Archive for September, 2011

For Sister Kim and Mr Lettman!



… And it only took 22 years!


PS: Come and see us!

Your Authentic Life


I recently completed several hours of hospice volunteer training, and am just beginning to work with hospice patients, generally defined as those patients who are terminally ill and who probably have less than six months to live.

The point of hospice work is to help make those final days as comfortable for the patient as possible. Not with drugs, which is the function of their physician, but with presence. The simple act of sitting with that person, listening if they are able to speak, or holding a hand to let them know they are not alone.

At times, hospice volunteers work with entire families to help them during this transition period, and can do tasks such as running errands or helping with housework or sitting with the patient while the family takes a break, which is then called respite care.

But when it’s just you and the patient, who may be bedridden and unable to speak, you have to hope that the simple act of your presence can be enough.

And it’s not as easy as it sounds.

For me, there is a period of readjusting my thinking from a busy day of work and errands. A sort of “get in the zone” time where I have to stop before entering a patient’s room and remind myself that this person doesn’t care what kind of day I’ve had, and this person doesn’t necessarily want me to be cheery and bright, and maybe at this time doesn’t really even want company. This person is near death.

It’s hard to grasp sometimes. It’s hard to shed the day’s noise and interruptions, and quiet your mind enough to be peacefully present for this dying person, and to be your authentic self. Difficult, when we spend so much of our lives trying to not be the person we are.

Recently I attended a meeting of other hospice volunteers, where we heard a speaker elaborate on the concept of being completely present for another person, and being true to one’s authentic self.

Sounds like one of those things that would make me roll my eyes and think oh, brother, not this stuff again. But it wasn’t that at all.

Don’t you sometimes feel like you’re two people, or maybe even more? I do. I have my regular life of going to work, taking care of business, managing the household, tending to the yard work and laundry and all that other stuff, and living a fairly busy but ordinary life.

Then there’s the second me, the “real” me, who comes out sometimes in writing, or in conversations with friends, when I tap into what seems to be my “real” self.

Hard to explain this, and I suppose I’m doing badly. But I know when that second person comes alive, because it is a very real feeling of awakening someone who’s been absent for too long. And that’s how I felt during this hospice meeting.

We talked about listening as an act of love, even for a person you don’t know, or someone you’re meeting just as they are about to leave this earth, and about the magnetic field of one’s heart, especially important when the voice and ears have failed.

So how do we arrive at this place of quiet? Honesty is a part of it: being honest about who you really are, what motivates you, and why you are doing what you are doing. What is your message to the world? What is your message to the people you love most? (And do they know it?) What will you leave behind?

Well, it’s a lot to think about. I’m not entirely clear of my own motivation. If someone asks why I am doing hospice work, I am stuck for an answer. I can’t put it into words (as you can tell) but it is something that pulls me, just as the moon pulls the tides. And I can’t explain that, either. It is something that inspires me, and something that makes me feel that I am contributing something meaningful to this life, and something that matters.

Those are my deep (and half-analyzed) thoughts for this day. So much of what I heard in that meeting is still being processed by my brain, which is working on a thousand other things, too. I sometimes think of Maya Angelou, who explained why she loved to play Solitaire, and which I’ll probably misquote here: It occupies my little mind while my larger mind works on the bigger things.

So my little mind and my big mind are working on all kinds of stuff, and when I get this hospice work figured out, I’ll tell you all about it.

Meanwhile, I do think this poem is really about aviation, but it seems to me it could be about death, too, depending on which mind I’m using. I’ve always liked the line about slipping the surly bonds of earth, so had to find out where it came from. I like this.

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of —
wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence.
Hov’ring there, I’ve chased the shouting wind along,
and flung my eager craft through footless halls of air. . . .
Up, up the long, delirious burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or even eagle flew —
And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

— John Gillespie Magee, Jr

The Cat Whisperer


Look what’s happening at my house!

A Truce and a Fiesta


This is not a picture of my two cats, but it’s as close as I could get without taking an actual picture of them and showing you how messy the front porch looks.

Friendship between Mittens and Winston would have been too much to expect in this short time, but they have reached a truce, wherein they can be in the same room without the hissing and posturing, so I am content with that. This afternoon they were both asleep in the sun porch; each stretched out in a separate chair, but they could stand to be that close without coming to blows. We’ve come a long way in one week. Nobody has to be in lockdown during the day or night; they are sniffing around one another without slapping, and I think they’re getting the general idea of how things are going to work in the future. They both get treats from auntie Jean, which they love. Especially the little brown fish-shaped ones.

People got treats, too, on Saturday, when I made a quasi-Mexican dinner. Earlier in the week I’d found a recipe for a Mexican ice cream dessert, and figured as long as I was making that, I’d throw together an entire Mexican dinner. Apologies to a certain member of our family who is actually of Mexican descent, and whose mother would probably laugh out loud if she had been here. But I’m a midwesterner, and this was the best I could do. (And Joe… it was good stuff!)

Here’s the easy menu: Chicken and black bean enchiladas, Mexican salad with avocado dressing, and not-fried Mexican ice cream.

For the enchiladas, buy a can of Carlita mild enchilada sauce and follow the recipe on the can. It’s in the ethnic food section of any store.I could write it all out here, but I’m telling you the easy way. (And don’t forget to buy flour tortillas!)

Mexican Salad:

Bibb lettuce leaves, cleaned and dried

(I could not find Bibb lettuce when I was shopping, so I bought red leaf lettuce and mixed it with some iceberg lettuce, and that was pretty good.)

3 medium tomatoes, cut into wedges

1 medium sized red onion, thinly sliced. (Chop up 3 Tablespoons to use in the dressing recipe)

Arrange salad ingredients on a large plate.

Salad Dressing:

1 ripe avocado

Juice from 2 lemons (strain out the seeds)

A handful of fresh cilantro leaves

2 Tablespoons water

3 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

(I’m tempted to say something here about “extra virgin,” but I’ll let that go for now.)

Cut the avocado in half, throw out the pit, and scoop the flesh into the blender or food processor. Add the lemon juice, 3T of chopped red onion, cilantro leaves, and water. Grind or puree until the mixture is smooth, and then drizzle the oil into the dressing and continue to mix. Pour over the salad, and serve. (You can refrigerate the dressing for 3 or 4 days in a jar.)

Mexican Ice Cream, from the Taste of Home website

(You know it’s going to be an easy ice cream recipe when the first ingredient is “2 cups vanilla ice cream.”

2 cups vanilla ice cream

1/2 cup frosted cornflakes, crushed (I used plain corn flakes and a little extra sugar. I recommend not crushing them too fine… a little crunch is better.)

1/2 cup sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 cup honey

(Whipping cream is optional)

Place four half-cup scoops of ice cream on a waxed paper-lined baking sheet. Freeze for 1 hour or until firm. (I used more than half a cup, and I formed them into snowball-sized globes, using two plastic bags over my hands. Brrr!)

In a shallow bowl, combine the cornflake crumbs, sugar, and cinnamon. Roll the ice cream in the crumb mixture to coat. Freeze again until you’re ready to serve them. Drizzle each serving with 1 Tablespoon of honey. Add whipping cream, if desired. (Who would not desire whipping cream? I could eat some right now!)

I bought beer for the guests, and we had plain coffee with dessert. Later we watched “Night Shift,” which cracked me up. Favorite movie line: “That Barney Rubble! What an actor.”

Happy new week to all!