Archive for the ‘Not About Food’ Category

I should have known. Us Minnesotans wrote the book on the phrase ‘If you don’t like the weather, wait a minute.’

Right on time, at the heels of my dreary October report, came a smashingly beautiful Fall day; just in time to lift spirits across the city, to pour sunshine down on the deprived and saddened. It was blinding. It felt hot. Car interiors warmed up and jackets were shed. Lots of skin came out to say ‘Hello’, to welcome the sun.

And while most of the city wandered around in a daze, strangers smiling at each other with lots of contented sighs, I escaped.

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Just a few short months ago, that deck was covered in soggy footprints, soaked towels, half empty sunscreen bottles, juice boxes, a few toys, often a stray lifejacket and maybe a wet child or two. It held chairs that held bodies that held hair off their warms necks and cold drinks in hand. The deck groaned under the weight of languid summer days, resplendent in the hot sun. And the lake laughed up at the blue sky, at the boats skipping across it’s surface and popped up a turtle or two to take stock, or a loon that just as quickly dove for cooler waters beneath. At night, the waters slept, still as glass, covered occasionally in a gentle fog, as the rubber band snap of bullfrogs sang harmonious shoreline lullabies. Idyllic barely does it justice. And it always ends far too soon.

But now, it’s just empty, save for the few hardy anglers, a lazy boat or two that holds tight to the remaining light and good weather and maybe the eagle, if he’s fishing today. Still, in it’s emptiness, and the solitude that tends to follow Labor Day like a reluctant puppy, Loveless Lake retains it’s beauty in entirely different ways, and offers a means to escape just once more before it settles down for a long winter’s nap.

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And I settle in, pulling a bag of two of food with me and some warm clothing. The furnace kicks out it’s cozy heat and a few candles lead the daylight hours into night. I settle into the profound silence with a good book or two, some music and the need to just be me for a day or two. To hike and sit on a stone overlooking the St.Croix River, or to just stare at the water outside. Maybe I’ll do nothing at all. Stay in my pajamas all day and drink coffee, invite the muse to visit and tap away until it’s satisfied. I might rake leaves and lay among the crunch. There certainly should be a nap on the sofa, a good snack. And a bonfire as the sun disappears over the tree line. The bed is piled with blankets and I turn off the furnace at night, hunkering down under the weight that lulls me to sleep. I think about nothing at all. And everything, but really, it’s nothing. Winter is coming and this will end for several months. I won’t be able to walk down the hill, with the water winking an invitation at me beyond the corner of the cabin. There won’t be the giddy anticipation of a weekend with my nieces and nephews, racing around the water in the boat, dragging an inner-tube with a shrieking child holding on for dear life. It will end, with the last drop of water drained from the water heater, and the final look around before the car door slams on yet another season.

It’s always bittersweet.

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Photo on 2009-09-28 at 13.07

Harmon is doing better, thanks to a steroid prescribed on Saturday. The stitches from the surgery are starting to fall out, and he allows me to gently rub the incision with my fingertip. The surgery was two weeks ago today. I’m hoping to be able to clip out the remaining stitches, as I think they are itching him quite a bit.

The swelling that came as a result of the other mass became very bad, and was alarming to us. The steroid has helped reduce this, plus he managed to scratch it open and the amount that drained out was beneficial as well. Had this not occurred, we likely would have needed to lance it, as it looked terrible and was clearly uncomfortable. Thankfully he didn’t need that procedure. The other mass in his chin has gone down in size, but I can still feel it. His mood is better, he eats better- thanks to the steroid- and on Saturday night, for the first time in months, he climbed the stairs to our bedroom and got on the bed, snuggling up against my legs all night long. He even got up in the night, went downstairs for a drink and then came back up again for more snuggling. That to me was a clear sign that he has improved.

The hardest part now is not to become complacent about him, which I am trying hard not to think about. I can’t think that he’s fine, I can’t let go of the sorrow. He still has cancer. He is still sick, but I guess this could be called a reprieve, or maybe even a remission. He is very thin, comparatively, and it is still obvious to me that it’s difficult for him to eat as well as he should. But anything, for now, is a reason to rejoice. And for taking more time to draw him as close as he will allow, and bury myself in his fur as much as I can.

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We won’t be treating Harmon’s cancer.

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It’s not even a consideration. He is 16, and has blessed me with the most unconditional and amazing love of any animal I’ve known. Through times of my life when I felt like I was the most vile and worthless human, he never failed to climb in my lap and press his girth against me, purring his trademark rumble and squeezing my leg with his claws. Every night he curled against my legs in bed, or often on top of them and I would struggle against his weight and warmth to prevent my legs from falling asleep. Yet he never relented. It was like he knew what his role was, knew exactly what I needed even if I couldn’t feel it myself. He knew his place, and it was on my lap, or curled tight next to me.

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It’s one thing to discuss cancer treatments with a human, one who can understand and comprehend why they may need poison in their body to ward off such a terrible disease. You can explain about hospitals and doctors and needles and IV tubes and side effects to a human. You can’t tell a cat any of this. You can’t explain that it will help relieve the pain. You can take a human to the hospital and tell them you’ll return to visit, or be there when the treatment is over but you can’t make the animal understand that. They won’t know it’s in their best interest. They only will know pain, fright and confusion. I could never do that to Harmon, and I could never do that to me.

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And he’s 16. He’s been in beginning stages of renal failure for about two years, but without major problems. And for the love and strength that he’s given me, it’s grossly unfair to think that I can prolong his life for my own benefit. He’s been in a safe and loving environment since he was a baby; I am the one face he’s known his whole life and he’s given me back oceans of love for the simple act of accepting him into my life. What he needs now is relief from the pain and the knowledge that for the end of his life, I was here with him, making him comfortable and showing him how much I love him.

As for what’s next, we just need to watch him. I’m more than aware of the fact that we’ll know, without a doubt, when it’s time to say goodbye.

This ‘bed head’ shot has always been one of my favorites. Harmon does ‘bed head’ really well.

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I’m a little worried about how Bustopher will handle the loss of his cat-bro….

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More importantly, how will we??

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That’s why they call dying a ‘process’, I guess.

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Heartbroken and grieving

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It’s Cancer.

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Harmon is home and seems to be resting comfortably. He isn’t too interested in eating or drinking much and I’m sure I wouldn’t be if I had that stitched up chin either. He loves it when I lay next to him and scratch his head, under his floppy protective collar and around the underside of his chin. And he’s been OK about taking his medications although they probably don’t taste so good.

We have been so appreciative of the prayers and thoughtful purrs from the Cat community. I am overwhelmed and so thankful for your kind thoughts and words. They have really helped me in the past day. The pathology report could take a week to come back and I’m still fairly anxious about that but am trying to stay focused and make our kitty guy comfortable. I really had to force myself to go to bed last night instead of laying on the floor next to him staring at his face and trying to will healing into him. He seems a lot more comfortable and at ease today.

You can see the other mass in his chin, about 1:00 in the photo above, dark red and slightly lumpy. I am praying the antibiotics will clear that up and that he won’t require another surgery. Please keep the purrs and warm thoughts coming, and again, thank you so much for your kindness and good wishes.

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This is Harmon…..

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He’s 16 years old, and has been around since before my own child. I have a hard time remembering life before Harmon.

If you’ve never had a beloved pet, if you’ve never known the beauty of their unconditional love, you can stop reading and I won’t fault you. I’d rather you click away than try and understand.

Harmon will be having surgery today, Monday the 14th to remove a lesion from his lip. It started out looking like nothing more than a blemish on his chin, but it never healed and lately it’s gotten worse. The vet said that it just needs to come off, that certain cancers manifest themselves in this manner and a pathology test will determine once and for all what it really is.


Sixteen years ago I was walking through the rescue shelter, gazing in the cages at all manners of cats. The cages stood three high, and they were all filled. Suddenly I felt something grab my leg from the middle cage near where I was standing, and I bent over to look in. This adorable orange furry face gazed back at me, and reached a huge fluffy paw towards me again. Here was a 4-month old kitten that was enormous, with an equally huge fluffy tail. I got him out of his cage and took him into a small room where you could ‘get acquainted’. This fuzzball of a cat started purring like he’d eaten a jet engine. He literally vibrated from head to tail as he purred and rubbed his chin endlessly on me. With one desperate gaze from his golden eyes, I fell in love and took him home. I was besotted, a complete goner. I was chosen, picked by the cat instead of the other way around. Someone must have known just exactly what I needed.

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And then a vet says ‘Cancer’ and suddenly I can’t even sleep. And it could be nothing worse than a clogged pore, but all I can think about is what life might be like without that purr, those golden eyes and the gentle love he’s always given me. This has been the finest cat I’ve known. He’s always willing to offer a snuggle, he breaks into his trademark purr if I even look at him and say his name, and no matter what I’ve done, where I’ve lived, what I’ve gone through- which have been some extremely dark times- he’s been right there, settling in against my leg, curling his claws in contentment when I scratch his ears and being steadfast and constant throughout it all.
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He’s my sunshine fiend. One ray of sunshine in the house, and he’ll find it.

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But he’s 16. Climbing the stairs is hard, and getting on the bed is harder. He sleeps way more than our other cat. He seems shaky and stiff on occasion, but once in a while he kicks up his heels and runs around like a kitten, batting at a toy or chasing an invisible target. But he is old, and there is fear in me. I know that keeping pets in your life opens up the possibility of enormous heartbreak; I’ve been down that road already, owning pets since I was 10 years old. I’m aware of how much it can hurt.

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Cancer. Pathology. Fear.

I’m trying to think of positive outcomes, but quite frankly it’s difficult, if not impossible. Inevitably, if it isn’t this it will be something else and I’ll have to face it then so I run the movie in my head of what it will be like to say goodbye to him, to wake up and come down my stairs and not hear his loud chirp of greeting, and see the way he runs straight to the cabinet that holds the cat treats even though he knows that he has to wait. To watch TV without him contentedly purring in my lap. To see how he drags himself from a deep sleep when someone is in the kitchen because he just has to come in and check to make sure we haven’t dropped a lovely tidbit he could eat.

What will it be like to eat dinner and not have him pawing us?

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Will Spring be the same without an adorable shaved cat in the house?

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My heart can barely handle these questions now.

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Key Ingredient, the community-based recipe sharing site that is home to thousands of everyday cooks and their finest recipes, has introduced The Demy, a digital recipe device made for specifically for home cooks. The device is designed to hold your recipe collection all at the tip of your fingers.

Many many months back, Key Ingredient solicited members to be home testers for The Demy and I cheerfully agreed to give it a shot. Then I promptly forgot all about it until I was contacted and told that my turn to try out the device was imminent. I was really excited to see what it was all about.

The Demy looks and works like both a Kindle and an iPod Touch. In fact, when I took it out of the box, Mike exclaimed  “It’s a little Kindle!”  Upon powering up, The Demy brings up a home screen that includes your recipe library, where all indexed recipes are listed, and then a categorized menu as well covering individual menu items. Once you open the general library, the recipes are listed alphabetically and you can scroll through them or go to the keypad option and touch a letter to take you to those items.

Each recipe is displayed in three ways; when you initially touch the screen for your selected recipe, you’ll get a full color photo of your selection.

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Indexed tabs along the top of your digital recipe card then list the recipe itself with all instructions,

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and your final recipe card tab will tell you who originally posted the recipe on Key Ingredient, how many recipes they have submitted and an option to post the recipe to your ‘Short List’, which is basically a list of your favorite or most used recipes on the device.

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While there is some nutritional information for the recipes loaded on The Demy, it is only considered an estimation, and you are clearly told that in bold red type.

Other options on The Demy is a 3-way timer, an excellent tool if you’re juggling a lot of cooking,  a conversion calculator that is extremely useful if you happen to have a recipe that is metric, an extensive substitution table and an ‘Options’ tab where you can modify your settings on the device.

Unfortunately, when I received The Demy, the USB cable that came along with it was the wrong size for the device, and the one that I use for my digital camera, although it looked like it would work, was still not the right size so I did not get a chance to play with the downloading part and determine the ease of its use. What I understand is that you should be able to load from the Key Ingredient site any recipe or cookbook that is available. Don’t quote me on this one though! I would like to know also if you have the ability to load into it your own personal recipe collection. I have hundreds of recipes in a Word recipe book and would love to see how I could set it up with those.

This was a pretty cool device, and I can see where it would be a huge asset to any home cook. The recipes are clear and concise with the ever important photographs for us visual types, and the usefulness of it for holding all your recipe needs is endless. To have it all in one item would be so great! No more thumbing through cookbooks, printed papers or cut-outs trying to remember where you stashed that great dip recipe, the fabulous almond cake that you recall wanting to try or the delectable sounding soup for that first chilly day in the Fall. Not like I know ANY of this from personal experience or anything!

Well yeah, I do. That’s my recipe collection, scattered and messy; but my one saving grace is that I possess an almost maniacal means of knowing exactly where in my piles of stuff is that one recipe I really, really want. Having a Demy would mean I could let go of that need to stuff my brain with all that information.

Was there anything about the device that I didn’t like? Not especially. I have an iPod touch and am used to the almost effortless way that you can scroll through it for what you want; The Demy isn’t as simple and I found it to be slightly frustrating in that regard. If you tap the screen hard enough to get the scroll going, you often tap a recipe, or other option and it brings that up for you to read. I found the font size to be a little small for my eyes, and with a recipe that requires more space than the window allows, you need to scroll through it while your reading it, and for me, I prefer to be able to have as much visible, from start to finish, in terms of my instructions when I am cooking, especially if it’s an unfamiliar recipe. I’m very visual, as I said, and this is just how it works best for me. For someone else though, it may not be a big deal at all. The device orients two ways; upright, or laying down at a flatter angle, and wipes clean with a damp cloth. It’s also very durable, has a built-in battery and a good long powercord. At this time, The Demy sells for $299, exclusively from Key Ingredient.

I’m intrigued with the device, for sure, and can imagine that it would be awfully nice to have on hand. I think it will be a pretty popular option for any well-organized cook. At this point, the price is too steep for me, but because it’s new, I imagine that will come down significantly, like all new products inevitably do.

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This was done by a local couple about a month ago in St. Paul. It’s so awe-inspiring, joyful and free. A guaranteed smile-maker!

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My apologies to those who come here for the food. Although, yes, I am mostly about food in my little corner of the blog-world here, there’s a lot more to what nurtures me than the food I cook; hard to believe, I know, but in the snippets of insight you sometimes get to the rest of my existence, there is a great deal more that brings me joy and I just want to share it with you. It’s not overbearing, really. and feel free to click away if you only want to read about food.
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This post is NOT about food or taste, but a glimpse into other areas of my life that offer nourishment to me. Like sight and smell and touch.

That lovely orb of yellow is a Coreopsis, with a happy critter deep in the middle of an examination. It looks like a honey bee- enough reason to rejoice if it is- but I’m not sure. It’s a delightful flower to see, bright and shiny in the morning sun. The petals look like duck feet.

Having a flower garden has been an amazing joy to me. The tiny little plot was here when we bought our house nearly six years ago. I mulch, water, add plants I enjoy and subtract the efforts of the existing plants to sow their seed everywhere,  and I’ve loved every moment of watching it each year as it always has something to show me, and teach me.

This is one recurring surprise in my garden- English Lavender.
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I planted an “Annual” Lavendar plant about three years ago, and every year since it has decided to return and assault my sense of smell with it’s fragrant blossoms and leaves. Just brushing my leg up against it releases it’s amazing odor and the tiny purple flowers last forever. It gently reminds me of the importance of perseverance and fortitude.

And talk about persevering!
22june 004I discovered this little Maple sapling early this Spring growing in the corner underneath our sunroom. This part of our house stands alone from the rest, and has an open area below it that we’ve walled off with a cedar wall. We use the area to store our firewood and miscellaneous equipment that is not in season, and this tiny seed took root and has grown stupendously surviving on what little morning sun it receives and the rain that sweeps into it’s corner. I am hoping it will grow strong enough for me to remove in late summer and plant somewhere in our yard. The presence of such potential for strength and quiet beauty makes me think that there is much more to the idea of  “Grow where you’re planted” than most of us ever consider.

And again, when all else seems to look bleak for one of my plants, nature has a way of surprising me.
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This is one of three Clematis vines that grow on the cedar wall surrounding the space under our sunroom. Clematis grow in several ways; one type grows and blooms on the old growth from previous years, and another will only grow from the roots.  This variety, called ‘Mrs George Jackman’ is one that grows solely from the roots, and in the early spring it burst from the earth as usual, and then I suddenly noticed that all the vine had died. The roots were still firm in the earth so I let it be, and instead allowed the enormous native Columbine to take over the spot. It was a happy day indeed that I spotted among the Columbine flowers several thick Clematis buds and was able to separate out a single stalk of the vine that had grown and survived.

The white blooms are enormous.
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And given its rough start this year, I don’t even mind that it hasn’t caught up in height with it’s cousins that grow alongside.
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Where there’s a will, there’s a way, right? Again, nature shows me that despite circumstances, it doesn’t mean we give up and quit trying. Sometimes it just requires patience, and the right amount of time to reach our potential.

And among all this is a lovely and adorable shaved cat, another source of joy.
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Harmon normally has a very long thick coat and each spring he gets shaved. It makes him more comfortable in the heat and is easier on him in terms of keeping clean. He’s 16 now, and slowing down more each year. He has back issues (yeah, he’s overweight) and some kidney problems and so we do what we can for him. I’ve had him since he was 4 months old, and when I think too long about him leaving this earth, I can hardly stand it. If you’ve never owned a pet, I don’t expect you to understand and it’s OK. He’s a cuddly, snuggly, purring, lovable cat that never fails to crawl into my lap or curl up next to me for a snooze and I love him dearly- almost beyond an ability to express. When he’s shaved like this he feels like rich suede and his big furry feet are adorable. He shows me every day that the best remedies for life are a good nap and spreading the love around, no matter how you may feel.

And so, on the official first full day of Summer, there’s a little bit of the other parts of my life that lift my spirits and ground me in reality. Next time I come back, there’ll be food. I promise.

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For a brief and terrifying moment, the very real possibility of never being able to do any of this again presented itself in our lives.

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Mike fell off the roof at our lake home during a roofing project and landed flat on his back.

But I’m here to tell you that nothing short of a miracle occurred; he got up, walked into the cabin and immediately iced his back. I trip to the ER was imminent, and an X-ray showed a compression fracture of the 3rd lumbar vertebrae, plus a break on the facet joint.
ouchieHe can walk, move, sit, turn, stand, laugh and with proper healing, he should be fine.

To be able to say “He should be fine.” To watch him walk, even in the agony of the pain, to hear him making jokes and chuckling, to wake in the night reaching my hand over to feel him breathing, warm and solid is all that much sweeter and life affirming in the wake of any number of  “What if…?” thoughts I try to continually push aside.

I’m getting to a point where I can relate the story fully, almost tear-free but I still feel like I can break down in the blink of an eye; just over three years ago, a youth pastor at our church had the same accident- falling off a roof- although his injury was more severe, and he hasn’t walked since. I keep thinking about him, and about Mike and the potential for the same devastating impact on our lives and when I do so for too long, I am a weeping mess.
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I’m hoping he’ll be able to waterski again; that he’ll show me his awesome one-foot dock start, and the professional quality moves on the water, but we certainly won’t be doing any tandem knee-boarding together this summer like we really enjoyed last year.

And you know what? That’s all right with me. Because he walks, and jokes and laughs and still teases me while he wraps his arms around to embrace me, and grasp close all that we have. With proper healing, there’s always next summer and the fact that we’ll have that possibility makes me profoundly grateful.

It’s a stunningly sober thought to feel that there is but one moment of your life among the millions that you experience which drastically changes your perspective. I’ve had mine, thank you. Let me be done with them for now, please.

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