Goodbye, Mom

So strange, to feel sad and yet to find a bit of gladness at the same time.

Last Saturday I took Eldest Daughter Kate to Lewiston for a visit with Mom. We arrived at the midday meal time. The first thing that struck me as I walked in and looked across the room was how very much she resembled her own mother, my Grandma Humphrey, with her hair now snow white.

Mom slumped, birdlike or perhaps mouselike, at the dining room table, nibbling sporadically at half a roll smeared with jam. A full plate—chicken drumstick, roasted baby red potatoes, steamed orange and yellow carrots—had been pushed aside, as had small plastic glasses of water and pink lemonade.

As always, she brightened when we greeted her but didn’t really know who we were. We settled in, one on either side of her, resting our hands on her shoulders and talking gently. At one point she laughed merrily, sounding so much like her old self that I put my head down and cried.

Kate encouraged her to eat some of her other foods but Mom wasn’t interested. She finished the roll—a 40-minute task after we arrived plus who knows how long before we got there to eat the first half.

For some time Mom’s speech has been a garbled mix of English and Klingon (or perhaps something less guttural than Klingon). She’ll start a sentence with a few words of English and segue without a hiccup into a waterfall of speechlike sounds: all the intonations and accompanying facial expressions of a sentence and none of the meaning.

We’ve learned to respond to her tone of voice and non-verbal language for an interaction that seems to satisfy her. Amazing how far an “Oh, really?” or “I see what you mean” can carry a “conversation.”

She came across loud and clear with “Don’t push me!” as Kate and I tried to maneuver her from dining room chair to walker to upholstered chair in the main seating area. That made us laugh because she communicated quite clearly in that moment.

With the aide’s help we got there at last and nestled in, talking and giving her some loving human touch with pats and hugs. She told us quite a bit, most of it in words we couldn't understand.

But at one point she said "Jan," my older sister's name, very clearly in the middle of a sentence. We loved hearing that because Jan has been the one on the front lines with both Dad and Mom for at least a decade and it felt as if this still registered with Mom. She also said "Bill" a couple of times--my dad's name and we think she meant him, in whatever mash-up she was sharing.

At one point Kate, trying to reach Mom with who we were, leaned in and said, “This is your daughter, Barb—Barbara,” pointing to me, “and I’m her daughter, your granddaughter.”

Mom looked right at me and said quite clearly, “You have the world. Bless you! You’re mine.” I burst into tears. It felt so strange and wonderful to have her say something that made some kind of sense. When she said, “You have the world. Bless you!” I felt as if she were responding to Kate’s identification of herself as my daughter because all Mom’s life being a wife and mother meant more than anything to her. “You’re mine” meant she knew I was her daughter.

I don’t know if any of that is true. Life is what you make of it and that will be my truth for this visit.

We hugged and kissed Mom and told her we love her, then headed back to Spokane.

There I helped Kate move and did a thousand other things for the next 3 days: worked on presentations for the conference I was to attend later in the week, rode my bike officially and unofficially, went to meetings and events, smelled the lilacs in Manito Park, ate ice cream at The Scoop, spent time with friends, and drove back across the state to Grand Mound, near Olympia.

All of this hurly-burly explains why I didn’t look at personal email until late Tuesday night. That’s when I discovered that Sunday night Mom’s hip broke and she fell. She was in the hospital and failing fast.

Operating on a 92-year-old woman with dementia who’s on blood thinners and who doesn’t understand what’s happening didn’t make sense.

We were waiting for the end and she would spend the rest of her life—however long it lasted—in bed on pain medication. I felt angry that we treat our animals better than we treat humans when it comes to the end of life.

Wednesday morning my brother Don called, sobbing, to tell me she had died peacefully in her sleep during the night. I called my younger sister and couldn’t reach her so I had to leave a message. There’s no harder voice mail to leave in the world but who would want to learn this from an email rather than a human voice? I knew we’d start planning the service via email and she would see that; with 6 siblings we carry on a lot of family business that way.

I’m so sad. I’m sad that my parents didn’t have the old age they deserved. I’m sad that Dad lost his loving companion of so many years and had only her shell there with him. I’m sad that when he died just after Thanksgiving in 2012 we couldn’t tell her. She wouldn’t understand, if she did it would cause her pain, and then she would forget but have a lingering sadness, so why do that to her?

I’m sad that a woman who was a storyteller all her life and kept all the family memories in circulation had to lose her memory. I’m sad that the woman who made sure she never missed a birthday card to anyone couldn’t tell you how old she was or how many children she had. I’m sad that she suffered pain and had to go to the hospital.

And yet I’m glad. I’m so glad that Kate and I had that last sweet visit. I’m glad Mom laughed and that my laugh sounds a lot like hers. I’m glad we hugged her and kissed her and told her we love her. I’m glad Mom spoke so clearly and said something I can treasure. I’m glad that at the end she didn’t have to suffer long and she went to sleep.

My older sister Jan wrote a beautiful obituary that tells you more about her life.

Goodbye, Mom.


Tab Set: What I'm Reading

When I'm online I make heavy use of the CTRL-Click feature. If you hold the CTRL key when you click on a link, that link opens in its own tab rather than taking you away from the page you're on. This inevitably means that in any given day I spawn a lot of open tabs of articles I mean to get around to reading.

Given my varied interests and the kinds of things my friends and other contacts share in social media, that leaves me with quite the eclectic mix. I share today's tabs in hopes that you'll find something to amuse, stimulate, or inspire in some way.

  • How to Make Your Own Laundry Detergent: I've been meaning to do this for years. In fact, I bought the ingredients in Spokane before we moved--18 months ago. So it's high time and the fact that we're almost out of laundry detergent prompted me to go look this up. Did you know that gallon for gallon, liquid detergent costs more than gasoline? I'm on it.
  • Everyday Rider: Riding Out Your Period: On the Bicycling Magazine blog by my friend Elly Blue.
  • You're Not as Visible On a Bike at Night as You Think, New Study Shows: From BikePortland, a piece I looked up to share with Elly (although she lives there so I imagine she's seen it) for a discussion on Facebook about things she could write about in her column for Bicycling.
  • The Anthropology of Walking: Has me thinking about how my bike-riding patterns might fit into the findings of a study of foragers and reflecting on my reading of Born to Run by Christopher McDougall.
  • This Is Love: A very sweet cartoon strip on overcoming hurts to your heart and loving again, which someone shared on Facebook and I reshared. This illustrates what my Sweet Hubs did for me.
  • Which Musical Should You Star In? I don't take every quiz that crosses my path, but with Second Daughter now a sophomore majoring in musical theater I had to take this one. ("Rent," for the record. Also, if I were a Star Wars character I'd be Yoda, and I scored 87 out of 100 on "Are You a Millennial?")
  • Tsunami House by Designs Northwest Architects Stands Strong in the Face of Tidal Waves: I'd move into this gorgeous Camano Island house in a heartbeat--never mind the tsunamis. Sweet Hubs and I have agreed that we like a bit of the industrial (despite the fact that I've picked older/historic houses for the last two purchased) and want a certain Zen minimalism when we finally settle somewhere other than a rental. Since moving to Seattle we've lived in downtown and in Northeast Seattle and I'd like to check out more neighborhoods before deciding.
  • The Nonprofit Weekly Roundup: Secrets, Emals, and Tips for Better Donor Retention in 2014: I work at a nonprofit. 'Nuff said.
  • The Role of Brand in the Nonprofit Sector: Since we changed our name November 2013 to Washington Bikes (formerly Bicycle Alliance of Washington) I think about this a lot. This piece from the Stanford Social Innovation Review popped up in social media somewhere.
  • Demystifying Scaling, Part I: Another piece from the Stanford Social Innovation Review I'm reading because as a statewide organization with a small staff, Washington Bikes has to be smart in how we scale our work for maximum impact and effectiveness. We'll be adding a new staff position in Spokane soon (geographical scaling) and are exploring some technology innovations that could help us reach more people.
That should represent sufficient randomness. And now, off to ride my bike. The sun is shining and the birds at the feeders look pretty happy.

Morrocan Spiced Chickpeas and Squash

Morrocan Spiced Chickpeas and Squash
Packed and ready to take for lunch.

This recipe is a modification of a much fancier dish with a beautiful presentation found on the BBC site, Moroccan Spiced Pie, which they credit to Good Food magazine, Vegetarian Christmas 2006. I modified it for several reasons:
  1. The first time I made it following the recipe it looked nothing like the picture. I appreciate the BBC's description of wrapping it up in "voluptuous folds" of filo dough, but baby, there was nothing voluptuous about those folds when I did this--more like skimpy and unconvincing. Maybe filo sheets are bigger in the UK. This was a lot of work for not enough return, as the filo layers mostly just fell off once you started cutting into the dish.
  2. Filo dough is a pain in the patootie to work with. I love the flaky layers but I can stand to wait for my next piece of baklava to experience them. That's also a very time-consuming step and if that's stopping you from experiencing the flavors in this dish, it shouldn't.
  3. By leaving off the whole filo step I also eliminate a lot of butter, making this a healthier recipe.
  4. Leaving off the filo leaves me free to serve this over a bed of any type of cooked grain I choose. It becomes a gluten-free recipe without the filo and you can keep it that way. So far I've served it over brown rice, quinoa, and farro, and all of these were delicious.
  5. I made it a lot faster and eliminated some of the clean-up by dropping the hummus-making step and just throwing in all the ingredients of the hummus. The hummus didn't really work well for me anyway in the elaborate layering plan--you're spreading something smooth over something lumpy and then it's all wrapped up and doesn't show, so what's the point?
  6. Once I dropped the filo step I also eliminated an additional baking step, making for a faster prep. Note that I had to cook the squash longer and at a higher temperature than the original version in order to cook it enough.
Herewith, my corner-cutting version, which makes approximately 12 cups:

Moroccan Spiced Chickpeas and Squash
  • 2 t. each coriander and cumin seeds (Out of the actual seeds? Toast the ground spices briefly in a dry pan.)
  • 1 t. paprika
  • 1/2 t. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 4 T olive oil 
  • 900g squash, peeled, seeded,* and cut into small chunks (about 2cm) (this is a butternut squash on the smallish side)
Dry fry the seeds briefly in a small pan over a medium heat until toasty--don't let them burn. Grind coarsely using a pestle and mortar (or a bowl and the end of a rolling pin), then mix in the paprika, cinnamon, salt and oil. Tip the squash into a roasting tin, pour over the spiced oil and toss. Roast for 30 minutes in a 400-degree oven (or longer in a 350-degree oven), until the squash is soft when you poke it with a fork.
  • 2 T olive oil (I've toyed with the idea of using coconut oil here for flavor, although it would increase the saturated fat. If you do, tell me how it turns out.)
  • 12 shallots, quartered (~12 oz.—roughly equivalent to one onion, which I use since I usually don't have shallots on hand. Red onion would be especially nice.)
  • 4cm/1½ in piece root ginger, finely chopped (~15-16g, or around 1-1/2 T)
  • 140g whole blanched almonds (1 cup)
  • 140g shelled pistachios (1 cup)
  • 75g dried cranberries (2/3 cup)
  • 2 T clear honey or maple syrup (which would make it vegan)
  • 225g fresh spinach, preferably baby spinach (one of those plastic boxes of spinach has 170 grams so get lots; you could always serve this over fresh spinach instead of a grain)
  • Can chickpeas, drained and rinsed (425g)
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed or minced
  • 1 t. ground cumin (If you like things pretty spicy and you're not adding the Yogurt Harissa Sauce, increase cumin by 1/2 to 1 t.)
While the squash is baking, heat 2 T olive oil in a frying pan, add the shallots or onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until they start to brown. Add the crushed garlic and cumin and stir a couple of minutes, then stir in the ginger, almonds and pistachios.When brown, toss in the cranberries, honey, and the spinach so it wilts. Take off the heat and stir into the squash when it comes out of the oven. 

Stir in at the last minute before serving so flavors are fresh:
  • 3 T lemon juice, or zest and juice of one fresh lemon
  • 4 T chopped fresh coriander
  • 2 T chopped fresh mint
Cooked this way, 1 cup of this has 328 calories with 19 grams of fat (nutritiondata.com analysis)--far less than the 978 calories with 66 grams of fat the BBC version has. Even if one of their servings is 2 cups, this is a healthier version by far.

The step I haven't followed that I will one of these days--Harissa Yogurt Sauce to top it:
  • 200g carton Greek yogurt (1 cup)
  • 6 T milk
  • 3 large sprigs mint, leaves chopped
  • 2-3 T harissa paste
Mix the yogurt and milk together to make a thin sauce, stir in the herbs and season. Swirl in harissa to taste. Drizzle over the top. Serve with lemon wedges to squeeze over the top.

Flavor note: This is a savory-sweet and fairly mild dish when made without the Yogurt Harissa Sauce. You can oomph up the flavors with the addition of more cumin, as noted, and you might want to add 1/2 to 1 t. ground black pepper. Increasing the lemon would also zing it up. I've considered drizzling a fruity balsamic vinegar over the top; I have a bottle of fig balsamic that calls out to be used this way.

*Save the squash seeds. I drop them into a small bowl with water to cover because someone once told me to--I have no idea if this affects the way they bake up. After you take the squash out of the roasting pan and mix it with the chickpea/spinach step, separate the seeds from the stringy squash guts and spread them in the pan, tossing with what remains of the seasoned oil. Roast around 9-11 minutes or so. When you hear them start to pop like popcorn, take them out. Crunchy goodness that you might even want to sprinkle on top of this recipe.
Layered with quinoa and farro.

One Word for 2014: Purpose

This is my third run for today at thinking about just one word for the year that lies ahead:

"Purpose" created by Barb Chamberlain from bike part images sourced from Google.
Why one word? As biking friend Claire said when she shared this approach on Facebook (inspiring all three of today's blog posts), "Unlike typical resolutions, like 'lose 10 pounds,' these resolutions are not a task to be accomplished. Instead, they are mottoes, mantras, watchwords for the year. You cannot fail at your one-word resolution. You can only have picked the one that didn't fit as well as another one would have." 

I haven't made New Year's resolutions in several years, although in 2012 I tried the three-word approach for my bicycling. Since as a writer I tend to be pretty wordy, getting down to just one is good discipline. (In my post on one word for bicycling I ended up with three possibilities, so you can see this is a serious challenge.)

Why this word? A couple of reasons, really.

1) It fits with my general commitment to living a mindful life. Mindfulness for me means both "paying attention" and "being conscious." 

You can be very mindful in a moment that has no particular purpose, and that's fine. But it would be tough to be purposeful without a certain amount of mindfulness so you notice when you've strayed from your purpose.

2) I have a lot going on and using a "purpose" filter seems like a good way to whack some of the underbrush in a simple way. (Warning: Entering into the confessional portion of this post.)

I'm not going all-out into the GTD (Getting Things Done) world, and I could never finish The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People because it required too much homework that took more time than just being effective.

A couple of years ago, though, I read an article that stuck with me on the difference between having a strategic plan complete with SMART goals, details, timelines, checkboxes, and all the rest, and a strategic direction. Or, put another way--an overall purpose.

I'm paraphrasing and my memory isn't what it used to be, but the way I internalized it was that with a strategic direction you stay nimble and take advantage of new or unanticipated opportunities that keep you moving forward toward being what you intend to be. You drop things that aren't paying off or that appear to have less potential than you had thought they would. (Note to consultants: You need not touch base to see if I will pay you to sort this out and get it right at great expense and in exhausting, exhaustive detail.)

With a strategic direction you still have measurable goals and all the rest that you've determined lies within your context--the what based on the why. The how might adjust a bit as one how becomes more achievable, relevant, or important than another. But it's always a how that moves you in your--you guessed it--strategic direction.

If I had to say what my life's overall strategic direction is, I guess it's heading in the general "save the world" direction. I feel most fulfilled--most purposeful--when I'm doing things I think make the world a better place. Some of the things on my personal list for doing this:
  • raising my children to be responsible and contributing citizens
  • spending time with my Sweet Hubs to reinforce, deepen, enjoy, and appreciate a wonderful loving partnership
  • cooking a hearty soup and cornbread like I did today because I love to feed my family with good homemade food
  • getting more people to ride bicycles because it's good for them, it's good for the planet, it's good for local businesses, and it makes them happy.
Some of the things not on my personal list for making the world a better place that nonetheless have crept into the crevices of my time allocation, in the process elbowing aside other things I would rather give my time to if I really stopped to think about it:
  • Playing Super Bubble Shooter on my cell phone while I wait for the bus (and, okay, while I ride the bus). (Be honest, you have some equivalent mindless pastime. Freecell? Spider Solitaire? God forbid, Farmville? I excuse this with the justification that I spend a lot of time doing brain work so it's okay to do something mindless once in a while, but I just wander off into the app without really making a conscious choice to do so as a relief from said intellectual effort.)
  • Staying up really late watching movies so my sleep cycle is off and I'm not at my best the next morning
  • Getting sucked into Facebook, then Twitter, on a Saturday afternoon and finding myself bopping back and forth between those tabs and reading the links suggested in each without any particular reason until I realize I'm off into the Interwebz somewhere, it's starting to get dark outside, and I haven't gone for a walk or a bike ride. If I had said to myself, "Self, do you want to allocate a full two hours to social media with no particular purpose?" the answer would pretty much always be no, no matter how much of a Twitter queen I am.
  • Letting a whole weekend go by without tackling one of the chores I know will give me a great sense of accomplishment once it's done, like reconciling my Quicken records or sorting out one of the many memory boxes I want to go through to get rid of old memorabilia that I no longer think is worth the storage space. Granted, in any given weekend I probably did some cooking, read some great books on my Kindle, and spent time with Sweet Hubs so it's not as if the weekend is a total dead zone, but they do flash by. See point above about meaningless online social time.
So, purpose. If that were the filter on how I spend my time, I'm pretty sure I'd prune some of the things that act as time sucks. I don't need a list of things to do--that list populates every day. I just need to be more purposeful about how I spend the same 24 hours in a day that everyone else gets.

Now, off to uninstall one or two apps....