Monday, April 26, 2010

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggidy-jig!

Ah, Monday morning. Today the weather is overcast and drizzly. The house is quiet. Exactly the sort of day that I would rather spend at home than go to work. And I DO get to stay home!

Before all of the hullabaloo of last week, with the trip to Texas and the mystery illness, I gave my employer at Curves my two-week notice. It turned into a one-week notice since I had to travel all of a sudden, but the result is the same. No more going to work!

My home and routine had become rather frazzled between working three days a week and chauffeuring the kids to their various places after school. I rarely had time to do laundry, clean, plan meals, or cook. Those being my first responsibilities, I finally came to a point of decision that I must simply stay home. The hardest part of that choice is knowing that there are some delightful ladies with whom I've become friends who I will no longer see on a regular basis. Those who are truly my friends, will continue to be, of that I am certain.

But my family must come first. Being able to care for the home while everyone is away at school or work, and have a meal planned and prepared for them when they come home in the evening is simply golden for me right now. There are so many responsibilities that I have, and they were falling to pieces. Now I am blessed to be able to take the time to pick those pieces back up and devote myself to first things first.

I am truly blessed.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

CIA Campus Tour

Three and a half hours from our home, situated on the banks of the Hudson River, sits the beautiful campus of the Culinary Institute of America. We have had Friday, April 23rd circled on the calendar for months as the day for our campus visit. Blessed with a gorgeous day, we drove into New York with Bekah to go see her school.

I felt like I was on a pilgrimage.

Once we arrived on campus, (formerly a Jesuit seminary) we made our way to the Admissions building, where a light lunch prepared by students was waiting to refresh the weary travelers. There were many families present, yet, in contrast to big University tours, this group numbered around 60, as opposed to hundreds. We were ushered into the theater, (allowed to take our food and beverages of course) to hear presentations on the food service and hospitality industry, the school, and then financial aid. Following these we were divided into four groups for our tour of the campus.

Roth Hall, home to three campus run restaurants, the bookstore, much hands-on training in many classroom kitchens as well as wine studies.

Walking past the Italian restaurant we learned that there are 5 restaurants at the CIA which are open to the public and staffed by the students. We then went to the campus library which is home to the World's second largest collection of culinary books, surpassed in number only by the Library of Congress. Their collection of cooking demonstrations on video is available to the students not only inside the library building, but also through the campus wide wi fi system. So, explained our guide, if one wakes in a cold sweat in the middle of the night before an exam and has forgotten how to filet a salmon, one need only go online and watch the demo. How cool is that?! (And how can I get in on that action from home?!)

As we were shown the French Restaurant in the main building our guide explained that it was named for a French chef, Georges A. Escoffier, who, after serving his country in the Franco-Prussian War in the 19th century, organized the preparation of food for a restaurant kitchen. Before this gentleman changed things, two people could order the exact same chicken dish, and have them delivered to the table looking like entirely different meals. Escoffier instituted the brigade de cuisine system, and with military efficiency and predictable uniformity, meals were prepared and served in French restaurants, and then all over the world.

Student staff enjoying an early dinner together before opening the American Bounty restaurant for the evening.

Walking past classrooms and looking through the windows we saw so many tools and machines, yet always students working busily with their hands. Students in white chef coats with tall white hats were chopping, slicing, rolling, cutting, measuring, sifting, pouring, stirring and more. This is a hands-on education. In the earlier presentation the one statistics that returned to mind was the 1300 hours of hands-on training provided by an education at the CIA. Simply amazing.

In the Baking building our guide pointed out one particular instructor, Chef Schorner, and explained that he was the man credited with introducing Crème Brulee to the United States. God bless that man. The students he was instructing as we watched numbered eight. How's that for student teacher ratio? In another classroom we watched as magic was happening- chocolate. Our guide explained that that particular chef not only taught, but had written the book on chocolate. No, really, the textbook used in the instruction of pastry chefs was written by that man. Awesome! As we gazed through the windows at the chocolate kitchen, a student bearing a tray of chocolate covered delights offered us samples.

Here is where my discipline had to kick in.

I am now taking an antibiotic which requires an empty stomach; 2-3 hours after eating or 1 hour before. The clock had started with the light lunch which I finished at 1 o'clock. I was taking my next dose at 3, thus freeing me to eat again at 4 o'clock. This would normally be no issue for me at all, but I'm touring Food Mecca and can't taste samples at will! The agony!

Right at 3 o'clock we ended our tour, and returned to the theater in the Admissions building. I grabbed a glass of water and took my next dose of Doxycycline and sat down as we watched a chef prepare a dish that she was going to demonstrate for us,… after giving us samples to taste! She was stirring together diced pancetta with slivered almonds and garlic in a pan with a little olive oil. Tossing in some chili flakes, butter and then chicken stock, she simmered this wonderful concoction before adding roasted dates, a bit of chopped parsley, and topped the finished dish with goat cheese. The smell was heavenly as assistants brought our samples to us in small cups.

I neglected to mention that when we returned to this room there were desserts waiting for us. Beautiful desserts. Wonderful desserts. Heavenly desserts. And yet, for me, off limits desserts. Until 4:00.

So my sample of this roasted date and pancetta dish sat on my tray next to the slice of cake as the minutes crawled by. Time slowed to nearly standing still.

Chef Amanda Hammonds, however, gave us quite an entertaining demonstration as she slowly prepared a single portion, complete with overhead cameras projected to screens so we could watch her every move. A graduate of the CIA, she clearly loves this school, and regaled us with tales of other graduates in their post-CIA careers as well as stories from the classrooms. Her excitement for the school was infectious, and if anyone there hadn't already finalized a decision to apply to the CIA, they sure must have once she was finished. Her motto is, "fat is good, pork fat is king"! (This from an obviously fit and attractive lady; very good PR for the school.)

I kept a close eye on the time and at precisely 3:59 I gave up the fight and tasted my delectable sample before enjoying my dessert. Oh. Yum.

How many campus bookstores look like this?

When the program ended we were free to wander about the campus, check out the gift shop, and simply enjoy the last of the afternoon. We did just that, snapping a few photos as well, before going to the Apple Pie bakery cafe run by Baking and Pastry students for a simple dinner. Oh, what a day, what an absolutely splendid day. We are more convinced than ever that Rebekah will receive an unmatched education at the CIA, and are thrilled for her future.

The Apple Pie bakery cafe'

Perfect day

Friday, April 23, 2010

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch…

While I was in Texas, the rest of my family had to make do without me back home. Now that Kate is not working, she had the flexibility to step in and take over the day to day operations to keep everything running smoothly, which, I am proud to say, she did marvelously well. A normal day for me would require not only keeping the chores done and planning for and preparing meals, but also much chauffeuring of kids including getting Bekah from school to work, and getting Erin after track practice. It doesn't sound like much, but that is all happening at the end of the school day and running sometimes past five o'clock, which means any dinner must be well planned in order to be served before, say, bedtime.

Every time I called Kate to see how things were going she answered with a sweet, "Hi Mommy". Not once did she complain or grouse about all that she had to do. On the contrary, she would give me a brief rundown of her day, maybe ask where something was, and be just a calm and dear as she could be. It almost seemed, (dare I say) as if she were enjoying her domestic role. On occasion I also spoke with Erin or Isaac and they uttered not a single complaint about how things were going at home. Jim assured me more than once that Kate was serving above and beyond the call of duty.

Tuesday morning I called early to say good morning to the kids and tell Jim about my suspicion that I had Lyme, and was told that he couldn't come to the phone because he was outside hosing off a carpet that the dog had barfed on. In fact, all of the animals had been sick, meaning that approximately every floor in the house had an urgent need for cleaning.

Oh dear.

Having woken to that scenario on a couple of occasions myself, I knew exactly what they were going through, and it wasn't pretty. Am I a bad mommy for feeling a glimmer of relief that I was out of state? When I talked to Jim and Kate later in the day it sounded as if things were under control. No panic, no complaints, just a casual wondering if we still needed the dog… which I also wonder every time I clean up after her. That feeling soon passes, as it did this time as well.

Wednesday as I was waiting for my connection at O'Hare I got a breathless call from Erin at her track meet. She had just completed her 1 mile race and placed 2nd, with a personal best time of 6:45! She was so thrilled with her accomplishment and dropped everything to call me right away- still fresh from her run. I'm so honored that she called me in the midst of her excitement. I had known that she could improve her timing and start placing in the races. She certainly had the drive and the discipline for it. Her relentless training is showing. What a blessing.

Walking into our home, finally, at ten pm, was like stepping into an oasis of peace and calm. Kate and the kids had the house immaculate, with fresh flowers in little cups and vases lining the kitchen windowsill and in the table. Clean floors, countertops, and carpet, with everything in its place, neat and tidy. A green smoothie waiting for me- as per an earlier request, and sweet hugs from my dear ones, were the perfect welcome home.

I am truly blessed.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Trip to San Antonio

Central Texas in the Springtime is bluebonnets blanketing every open field, wide open sunny skies, and the relentlessly mouth-watering smell of smoky barbecue on the breeze. If you happen to get the opportunity; go. (Frightful Admission: I did not take my camera. Horrors.)

I flew down to San Antonio to give my Mother some help last week since her husband of 17 years, Frederic Reed, passed away. Fred was older than my Mom, and his last few months were a steady decline. Mom did her best and went above and beyond her natural capacities to spend every day with him whether in the hospital or the rehabilitation center, and to be as encouraging to him as she possibly could. After several months Fred was finally allowed to come home, but his body was just too tired to continue. With Mom and loved ones present, he died on April 5th, 2010.

In the days immediately following, Mom didn't yet need me there, and my brother Charles was able to drive down and stay with her. When she called last week to tell me that she was ready for me to come, I made the flight reservations. Due to a misunderstanding, I wound up planning my trip for the weekend before the Memorial Service, but this gave me a chance to help her prepare. There would be arrangements to finalize, details to figure out, an obituary- written by her sweet neighbor- to email, and house cleaning to do. Between Mom's health also in a decline of sorts, with two knee replacements on top of other issues, and the last few months of spending virtually every waking moment at Fred's side, she has not been able to care for her home as she used to.

Mom lives about an hour north of the airport; probably 30 minutes if there are no cars on HWY 281 and all the lights are green, actually. So I contacted my Aunt LaRue to see if she and Uncle Graham would be able to give me a ride from the airport to Mom's, thus saving her the trip, and giving me a chance to see the relatives who have so graciously hosted our daughters in the recent past. They were able, and so Kate drove me to Harrisburg to meet my early flight Saturday morning, and several hours and one change of planes later, I was hugging my Aunt on the sidewalk outside of the San Antonio airport.

We had a longer chat than anticipated, since the traffic going North on 281 was abysmally slow due to a breakdown of several traffic lights. We finally arrived at Mom's, and I realized that they haven't seen one another in many years. After a brief visit, we say our goodbyes, and Mom suggests we begin with some real Texas BBQ,... probably because I had mentioned it during a phone call on my layover in Chicago.

Mom took me to a fine culinary establishment known as Rudy's, which was near the rehabilitation center where Fred had spent so much time. I had forgotten the distances which Texans take for granted, and it took us almost half an hour, (perhaps longer) to get there, though I'm not entirely sure, because we talked the whole way. Rather, Mom talked, and I listened. She had so much that she just needed to say, still working out what the last weeks have been and rehearsing over her final memories of her husband's life. When she once expressed the thought that she was being awfully self-centered going on the way she was, I assured her that as recently as her loss, and as fresh as her grief, she needed to mourn and everyone would certainly understand.

Rudy's was fabulous and we left satisfied that we had enjoyed the genuine barbecue of Texas. The grocery store and another couple of errands later, and we were on the way to her home. This is where it gets interesting.

After purchasing my non-refundable tickets, I came down with a fever. No problem. I have often had little fevers come and go with only bed rest and a bit of OTC medicine. I needed to get to Mom, so after a couple of days nursing myself at home, I loaded up on the meds and hopped those planes. I figured the issue would soon be resolved and by the time Sunday morning rolled around I'd be up to taking Mom to church and then digging into some major helping. Yet Saturday evening my fever was catching up to me, with the addition of aching muscles all down my back. Sunday morning, instead of hopping up fresh and ready to go, I could barely turn my head without pain.

Mom knew exactly what to do. The urgent care clinic in Bulverde was open seven days a week, and walk-ins weren't only welcome, they were the reason for their existence. Fortunately we arrived only minutes after they opened, and only one patient was in before us. Once I was in to see the Doctor and he had asked all of his questions and examined me he sat down and said, "I don't like this at all". Hooray. Not what one wants to hear. He believed that I had Meningitis and wanted us to go straight to an Emergency Room where I could get the only test that would tell for sure. A Lumbar Puncture.

Oh joy.

With this I handed the keys to Mom, (different story) and we were off while the clinic called ahead to make sure we were seen immediately. Let me just tell you, having someone call ahead to the ER to say that you are coming in with a suspected case of Meningitis is the way to get red-carpet service when you arrive. I don't think that I had finished writing my name on the first form on the clipboard when I was whisked away to have my vitals recorded and then I was ushered into an examination room to clothe myself in the thin bit of cloth and snaps which has been misnamed a "gown".

This Doctor was a bit more calm as he examined me and asked me the same questions, for which none of the answers had changed. He then explained to me the two different types of Meningitis. Bacterial Meningitis, according to him, involves more nasty symptoms which I did not possess, and, as he put it, "one often goes from onset of symptoms to not here anymore in 24 hours". His initial impression of me was that I was not afflicted with this type of Meningitis, confirmed by my recitation of the timeline of my own symptoms. He still suspected that I might have Viral Meningitis, which could be diagnosed with that delightful little procedure called a lumbar puncture. Yet once confirmed, the only treatment would be merely to treat the symptoms.

My brilliant idea; skip the scary test, and go straight to the "treat the symptoms" part!

With assurances that I'm okay to drive- thank you- and confident that I'm not going to die, taking with me everyone with whom I've crossed paths, I tell Mom that driving is to be part of my recuperative therapy, and we leave the hospital. We have to re-call the many people Mom had alerted while waiting for me. No small task.

Stopping only to get soup, Aleve, and juices, as well as other groceries, we head home for Mom to care for me. Please understand what I mean when I say that she was thrilled. She hasn't had an occasion to take care of her adult daughter in more than two decades, and she can bring all of her motherly love to bear in watching over me. Attempting to do so while separated by several states and having only phone contact has been manifestly frustrating to her all these years.

Moreover, my Mom has spent the last several years caring for Fred and seeing to his every comfort. Monday, April 5th, that was over in the moment of his last breath. As clearly as all evidence pointed to his imminent demise, she was still brought to her knees with the finality of it. I am no replacement for her husband, most certainly, but having a reason to pull her focus away from herself, even for a day or so, seemed to be just the thing she needed.

My idea of help blown to the wind, we did manage to get some lists made, appointments made, and the obituary finalized and emailed. Along the way we also had some good time together just talking and remembering. I think that we were able to share some special moments, which would have been missed if I had been energetically tackling another pile of tasks.

Monday night I realized what must be ailing me. A Texas Doctor wouldn't as readily think of Lyme as a Pennsylvania Doctor would, but as I surveyed my symptoms it occurred to me that I had been looking at a rash almost the whole time without understanding what it was. Skipping the actual location of said rash, I'll just say that I had earlier chalked it up to skin flushing due to the fever. Taking another look, I saw that it was indeed round, and could very well be a bullseye. My stiff neck prevented me from seeing any more, but it made perfect sense. We live in Lyme Heaven, Isaac and most of our friends and neighbors have had Lyme, and we see the rotten little ticks on a regular basis. A series of phone calls made the next morning secured me an appointment with my General Practitioner, thanks to our friend, Dr. Noble. Relief.

Charles returned the night before I left, and Wednesday morning he and Mom accompanied me to the airport. I drove there, neither of them liking the others' driving habits. Once we pulled up to the curb at my terminal I was about ready to toss the keys into the air and run as they discussed who should pilot the chariot home... Hugs and warm assurances of our mutual love exchanged, I gathered my things and entered the airport, confident that they would make it home somehow, praying that it would be safely!

My flight to O'Hare to change planes was uneventful and I enjoyed the long underground walk from terminal C to D. I hadn't done much walking at all the entire time, and it felt good to stretch my legs. When it was almost time to board my plane, they called over the intercom for a volunteer to take a later flight to Harrisburg in order to free up space on the aircraft, with a free round-trip ticket to anywhere in the contiguous 48 states being the reward for such generosity. The tiny aircraft that we were about to board being similar to what I had flown in on the way to O'Hare Saturday, I understood the need. I joined two others in volunteering to change flights and was given a voucher for a free round-trip. There's my "actually be visible help to Mom" trip.

My changed flight was leaving from Terminal C, so I repeated my walk, which was actually a delight, because the tunnel has been decorated with an artful display of changing colored light rods. I also had the chance to thank a group of young Soldiers for their service to our country, which I try to do every time I travel.

The aircraft for my new flight was a larger size, and far more comfortable- what a blessing!

The details are getting too numerous to share, and you may have already nodded off to sleep, so I'll just say that I am happily home, have had my appointment, bloodwork, and am glad to have Doxycycline flowing through my veins. Doxy, do your work!

God moves in mysterious ways. I am certain this time was not wasted, though I may not ever fully know how.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Couch 2 5K Graduation!

Saturday was gloriously sunny, with a chilly wind blowing. Perfect day for a run! Jim and the Erins, (our Erin, and our neighbor Erin) and I drove to Pottstown, about half an hour away, early enough to get through the registration process. Not sure what that would entail, it ended up being simple enough. Go to one table to check in and receive a number, another to pick up t-shirt and coupons, and don't miss the table with information on upcoming area races! The Chick-fil-a cow was walking around handing out sandwich coupons and the room slowly filled with racers and supporters. Kate and Erin B's mom Michele arrived soon, our photographer and cheerleaders- vital to our success!

It wasn't too difficult to separate the new runners from the experienced. There is a look of confidence in the face of one who has "been there- done that" that is unmistakable. Others follow the lead of these seasoned folks, watching for cues. Grab some of the snack now or avoid that table? Start stretching? Even jog around the outside of the building? One thing for sure; when we lined up at last at the starting line, those in front were not wearing sweatshirts or their race-day shirt freshly plucked from the table. They were outfitted to RACE, faces like flint, eyes on the prize.

We, on the other hand, situated ourselves somewhere in the middle of the pack. Sharon Lucas and I decided to start out together, but since I am taller than she, understood that we'd meet at the finish. The Erins were nearby somewhere, but I sure didn't expect to see them until it was all over. There was a bit of an announcement from a bullhorn that only those in front could hear, then the start- we were off!

Jim soon passed me by, running his own race as I'd hoped he would. Sharon and I ran and talked until the first turn. At that point she told me to go on ahead and I lengthened my stride just a bit. I've enjoyed the solitariness of running up to now, and even in a pack of people was able to find that quiet alone place as I ran.

At the one-mile mark there was a volunteer calling out the time. I made it in 10:30. The next mile was 20:34- not bad. Since the roads were relatively level, no hills, it was an easy run. Beginning next to a golf course and then continuing through a neighborhood it was also a lovely run, with blossoming things surrounded by the green of Spring. Having volunteers stop the traffic was a blessing, and I tried to thank them at each intersection. When I came upon the water table I had a quick conversation with myself, asking whether I needed that cup of cool water, and decided against it- I was not feeling the least parched.

I'm not sure if it was before or after the water table that I spotted them, but Kate and Michele had made their way by a shortcut to the middle of the course for photographs and cheers! When asked why I am smiling in the shots of the race, it is because they were yelling their heads off with encouragement. Michele has been a soccer mom for years- she knows how to yell!

As we wound our way to the finish we passed the local high school which was hosting sporting events and buses were arriving- yay for running past school buses... (I always try to time my runs at home to miss the school buses, not always successfully)

About the time I could see the finish line I heard a familiar voice- my Erin was cheering me on! Having finished, she was walking the course back a bit to encourage the rest of our group in their final bid for the end of the race. (At least she wasn't doing what many of the gung-ho athletes were doing and running the race backwards. I passed a few of them looking just as fit and strong as at the start.)

Erin's encouragement was just what I needed to kick it in and find a bit more git-up-and-go. One more turn and there were Kate and Michele, cheering and shooting photos! And there was the finish line! One last bit of sprint from I'm not sure where, and I was across the line at 32:40! Right behind me was Sharon, who had followed me by a few paces the entire way. I'd had no idea.

We cheered on the rest of our group as they came in, invigorated by the run and the excitement generated by the whole event. The results were posted online a few days later and we were thrilled to learn that our Erin came in first in her age group! Erin B. was third for the same group, and Sharon was 2nd in hers! We older folks just wanted to complete our run; Erin Kelly wanted to place. Jim finished without walking at 28:28, a time in which he used to run 10Ks. (It's okay honey- gotta start somewhere.) Everyone accomplished their goal.

We all came to our home for a Belgian waffle feast and fellowship before moving into the rest of the day. Life goes on.

But I have actually run- without walking- a 5K race. wow.

When's the next one?!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Texas Bekah!

It's already the 13th and I'm only now sitting down to collect my thoughts on the recent activities? Time is zooming by awfully fast these days.

Actually, a lot of the time that I spent at the computer around the week of Easter was watching for facebook updates from and about Bekah, who was enjoying a fabulous Spring Break in San Antonio with my Dear Auntie LaRue and Uncle Graham. Several months ago Bekah approached me with the opening line of, "Since it's my Senior year of High School, I've been thinking about Spring break and wondering if I can..."

"Whatever it is, the answer is NO!"

Actually, she was asking if she could spend some time with the Aunt and Uncle who she's only recently begun to know. How could I not give this plan my enthusiastic endorsement? Aunt LaRue is my Dad's "baby sister" and my own relationship with her was spotty since they lived a whole 7 hours away while I was a child in Wichita Falls, Tx. The Summer of 1980 however, I spent a month with them as my Mom contemplated a move from our home in "tornado alley" to anywhere else. San Antonio beckoned, in no small part because of our relations there, and we moved in time for me to begin 8th grade.

The most important aspect of that Summer visit was my introduction to my Savior, Jesus Christ, by my Dear, (and I've recently learned) newly Saved, Aunt and Uncle. They had me at their church every time the doors opened, in a VBS and youth group activities to include a lock-in, and Christian books and comic books to fill my quiet times at their home. Jesus was the topic of many of our conversations and I remember being slightly embarrassed by my Aunt sprinkling her talk with "Praise the Lord"s all the time.

Funny, I think I talk like that now.

But the Lord had a purpose for the time spent there, and I sat on the floor by the bed in my cousin Meredith's room one warm Summer afternoon and prayed for, "Jesus to forgive my sins and come live in my heart,... and please don't leave me behind when the Rapture comes."

Now my children are getting to know my Aunt LaRue and Uncle Graham, not least because of Facebook. Silly, but this "time wasting" networking site has actually introduced my kids to their relatives. Now Bekah, fired by Kate's stories from her September visit, wanted to go for the immersion experience and we were thrilled to put her on that airplane. (Wait, that could have been worded differently...)

Rebekah had a wonderful visit filled with cousins, Mexican food, Texan culture, and touring the beautiful city and surrounding towns. What a treat and a blessing for her to be received with such love and excitement. Grateful for closer ties being forged between our families, I look forward to the next adventure, whether it be in PA, TX, or somewhere in between... hmmm...

Now there's a thought...