Bone Density Dressing

Clothing is my life.  Shallow, sad but true.  My mother announced when I was 10 or 11 that she could tell that I was going to be a clothes horse when I grew up.   She said this resignedly.  I had no idea what she was talking about and I definitely didn’t like horses.  I have always been my grandmother’s child, so there it is – life defined by what you wear. Grandma could tell you all about the lavender dress she wore when  her father’s will was read.  I can remember what I wore when going far back.  And no, it’s not  because it’s memorialized in pictures.  I remember what I bought, when and usually how much it cost.  One of my first paychecks went to a pair of Bobbie Brooks brushed denim bellbottom blue jeans with camel stitching.  I wore this for my first week of college with  a beige ribbed turtleneck. I wore a plum shantung dress with a full skirt and short jacket when I was 10 to see “The Brothers Grimm” with my aunt in NYC.  Oh, and yes, of course there were short white gloves.  See what I mean?

I dress for the occasion. For my initial appointment at Mt. Sinai I believe I had on a hunting jacket and black skirt.  I definitely wore black leather 2.5 inch heels. When I had my first MRI, I went locally and was told no metal, no bra with hooks.  So, sports bra, sweatshirt and sweatpants.  I hate being seen that way unless I am at the gym.  At Mt. Sinai, it’s not an issue as they want everything off and provide gown and pants.  It’s slightly hilarious as it’s one size larger fits everyone and I can’t wear the spectral leg.  Last month, I had to have the MRI locally again.  It was really hot so I wore an Old Navy  navy blue sundress with turquoise embroidery, no bra.  And nothing showed!  Ahem, I can “protrude”.

I decided after the MRI came back with spinal deterioration,  to get my long delayed bone density scan.  It came with the now familiar no metal  caution.  What to wear?  My plan was my Sudara blue/green pants with a green tank top.  Overnight, it was fall.  No sundresses and bare legs.  Here’s the thing – I  can’t do the sports bra thing anymore.  I am not strong enough.  Tom gets too frustrated helping me get them on and off.  Wow, have we aged! So, a totally discombobulated outfit ensued.  Track pants, a Coldwater Creek sleeveless black top with tiers (to hide the “girls”) and at the last moment a grey knit poncho because it was so cold.  On my feet, the spectral leg and my Jackson Pollack influenced splatter sneakers (Target, $11.99).  It all made me feel horrible, like an old bag lady.

The scan took place in the Women’s Imaging Center so no help from Tom.  Great news!  I didn’t have to remove the spectral leg or the sneakers.  Getting me on and off the table can only be described as fun.

Mission accomplished.  As we stumble out to the main area, the tech comments on my great sneakers.  My take on shoes is not to appear handicapped.  I hate those big galumphous black shoes you are supposed to wear.  The sneakers are something I would have worn in my old, “normal” life.  I can’t say that for all my shoe compromises.  Many times, it feels patronizing when people tell me how they like my shoes. IMG_2055 I know, I know; it’s the effect I strive for.  I am not sure how often people say this to able-bodied people. The tech and another one wish they could wear ones like that.  They are not allowed.  They must wear all black including shoes.  Their feeling is that being able to wear color would help both them and their patients. I agree.  There’s a difference between being professional and being somber. We all need to dress for the occasion.

Anniversaries and Losses

July marks several anniversaries for me.

July 3, 2000 found me starting a new job at the omnipotent megalith hereafter known as The Bank.  I have told this story in a blog before.  Whilst I was in orientation with the HR person, I was informed there was no early leave at The Bank.  My initial thought was , “Why are they talking about retirement when this is my first day?”  I found out that since July 4 was a holiday, I could not leave early.  Really?  My manager sent me home at half past two o’clock.  My plan was to stay a year.   I live outside of NYC but NYC is my place to work.  Unfortunately, most people have a bad sense of both geography and commutation.  It takes me less time to get into the City than people who live in the other boroughs.  I needed a year back in to quash the naysayers.  Overall, I was there more or less for 15 years!  My mother used to say, “Do two, maybe three, strive for five.”  My parents were totally anti-corporate which also means no pension, no benefits.  I started.  I hated it.  I tried to get another job immediately.  The Bank had surveillance cameras throughout its offices.  No one knew if they really worked.  I am sure they must have as literally hundreds of millions of cash and checks passed through there daily.  When I first started there people could actually make cash deposits.  I remember seeing a 25 million dollar check being casually processed.  Back to the cameras.  So, every morning I would look up at a camera and carefully enunciate. “I hate working here.”  No luck.  I went on a business trip to California with my manager and his manager.  I am a technical trainer so I was training the staff on how to use technology that did everything a real teller in a bank could.  Due to space limitations, the managers had to be in the room with me.  They loved my approach.  In a last ditch effort, I told the senior manager that most days I felt like a square peg in a round hole.  He told me he felt the same way.  So, instead of becoming my ticket out, it became my ticket in.

2001 arrived and I made ready to move on. September 11 happened.  And here are parts of the reason I never liked The Bank.  NYC on September 11 was an odd place to be .  I was in Midtown but no knew what was really happening. People started leaving.  The Bank’s policy was to never expense employee meals unless travelling.  Even then they had a global policy of $45 daily for everything if you w ere travelling.  By the afternoon, one of the managers said he would buy pizza for everyone still there in our department.  He was admonished and advised he would not be reimbursed.  I ventured back into NYC on the 13th.  I had been due to teach a class on loans.  I felt that needed to be placed on hold as people adjusted to our changing world. I went to the floor where the students sat.  It was just past 9 A.M.  And the first day back in Midtown for many of us.  You could have heard a pin drop as people sat at their desks, heads down, working furiously.  I still refused to teach the class.

I worked in the IT area and was hired specifically for my non-techie self.  Someone there told me I would like “The Big Bang”.  It’s because some of the people were just like that.  Despite all this, I stayed even after my group was let go.  I was brought back as a consultant for another 11 years.  It worked.  I was mostly on my own.  Despite the lack of benefits, I made nice money.  Almost too much money as it were because it was difficult to get something similar.  I worked alternate hours 7:30 – 4:00 or 4:30.  Eventually, I worked  7:30 – 3:30 but I was always available before and after hours.  In fact, due to my West Coast following, I took calls and emails till 9:30 or so. I also worked remotely on Fridays as commuting became dangerous for me.  I also worked remotely in bad or hot weather.  This was the job where my mobility began to give out.  My standard line (feel free to use as you see fit) was, “It’s not contagious. It’s not cancer.  It’s not terminal.  And, there is nothing wrong with my brain.”  For the OMG! OMG What happened to you crowd, I would laugh. “I am just falling apart.”

It all ended badly.  My reasonable accommodation was removed.  I was made a truly insulting offer to become an employee which was totally unacceptable.

I struggled to find work.  I was a woman of a certain age who had been at a company too long and walked with a cane and the spectral leg aka brace.  Hey, my canes were seasonal and pretty.  I finally found another position more than a year later.  Enormous pay cut and more responsibility and work.  So, this represents another July anniversary.  On July 14 last year, Bastille Day, Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite,;  I walked out. I could still do that.  I had the misfortune to work for a mean girl from high school.  I loved the company and the people.  It hurts.  I had more personal interactions there in 5 months than I had in the 15 at the Bank.  People miss me both places.

My feeling, rational or not, is that losing these two positions has severely impacted my health.  And I hate the phrase, “losing a job”.  I know where it is.  It’s not lost.  At the Bank, I walked 10,000 easily and often.  The building was a city block and I walked to Grand Central , walked through Times Square Station and then Penn.  The next job had much less walking but phenomenal people.

So, this week I am marking a year without working.  I have become officially disabled and un officially retired.  This is so not what I wanted or envisioned.  It’s hard.  I miss getting dressed – clothing is my life. I miss people.  I have been demoted to a walker.  It hurts me to look at it.

All losses are relative.  July was bad before the Bank.  If you have read me before, you know I have left a swath of dead boyfriends and other lovers behind me.  Bobby was one of my favorites.  Once, I was asked in therapy, of all the guys I had been involved with, who would I have liked to marry.  Immediate answer – Bobby! Uh, a small problem, bisexual?  Well, he left me for a man. But… But we went to the same school and bore similar scars; we liked to cook and eat out; we loved to shop; we loved Dylan’s Black Diamond Bay; we walked in Washington Square on warm evenings; we loved to go to the movies and theater. Big missed hint and clue:  We saw American Gigolo three times and we had to get tickets to Bent.  He died of AIDS before his 30th birthday which was July 7.  It’s hard to imagine that he’s been gone longer than he was here.  I wasn’t allowed to go to the funeral as his parents blamed me for his death.  He used to tell me if he ever married me, it would kill his parents.

July 7 also marks the day my childhood friend, Julie died.  Again, way young.  She died around 40.  She was real and funny and loyal. You always knew where you stood with her.  She arranged for her father to take the photos for my first wedding because I hate those forced, frozen, fixed photos.   Her husband had diabetes.  She used to tell him, “Chuckles, I am going to dance on your grave when you die ’cause you didn’t take care of yourself.”  Ovarian cancer.

So, to put it in perspective, what’s the big deal with not being able to walk.  How can I possibly measure not working against not living?  Well, it’s my pity party and no one else is invited.  Mourning is mourning. Respect  for all deaths and departures.  And then?  Then there is summer and its warmth.

Old Girlfriends, Postal and Rituxan

What a difference a day makes!  An update on the postal situation from yesterday.  I placed calls to his landlord, psychologist and the VA.  The VA was helpful.  No calls from the others by 4 p.m. so I call K back.  He’s very cryptic and said the situation has been settled for $400.  He doesn’t sound right.  “Are you on drugs?”  “Of course.”  I finally am able to get his cousin’s name and phone number out of him.  Bombshell.  K has checked himself out of facility and told them and cousin that he is coming to live with me.  This is not possible on so many levels.  He appears to grasp this and states his intent is to check into one of the cheap, tawdry motels on Montauk or Sunrise.  In fact, there is one within walking distance of my house that I call the Pedophile Motel as a year or so before we moved in there were legal issues as it appeared the town and county were housing all the pedophiles there. Alright, I tell him we’ll deal and get him situated.  I tell him that I have called the landlord and will call him again.  My husband is livid over the situation and thinks the landlord has K’s belongings.  He wants to drive over, get everything before it’s tossed then drop the dime on the illegal rental.  K says don’t call him again.  He’s spoken to him today and landlord was very cold. He also tells me to say nothing of his plan to his cousin. Now whilst I am having this conversation with K on my landline, I hear other calls coming in and my cell is ringing too.  I see one call on the cell is my neurologist so husband picks that one up.

I hang up and see the landlord has called me.  I ring back.  Wow.  K has played us all.  I worked for years on a phone so I am really good with voices and lies.  Landlord is a straight up guy.  After I saw K just before Labor Day weekend, he rapidly deteriorated and was falling several times a day.  It culminated, ironically, enough on September 11, when landlord S’s children heard yelling. K had fallen facedown for 10 hours.  K was refusing help.  S told him paramedics or police.  He was hospitalized for 5 or 6 days.  During his episode, he had crystallization of his blood.  K was released to an assisted living/rehab facility.  Ironically, my husband and I drive by there all the time.  He was there until the end of September when the insurance ran out.  The cousin P was called.  The facility told him that K could walk 160 feet with a walker.  However, he had degenerated so much during this period that he was not allowed to use the bathroom on his own.  S had looked into the apartment with a view to making it handicapped accessible.  K had lived there almost 11 years.  Apparently, he has not had control of his urine or bowel for sometime.  The apartment/room needed fumigation and a new floor.  S also determined that he could not assume the responsibility nor have his children exposed to the consequences of falling,  S drove him to the cousin P in Maryland.  He had to help him in the bathroom on the way down.

The first night at the cousin’s he fell repeatedly.  The cousin called an ambulance.

I have a call into the cousin.  The cousin takes care of his nephew who as far as I can ascertain on the phone has at minimum a significant speech impediment.  I call twice leaving messages.

In the meantime, the psychologist has left a message for me on my cell.  All three of these men know of me as an old girlfriend, not my name,  just an old girlfriend.  The psychologist, B, and I have quite the conversation.  He has treated K for years.  In fact, he has retired and is very old.  He sounds ancient on the phone.

B never knew that I knew K at the time of the original postal  incident.  I had to go into therapy because of it.  I couldn’t handle it and left K for someone else.  K stalked me and threatened me when he found out.  I know, atrocious taste in men.  At that time in the late 80’s, there wasn’t the awareness or sensitivity to domestic violence there is now.  The police told me there was nothing they could do until he actually hurt me.  Their suggestion was for me to move.  In Suffolk county at that time there was a rash of domestic killings in a few months. I know because my girl friends, their mothers and my parents all cut out the clippings for me.  And yes, I went back into therapy once his meds were stabilized and I started interacting and seeing him again.

I give B the cousin, the landlord and the facility numbers as I explain he will have more weight than I do.

 

P calls back.  “Thank G-d you called.  I have been trying to get K to give me your name, number and address!”  He told K that he wanted to talk to me before he dropped him here  today. K has even told him I have been married twice.  P questions whether my husband will accept him.  K refuses to give up my address but instead tells P how to get my house from his room.

We have a most illuminating conversation.  P also knew of me as the old girlfriend, no name.  But he knew of my diagnosis, my two marriages and that I went to Hopkins.  Unless people tick me off, I don’t usually tell them I went to Hopkins but say I went to college in Baltimore.  I did the same yesterday and all three men said “Yeah, I knew you went to Hopkins.”  P found out from me the truth of the postal incident.  No, he didn’t hit 3 -4 guys.  They did try to provoke him to do so but instead his blood pressure rose so high he nearly stroked out and was taken out by ambulance.  I thought K’s father and mother were both evil and I do not use that term lightly.  K is older than me and his teachers reported the father for child abuse.  In that era you could just about kill your kids.  There were 6 brothers.  At least two are dead and one has been institutionalized for years.  Despite this K kept in touch with his father who ended up living in an SRO.  When he died, his mother refused to have anything to do with the burial.  Only one brother came.  That’s one of my gripes against the mother.  She was a lay minister in the Catholic church and would not separate or divorce the father.  She sacrificed her sons.  I do not believe in that kind of G-d.  P told me as soon as they were old enough each son beat the father up.  K broke his jaw.  He also shared my opinion of the mother and told me more stories about her.

All three men and I shared stories of K’s increasing paranoia and remoteness. I bought a computer for K once when I had a huge bonus.  Good fortune is meant to be shared.  A few years later he returned it to me saying it was broken,  Maybe,  but apparently was truly paranoid about it.  He wouldn’t use one at the library either.  He only recently had a cellphone and I believe it was through a program.  Caller ID displayed LI Spinal Foundation.

P can’t fight him any more and told K he will take him anywhere he wants to go.  He will leave him at a motel, wait an hour and call 911.  I beg him to let me know and I will call if necessary.

Oh, and the call my husband answered on my cell?  It’s my doctor’s office asking me to come in today.  I have been approved for the Rituxan.  I don’t even register this or remember it till after 8 p.m.  This is huge.  This drug could literally change my life. I can’t even process this.  I keep on forgetting!

 

My husband wakes in a rage this morning.  How could anyone dump K?  I repeat our 911 plan.  Smack forehead.  Of course, the police will come before ambulance.  We anticipate his resistance and see jail in his future or else due to late father’s influence (top police lieutenant) K being able to stay in motel to die.  He was able to get out of a traffic incident this summer dropping names.

I call the VA again this morning.  They suggest the cousin drive him directly there.  He is technically homeless and they have a shelter on the property.

The Catholic hospital nearest me said if there were mental health issues, they couldn’t take him.

I call the psychologist.  He has had no luck with the cousin.  He said P was adamant K was going to New York.  He and his wife also had the same serious reservations about the 911 plan.  B then revealed that K was so paranoid that for five years he would only meet B at diners or restaurants away from where they both lived.  His opinion was that K cannot survive in a group situation. Also, none of us must have any guilt   as we all have done much more than could be expected.  We are all good people.

At ten of two this afternoon, the phone rang.  It was P.  He went to get K at 8 and asked where are we going?  K said I’ll let you know in 4 hours.  P refused.  They went to 7 -11 for an hour and a half.  For now sanity has prevailed and K has agreed to stay and sign on a contract to live there. He says he doesn’t want to die in Maryland.  The cousin says who wants to die?

We all agree that this is very sad.  It is.  I agree we all tried to do the best we could. But I am looking at it another way.  We have all known K for decades.  We knew of each other – the old girlfriend, the cousin, the shrink, the landlord.  He reduced us  all to the role he wanted us to have in his life. We all do that.  K is just more extreme about it due to his emotional issues.

Ok, not guilt but I am so questioning myself.  How did I let myself so eagerly be a part of this.  K and I never officially lived together.  I have been married twice, lived with someone and had numerous affairs.  Through all this we have been constants in each other’s lives.  We have been “in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer.”  I need to process what it means.  I sense that somewhere along the way, we all failed him.  And I, I failed myself.  Why can’t I let go?  Why have I maintained a relationship with a man capable of hurting me physically? All relationships involve hurt.

If this crisis had not occurred, we all would still be in our roles.  How do we as a society perpetuate these situations?  We are all so close and yet so distant.

Doctors, Drugs, Disability

Back at the doctor’s Friday.  I was hoping for her to be able to get

Ocrelizumab.  It’s not yet available.    There is a similar drug but it is not approved for my disease:

Rituximab.

It’s a 5 hour infusion and then in two weeks, another one.  Every 6 months.  So, here’s the thing, side effects.  I could get shortness of breath and they slow the drug.  I could get more colds and infections.  Long term use might lead to cancer.  And of course, death though rare.  I HATE  needles let alone I.V.s.  However, I think I am going to suck it up and try.  I looked it up and it’s chemotherapy.  Kinda  scary.  Also, it’s been around for years.  The problem is insurance may not pay as it’s off label so I may have to wait till next year for the Opera.   Has anyone used this?  What do you think?

 

The other thing is Biotin.  I had obtained it just before I was let go and at $148 a month.  It wasn’t happening.  There is a new source and it will cost $60 a month.  It’s worth a try – $2 a day. Apparently, this looks good. Anyone use it?

 

Now there’s other things going on.  I have had a hard week. I got rejected again for a job.  It’s one for which I should have been a contender.  It was exactly what I used to do.  I had to create two presentations for it.  I was notified late on Friday for Monday.  It was my birthday and New Year’s dinner, too.  I put in hours and it was good.  No go.    It was across the street from where I was and it was difficult for me to walk there.

So, at this point, it appears that I am no longer going to be able to work in corporate America again.  I have hit the trifecta – woman, older, disabled.  This is so wrong.  I can’t even begin to address this.

 

The doctor is also in NYC.  I couldn’t do it without my husband.

I have collapsed recently in the bedroom without hurting myself but scary.  My balance has also been wobbly.  The doctor says that’s due to my weakness, not the drug I take.  My fingers are weaker,  My walking has gotten worse.  My theory?  Not going out to work every day has taken its toll despite the gym.  And she agrees, stress of not having work is negatively impacting me.  She’s finally admitting stress can be a factor.  I deal with extraordinary stress.  I have just started counseling.  In terms of stress and we are only up to 2004, she thinks it’s a lot.

I asked my neurologist about going out on disability.  I expected her to pooh pooh it.  NOT!  She said who deserved it more? I have worked for decades.  I don’t want to do this. I am going to have to think about this.

On the upside, my brain is fine.  She says that will be fine and she’s never seen it change. See, when I am sitting down I feel like me.  She tells me this is me.  I think NOT!!

I need to reflect and move forward.

May 2016 Check In

How did I feel this past Month?

On the blue side, with ups and downs.  The job thing is destroying me.  I get interest and interviews and then I crash.  April marked 6 months out of work.  It is now going to get even harder.  Yes, I am a mature woman with a gimp, a very stylish walking stick and not cheap.  On the upside, I connected with Meg’s blog http://www.bbhwithms.com/

Her blog is a must read and has given me so much hope.  It’s great to know there’s someone else out there.

I am reflecting on how I got onto the wrong track or the track I didn’t want to end up on in my life.  I walked away and now I can’t walk.  Something to ponder.  So, how much of my job situation is attributable to me.  Some, I think.  I became just a tad complacent.  I am looking back in order to move forward.  I feel time catching up with me.  It’s finite.

What did you do for yourself this month?

Still playing arts and crafts.  I did take a finger knitting class.  The only other attendee was a great grandmother who bent over and accidentally mooned the whole store.  I am reading more which gives me joy and peace.

I also have started playing with more smoothies and a reset detox.

What did I eat this month  and how did it make me feel

Well, a definite emphasis on smoothies.  I expanded my repertoire.  I also did a Simple Green Smoothies Thrive  reset hoping to get me back on track.  I definitely deflated.  I couldn’t eat all the food as I was too full.  I paid no attention to the different autoimmune diets but it covered the bases – no sugar, no gluten, no caffeine, no dairy, no meat.  I could definitely eat this way.

Did I exercise?  What did I do?  How did it feel

No Zumba but more gym time.  And I have the new Fitbit Alta which is helping me with my steps.

For whom or what are you grateful?  What matters most in life?

I am so grateful for my friends who keep my head above water.  Every night I list gratitude for at least these five things:  friends, mobility, possibilities, wherewithal, creativity

Do I have a higher purpose or driving force in my life?   Make a mission statement

Getting closer to that mission statement,  My grandma told me (it was Shakespeare but who knew?) To thine ownself be true.  Tis like the night, cannot be changed.  That works for me

Conventional medicine  Still just Ampyra and Baclufen.  And my doctor says there is a drug that will be available in the fall that will work for me.

Symptoms – Hands are still  getting weaker.  My hands and feet are multi-colored.  I have an appointment next week.  My neurologist looked at my hands and said Raynaud’s.

What symptoms are most troublesome  – Independence and mobility.  Hands not working

Do I blame myself for things – Yes, I am still believing it’s food, stress and exercise.

How is stress level?  It’s amping up with no work in sight.  Summer is coming.  Ouch.

What can I do tomorrow to make it better than today?

Never give up! Never!  Defy convention.  My mother always said I conformed to non-conformity, so be it.

Christmas Pudding and the Ghosts of Past, Present and Future

I made Christmas pudding aka Black Cake aka fruitcake aka plum pudding this week.  It’s always been part of my life.  My grandmother made it.  My mother made it.  My aunts make it.    I have always loved it.    I am not a quiet personality.  One of my supervisors told me some years ago that had I been growing up now I would have been diagnosed as ADHD.  A facile explanation for sure.  But this is an old family story.  My Grandma had mailed pudding to my mother.  My mother was talking to my Bubba and noticed silence.  I was two.  Upon investigation she found I had gotten into the pudding.  Bubba told her well at least I would get drunk and pass out.  Uh, that’s not how I get drunk to this day.  I get hyper and very active.  Child is father of the man.

The pudding is one thing that I cannot give up.  It’s an integral part of my Christmas.

My mother made it all by herself when my brother was two and I was around five.  She declared that she wanted to jump out the 6th floor window and would never make it by herself again.  It’s an intense process and truly needs a family.

I was reflecting on how things have changed.  Some parts of the pudding are easier now.  When my mother was a child she remembered the servants tending it over a fire in the yard.  As this was in the tropics, it must have been quite the undertaking.

Traditionally, we made pudding the Saturday or Sunday just before Christmas in the last few decades.  Before that when I was little, it was done earlier as it had to be posted to Jamaica to arrive before Christmas.  That too, was a process. The correct tin and box had to be found, the brown paper wrapping and string, the customs form, the trip to the post.  Of course, if someone was coming or going a chance could be taken to smuggle it in luggage.  The opportunity did not frequently represent itself.  And of course, one received puddings too.  I now send pudding to my father-in-law who states it is the closest thing to Irish plum pudding. Of course, we are all colonials.    We send it after Christmas so he can enjoy it on his own, without sharing. I do share it with those who know it.

This year I made it the Tuesday before Christmas.  I am not working so not bound by the weekend.  I have only done it once or twice on Christmas Eve.  Once recently, due to work.  It made me feel unsettled. The  last Christmas my grandmother was alive, I made one by hand Christmas Eve at my aunt Hyacinth’s.  We had landed from New York that day.  Hyacinth hadn’t done it.  In fact, it really wasn’t a true pudding but more of a raisin cake/pudding.  It was made with raisins that had been soaked with I am supposing brandy.  Hyacinth was big on having a dram of brandy after dinner with a little cigarillo. It was flavored with rosewater.  I did by hand and mixed and cooked till literally around midnight.  I woke Christmas morning with blistered hands. I don’t think we even tried to smuggle our own in.  My mother was aghast that Customs made us unwrap all our presents.  By the way, it was agreed, my pudding, such as it was, was excellent.

Pudding is a huge process and starts months before.  Fruits need to be bought and in my family soaked in port, sometimes with a little rum.  We used to have a brown Mott’s apple juice bottle for the purpose which we kept in the garage.  My husband recycled it by accident a few years back.  My mother would set a box of raisins on a cookie sheet covered with cheesecloth and set it out on the backyard table in the sun to “plump”.  And then the bit I hated and have dispensed with, we had to cut the raisins.  This was done one by one and was a sticky mess.  This practice was dated to when raisins weren’t necessarily seedless.  Then prunes had to be stewed and pitted.  Another mess.  I buy them pitted most years and sometimes I stew, others not.  In the old days the pits were dried than cracked and the kernels also went into the bottle also.  I did that once by myself and had one of those jumping out the window moments. Then mixed citron.   We have had problems finding this in our regular market the last few years.  We were getting desperate.  Bought it this year for $10.00 and my mother and grandma would be twirling in their graves at that thought.

In the past, in the afternoon the day before, we would sit around the table and crack a pound of walnuts.  These go in last as my grandmother said any earlier made the pudding “mecky”.  I buy them shelled.  I am deeply grateful that I can afford to do so.

The night before we “rubbed” a pound of dark brown sugar and a pound of butter together. The purchase of the butter had to be  I did this by hand at Hyacinth’s.  We used to use a hand mixer.    The mixture has to be completely incorporated and change to a pale beige color.  How we didn’t burn the mixer out, I do not know.  My father, who never, ever tasted it would always fret that it would spoil.  They argued about it every year.  I have a Kitchen Aid.  It takes minutes and it’s done in minutes.

The morning of is very busy.  The tins must be taken out and set up.  When I was growing up, we used a pudding basin that must be easily over 100 years ago.  This was supplemented by three tins dating back to WWII.  These were made at that time not bought.  They had very sharp edges and as the years went by began to fall apart.  About ten years ago I mentioned the tins were shot and a West Indian woman told me that there was a kitchen supply place by the office where I could get them.  I did!  They were inexpensive and easy.  Another change.   The tins need to be greased and lined.  We used to do it with Crisco and the saved papers from the butter, and waxed paper.  I use cooking spray and parchment paper.  Cutting the wax paper was always an ordeal.  My grandmother made clothes without a pattern and cut freehand.  My mother cut perfect circles.  And then there was me.  I can’t cut a straight line with a paper cutter.  I lost that job.

Then pots of water must be put to simmer on the stove.  They have to be the right size to accommodate the puddings.  The kettle needs to be full and simmering too to be ready to replace water in the pots as needed.  One of the favored pots is my baby bottle sterilizer.

Next my Gran’s big bowl needs to be taken out.  When Grandma and Ma were doing it that was where the butter and sugar had been rubbed.  It’s a massive antique bowl.  I see smaller ones in antique shops and they are quite pricey.  We used to have a nested set but as this one is only used once or twice a year, it survives.

Assembling the rest of the ingredients:  It requires a dozen eggs.  They should be separated and the whites and yolks beaten.  My mother didn’t separate.  My Gran used to and whip the whites by hand.  In my teens, they compromised and separated but didn’t beat.  Ah, mixers.  I separate and whip the whites and beat the eggs.  This is when my husband starts to implode as he contemplates masses of dishes.  Next is the scale.  Again, a once a year item.  My mother got it with Plaid stamps.  Our recipe require 3/4 pound bread crumbs and 1/4 pound flour. This then gets sieved a cup at a time alternating with the fruits at the end.  First off, I stopped sieving the flour.  It’s a different time.  The flour is fine enough. Then we used to definitely sieve the bread crumbs.  This requires two people, one mixing, one sieving.  I used to sieve then I graduated to mixing.  Now, I do it on my own.  No sieving!

The butter and eggs get transferred to big bowl and now we start mixing by hand.  We add rosewater, vanilla and the secret ingredient – black currant jam.  This jam is so hard to find some years.  The spoon needs to stand by itself when the mixture is right.  This has been challenging in the best of times.  Now, I am weaker and older.  I need help.  My husband stepped up to the plate.  At this point, I feel incredibly sad.  My frailty bothers me.  I remember the last time I did it with my mother, too.  She had dementia but I didn’t realize.  I couldn’t imagine how she had forgotten how to do it.  That night was one of the last times my brother and I had cordial relations.  He stopped by the house, said I had to get out of the house and took me out. I got blissfully, blessedly drunk.  Jumping out of windows was not an option.

Next step the mixture gets divided into the tins and the tops get sprinkled with flour to seal them.  The tins are then shut and in the old days we made a flour paste to put around the edges.  It was my first job and I hated it.  Now I have proper tins that lock.  The next bit was my father’s and he bitched every year.  The old tins had to be tied with string without upsetting the contents so that the tins could be raised and lowered.  Much screaming and gnashing of teeth.  I have proper tins and my husband is amazing at knots so all that is needed is a loop at the top.

Onto the stove to steam for four hours.  The house begins to smell insanely of liquor and Christmas spice.  This drives my husband crazy as he is allergic to the nuts and can’t have any.  You have to keep watch over the pots to make sure there’s enough water.

It’s always a long day.  This year I was destroyed.  I literally hurt in all ways.  I hate not being strong enough.  I honor the past.  Some years it’s easier than others.  This year I miss my mother and my grandmother.  I know Grandma would not let me do it my way, the new overtaking the old.  They were precise women with a sense of what was the right way and wrong way to do things.

The puddings are served with a brandy hard sauce.  Not in my house, can’t take the chance on the alcohol and husband.  More adjustments.

At the end of the day, this is Christmas – family, memories, tradition.

Merry Christmas!

Politics, Friendship, and Mortality

I just found out a few hours ago that one of my childhood friends passed away in his sleep last night.  Losing anyone so young is hard.  Well young is relative but I still feel relatively young and as my former sister-in-law said earlier this year “anyone dying before 80 is young.”

So, my mother worked with his father and we grew up on the same street.  His dad drank heavily and so did he but that’s what we did then.  He transferred in high school to an exclusive Catholic high.  I went to college with 6 boys from that school.  They told me that his drinking so disgusted them that they themselves threw him off the bus.  We used to drink at the same bar in our late teens and early twenties.

A memory – the New Year’s Eve  I was 21, I ended up at a party at his house with my two best friends.  The other Tress(same name) and I had dates.  Let’s put it this way, she was going out with Donnie and when I was around we used to double with his best friend who was called Hoppy, seriously.  He was far from hoppy but around 6 foot something and a solid 200 pounds plus.  He was a time filler for me.  Our other friend was just along for the ride.  Our original plan was to have a sleepover at my parents and then the guys came up with this party plan.  Somehow towards the end of the evening we ended up at J’s house.  His parents were there and some others too.  Not mine; not only did they no longer go out on New Years anymore but my mother didn’t like his father – read heavy drinker.  And it must have been very heavy as the first time I was drunk in public  was at her boss’s home(same company)  when I was around 16.  Different era, different mores.  Anyway,  Hoppy takes me over to his parents “Ma, Dad, this is the girl I have been telling you about.”  Big shock to me.  I don’t, didn’t do relationships, especially at that age.  So I am doing the drunken nice girl chat with parents and when I get away, M,  my other friend is in Hoppy’s lap, cooing to him “I want it and want it now.”  Different era, stumbled out of the house and walked the two long blocks home including one block that was a ballfield.  And it was a four lane road opposite parkway woods and a parkway.  A drunk 20-something couldn’t do that now.  Went into the house and my parents called out and asked where everyone else was.  The other Tress is with Donnie at J’s house and M?  M is f*cking her brains out with Hoppy”  Now you have to understand that was a big evil word then and I am known for not using “bad” words.  Upshot?  Parents yell at me for the profanity and M  comes in much later.  The other Tress never spoke to her again.  I am more forgiving but have to admit that I saw her in the subway 20 years ago or so and she was completely grey! Revenge is a dish best served cold.

At that point in time,  J was getting his life back together.  We used to hang in the same bar and have drinks. He was working at the local grocery store stocking frozen food.  He was going back to school.  He was very, very smart.  We had always been in the advanced class.  Then he said he made a girl pregnant that he didn’t even really like (it may have been the alcohol talking) and that was it.

Fast forward years and the advent of FB.  He was mad crazy about his grandson and was a successful guy.  Our high school always has a picnic and three years ago, I went.  Topic for another day.  There’s a candid shot of the two of us jabbering away.

 

But and there is always a but, he was far right and I am far left.  I grew up in Levittown and far right is the way most people lean but back in the day things didn’t seem as absolute.  I always knew that my views were not held by most.  J and I had a teacher in 7th grade who on reflection probably was in the John Birch society.  I vaguely reflect an argument over my not saying the Pledge of Allegiance with J.  Still, see above, we drank together.  However, I just couldn’t take it on FB.  As we and society have aged, we have become more polarized.  I hate hate speech.  Uh, yeah Levittown – 99.6 or 99.7 white when I was growing up.  I was at a high school dinner in Levittown a few summers ago and they were talking about how Nixon was right with Watergate not ‘Nam but Watergate.  Put Obama into the picture and just imagine.  I have only unfriended one person on FB and it was another elementary school onwards person with racist hate.  So, I hid J.  I only saw innocuous likes.

I knew he had moved back onto the Island from a neighboring state.  Today,  I see that he was right here in my town.  He was truly a part of my growing up.  Because I hid him, I didn’t know.  We could have and should have been able to move beyond politics to that common childhood.

When did we as a society become so divisive?  I recently read that people are deciding where to move based on the overall political makeup of an area.  What happened to us?  Where is the veneer of tolerance?  Fake it till ya make it works sometimes.  We are cutting off discourse and therefore growth.  I am guilty.  I am thinking of what I missed the last few years by cutting J off.  It makes this loss huger.

We don’t know what Fate holds for us, why waste time.

I mourn for J and for missteps.

Carpe Diem.  RIP J and I’ll be lifting a glass to Auld Lang Syne.