Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Tomato Preserves or What To Do on a Cloudy Day in September

I grew up in the midwest, Nebraska. I didn't realize until later, having moved to the south, that the whole world didn't know about tomato preserves. Most people I know, now, never heard of them. Back in Nebraska, we learned how to make them in home ec just in case our mothers didn't teach us how to make them, which mine probably didn't but I saw the process numerous times in the kitchen of our farmhouse. My parents and my grandmother, who lived with us, raised a large garden and what they didn't raise, my father brought home in bushel baskets from outside the home because, as my mother said, he believed "a busy wife is a happy wife". It wasn't until years later, living in Arkansas, that I remembered tomato preserves even existed and realized that I had no idea how to reproduce them, having forgotten my home ec lesson and the home demonstrations. So I called my Mom and asked her for the recipe. This is how that went:

"How do you make tomato preserves?"
"Oh...well...cut up a bunch of tomatoes and add a bunch of sugar and cook it for a long time"
"How much sugar and how many tomatoes?"
"A whole bunch."
"A whole bunch of what?"
"A whole bunch of both."
"How much is that?"
"Oh, quite a bit."
"Is that all you do?"
"Aren't there lemon slices in it?"
"Oh yeah. And some lemon."
"How much?"
"Oh, just some. However much you want."
"And then what do I do?"
"You cook it for a long time."
"How long?"
"Til it's gooey."
"Til it's gooey?"
"How long does that take?"
"Is that all there is to it? Just mix up a bunch of tomatoes and sugar and some lemon slices and cook it?"

So, I finally got up my nerve and tried it last year. And then again today. Here's how you do it:

Dig some of these out of your garage or out from under the bed in your spare room and wash them.

And find some of these. Note the word "find" not "grow". I haven't grown a decent tomato in 5 years. Go to the Farmer's Market or buy them from the guy who parks on the corner across from James' Food Mart. Do whatever you have to do but get some, and as many as you can get your hands on.

Buy some of these:

And do this to them, take out the seeds and put the seeds into the compost:

Blanche the tomatoes and then put them in ice water to loosen the skins.

Remove the skins and core them and cut them up like this:

Put them together with the lemon slices and start looking for a heavy pot...

Put them all in a pot and add a bunch of this:

Cook it all together...

...til it looks like this:

This is gonna take hours on low heat and in the meantime you're probably gonna want to go play with this guy, or somebody like him. He's trying out his Halloween costume, here:

Later on, after the lion goes home, you'll wanna do this with the preserves and clean up the mess in the kitchen and go somewhere and sit down and watch Wife Swap or Split Ends or post something on Facebook.

In the morning, you can turn the jars right side up and they should be sealed. Use the one that's only half full first. It's the one you didn't have enough to fill all the way up. It never works out that you fill them all up. You're gonna wanna try some on homemade bread, toasted, and buttered with real, salted butter. Forget about your cholesterol. This isn't the time. Maybe you're gonna want to add some peanut butter.

And one more thing; don't share these with anybody else or you'll be hassled for the rest of your life by people wanting more. Keep them all for yourself. Don't even share them with your mother.

She's too old to want to mess with making them herself and she's gonna put a guilt trip on you to share them if she knows you've got them. Take my advise, put them on the back shelf and keep your mouth shut. Remember, she didn't give you one ounce of help in terms of a recipe so don't weaken. The only exception to this rule is if she gave you some of her homegrown tomatoes. If so, maybe you can work out a deal.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Of Roaches and Bad Acting

Just before I got off work tonight the triage bell went off. That's a doorbell the admission clerks ring that sounds in the main ER alerting us to a patient in the waiting area. I've heard that same bell in other places out in public and it elicits in me a Pavlovian sense of impending doom.

It is September 11th, 2009, a Friday night and it was 11:45pm, exactly fifteen minutes before my shift ended. This late in one's shift it is perfectly acceptable to ignore the sound of the triage bell, electing instead to stare blankly at the computer screen at a game of Spider Solitaire, letting the other nurses do the work. You're as good as gone, anyway, and nobody really cares. But, because I'm trying really hard to get my full 12 hours in every day I work spurred on by having balanced my checkbook yesterday, I elected to stay long enough to triage the, for me, last patient of the night. I'm kinda glad I didn't miss this one.

I called the patient's name after opening the triage door, prompting a trio of neurologically challenged backwoodsians to stand and begin their painfully slow approach to the triage area among them, an older woman, and a man and younger woman who looked exactly alike. They were like one of those child's games where you take a face and add different hairstyles and glasses, hats, etc to change its appearance but the face never changes. The man carried a metal box which I correctly assumed held the patient's medications. With his other arm, he guided the patient, the younger woman, toward the triage area as if she would collapse and her hand on his arm would somehow prevent that.

ER patients think that their level of perceived acuity is directly related to how slow they walk and talk. It's not unusual to have a patient speak in broken sentances which they mistakenly believe convinces medical personnel of the validity of their ailments. These poor actors, when questioned about their conditions, respond with a breathy, "...can't eat....I'm.....weak...." reminding me of the cartoon series I use to watch on tv when I was a kid. Space Ghost, when stripped of the garments from which he gleaned his superhuman powers would gasp, "....can'"

The three eventually made it into the triage room and the patient and her mother were seated in the only two seats and I began a brief triage assessment. When I first speak to a patient who presents as this woman did tonight, it's not uncommon for the patient to look at one of the family members, cueing them to begin answering questions for them further illustrating the degree of debilitation they've experienced as a result of their devastating illness. I've even had women tell me a number when I ask their husbands to rate their pain on a scale of 0 to 10. Tonight I dared that family to start answering questions for this woman and, as if they sensed it, they didn't. When I asked her, the patient told me she'd been sick for two weeks.

ER nurses pose seemingly innocent questions to patients which are designed to teach them lessons. My next was one of those questions.

"What happened tonight to bring you to the emergency room?" translates to: "Are you out of your fucking mind? This is an EMERGENCY room. It's called that because you're only suppose to be here if you have an EMERGENCY. Being sick for two weeks does not fall into that catagory. What in the name of all things holy was going through your mind to get your family out at nearly midnight and crawl to town in the middle of the night? What about this date made you decide that today was the day you were finally going to seek medical treatment for something you've been experiencing for two weeks? Is it something about the twin towers? What?"

Turns out, they'd taken the girl to several different clinics and ERs over the two week course of her illness and "nobody would help her". That was my cue to say something like, "Gee, I wonder why everybody is so mean? It's clear to see you've been terribly mistreated. Here honey, you come in our ER. We can see you're sick. You're sick as hell and we're gonna rush you in here and pamper you for as long as you want us to. And if somebody comes in having a heart attack, well, fuck 'em. They can wait while we fluff your pillow." That's what they expect us to say. Really.

I continued my assessment and then did vital signs and documented them and then I looked in the med box. As I was taking one bottle of medication at a time out of the box and writing it on the medication sheet in the chart, I looked down and saw it. A shiny, brown roach crawling amongst the clutter in the bottom of the box. It was about the same time that I decided I had compiled a sufficient list of medications and shut the lid, handing the box back to the male family member, whatever he was; Dad, husband or both.

I then left the room and while the doctor was looking over the chart, I formed a plan. I would tell the man to take the medications out and put them in the car, thereby preventing the escape of the roach into the general population of the ER. When I went back in, I handed the chart to the woman and turned to the man who was, once more, holding the box in one hand and had begun to guide the woman back out into the waiting area with the other.

"If I were you," I said, looking as somber as I could in an attempt to convey some hidden threat of theives, etc, "I'd take those medications out and lock them up in the car."

He remained silent for a second and then said as he turned out the door toward the admissions desk, "I'll just hold onto them. They won't get them away from me."

I clocked out and left before they checked in and came back to a treatment room.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Life is Sweet

Why do I feel so lazy? How is it possible to feel worked to death one minute and like a lazy piece of shit, the next? I did pretty much nothing, today. I didn't call people back who left messages to book massages. I just ignored the whole thing. I don't want to deal with them. Or it ("it" being the business"). This is typical for me, being completely done with a thing once I decide to ease out of it. Just completely lose interest.

I was suppose to go to the doctor in Little Rock today but I canceled my appointment. I just couldn't imagine leaving my house. I'm very tempted to do the same with my annual checkup tomorrow with my local physician but they called to confirm today and I said I'd be there. I probably need to be going to somebody I don't know for this. Pap smear. I need to not go to a doctor I work with in the hospital but I'm too fucking lazy to find somebody out of town. So I'll go tomorrow and then look at the floor whenever I meet him in the hallway at work.

I wish I could just allow myself to be lazy when I feel lazy. It's not enough I'll have done five 12-hour shifts in the ER this week? Today and tomorrow off (is it really a day off if you do an hour massage in the afternoon?) and that's it. Every other day I'll work 12 hours. So the one day I sit on my ass I feel guilty. Haven't I been through enough therapy to be over that by now? Feeling guilty, I mean? That's part of the big fascination with going back to a full-time position. Being "on" for three days a week and "off" the other 4. That's why I'm getting out of massage, for the most part. So I don't have to feel so fucking guilty every single day for not being willing to drop whatever I'm doing to go rub somebody else's body.

I've been thinking a lot about death, lately. I suppose I'm working through some developmental task that 50-year-old women go through facing their own mortality. I have the sensation of people around me dropping like flies. And I think having lived through a tornado ripping your town a new ass probably has a part in it. The realization that life is fragile and bad things really do happen. And along with all of that, a very clear sense that the label "bad things" may not be so accurate as we think. Maybe the tornado wasn't really bad. Maybe it brought us what we needed on some level. All of us. And maybe death isn't so bad, is what I'm thinking. I don't necessarily want to do it right now but if I do, I figure it won't be so bad. For me, anyway. My kids and family would be devastated and I would regret that, if I was even aware of it from my position in paradise. I suppose the more real life you encounter, the more "paradise" has the potential to offer you. It is attractive.

And my life is good. Even I think so. I'm enjoying it, though I suppose I'm really tired. But I've pretty much got the bull by the proverbial dick at this point in my life. Nothing fancy but lots of nice little luxuries and beauty and companionship. Lot's of great people in my life, right now, as it's pretty much always been for me. I've been lucky but that doesn't mean being dead doesn't have it's allure. My daughter recently expressed her feelings on the subject. I suspect her's may be from that deeper sense of disillusionment that naturally follows in one's 30's. That, coupled with some pretty shitty losses she's had to endure. Stuff nobody should have to go through. Doesn't take too many of those to make you maybe a little more willing to cross over than is healthy for you. I haven't commented on it because I suspect I'll sound like my mother did to me once, about 10 years ago.

I was in the absolute throes of depression. Situational as hell, though I didn't realize it at the time. I thought it was entirely chemical imbalance. I needed therapy, which I got and it's better now. But I was fucking miserable back then as I was a lot of my adult life. It was Easter time and my Mom and brother came to visit. I remember being so depressed, I couldn't wait for a respectable length of time after eating lunch to ask if they minded me taking a nap. The truth was, I simply couldn't wait another second to curl up in the fetal position and sob. I could pull that off alone, in the bedroom, my sobs muffled by my pillow.

My brother had brought his Harley down on a trailer and we rode. My brother offered me a helmet but I grinned and declined. Later, driving up on the mountain in his Suburban, my mother and kids in the back seat, I confided in him that I didn't take the helmet because I'd thought to myself, "I wouldn't kill myself, I'm not going to do that but if I have a wreck and have a chance to have my brain scattered over the pavement and be out of this hell I'm in, I'm not gonna do anything to prevent that." As soon as I said it I mentally chastised myself for sharing such a macabre thought in front of my poor mother who would, of course, be devastated to even imagine me thinking such a thing. We got out of the car at our destination about the same time and my Mom came up to me, smiling.

"I know just how you feel," she said, grinning as if we shared a delicious secret. I was sort of surprised but the older I get, the more I understand.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Next Chapter

I'm loving my job, these days. As soon as I started back in the ER I decided to let (most of) my massage business go the way of the wind.

I'm tired. Of a lot of things. I'm tired of the sense of impending financial doom I've felt for some time. I'm tired of feeling pressured to be...personable, likable, an attempt to stay in a favorable position with the public who I hoped would, in turn, provide me a proper living by booking massages on a regular basis. I'm tired of the crackhead neighbors who live in the "units" surrounding my office space on main street. I'm tired of the fucking twisted metal roofing still hung in the tree in front of my office despite numerous pleading calls to the overworked and underpaid landlord to remove it. I heart you, Orvin, but I'm tired.

I'm tired of feeling like I'm not doing enough. Always letting people down. Letting the people at the hospital down by not working many hours. Letting my massage clients down by not being available to them 7 days a week. For going to Nebraska and Little Rock and Hot Springs on a regular basis and not being in the office when they want to book a massage. Letting my husband down by sticking him with the brunt of financial responsibility for our family. Letting my grandchildren down by not having energy for them after nursing and doing massage. Letting myself down by not having time to write or read or vacuum the dead flies off the windowsill. I'm tired.

So I let go.

I have people calling now for massages and I have to turn them down, or worse. I turn them over to another therapist. And that's really hard. There's another therapist working in my space with me. Or instead of me. She shares the rent. And that's really hard. Not a team player, I. Not a partner.

My new "studio" is going up next to my house. I look for completion by November. And I may fold up shop October 1st, leaving a message on my office phone that I'll reopen on a much smaller scale in a new location later in the year and to leave a number if you have a gift certificate. Hell, I'll pay Trisha to do them, if I have to, but I'll honor them.

And I'll let go.

And while it's hard, it's not really sad. For once, a "letting go" that's not sad to me. Instead, it's a new chapter. It's the "other stuff" I've wanted to do.

As soon as I decided to let go of the business, the morning I called and asked Trisha to share my office space, the very next second, I decided to write a book about the tornado. It's a format I've wanted to use for years and as soon as I made space in my life, I knew it was the perfect time to do it. I immediately began making appointments for interviews which I plan to transcribe essentially verbatum into a volume I intend to self-publish and sell, locally, in time for the first anniversary of the tornado. I began interviews a couple weeks ago and after this week I'll go at it full throttle, having my five 12-hour shifts out of the way.

There's a lot to the concept of "intention" and attraction but there's also a lot to be said for letting go and allowing the right way to unfold, naturally and as it wishes in its own time.

I'm turning over my work in the clinic to Trisha, for the most part and I go now to begin the next chapter.