Thursday, November 23, 2017

Giving Thanks for Bad Things

This morning while Grant was visiting our casita, he and Dennis and I discussed things to be thankful for – not the usual good health, family, and so forth. Instead we focused on being thankful for bad things that led to good things.

Grant recalled a gathering of University of Arizona law students before classes began for his first year of law studies. Wanting to get acquainted with his fellow students, Grant went to the sleazy bar where the law students were to gather. He was dismayed by the setting, but determined to stick it out. Soon, he spotted a lovely young woman sitting nearby and struck up a conversation. Soon they went for a ride on his motorcycle and got caught in a monsoon. It was not an auspicious beginning, but today that woman is his wife, for which he is thankful.

Then I recalled my unfortunate experience when defending my dissertation. My advisor was a smart young woman who had just been promoted to full professor. I had followed her advice to keep the dissertation short so that it would be ready to submit for publication in a journal. It was my bad luck that, while my advisor had been promoted, a member of my committee, a man, had been denied promotion. At my dissertation defense, the loser refused to consider my dissertation acceptable without the traditional long first chapter giving the overview of all research related to my work.

I went home in despair. While the PhD was not denied, I would have to completely re-write my first chapter, expanding it to the more traditional length. When a friend stopped by I told him what had happened and commented that what I needed was a day in the country. “As it happens,“ he said, “we’re going to have Sunday dinner with a friend in the country. You should come with us.”

I gratefully accepted and as it turned out, the host, whom I met for the first time that Sunday, was Dennis, my husband of more than forty years.

And so today we gave thanks for bad things that led to good things. We hope that the horrifying things currently happening in the United States will lead to an awakening of our true American spirit and dedication to a true democracy of the people, for the people, and by the people, and next year for that we will give thanks.

Copyright 2017 by Shirley Domer

Monday, October 30, 2017

Good Old Aunt Agnes

It started with a yam I bought in Tucson last February. I intended to bake it for Dennis and me to share, but the yam responded to the siren call of springtime and quickly grew three tiny sprouts. I enjoy watching things grow, so I gave it toothpick supports and put it in a glass of water.

By April, when it was time for us to trek back to Kansas, the yam had several green shoots seven or eight inches high. Could I leave that yam behind to die in the fierce Arizona heat of summer? No, indeed, I could not. Dennis agreed, and, in his whimsical way, decided to name the yam for his Aunt Agnes.

The first day Agnes rode in its glass of water in the front seat cup holder. Unfortunately the air conditioning blew directly on her there and she responded by wilting.  The second day she rode in the back, nestled in Dennis’s hiking boot. “That’s better,” she seemed to say, as she perked right up. Had I known what a star Agnes was destined to become, I’d have photographed her in the boot.

Back home in Kansas, Agnes moved into a less-tippy coffee mug.

As the sprouts grew longer, I broke them off their mama and set them in glasses of water to develop their own roots.

When there were twenty well-developed plants, Dennis set them out in the garden plot he had reserved, marking each plant with a yellow flag.

Agnes was still producing shoots, so she went to live with Laurie, our dear neighbor, where she produced enough yam starts to fill Laurie’s garden space. Finally, Laurie called to say that Agnes was still producing, but was nonetheless headed for the compost pile. Laurie felt sorry about that, but neither of us had more room for more yams.

Agnes’s offspring grew to cover a corner of our garden, completely hiding the yellow flags. The plants had beautiful pink flowers hiding among the leaves.

At last a killing freeze came, reducing the plants to blackened vines and leaves, and, incidentally, revealing the yellow flags that indicated where Dennis should dig for yams.

The intrigue of growing yams and potatoes is that one doesn’t know whether the tubers will be of decent size until it’s time to dig. Well, Agnes’s progeny did not disappoint.

When the digging was finished Dennis spread the yams on newspaper to cure. In a couple of weeks their delicate skins will toughen enough to be stored in baskets.

You may notice a heap of small yams in the center of the above photo. Every plant produces small yams in addition to large ones. As Dennis was digging, I encouraged him to discard the small ones, but he said our forefathers couldn’t afford to waste anything, and he didn’t intend to either. He expects me to make sweet potato pies of the small ones, and that’s going to be a lot of pies. I have a recipe from Craig Claiborn’s Southern Cooking ready to go.

Aunt Agnes's lineage will live on, for I intend to save one yam to start another generation for the 2018 garden. I may or may not live to see it, but I know that Laurie and Dennis will see that Agnes’s lineage goes on and on, as mine will when I’m relegated to the compost heap.

Copyright 2017 by Shirley Domer

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The Loneliness of Pain

Late in August I began to notice pain on the right side of my spine, as well as fierce itching in the same area. Over the next few days, the pain increased in both intensity and frequency.

This was the beginning of a lonely, frightening two-month nightmare that still has not completely ended. The pain spread around my side and under my ribs, all on the right side. Pain woke me up at night and I was sleeping only three or four hours. Peristalsis  stopped and I became constipated. My appetite dropped and I lost almost ten pounds.

I saw doctors. I visited the hospital’s emergency room twice. I had X-rays, a CT (computed tomography) scan, blood tests, and a thoracic MRI. No doctor, nurse, or technician could say what was causing my pain.  All they offered me was opioids. My doctor suggested I should get a massage. Dennis wondered if my symptoms were psychological.

I saw a gastroenterologist, thinking that he could at least deal with my lack of peristaltic action.  He gave me pharmaceutical samples, with the promise they would get things moving. They had no effect.

I was in despair and wondered if death had come calling. If only I knew what was causing all my agony, as least I’d know what was going on. Then one day as I was lying in bed, trying to catch an hour’s sleep, my back furiously itching, I remembered that the gastro guy checked my back for an outbreak of shingles. He found no rash, and dismissed that possibility. But lying there, unable to sleep, I wondered if a person could have shingles without a rash.

Eureka! There is such a thing and it’s called herpes sine zostere! It’s uncommon, but it happens often enough to have a name. My doctors had never heard of it and were skeptical or disinterested. Heavens! The very idea of a patient correctly self-diagnosing was offensive to them.

Well, never mind. I have an acupuncturist, a chiropractor, and several friends and relative who use natural remedies. I’m taking olive leaf extract (an antiviral), a variety of herbs for constipation, lemon balm tea to relax my tension and several glasses of water every day. I’m gradually getting well, although I’m still underweight and tired.

Looking back I believe this has been the loneliest time of my life. Pain is all consuming and isolating. When one stops participating in life, life passes one by. People can sympathize and try to help, but then they go on with their lives, as they should. It would serve no purpose to linger with a person who is suffering.  That person must go it alone. It is enough to be remembered, thought of, and called. An occasional visitor is cheering. Gifts of prepared food help keep us going, but basically we are alone with our pain.

Still, there have been distractions from pain. I’ve read a lot of books, some very long. I’ve made a couple of pies and baked loaves of bread. Most of all I’ve enjoyed a piece of ginger root that was lost for a time in the bottom of the fruit bowl. When it turned up I noticed it had some swollen spots that appeared to be the beginnings of new shoots. Well, I planted it as an experiment. After several weeks the shoots appeared above the soil and started growing. They kept growing and became my inspiration. If ginger can change from a shriveled husk to a thriving plant, so can I.

The ginger plant is my renewal symbol and very important to me. Consequently, it has gone to live with Oz and Marianne while we spend the winter in Tucson. Here’s Oz, preparing to carry it away. Knowing that Oz is six feet six inches tall helps one appreciate how that pitiful ginger root has grown.

Copyright 2017 by Shirley Domer

Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Avocado Bomb Bombed

I’m not going to write about my crumbling edifice except to say that for three weeks I’ve been focused on a spine issue that has puzzled, distressed, and exhausted me. My life has been a blur of sleeplessness and visits to doctors, chiropractor, acupuncturist, and the LMH emergency room.

One thing I’ve learned, incidentally, from this nightmare is that my blood levels of chloride and sodium are low. These are electrolytes, for Pete’s sake, and the body’s intricate electrical (nervous) system needs them to run smoothly.

Fifty years ago my mom had to give up salt in her diet for medical reasons. Watching her distress over unappetizing, unsalted food, I decided right then to reduce by half the amount of salt called for in recipes. That’s what I’ve done ever since, but apparently I’ve overdone it.

Now I’m trying to learn to like salt again. This morning at breakfast, as I spread my toast with salted butter, I got to thinking about food fads and how silly some of them are. Consider salted butter – most contemporary recipes that include butter specifically call for unsalted butter.  Then they instruct the cook to add salt. That, to me, is an artifice and a bit of snobbery.

As I learned at my grandmother’s knee when she churned cream into butter, unsalted butter is essentially tasteless. She always added salt at the end of her labor of turning the crank that moved the paddle in her churn and working the wad of resulting butter with a wooden spoon to press out all of the drops of buttermilk.

So I say phooey on unsalted butter.

Another affectation – one that seems to have subsided a bit – was the balsamic vinegar craze. As vinegars go, balsamic is very strong tasting, and that strong taste can easily overwhelm the taste of salad vegetables. Now the consensus seems to have shifted to red wine vinegar, but I’ll bet there’s half-used bottle of balsamic vinegar in most of our kitchen cabinets.

I don’t know why our culture is so easily enticed to faddishly take up new foods, (think quinoa, think kosher salt) but we seem to have an insatiable hunger for the different and we strive to create something totally new to eat as well as something superior.

Recently at a new Japanese restaurant I ordered, at a friend’s recommendation, something named Avocado Bomb. (Yep, that’s it in the photo.) It turned out to be a construction of shrimp, mango, unidentifiable white things, and slices of avocado topped with red roe and spicy sauces. It was interesting but my interest waned long before the bomb had disappeared into my maw.

Personally, I favor the old tried and true in my diet. Fried chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy are a marriage made in heaven to me. Nothing beats bacon and eggs for breakfast, or for supper for that matter. Lettuce and tomato salad during homegrown tomatoes season rates a ten in my book.

But you all go ahead and fill your cabinets with ten kinds of vinegar, dozens of spice bottles, and all the other fashionable ingredients as they come and go. Please let me know how it all turns out.

Copyright 2017 by Shirley Domer

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Summer's End Pasta

In a recent entry i wrote about this favorite late summer dish. It's only fair to include the recipe:

Peel and dice 6 garden ripened Roma tomatoes (or equivalent slicing tomatoes)
Peel and mince 2 cloves garlic.

Place the tomatoes and garlic in a non-reactive bowl and add at least ¼ cup of first-cold-pressed olive oil. Stir and leave for two or three hours to marinate. If you use salt and pepper add them to the marinade.

Cut 2 sweet Italian sausage links into bite size slices and put them into a skillet on medium-low heat. (The sausage really isn’t necessary. Leave it out if you prefer.)

Next, cook the pasta. Put on a pot of salted water to boil. Measure 1 ½ cups whole wheat penne and add it to the boiling water. When the water returns to the boil, set a timer for 10-14 minutes, depending on how soft you want the pasta to be. During this process, remember to stir the sausages occasionally. When the sausage bits are browned, put them in a paper towel lined bowl to drain.

When the pasta is done, drain the water and immediately pour the pasta into the marinating tomatoes. Add the sausages and stir everything together. Next, snip fresh basil leaves over the pasta mix, sprinkle on some Parmesan cheese. Toss everything together. Add more basil or Parmesan to adjust the balance.

It’s a pretty dish and tastes divine.

Copyright 2017 by Shirley Domer