Saturday, September 14, 2013

Headed for Africa! Sorry, Mom

This is a screenshot from TIA Adventures website. TIA means This Is Africa. PK and I are going on a safari with this company that includes a night or two "bush" camping. Will we hear the lions roar? Maybe. Will we be nervous? Probably. But as the homepage of TIA's website quotes Helen Keller,
Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.
The countdown is on. Well, actually, it has BEEN on for a couple years. But now that the tickets are purchased, the itinerary is established and our (PK's and my) dream trip to Africa is imminent, we're watching the clock, obsessing about packing, and scurrying to corral the garden into jars and the freezer without killing ourselves or each other. That's the two of us.

Me? I'm also skirting the edges of guilt about leaving my mother.

She's  a healthy 97 and lives in assisted living one mile away. She keeps forgetting that I'm leaving. I have told her at least 50 times. Our initial plan was to travel last February. She asked how long before I would leave.  I told her it was eight months. She said—and I'm not making this up—Oh, that's OK. I'll be dead by then.

As if it wouldn't be OK if she wasn't dead?

Today, when I told her for the umpteenth time about our imminent departure, she expressed horror that I was going to Africa, because, Aren't there a lot of black people? What about the lions and tigers?Don't stick your leg outside the bed or something will chew on you!! How long will you be gone?

Twenty-five days, I told her. She grimaced. Grimaced.
Oh, well, when you get back and I'm not here, you'll know where you can find me, she said. The cemetery!

I laughed. Because it is laughable. And what else could I do?
Not go?

My mother never understood the part of me that wanted to GO. Never, although going has been a mostly unfulfilled part of me, she cannot relate. But really, does she need to? Is it odd, and also pathetic, that as a person nearing age 70, I am worrying about what my mother thinks?

I didn't worry about that for most of my life. But now is different. It isn't so much what she thinks, but what she feels. I know that I'm important in relieving the boredom of her long days in assisted living. I also know she's well cared for, safe, and, for at least part of each day, entertained.

I've spent many hours struggling with this dilemma, which has, of course, another side.

That would be the side of my understanding husband of going on 40 years, PK, who is hot to travel the world. He retired in 2008, the year we brought my mom to Oregon from Minnesota. He's raring to go and he'll go without me. He has. I don't like it, but I understand. I don't hold it against him.

I think I'm near the end of working through this, balancing my needs against my mother's, my husband's needs against my torn allegiance.

I have to go with him. While we're both still healthy. While we have the resources. I've explained repeatedly to my mother (who I expect to live to 100 and beyond)that I love her and admire her spirit more than ever, but that my primary relationship is with PK.

Next week PK and I are headed for South Africa and then on to Uganda. Twenty-five days total. Hardly a blip in a lifetime, especially if you're about to turn 98. Or even if you're edging uncomfortably close to 70. I can't wait to experience the places and meet the wonderful people in a world that our son Chris has opened to us. His friends and admirers will be "catching us" on a new-to-us exotic continent.

Before we know it, we'll be back home to "ordinary life" but, no doubt, itching for the next adventure, even if it's just driving the Four Wheel Camper south during the winter rains. Mom, you will have to get used to this.

I'll think about my mother every day, and send messages for her caregivers to relay about my adventures. I can't imagine that, given a sound mind, she would deny me.

NOTE: My wonderful daughter-in-law, a long-term care ombudsman, assures me my dilemma is not at all uncommon. As longevity increases and many people are living well into their 90s, their children, also aging, are caught between what they want and what their parent wants or expects. It isn't easy.

P.S. I won't be posting blogs from Africa, but I bought a New Camera! and a Moleskine notebook in which to jot notes, and I am excited to share 
images and words about a world so distant from my own.


Saturday, September 7, 2013

Beloved Birkenstocks Bite the Dust

My elderly Birkenstocks, age 36+, were recently put to rest after a remembrance ceremony. Yes, friends, I threw them into the trash and the garbage truck hauled them to the landfill.
My other Birks got together for a send-off. I forgot to add the ones I was wearing, a black three-strap pair with brand new soles. Only about 12 years old, as are all the others except for the tan fat-strapped units on the right.  They look mature, but are less than a year in my possession.
One year down, 36 to go. 
I wore my first Birkenstocks for nearly 37 years. I can't recall how many times I had them resoled, and the shoe bed was replaced once, or maybe twice. When PK and I traveled to Italy for a bicycling trip, they were my only shoes, in addition to cycling shoes. Several days of that adventure were spent hot-footing along Italian streets, 10 miles a day, at least. These Birks also carried me down the Rogue River trail for 20-some miles after my official hiking shoes produced a huge blister and rubbed a toenail off. I have worn Birkenstocks to death and have never suffered a blister, corn, bunion, ingrown toenail, plantar wart, toenail fungus or feet-that-failed-me on their account.
My original Birkenstocks finally faded beyond repair. 
I remember the day in 1977 that I purchased them for around $30 - a lot of money then, in Medford, Oregon. I was pregnant with my first-born, Quinn, who turned 36 in August. I wore the Birks a lot during the next 20 years, but not exclusively.

Those were the days when I could wear other types of shoes. It wasn't like NOW when Birkenstocks, or other high-quality sandals, are my only choice since developing, several years ago, a hostile bone spur, which defied bone spur-removal surgery and grew back with attitude. It is my enemy,

Left foot—perfect. Right foot—big painful gobby-looking bone spur, the reason I rarely
wear shoes with closed toes, unless I"m in a self-flagellating mood.

I must say I've taken a lot of, ummm, derision, for being a constant Birk wearer, especially regarding the recent cast-offs. Hey, I should get credit for loyalty and the wisdom to ignore current fashion. To Birk aficionados, shoe-horning feet into pointy high-heeled shoes seems ludicrous.

Through the decades of being the only person I knew wearing Birks, I believed they must be in style someplace. I am now thrilled to learn that Birkenstocks are officially back! The Fashion Beast (of online Newsweek's Daily Beast fame) even said it. 

This article confirmed my suspicion, and gratified my hope, that my decades-long devotion to Birks has not gone unnoticed, and now luminaries such as Miley Cyrus and other famous beautiful young people, whose every fashion move creates headlines, have perked up their toes with the world's best shoes! Like moi!

I have a few decades on them, and I live in the Oregon boonies, so I'm wondering how the fashionistas knew? Who knew first? How did the word spread that a fashion leader had emerged in Southern Oregon? Well, that was about a week ago and the Birk revival is likely fading already, despite my continuing devotion. Sigh.

I'll be going to a fancy wedding next weekend, where the fantastically gorgeous bride will be wearing shoes worthy of her sleek bridal gown and beautiful self, and where her multitudinous lovely friends will be fashionably attired and shod. Me?  I'll be wearing my "dress Birks", the black ones with the back strap that served me well during a mud fest at the rainy New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Fest in 2008, and also as my official bike shoes on numerous rides over the past several years.
The "bandages" are duct tape blister prevention.
These Birks provide a clue to how the word "shoddy" may have originated? But seriously. Since this photo was taken a mere five years ago, they've been cleaned up and resoled and are ready to rock and roll! They're likely to be useful far longer than me.  I'm taking them to South Africa and Uganda in a couple weeks. Aside from gorilla tracking (the subject, no doubt, of a future blog post) I know the black-strapped Birks will be up to the challenge. I hope I will be too!




Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Spaghetti Squash Accommodates the Late Summer Garden in a Layered Casserole

We have a problem here—two people who enjoy spaghetti squash in moderation AND a wheelbarrow full!
Thirty-two spaghetti squash from TWO measly plants! And check out the size. We could carve some for Halloween. Instead, we'll cook up spaghetti casseroles, use some as "spaghetti" topped by marinara, store a dozen or so—they'll be good until late spring—and give away the rest.
Most of what's needed for a great late summer spaghetti squash casserole is here.

Layered Spaghetti Squash Casserole Deluxe

  • half of one small to medium spaghetti squash, baked, seeded and strands teased out with a fork
  • six Roma tomatoes, trimmed and diced
  • three large cloves garlic, minced
  • one medium onion, diced
  • two small, or one medium eggplant, cut into one-inch cubes
  • one generous bunch chard (or more) stemmed and torn into pieces
  • one medium zucchini, cut in half lengthwise and sliced
  • feta cheese, 3-4 ounces, crumbled
  • one-half cup (or more) grated Italian cheeses
  • 1/3 cup basil pesto (or to taste) optional
  • fresh basil, torn for garnish

Directions

Several hours before assembling the casserole, bake the spaghetti squash whole at 350 for about an hour. Poke a few holes in it before baking. When tender, remove from oven and let cool. Cut in half and remove the seeds. Tease the "spaghetti" strands out with a fork. Save half for another use. It freezes well.

Spread spaghetti squash into the bottom of a 9X13 casserole dish. Saute the eggplant and zucchini until tender crisp and distribute over the squash.

Spread the cooked spaghetti squash in a 9x13 casserole dish. It should be about an inch thick. Spread sauteed eggplant and zucchini over the squash.

Add half the cut-up tomatoes and crumbled feta cheese.
Saute the diced garlic and onion in olive oil until softened and aromatic. Dump in the roughly chopped chard and cover to wilt. Add the sliced peppers and the pesto and mix well. Spread over the casserole. Salt and pepper to taste.

Put into the oven when it looks like this and bake at 350 for 30 minutes. 
After 30 minutes, remove from oven and top with grated cheese, fresh basil, and 2 or 3 chopped Roma tomatoes. Return to oven for five minutes.

Done! 

The finished product front and center. Also on the plate, grilled steak, brandywine tomato, and cucumber salad. A great late-summer dinner!

More about spaghetti squash and a recipe for spaghetti squash lasagna is here.