Archive for January, 2011

Soul Food

I love ethnic food. The places that I have lived and worked have been multicultural, and I have sampled the favorite dishes of Korea, Africa, the Philipines, Greece, Thailand and India, just to name a few. The favorite food of our ancestry is the soul food of our existence.  I am therefore quite ashamed to admit that I do not like the soul food of my own Scandinavian heritage: Lutefisk.  I hope that my Minnesota friends bear with me while I explain this dish to my readers south of the Mason-Dixon line:  Lutefisk is a Swedish and Norwegian delicacy in which a perfectly good fillet of cod is and preserved in lye and dried. It is then reconstituted, rinsed and simmered and/or baked. Traditionally, it is served with boiled potatoes, cream sauce, and butter.  Everything on the plate is white. Legend has it that during the summer feasts of long ago, the odor of simmering lutefisk drove the grasshoppers out of Norway and across the border to Finland, where a young man named Urho had to get rid of them.  (Urho is another story altogether.) If you want to know  the taste and consistency of lutefisk,  just open a can of salmon mousse cat food and leave it out in the sun for a few days, then take a big spoonful. Or not.

Not to be outdone by the north, one of the southern soul foods is chitterlings, or chitlins.  I was anxious to try them, since I love ethnic food so much and I heard that they were delicious. My friends explained that you had to trust  the person that fixed them, as they had to be cleaned carefully.  Chitlins are pig intestines,  simmered, served with hog maws (part of the stomach) and boiled rice.  Everything on the plate is white. Cooking them outside is suggested, as some people find the odor of cooking chitlins to be offensive.  It is. I suspect that years ago, cooking them outdoors caused the grasshoppers  to leave the southern United States and fly across the ocean to Finland.  If you would like to know the taste and consistency, it is exactly as it sounds: simmered pig intestines. I think there was some sort of spice added, but didn’t dare ask.  The rice, which looked suspiciously like it was covered in butter and cream sauce, tasted  like simmered pig intestines.  The maws? Let’s not go there.

I am now ready to try my next soul food adventure.  I hear there is a wonderful stew from Finland made from fish heads called “Kalamojakka” which loosely  translated means  “Urho’s Revenge”.

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I am often asked why we decided to move from sunny, beachy St. Augustine Florida back to northern Minnesota. More often, I am asked “Are you crazy?”  Those of us who have experienced the changing of the seasons  miss them when they are no longer there.  I can’t even tell you which is my favorite. Winter would probably not get my vote, but if anyone has ever looked out the window on one of those cold January days to see the sun shining on pristine white snow and a sky so blue it hurts your eyes, you will know that winter days are not always dark and dreary.     I can live in the country and have a garden as big as I want, with a truckload of rich black compost delivered by the local doctor in his old pickup for the price of a key lime pie.  I can and freeze my own vegetables which remind us of the fall harvest on cold winter evenings. I can raise my chickens and gather their eggs, and am always amazed when I feel their warmth in my hand as I gather them from the nest.  I have traded those eggs for vegetable plants from a friend’s greenhouse  and maple syrup tapped from neighbors’  trees. A short drive away is the cabin that my dad built.  On summer Sunday afternoons we grab poles and dig worms and hope that the motor starts on the old boat.  I know the joy of living near my sister,  mother and cousins again, and we visit as often as we can.  I found a second family in my church where my slightly off-key alto blends with other voices in the choir and magically becomes beautiful music.  We  moved from a city growing too large to a small town where there are no strangers.  We all know each other,  help each other,  laugh together, comfort each other and wave when someone passes by our house. We can grow  older with the friends who knew us  when we were  young, and we remember, together. Crazy, isn’t it?

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A Simple Act of Kindness

This is a reprint of something I wrote five years ago. I am a lot like my father and want edit everything, but the only thing I changed were the dates.  Originally published in the St. Augustine Record.

If life were like the movies, Mary would have been an angel in disguise, sent from above to save a nurse from herself. Julia Roberts would be a good choice to play me, the nurse.

Mary was a middle-aged professional woman who was my patient. I was a busy young nurse who wanted another career.  While she was fighting a disease with a very low survival rate, I was contemplating getting out of nursing and doing absolutely anything else.  I took care of Mary for weeks.  Her condition ranged from barely responsive to stubborn and angry.  In any case, Mary was very ill.  She was a difficult patient, and I enjoyed the challenge but not the job.

I took a break from her for a few days, assigning her to another nurse.  I visited her one day and she glared at me:  “Where have you been?”  I resumed my assignment the next day.  For some strange reason, I missed her.  I asked Mary once if there was anything she needed.  “Outside”,  she whispered, vocal chords bruised from intubation.  I knew it was a nearly impossible task, but told her I would try to get her outside when she was well enough.  I didn’t mean it, and hoped she would forget.  Mary could barely sit up for ten minutes.  She required high doses of oxygen to breathe.  She was on numerous medications, and was often mildly confused, but she didn’t forget.

With the thought of going outside, Mary improved dramatically over the next few days.  We trekked outside like a circus train, hauling oxygen tanks and monitors, emergency supplies, and Mary.  We were outside for all of ten minutes.  We didn’t speak.  Mary closed her eyes and raised her face to the sun, a smile on her face.  I hurried her back, as I had paperwork to do.

If life were like the movies, we would now shed a tear as the patient arises from her wheelchair, miraculously healed.  Julia Roberts would see the error of her ways and in the meantime, fall in love with the millionaire son of another patient.  This was real life, though.  Mary did improve enough to leave our unit, but faced weeks of hard work to regain her strength.  She eventually was able to return to her career.

About a month after Mary was discharged, she came to our unit.  “I hate it here”, she said.  “Because it brings back bad memories of my illness, but I had to come back and thank you for the gift”.  “Gift?” I asked. “The day you took me outside, you saved my life.  Up until that moment, I knew I wouldn’t make it”.

If life were like the movies, Mary and I would become the best of friends, sharing tea together for many years until we were old ladies.  In real life, we saw each other only twice more.  Mary had a busy career, and touched a lot of lives before her sudden death a few years later.

I will be celebrating my 30th year of nursing in 2011.  Yes, celebrating is the correct word.  I am proud to be a nurse.  There are still days that I want to do anything else BUT nursing.  There are days that I want to brush off a question or not take the extra time to help someone else.  There are days that I don’t want to say “Don’t worry about it”, or “Take your time”.  On these days and many others, I remember Mary’s words.  The rewards I get from treating people with respect bring a sense of satisfaction that carries over into everyday life.  The way my simple act of kindness helped Mary goes without saying, but oh, to have one gloriously selfish, movie star moment, just think about what that simple act of kindness did for me.

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I’ve always thought that a a milne was a genius. His characters were certainly based on the people he knew. Think about it…..don’t you know a Christopher Robin? A crabby old Eeyore? My best-friend-since-the-first-grade is a Tigger. She just can’t sit still. She has three projects going at a time and never stops.  She is always bouncing around from one thing to another. My husband is an Eeyore. He has a heart of gold, but my nickname for him (behind his back) is Grumpy. He never gets excited about anything, except maybe a ball game.  He never “oohs” and “ahs” when he opens his Christmas gifts, so you never know if you got him the right thing or not. My dad was an Owl. Always wise, always knew the right answer.  He was the one that everyone went to with their questions. He studied and read something every day of his life. Of course, my mom is a Mama Roo. Even at 85, she continues to worry about and mother my sister and I, both in our 50’s.  Does it drive is crazy? You betcha. Would we change it? Not for anything.  Now…..yawn….I think I will go put my feet up and have a cup of tea. I wonder if we have any “hunny”?

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Epiphany and snow

We ended 2010 with about a foot of snowfall with drifts to nearly four feet. David got up early to clear the driveway so I could get to work.  As is usually does, our snow blower stopped working before making it out of the garage. We have one snow shovel and one 10-pound farm shovel which scoops about a cup of snow at a time. Guess which one I got to use? It took nearly an hour for the two of us to clear enough snow to make it out of the driveway.  When I got home from work, I tried to shovel my way through the drifts to get to the chicken coop, but that was nearly impossible. Searching the garage and basement for the snowshoes, I tried to reach David on the cell, each time getting cut off. Finally reaching him, I found out where he stored the snowshoes. Yup. You guessed it. In the storage area next to the chicken coop. I left plenty of food and water the day before, so my chickens will be fine until I shovel my way through later today.  We are starting 2011 with another 5 inches of white stuff covering our tracks from yesterday.  I think I will sit by the fire with a second cup of coffee and think about it.

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