quiche in it for Glenn.  I know how hard he works and hoped to offer him a bit of nourishment after a long day at work.   After the quiche was finished, my sister and I drove to JFK hospital and brought it to the wing where Glenn works.  He smiled when he saw us and was surprised at the gift of the quiche… and when he saw the pie dish he asked how he could get it back to me.  I told him it was part of the gift and that I hoped that when he used it he might think of our family and remember how grateful we were for his help.

Quiche Prep

Sautéed Peppers and Onions and Cheddar

Whole Quiche

The finished Quiche
“When I think about all the patients and their loved ones that I have worked with over the years, I know most of them don’t remember me nor I them.  But I do know that I gave a little piece of myself to each of them and they to me and those threads make up the beautiful tapestry in my mind that is my career in nursing.”

Donna Wilk Cardillo, A Daybook for Beginning Nurses

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