Posted on March 16th, 2020
My mom never seemed to be a huge fan of cooking. It was just something she did because she had to, and not something that she ever aspired to enjoy or master. She had a set of recipes that she was comfortable with and got good at making out of sheer repetition. Every once in a while something new would enter the mix, but not often.
One of my favorite things she made was Applesauce Bread. She found the recipe in a Spices of the World cookbook by McCormick (the company who sells all those spices). It's a 1964 edition, so I'm guessing she had it from before I was born. There are a dozen recipes in the book that mom would make, but only the Applesauce Bread was made so many times that the book broke in half at the recipe page. Eventually my mom had to rubber-band the thing and keep it in a plastic bag. You can see the recipe here, right under the instructions for Welsh Pork Cake(!)...
She altered the recipe, leaving out the raisins (gross!) and substituting walnuts for pecans. But here's the real thing she did to make this recipe better... she went from one big loaf pan to three small loaf pans. The best thing about this bread was the crust. We would fight over who gets the "ends." The smaller the loaf, the most crust you get. Genius.
One day I came home from work and she had a surprise for me. It was her Applesauce Bread... BUT SHE FOUND A MINI LOAF PAN TRAY TO BAKE THEM IN! NOW WE WILL HAVE CRUST FOR DAYS! WHOOOOOO!!!
It's the only way I make her bread now...
The eight loaves in the pan she found are perfectly sized to accommodate a full batch of the recipe...
You're supposed to let it cool for 20 minutes but I never can wait. It's just too dang delicious out of the oven. Of course you have to eat it with an absurd amount of butter...
Because I love y'all (and the book is out of print), here's the recipe...
Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add beaten eggs and mix together well. Sift the flour, measure, then sift again with the baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. Alternate adding flour mixture and applesauce to the egg & sugar batter until it's all thoroughly mixed. Blend in walnuts. Pour batter into well-greased and floured pan(s). You can use one 9-1/4 × 5-1/4 × 2-1/4 large pan, three small loaf pans, or 8 mini loaf pans. Bake at 350° for 40 minutes (mini loaves), 50 minutes (small loaves), or 1 hour (standard loaf). Ovens vary, but tops should be golden brown with brown edges and a toothpick should come out clean. Cool on a rack for 20 minutes.
Entirely too yummy.
And now back to our regularly-scheduled coronavirus coverage...
Every day since things started getting COVID-19-serious I've tried to imagine what it would be like if I was still taking care of my mom. If she was here with me, I'd be trying my absolute best to make sure neither of us got sick. Me because I couldn't take care of her while sick. Her because I have no idea how I'd possibly know how to take care of her in that condition. If she was at the care facility, I guess all I could do was hope that the staff could keep her safe while I stayed away. Either way, I'm horrified just thinking about it.
It really makes me feel for those who are actually in this situation right now. If that's you, help is available (link is for the US, if you're outside the US, please Google for assistance near you!).
If it were me, this would probably be what sent me over the edge. Heaven only knows I was already 99% of the way there.
Here in Washington State, which is an epicenter for the virus, our governor has closed down restaurants and bars for dine-in and asks that they continue as takeout or delivery operations until things get under control. Gatherings of 50 or more people is verboten as well. This is a serious problem which demands serious solutions, and it's good to know that our State officials are at least trying to slow down the spread of COVID-19 so that our hospitals are not overrun. Of course, this being Redneckistan, there are local restaurant owners telling the governor to eat shit and they will stay open because it's their God-given right as an American to spread the coronavirus, but that's to be expected here. If it were me personally, I wouldn't want my restaurant to be forever-remembered as ground zero for a highly infectious virus, but I guess that's why I'm not in business.
I mean, we just had a man die from COVID-19 in our local hospital, but I'm sure this is all just a hoax started by the socialist communist godless liberals, right?
I dunno. All I know for certain is that I'll be skipping the Welsh Pork Cake.
Posted on December 19th, 2019
I woke up this morning, grabbed my laptop to start my work day, noticed the date, then had the wind completely knocked out of me. Maybe one day I won't feel completely and utterly crushed on my mom's birthday, but it's not today. The second birthday without her is no easier than the first.
After feeding the cats I thumbed through a few of the travel books I made for her, then felt a little better. I'm so overwhelmingly grateful for the time we had and the many, many amazing memories from our trips together that it seems selfish to stay sad.
...it's the little things which happen day-today that keep destroying me.
Running across a note with her handwriting in the glovebox.
Finding small wooden elephant she bought in Laos while looking for a paperclip.
Seeing a potholder she bought from Disney World while baking bread.
Getting a Christmas card addressed to her in my mailbox.
Having somebody ask how she's doing while buying groceries.
The list goes on and on and on. Every day. All the time. In places where I'm least expecting it.
Happiest of birthdays to you, mom. I love and miss you every day.
Posted on November 8th, 2019
Back when my mother's dementia had robbed her of her ability to make new memories, it was understandably a confusing time for her. Out of necessity I devised all kinds of deceptions to make both our lives easier. One of the most important was a big sign I put on the inside front door which said "David will be back in 15 minutes so we can go out to eat... please wait here." I tried to take my mom with me everywhere I went because it was just easier. If I needed to run to the store or drop off something for a friend, she went too. But for the three years where she had no memory (but was perfectly able to stay home by herself), I couldn't take her to work or out to dinner with my friends. Rather than leaving her confused as to where I was, I put the sign up before I went anywhere. Then checked in on her every ten minute or so with the security cameras.
And it worked great.
Usually television kept her occupied. If she heard the television was on, she'd sit down to watch it for hours. But every once in a while she'd walk around looking for somebody, then try to leave the house when she realized she was alone.
Which would be disastrous.
And so I came up with the sign.
Rather than go outside, she'd see the sign and go get ready to go out to eat. She'd make sure her purse was by the door... comb her hair... change her clothes... whatever she felt she needed to do to be ready and look presentable. Sometimes she would do all that, forget she did all that, go back to the door, then start all over again in a loop. Then eventually she'd hear the television and get absorbed in it again... until the next time.
Yes, I was lying to her, but if the lie meant she wasn't constantly leaving the house in confusion... or experiencing massive anxiety because she didn't know where she was or where anybody was at... and meant I could leave the house to go to work... was it really such a horrible thing?
Before the sign, she was upset constantly and I worried constantly anytime I had to leave. Then one day I put the sign up so she could get ready for dinner while I ran to get gas, realized what a total game changer it would be if I just put it up every time I left, and never stopped using it.
When I was in support forums for dementia caregivers, some people thought it was genius and decided to try it. Some people were already doing something similar. And some people thought I was the most vile, evil person on earth for lying to my poor mother like that.
In every case of the latter I would reply with "And how many people do you have helping you with your mother's care? How many people can you call to help watch her when you have to go out? How many immediate family members will step up to give you a break when you need one? If the answer is greater than zero, then kindly keep your opinions to yourself because I have NOBODY." And I did not give a single fuck what they had to say afterwards. My mother, who was suffering through a horrific problem, was happier and less stressed. I, who was there suffering along with her, was less worried and less stressed. So why would I give a fuck about what you think? Especially if you've got a team of friends and family helping you out?
This is not to say that I can't say these things to myself, of course.
Nobody... and I mean nobody... beat me up over the things I had to do to survive my mother's dementia more than myself. Not even close.
I lost untold hours of sleep wrestling with decisions. Questioning the decisions I had to make. Second-guessing the decisions I had already made (and, all too often, crying myself to sleep because I wasn't sure I made the right decision). Because that's what it all comes down to doesn't it? Decisions?
Some decisions made themselves. If there were three options and you could only afford one of them, that's not a decision that's a reality. But other decisions, sometimes over the stupidest things, can destroy you.
Which care facility do I choose?... now that was a decision. You can see how that would tear me up inside, both before and after making it. To this day I question whether I made the right choice.
Do I sign the papers to enter mom into hospice?... was a decision that seemed so easy ("God, yes... she would have never, ever wanted to live this way!") but it was also an agonizing one to make. How do I sign what is essentially her death warrant?
Which of these pajamas do I pick?... sounds idiotic, I know, but just think about it for a minute. When you have no memory, all you have is the "right now." Spending the only thing you have with pajamas that itch... or pajamas with a design you hate... or pajamas where the color disturbs you... it's tantamount to torture, isn't it? So what do I buy? How will I know if they are uncomfortable or upsetting? Sometimes she wouldn't respond. Sometimes she'd tell her caregivers at the facility if something was wrong and they would pass it along, but most of the times all I could do was wonder if I made the right decision.
Is telling a lie wrong if it helps make life better?... if I'm honest, I still have no idea. And I questioned it every time I put that sign up.
But what was the alternative? I never tried a sign which said "David probably WON'T be back in 15 minutes, but believe it anyway because I have no idea what I'm doing or how to make things better... but I will be back eventually because I love you."
Eh... probably wouldn't have been the best decision I could have made.
Or would it?
I can't decide.
At least now I have that luxury.
Posted on October 15th, 2019
I'm an adult and I get to do adult stuff whenever I want... like having a hamburger for breakfast!
Back when I was very young, my family lived within a short distance to the local A&W hamburger drive-in. We didn't eat out a lot... eating out is expensive... but this just made the burgers all the more special. And boy were this burgers special. Sometimes, especially after we moved to a neighboring town and had to drive there, we'd eat in the car. I vividly remember sitting in the backseat with my brother... waiting for the car-hop to attach that big metal tray with the webbed orange liner to the driver-side window... then waiting for my parents to pass back that magical foil bag which had my burger in it... and a big frosty mug of A&W root beer, of course.
A&W had PapaBurger, MamaBurger, TeenBurger, and BabyBurger... and the foil bags used to have a cartoon printed on the front to tell you what was inside. You can still find them floating around eBay for sale...
Photo taken from WorthPoint whom I'm guessing took it from eBay?
I started with the BabyBurger, which had a smaller burger patty on it. Then one day I felt I was grown up enough to graduate to the TeenBurger, so I ordered that. It came with cheese and bacon on it and it was the best thing I had ever eaten. And even though I use a veggie burger patty with soy "bacon" now, I still love cheese and bacon on my burger and I owe it all to the A&W.
Sometimes we wouldn't eat in the car... especially when we lived close-by and could walk there. We'd sit inside the restaurant on a big orange booth seat at one of those wooden-looking laminate tables with the metal edges on it. On those occasions when I was still very young, I wouldn't be handed over a magical foil bag... mom would instead take the BabyBurger out of the bag, cut it in half for me, set it on the bag, then slide it across the table.
I don't know why.
If I could handle a whole burger when eating in the backseat of the car, then why couldn't I handle it when dining in the restaurant? Why cut it in half for me then? Just one of many, many things which will remain forever a mystery.
Isn't it terrible how many things you think of to ask somebody after they're gone and you're no longer able to ask?
This morning when I was an adult and having a hamburger for breakfast, I looked at it sitting there on the plate... took out a knife... and cut it in half, almost without thinking about it. Something I don't think I've ever done before in my entire life...
And suddenly I'm not an adult any more.
I'm just a little kid sitting in the A&W restaurant with my burger wanting his mom.
I don't know why some memories are so vivid in my mind where others have faded. I don't know how it is that I am able to remember something that happened when I was so young. I don't know what it is about eating at the A&W that makes it so unforgettable. I guess how our minds choose what to archive is just another mystery.
As is what happened to my old battered A&W mug that was bought for a quarter and sat in my cupboard for... like... forever. Did it break? Did I lose it? Did I throw it out? Did mom throw it out? I dunno. But I do know that A&W has an online merchandise shop where I can probably buy another one.
And, holy crap, did you know that it's their 100th anniversary this year?!?
Boy, I could sure go for a frosty mug of A&W root beer right about now.
UPDATE: While I was trying to fall asleep, I Googled for an image of the old A&W that I used to eat at when I was a kid. One photo came up, but it was from an expired Panoramio account and Panoramio has shut down... so I have no idea if this is actually the restaurant, who to credit the photo to, or whom to ask about it. This would be the view looking away from the restaurant towards the drive-in stalls and the parking lot. It certainly looks like it could be my old A&W...
The awning over the stalls... the menu-boards... it all looks much like I remember. What gives me pause is the price on the billboard of $849 (assumably $8.49) for an all you can eat shrimp dinner. That seems high for the era that my A&W existed. The cars also look too modern. I think the local drive-in A&W was torn down before this was taken? Maybe not. Another thing I question is the entrance here... from this direction, I think the entrance would have been on the right side of the photo. And I want to say that our stalls were straight instead of at an angle like this? In any event, this is definitely the kind of experience I so vividly remember, even if it's not the actual restaurant.
Posted on June 28th, 2019
I am writing this at near-midnight on Friday knowing that by the time I finish my post it will be tomorrow... and the one-year anniversary of my mom's death. Of course I still miss her. If anything I miss her more than I did a year ago. I think it's because the memories of her declining health are becoming dimmer while my happier memories are becoming brighter. Happier, but also more painful, because they are a constant reminder of what I've lost.
Mentally I still have a lot of work to do, as I can't stop bouncing between extremes.
One minute I'm jealous... even angry... that other people have moms living into their 80's and 90's who are still living active, happy lives. It's not fair. Then the next minute I'm gutted because I hear that somebody's mom died in their 40's and they didn't get the time I had. That's not fair either. Cursed because my mom started sliding into dementia at 70 years old. Blessed because somebody else's mom was just diagnosed with dementia at 52 years old. Unlucky that my mom died before we could get to all of our travel plans. So very lucky that we got to see as much of the world together as we did. Happy that we were so close. Devastated that we were so close... because would it hurt this bad if we weren't?
It goes on and on.
I think the thing that hurts the most is knowing that I would give absolutely anything for just five minutes to talk with her again. The mom she was before she got sick. Just to tell her I love her. To tell her how much she means to me. But also to ask her if the deicions I had to make were okay so she could assure me that they were and she knows I did the best I could. Because of course she would say that even if she hated what I did. She's my mother, after all.
I know it doesn't make sense that I would want to ask my mom a question when I already know how she would answer, but I can't help it. The unthinkable choices I had to make won't stop haunting me. It's pointless to second-guess something I cannot change. And probably wouldn't change. My whole heart was invested in every decision, so what would I have done differently? I honestly don't know. But probably nothing.
It's now 12:11am on Saturday, June 29th.
Since it's unlikely that I will get much sleep... or any sleep... tonight, I suppose I will look through all of the travel books I made for my mom. It will probably just make me miss her more than I already do, but what's another drop of heartache to an ocean of grief?
Nothing. And everything, I suppose.
Posted on May 12th, 2019
2019 has been surprisingly accommodating considering the milestones it's been racking up for me.
First year without my mom. First Valentine's Day with nobody to buy flowers for. First Birthday Weekend celebration without my friend of 33 years. And now, as advertising will not stop reminding me, first Mother's Day with no mother.
I will be the first to admit, that last one is proving to be tough.
For thirteen years my gift to my mom on Mother's Day was a new vacation. We traveled the globe, visited all kinds of amazing places, and had fun doing it. Recently I was going through all the travel books I made for her as a souvenir. Starting with our 2002 trip to Europe right up through our 2014 safari in Zimbabwe.
Initially I created books for her at Apple Books. They were nice enough, but I eventually switched to professional printing because I was unhappy with the photo reproduction. On our first trips, I didn't take many photos though. Just a few snapshots here and there. I took so few photos that I was able to combine the first four Apple Book trips into a single professional book (I used the colors of the cloth covers on the original books as borders)*...
The look of the book was nothing groundbreaking, but the graphic designer in me tried to create stylish introductions at least...
Photo presentation was pretty basic though...
As the years went on, I got a little more ambitious. I was designing nicer, more elaborate looking covers, for one thing...
And adding maps, travel routes, and such...
On later trips I was taking a lot of photos and putting considerably more thought into the the images I was capturing. With this in mind, I started buying "lay-flat" books and adjusting my layouts so photos could be as large as possible. I also tried to tell a story to make the content more interesting...
The final book is my favorite for so many reasons...
Every book was always ended with a photo of the both of us...
For 2015 we were going to take a cruise along the fjords of Norway. 2016 was going to be Machu Picchu and the Galapagos Islands. But those trips weren't to be. I thought she might be well enough in 2015 to take a Spring trip that was less ambitious. I booked flights to South Dakota so I could finally see Mount Rushmore and check the only state I haven't been to off my list (North Dakota). But a couple months before we were to leave I realized there was no way that she would be able to travel. Her confusion was far too great and it wouldn't have been a fun time for either of us. And so that was that.
Mother's Day isn't sad to me because I don't have anybody to buy a card and flowers for... after we started traveling, she never wanted me to spend money on that stuff anyway. It's now a reminder that I've lost a friend who explored the world with me. And while the books, photos, and memories are nice, ain't nothin' going to take the place of that.
*Apple Books was a part of the original iPhoto. You could select photos that you had stored there, then have the program automatically build a book for you. For the time, it was actually pretty cool. They had durable fabric covers with a nifty label stuck on the front...
There were issues though. In addition to the print quality, which was fine but not great, the books were kinda small and the layouts had a lot of wasted space and the pages were all one-sided...
By having my books professionally printed, I paid way, way, way more money... but I got to control the layouts, get superior print quality, and print both sides of the pages.
UPDATE: Interesting to note that Hallmark's prop designer used the same stock photo design for the cover of Santa's Naughty or Nice book that I used for my mom's Italy photo book...
Posted on December 19th, 2018
Happy Birthday, Mom.
Posted on December 11th, 2018
My mom was an avid Teddy bear collector. She had tons of them. So many that she ended up donating a bunch of them to a firefighter drive. Apparently when firefighters respond to an emergency where a child has lost everything, they will give kids the bears in order for them to have something of their own from which they can start rebuilding their lives. It's a pretty incredible concept. But, then again, firefighters are pretty incredible people.
When my mom couldn't stay with me any more, I packed up some of her bears and took them to her new home. The rest of them I boxed up and stuffed in a closet because I couldn't bear to give them away.* Now that she's gone, there's not much point in hanging on to them.
Last month, I decided I would start donating her massive bear collection to the annual "Toys for Tots" drive. Almost all the bears are brand new, have never played with, and still have the tags attached. I'm sure mom would be happy to know that her bears are making kids happy for the holidays instead of sitting in a closet collecting dust, so it really is the perfect solution.
And so... every weekend I've been unboxing another crate to make sure they're in good shape, give them a vacuuming, then bag them up for the Marines...
There are a couple bears I've run across that I'll probably hang onto. Sunday I found the first bear of her collection which, coincidentally enough, I bought for her. Then there's her Teddy Ruxpin, which I also bought for her. I don't know that I want to keep it, but I'm interested in selling it if I can get a good price! Probably a long shot since there's no box for it, but you never know.
I was told that getting rid of mom's stuff is good therapy for accepting that she's really gone.
That's a therapy I don't need. I know she's really gone every single day.
*See what I did there?
Posted on September 30th, 2018
Time to remember the past and move forward... because an all new Bullet Sunday starts now...
• Marker. My mom's marker finally arrived. I placed her remains on Thursday and the stone was set shortly thereafter...
Burial vaults used to be big cement things. Now they're tiny plastic! She barely fit! The guys at the cemetery helping me were incredibly kind a respectful, which was very much appreciated.
It still seems strange for her to be honored as a Vietnam veteran when she wasn't in combat, but the VA assures me that her service during wartime absolutely qualifies her for the honorarium. I think this means the American Legion will put a flag on her grave come Memorial Day? That would be nice.
• Obituary. After my mom was buried, I could finally send in her obituary. I was surprised that I was able to do the entire thing online. I didn't have to talk to anybody...
I picked a photo from our last trip together. She's sitting across from me at the five-star Victoria Falls Hotel Restaurant in Zimbabwe. Sure she's in a T-shirt, but what the heck. She was an adventurer. That's the kinda stuff she wore when tearing up the planet doing awesome shit.
A sidenote... The photo I used for my mother's obituary was taken exactly four years from the day I sent it in to the newspaper, and I didn't even know it until I saw the date stamp of the photo. Weird how things line up from time to time if you pay attention. Here's my blog entry from September 27th, 2014. Amazing how the universe works.
And so I guess that's it. The last thing to do in a long list of things to do so we can both move on. Or not...
• Memoriam. When I purchase a copy of our local paper today so I can see my mother's obituary in print, I will also be purchasing yet another opinion piece by the paper's publisher who previously compared rape to cheating at golf and smoking. Did he apologize for his flippant and tone deaf attitude? No. No he did not. He doubles down and says that men have nothing to be ashamed of... we were born this way, after all. Most of us are good guys, so the horrible way that women get treated is not our fault.
Then whose fault is it?
You're saying the toxic masculinity which permeates our society and is a constant and consistent threat to women is nothing to be ashamed of? Men can hold their heads high while women are harassed, humiliated, beaten, raped, and even killed? Are you serious?
The idea that men should just keep going on about their business while a society which endangers women is thriving is categorically absurd. Jeff Ackerman says we should just keep drinking from the milk carton, mowing the lawn, and ignoring rape culture because most of us are nice guys. It's nothing to do with us. Men should stick together against these evil women who want to be able to walk down the street at night without fearing for their life. Apparently that's what he considers "behaving like a man."
I call bullshit. Real men should be standing together with women to put an end to this. Real men should be actively dismantling toxic masculinity at every opportunity. Real men should be teaching their sons that being a man means being a partner to women, not dominating over them. Real men set an example by respecting women, cherishing women, valuing women, and supporting women. Real men work for a society where women are heard.
My mother was victimized by a man who professed to be her boyfriend... but she was never a victim. She picked herself up, pulled together the pieces of her life, then moved on the best she could. She loved her family. She served her country. She was kind to those she met. She worked hard. She traveled the world to understand it better. And her reward for having such courage? To be memorialized in a newspaper where the publisher says that what she went through is none of my concern because that's just the way men are.
My mom deserves better than that. I'm a better man that that. And society will be far better off when "old men" like Jeff Ackerman are gone.
• Love. And in yet another "Making History" segment... MIKE PENCE BECOMES FIRST VICE PRESIDENT TO ADDRESS ANTI-GAY SUMMIT — But I'm sure he was hating the homosexualizers with Christian Love® in Jesus® name... so it's all good. I mean... these "Christians" have branded their hate as "Christian Love®" so I'm assuming they've trademarked that. Oh... and Jesus® of course. Can't go having The Wrong People co-opting The Savior® can we? They might tell people to love everybody as He did instead of weaponizing His name to push an agenda. We can't be having THAT! Can you imagine? People coming together to love one another? Why, the notion! So silly! Christian Love® is reserved for those who believe EXACTLY LIKE PENCE DOES... and nobody else! Lord, what a piece of shit. Pence, Trump, and their entire administration is garbage. Way to represent all Americans.
• Political Climate. When given the choice from here on out, I am voting exclusively for progressive women candidates. I honestly do not give a single fuck's worth of thought to any of these old white men destroying this country. I'm voting all women, all persons of color, all LGBTQ, all ANYTHING but the status quo from here on out. These assholes had their chance. The future belongs to anybody but them. Because the only way we are going to get FAIR REPRESENTATION in government is to have ACTUAL REPRESENTATION IN GOVERNMENT.
And until next Sunday, when I'm sure there will be a whole new set of horrors to deal with, I bid you adieu.
Posted on September 11th, 2018
As I said last year, pretty much all I have left to say on the subject of 9/11 can be found here. Now that my mom is gone, that's even more true since it's her story too. And so I'll just be linking to that entry from here on out when it comes time to remember the tragedy of the terrorist attacks.
When I was going through my mom's stuff last month I found this...
She saved her ticket stub from when I took her up the "Top of the World" at The World Trade Center on that day.
Mom saved a lot of stuff from our travels. Tons of stuff. I'm finding things like matchbooks and coasters from restaurants to brochures and pamphlets of activities we did to receipts and ticket stubs like this one. I had asked her why she'd want to save all this kind of stuff and she'd explain that it was just souvenirs. One day she thought she'd want to look back and remember all the things we did when she was too old to travel any more.
It's sad that she never got that chance. But kinda cool that she was so busy visiting new places that she never had time to look back on old travels while she was alive. Well, except for the photo books I made her. She'd look at those often. Many times while showing them to other people. Where the first words out of her mouth would be "Are your hands clean?"
Funny how I didn't start out as much of a picture-taker, but the books kept getting thicker and thicker as I was taking more and more photos. There's no book for 2006 because I helped her buy a car instead of taking her on vacation that year. I think I ended up taking her with me on a work trip to San Francisco or something, but it wasn't the same.
One of these days I really need to look at these again. And create a book for all the miscellaneous trips we took from 1994 to 2001 that I never got around to. Most of these I haven't opened in years. And one of them I can't find. Her book from Cambodia and Laos (Southeast Asia Vol. 2) has gone missing.
Even if I don't find it, I'm sure there's a matchbook from Cambodia around here somewhere.