The Hard Work of Dying

My father's terminal illness diagnosis came early June, about 3 weeks after he presented with a broken collar bone--the result of his simply rolling over in bed.  My stepmom was visiting her daughter in Illinois.  My father was not alarmed; he called me to tell me he was driving himself to the emergency room.  "No, Dad.  Call your orthopedic and ask them to see you today."

Our odyssey began with this left collarbone "pathological break."  Both he and I knew that nothing good would unfold from this.  I took him home and immediately hit the internet.  He went either that afternoon or the next day to The Cremation Society and took care of things. 

The prevailing question for all of us is "How long?"  It had less of an urgency at the beginning as my father felt reasonably well, was ambulatory, and could engage in all of the activities that he could enjoy.  The urgency of the ask escalated with the more debilitating effects of the progress of his stage IV liver cancer:  cane, walker,  wheel chair, furniture moving belt to go from bed to bedside pot--the latter being a surprising freedom clung to when all other freedom from the bed is now out of reach.

My father's younger brother at 72 is 12 years my father's junior, came to help us last Tuesday.  While I know many of the stories on my mother's side of the family, largely due to my Nanny telling them in an animated fashion while drinking coffee around the kitchen table, my father's history is somewhat hidden.  My uncle tells my sister, "You daddy is the closest thing to a father that I ever had."  He tells me, "We would have starved if it had not been for your daddy."  He can engage with my father in a way that we cannot given their shared history.  It is an enormous comfort to both my stepmom, sister and I as well as my Dad to have him here.  It is not service to our family that I will ever forget.

Each day is now measured by fluid and food (if any) intake, outflow and pain management.  My uncle is able to use the furniture moving strap I rummaged out of my garage to help lift my dad's torso up, and then helping him pivot to the bedside commode.  This man who has always been independent has reduced his current situation as "A stallion put in a corral."  The last ambulation from the bed to the commode will soon be lost. Who would have thought that such a modest movement would be the one last freedom of a dying man? 

My father's faith accepts that God will take him when He is ready.  When I kiss my father each night, I say to him, "I hope that you die tonight."  My stepmom's visiting  friend heard me say this, and looked shocked.  To a dying man in misery, saying "I hope that you die tonight (or sometimes I say, I hope that you go to perpetual rest)" is the same as saying, "I hope that you have a nice day."  It is something that he prays for.

My stepmom's friend was great to have around.  She is thoughtful and energetic.  However, she has  not had the 2 a.m conversations with my father who asks, "How can I feel so low, and still be alive?" Or, "I don't know how much longer I can take this."  My father is a tough old bird--witnessed by the fact that he is still with us.  His toughness is working against his goal of transitioning quickly.  

Until I wrote this post, I had not considered how much the nearing of death is much like the nearing of birth.  Presuming that one is diagnosed with a terminal illness, as with finding out that one is pregnant, the time horizon steadily truncates from months, to weeks to days to hours to minutes. One ends with a new life being thrust into the world, the other with a life removed from this world. Both are as regular and ordinary as the sun rising and setting, but until we experience it for ourselves, we cannot fully appreciate the process.

We have honored my dad's desire to die at home. Being a participant in the sacred process of leaving this world, and offering comfort to a loved one preparing to depart is truly an honor and a privilege--as it is with welcoming a new life.  He is still concerned that he is a burden to us.  He is not.  But his frailty means that we need to enlist the help of professional care givers to give my dad a sense that others are helping and give us a sense that his needs can be met for hygiene and other comforts.  (One of the caregivers complimented us on how clean he was and how well-conditioned his skin was).  We've done our best, but his ability to participate is impaired.  We need professionals to help position him so that he is not injured.

My father has already made it past the mid-point in the bell curve for his diagnoses.  In the normal course of events, a baby is born on his/her own schedule, and a person will die on his or her own schedule.  All we onlookers can do is be there to smooth the passage into the world or out of it.  Throughout the process, I am reminded that I am my father's daughter:  pragmatic, efficacious, objective. 

Fun with Friends

My other friend, Leisa, who I have known since junior high school and who spells her name just like me invited our group down to her family's river place on the Rappahanock.  It was a short drive (under an hour) from my house, and it was a welcome distraction from regular 'stuff'. 

The weather was glorious.  Beautiful sunrises (blazing, blinding!) and the most stupendous moon rise I have seen in ages.  The moon was a large orange ball coming over the eastern sky.  We didn't catch it on Thursday when it was full (Sturgeon Moon), but it was just as impressive Friday and Saturday nights.

Being with old friends, laughing and crying about events in our life was wonderfully restorative. The great thing about old friends is that no matter how long has passed, one just picks back up from where one left it.  There are few things as resilient and joyful friendship.

Walking the Walk

I have recently encountered several instances within the course of the last three months of people purporting to believe in one thing, but acting out in a much different way.  It was a reminder of just how hard it is to walk the walk v. talk the talk.

Ultimately we see the world through the imperfect lens of our experiences and our processing of those experiences within the context of our personalities/nature.    Accordingly, the ideals of compassion, trust, fidelity, understanding, honesty and integrity and other laudable ideals are the manifold prongs of the tuning fork that we need to better align our nature toward higher ideals.

We forget, sometimes, that our belief structure (whatever that might be that seeks to guide us to right action) is referred to as our "spiritual discipline".  There is no discipline involved in speech that contains:   "I'm just telling you like it is."; "Your problem is:" "I'm just speaking my mind."; "I'm just being honest."  People who truly embrace honorable ideals and practice the discipline of self control walk the walk of their professed ideals.  Others just give lip service to it.

Nowhere are our ideals put to the test than through our interactions with other human beings--family, friends, colleagues, acquaintances.  When our stress levels are low, the water level in our transactional relationships is high. Our personal raft (our personal boundaries) is carried effortlessly through any turbulence that we encounter.  "No problem!", we exclaim as we are swiftly transported through the current that takes us quickly past any difficulty.

However, when our stress levels are high the water level is low.  The current is sluggish, the rocks and sticks (real or imagined) poke our raft.  We begin to take on water.  Everything is an unwelcome provocation.  These are the moments where our commitment to our ideals is sorely tested.  Do we lash out, or do we practice our spiritual discipline?


Joseph Campbell espoused this concept (paraphrased) in a lecture on compassion:  
When we have problems with other people, the core of the problem is seldom with those people, but within ourselves.  It's not what they say or do, but rather how we react to it.

I consider this concept one of the greatest personal tools of my own development over the years.  Naturally none of the above applies in instances of abuse.  However, when put the test in our ordinary relationships, it has remarkable power when invoked as a yardstick for how we should evaluate the situation, and more importantly, how we are to act. As it is said, "We cannot control the things that happen to us, but we can control how we react to it." 

For any of our strongly held beliefs, our conviction in and commitment to those beliefs are not tested when the water is high, but rather when the water is low.  When the water is low and we are being bumped about, it is in those moments that we are tested. Understanding our reactions to provocations by others tells us more about our vulnerabilities and inadequacies than the failings of the other person.  After all, we have an imperfect lens.  Nothing is more dangerous in a relationship than projecting our own fears and insecurities on to another person and leveling unfounded accusations.

When we find ourselves hitting the low water mark, reaching for our ideals, rather than ignoring them, will lift us above the water line.  And reaching for them, not ignoring, is the discipline needed for staying on our chosen path.  Otherwise, we get stuck on the bank of the river, taking on water, getting bit by mosquitoes and cursing everyone but ourselves for our predicament.










Canning

I normally just stick to relish for canning.  In fact, I don't recall ever making any jam or jelly.  I'm enamored with hot peppers in some sort of sweet medium.  I elected to try my hand at making a peach and hot pepper jelly.

I regret that I'm such a skeptic/cynic when it comes to OPR (other people's recipes) for canning.  I liken it to my dive into making my own dog food:  once I became committed to the process, I realized that that some people's 'recipes' were rather far afield from the science.  I found a couple of trusted DVM resources (Pitcairn/Strombeck), and then felt that I could balance the science and the mythology of dog food.

I've made a commitment to ensure that I understand the science behind the methods for canning.  Sure, I've done it all rotely before.  However, I'm willing (and want) to do the deep dive on the principles.  I simply want to be able to identify problems before they happen.  Also, I want to know what I can change v. what I cannot change.   And arming myself with some basics, I can generally spot recipes that I would like to steer clear of. 

Digression:  Miyamoto Musashi wrote the book of Five Rings.  I promise you that if you apply the following principles to everything that you do, all will be right in your world.

  1. Think of what is right and true.
  2. Practice and cultivate the science.
  3. Become acquainted with the arts.
  4. Know the principles of the crafts.
  5. Understand the harm and benefit in everything.
  6. Learn to see everything accurately.
  7. Become aware of what is not obvious.
  8. Be careful even in small matters.
  9. Do not do anything useless.


Every one of those principles are important in home food preservation.  Here are a few examples of things that I'm glad to know:
  •  Vinegar is not an acceptable substitute for lemon juice.  Why?  Lemon juice is a more powerful aciduant  (agent that acidifies the batch).  The point is to get the pH well south of 4.6.
  • There is a reliable on-line reference on the pH of foods, and you can find it here.  When (not if) you are tempted to make changes in recipes, (and the rule is that you should not), check the pH of what you are intending to swap.  If it is lower or in the same range as the ingredient, then you are likely okay.
  • Understand the properties of the overall ingredients--meaning that the acids are there to bring the overall pH down of your ingredients.  If you change the proportions, then the acid balance is going to be off in terms of either taste (too much) or safety (too little).
    • I love Plan to Eat for canning recipes.  It allows me to scale up or down a recipe base on the quantity of product that I have on hand.  This works very well for relishes, though I understand that jams etc require smaller batches--and pectin must be scaled which may cause your mileage to vary.  (I'm intrepid, and I'm not deterred).
With my father transitioning with his terminal illness, I'm feeling compelled to preserve in a way I've never been motivated to do.  Not a bad way to cope.  Yesterday, I wanted to locate some peaches to make a hot pepper and peach jam.  I found some SC peaches as the SuperFresh (not a place I typically shop).  They were 67c/lb.  That's a good price, and the peaches were beautiful.  I also found this great recipe at Colorado State University Farm to Table. (I see quite a few other recipes about, but I wanted to find a tested one).

After I washed, peeled and pitted them, I ended up with 40% more than the recipe.  So, I used my Plantoeat program to scale the recipe.  I have great digital scales so measuring out the pectin was not a problem.  One of my jar bands was misapplied by me, so it did not seal.  I just stuck it in my fridge.  I have to say, it is very delicious. We will see if my scaling has any long term effects on the product's setting.  I'm definitely going to make more of this. 



Thug Nation

A presidential candidate wants to "punch" speakers of an opposing convention because they say things that he doesn't like.  He belittles others through derisive name calling--to include gender, ethnicity and physical characteristics--things that one is born with and have no control over.  If any of this happened on a playground, as parents, many of us would point to the offender and call his/her out rightly as a bully.  Further, we would as for an intervention by the child's parents and ensure that our teachers provided a safe environment for our children.  After enough violations, the child would be expelled in school.

Have we become thug nation where this behavior has such wide appeal that one of our political parties would nominate such an individual as a presidential candidate? For all of the empty and plagiarized "Trump-talk" about values, we are reminded that walking the walk talking the talk is much easier than talking the talk walking the walk. (OOPs) And if history is to teach us anything is that fear-mongering  and ego-mania  are  a combustible mix that burnishes the bearer’s name on the pages of history.  And not on the pages that we underline in admiration, but on those that we revile.



Internet Land....the eradication of buffering frustration...

Internet land has become a bit more friendlier.  I had lowest internet service available--which happened to be the ONLY internet service available when I signed up many years ago. I guess over the years, there were add-ons, and I was relegated to the lower rung because I never bothered to upgrade until....

I was having quite a bit of refresh lag at my main computer, and hair-tearingly slow in my bedroom.  After doing some research, I realized (big Doh!) that my current service offering had been out-tiered by two other selections.   I upgraded my service to mid-tier as that is all that my equipment would allow.  I'm not sure that I noticed all that much improvement at my computer (the hard wire), and I was continuing to get poor broadcast from my router.

I wanted something to handle my work computing needs as well as my modest entertainment needs.  I decided to get the full juice package from Cox--but that required an upgrade of equipment.  (My mid-tier upgrade was already providing a problem for my equipment).  My internet is critical to my work as I do so much remotely. So it is mission critical for me to have fast internet. Also, I have to have a backup as well, and my phone hotspot is always a backup if needed. As I looked at my modem (and referring to the manual, UGH!),  I could see that I was not getting the full juice--so my router would be pitiful as well.  Regrettably, the network aspect of computers leaves me more than a little confused.  I'm sure that it is straightforward to some people, but given the amount of griping, handwringing and cursing that I see in the equipment comments on Amazon, I'm confident that I'm in a large majority.

One reason for the delay in getting my equipment upgraded is that I simply did not know what to buy. I ended up buying an expensive package of an Arris SURFboard modem + the router bundle. The router uses Ripcurrent which allows for hotspots via ones electrical system.  Simply by an additional device, and any wall socket becomes hotspot. I was able to install it pretty easily, and already my performance is extraordinary.

The $ delta between where I was and where I'm going is $20/mo.  I brew my own coffee, so a Starbucks habit is more expensive that that.  The Ultimate, does require a $50 one-time fee.  My splurge for eradicating buffering frustration.

Relish Time

Nah...that's not an admonishment to relish time, but rather to herald in the beginning of hot pepper relish time!

My relish is generally chef's pick of the garden.  That means I go out and pick whatever peppers have reached maturity on that day.  I have about 1/2 hot and 1/2 sweet peppers of various varieties in my garden.  However, size and weight will differ depending on, you know, what's ready to pick.

Check out my canning links....most particularly UGA's publications.  Okay, not need to futz about, you can find it here.

I chose their Hot Pepper Relish.  The only modification is that I substituted cucumbers for onions.  I've never done this before--this being adding cucumbers.  NOrmally, I simply use hot peppers.  However, my cucumbers were producing like mad, and it seemed fair and fine to add some!  I realize that one has to be careful when using this v. that for canning, but given the amount of sugar, the hot processing time, etc, I don't think that anyone will get botulism.

Even with the addition of cucumbers, this relish is hot.  I used my Weston #22 (my dog food grinder) to grind my vegetables.  In the past I have hand cut; food processed; Kitchen Aid grinded.  However, last year, was the first growing season that I had the Weston.  It makes very short work out of a very tedious task.

I remember one season, I hand cut peppers into rings.  Let me tell you, that my back hurt and I had a Fred Sanford claw for my right hand.  With the Weston #22, it ground 9 lbs of vegetables in less than 8 minutes.

Oh....I forgot to mention that with the exception of the bell peppers which I split and pulled out the pith, I merely cut out the tops of my peppers and ground the whole thing.  It gives no degradation in taste and amps up the heat.

For those thinking that this must be blistering; it is not.   Cooking the peppers takes some of the heat off.  And speaking of heat.....who wants to can when it is approaching 100 degrees outside.  Well, my Solaire ceramic grill is just perfect.  It sits outside! I pull the grill off and set it sideways right on top of the burner guard.  It's stable, and it is so freakin' hot that the water boils fast and maintains temperature once I add my items to the bath. Between the Weston and the Solaire, canning has never been easier (for relishes).

There are so many different recipes for canning vegetable or fruits.  It can be daunting to a novice.  My advice:    I would recommend that you look at the UGA publications--particularly the principles of canning.  Then,  try your hand at something while good produce is coming in. Observe safety precautions, or just start off with a freezer jam.


Safety Precautions:  It is important to understand the principles of canning, most particularly the principles of pH.  pH is important as +> 4.6 botulism can grow.  So whipping up your own recipe, or failing to follow the correct proportions of vegetables and acids can cause a fatal problem.    I have to believe that given what I've seen on the internet (gross divergences from published standards) coupled with the small incidence of botulism in the US, that it is statistically remote.  That's not to disabuse any of the notion that they can stray from standards.  Rather, that many clearly do.



Once you go through the process, like anything, you will become competent.  Every year people wait for my relish.  Find your own signature canning product--make it your own and enjoy.  It is wonderful to share the bounty of nature.