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I actually got my hopes up...

So yesterday I dove back into applying for other (hopefully better) jobs than the miserable minimum-wage part-time on-call slog I'm currently in. I applied for five positions in the afternoon, and actually got an email back from one of them by 6:30 that evening! Crazy, right? Then I got a phone call and another email from them this morning, wanting me to come in today and talk to them and fill out some paperwork.

I was at work already, so I talked to my dispatcher before lunch and the other guys in the van today and we managed to get me out of there by 1:45. I ran home and did a quick change out of my hideous green polyester work shirt and grabbed my folder of application information and with great anticipation, busted my butt over there.

Before I go any farther, I shall include here the exact wording on the job posting:

Looking for a part time van driver that would transport our nursing home residents to and from medical appointments. Experience with the elderly a plus.

Job Type: Part-time

That was it. It has been posted for 2 days. I thought, "I qualify for that," and shot off an application with the following cover letter:

"Dear Sir or Madam,

I am looking to change jobs to one that serves my community rather than a faceless corporation. I have maintained a perfect driving record while driving 300-500 miles a week for the past two years. I have experience from my days as a home care aide with the elderly, both those able and alert and those needing extra care and attention. I transported my mother using a wheelchair lift van for eight years, and am familiar with safety and securing of wheelchairs in vehicles. I also have excellent customer service skills, and am very patient and organized.

If you can beat my current wages ($225/week), I would be very interested in working with seniors in our community with you!

Karen Jake"

They were very excited to receive my application, and eager to have me fill out a complete application, background check form, and talk to the fellow in charge of that position. Let's call him Joe. Joe is the one who called me this morning, and really didn't want to wait until monday to meet with me, hence all the finagling to get off early.

Back to this afternoon. I called to let Joe know I got out early and could meet him about 2:30. He seemed distracted, but was glad that I could come in, only saying that he was hoping to leave by 3, so the earlier I could get there, the better. I arrived at 2:20, and he was just unloading a resident from the van. He sat me in a small conference room and I waited while he took the resident back to their wing.

First impressions: Joe reminded me of my junior high head custodian. Skinny, bushy wild hair that looked like it was way past due for a haircut, kind of hollow cheeks, and one eye that pointed right all the time. His clothes were a kind of ratty and worn faded black long-sleeved tee and dirty work pants. His name badge said he was "Facilities".

Joe comes back, tells me how great to have someone apply with a clean driving record (hard to believe how rare that is) and did I have the background check form the other gal had sent me printed out and filled out? I didn't, but offered to fill it out there if he could get me a copy printed out. He left, went to the office, and got one for me, then left while I filled it out.

Dang, I thought, these guys are really hot to trot! I filled out the form and waited for Joe to return. When he did, he disappeared again for a few moments to get the form sent in, then came right back. I let him sit, catch his breath, and asked him to tell me about the job. "Tell me what you're looking for," he replied.

I told him how I was looking to change jobs to one that serves the community, one where I had regular dependable hours, and where I could be part of a team rather than an easily replaceable cog. I told how my current position has unreliable hours and zero benefits. I also restated that I was looking for a part time job with better wages, one that would net me around $300 a week. Then I again asked for information about this position.

Joe waffled around a bit, asked me what part time meant to me. I said 20-30 hours or so. Then he asked me if I was "handy with a paintbrush"...? I shrugged and said I've painted rooms before, and I'm not some helpless gal, perfectly able to change light bulbs and change air filters for myself.

Then he dropped the bomb. The van driving job is only TWO DAYS A WEEK, Fridays and Saturdays, and he's not sure quite what I'll be doing on Saturdays except maybe taking people to dialysis and picking them up again 4-6 hours later. "Oh, and how are you about evenings?" Apparently I could also be on call for late pickups, if I so desired. I could even be first on the call list for those occasional extra hours and "make some extra money." I told him I have a class that I help teach every monday and wednesday evening, and that wasn't really what I was looking for.

"How about outside?" Joe asked. I gave him a blank look. "Like gardening and stuff," he elaborated. I said I'm not above pulling weeds and mowing lawns. "Oh, we have a service for the lawns." Okay, well I can pull weeds and plant flowers and stuff, sure.

Turns out since the driving part is only two days a week with the option of being on call for late nights, any down time between trips is spent doing light handyman tasks around the facility. He is looking for someone to drive the van those two days (so he doesn't have to) and fill in the rest of however many hours I want with handyman stuff!

Go back and read that job listing again. I don't see anything about handyman work in there anywhere, do you? Didn't think so.

So, he couldn't give me any specifics on exactly what I'd be doing other than on Fridays, and didn't really tell me much about that, either. I asked him again about the hourly wage for the position, and he told me "I'm sure I can get you better than minimum wage."

That was all he said. He then complained a bit about the guy they've got who is their full time weekday driver, monday through thursday, how he's "out of there at 3:30 no matter what and if there's any later pickups, I have to go do them myself."

He asked me if I was interested in full time. I told him that if he could get me weekdays, I'd be all over that and I'd gladly do light maintenance work between driving runs, and my work ethic wouldn't allow me to just leave without the job being done.

He wanted me to come back in on Monday to talk some more after he spoke with management for more details about the actual duties on saturdays and get the rest of my paperwork filled out. He said he'd call me in the morning to see when I could come in. (I shared earlier how I find out at 4 the day before if I'm scheduled to work or not the next day, and he understood about how "that sucks".) Nevermind that I already told my boss I'd be needing monday off for an interview, I wasn't telling Joe that. He went on to say that if the background check comes back by monday, we'd do paperwork then and I could come in tuesday for orientation and that would be my hire date and first paid day.

As I left, I thanked him for seeing me, reiterated that more definite information would be appreciated, and said if he could get me weekdays, "he'd have to beat me off with a stick." He said he'd keep that in mind, with a wave and a smile.

TL:DR, the whole thing was pretty much a colossal waste of time. Vague job duties, only two days a week driving the van, over half my time doing handyman stuff, and no definite wage information or even a mention if there are any benefits.

California on my mind

The last two weeks Bill and I were in California for a working holiday. We had a boat for SAFE Boats to pick up in Sacramento, take to Marina Del Rey, wait four days, pick it up again, take it back to Sacramento, wait another three days, then bring it back to the company headquarters here in Bremerton.

We took the same big truck with the sleeper we used last summer on all the bus-hauling trips so the kitties could come with us. This was Merlin's first trip with us anywhere, and I was a bit apprehensive about taking our seven-month-old bundle of spaz. Two weeks in a small space about the size of our bathroom, no room to run...

The trip started on time, which turned out to be a day early in that we had way more time than needed to make it to our first stop. We broke it down into two short days (6 or 7 hours) of driving with lots of breaks. Phoebe settled down within a few hours of leaving home, and Merlin was a champ right along with her. He explored every nook and cranny of the rig, of course, but decided to follow Pheeb's lead and sleep as much as possible.

Bill had spent days making lines and getting what he was told he would need prepared to tow the boat and its trailer, but it turned out all the info he was given was wrong. Luckily, he had the right connectors for the trailer and the correct hitch anyway. We picked up the load from our contact with the Sacramento sherriff's office, Dave, and headed south.

The trip down was blessedly uneventful, although we were still a bit worried about where we were going to be able to park the rig while we were in LA. There are no truck stops close to town, and most places won't allow you to park an oversize vehicle, not even on the street. We stopped north of the Grapevine at a rest area to wait out the ridiculous amount of traffic for a Sunday evening heading south into LA. We ate dinner and took naps, and made the final leg to Marina Del Rey about midnight when the roads were clear. Upon arrival at the marina, we checked straps again and one of the big 3" tie downs was broken clear through from the horrible rough roads. Luckily, we were able to leave the truck hooked to the trailer in the marina parking lot for a fee. Big load off our minds!

Staying in the rig was against the rules at the marina, so I got us a rental car (using my employee discount, of course) and a pet-friendly hotel not too far away. I managed to find one that was only around $100 per day, a minor miracle in LA! There were several food joints within walking distance, so we got some grub takeout, and chilled with the kitties in the hotel for the evening.

Our first full day in LA, we decided to go tour the Petersen Automotive Museum. What a trip! I got to breathe on a F1 car Michael Shumacher won a race in in the Ferrari room, learned all about the All American Racing group founded by Dan Gurney and Carroll Shelby, race Bill in a Forza simulator, and pretty much fill our eyes with beautiful automotive eye candy. After that, we walked the two blocks to the La Brea Tar Pits and walked the grounds there, seeing the active excavations. They are currently working on 23 crates of fossils still in the matrix that were removed from the adjacent art museum's garage building project.

The next day, we headed south and west to a fabric store I've been drooling over online for years. Momen+ has the best selection of Japanese import cottons in all these adorable tiny prints! Bill was very patient while I splurged on some fabrics for myself for the first time in years. Then we headed to the coast to the Abalone reserve. We ate our snacks there and walked down to the tide pools. On the way down, we spotted a pod of dolphins offshore splashing and jumping, feeding on a school of fish. Brown Pelicans were diving into the midst of them, and it was quite a sight! We tried to stop at Wayfarers Chapel to enjoy the architecture, but it was closed to visitors for a wedding--at noon on a Thursday! So we headed up the coast a bit to Point Vicente. The back patio is excellent for spotting migrating whales, but we only spotted another HUGE pod of dolphins from there. There must have been 50 or 60 in the pod, all swimming north.

That evening after dinner we decided to visit the Griffith Observatory. Parking was hard to find (again, on a Thursday?!?), but we were able to wander about and see all the displays before closing time. We looked for the famous Hollywood sign, but it wasn't lit up that night. The views were spectacular nonetheless and we were glad we made the trip.

Friday, we started the day at a local brunch and coffee shop. Bill had fresh squeezed orange juice and french toast made from Hawaiian bread and maple sausages. I had a belgain waffle with strawberries...oh my gawd, what a splurge! We ate every bite! I got us tickets to the Getty Villa. It and the Getty Museum are free except for parking, but we were more interested in seeing the antiquities at the Villa than the art at the museum. We spent a good couple of hours touring all the nooks and crannies of the villa, and we especially liked the themed rooms full of thousand year old pottery and statues showing images from various myths. I also loved the gardens...

We lunched down by the ocean, parked alongside the Pacific Coast Highway. Then we took a drive up Topanga Canyon. Bill was a tad annoyed at the Prius holding us up, but there were over a dozen cop cars of various kinds scattered up and down the canyon road, so it was probably for the best. We tried a short hike to a sandstone cave, but the heat on the landward side of the mountains was brutal. It was the first real heat we had had, since it had been in the low 70's and breezy all week up until then. Back down the canyon we went, and the PCH was stuffed full of Friday evening traffic. Bill spotted a restaurant advertising "craft beers and grass fed beef" on their awning, but kept driving because he didn't see anyplace to park. Another mile or so of the traffic, and I convinced him to flip a U-turn and go back. Boy am I glad we did! The food at Burgers N Brews was fantastic. We talked beers with the guy there and recommended some more darker beers to add to their selection. Such good food!

Saturday, I planned a short day for us so Bill could rest up for driving truck again the next day. We visited the Automobile Driving Museum in nearby El Segundo. Bill was a bit skeptical at first (after seeing the Petersen earlier in the week), this place only had 75 or so vehicles on display. Then we started looking around, and realized you can touch and look inside almost every car on display! The docents were fantastic, sharing tons of information about the various cars. In the special high-end room, we saw a Pierce Arrow, and a Packard 100 point concours car. Bill was able to sit in a Stutz! It was amazing. One of the cars belonged to Clark Gable and had a special compartment for golf clubs...and they had a modern set in there, so not cool. I told the docent about my grandpa's vintage clubs and, long story short, I'll be sending them photos so they can decide if they'd like to have them for the display. I think grandpa would be happy for his old clubs to end up in a museum.

As we were eating ice cream after our tour, Rob from SAFE Boats called. They were expecting to be back at the marina that evening about 5, and would we like to load the boat up then instead of waiting until the next morning like in our original schedule? Bill decided that was fine, so it was a scramble that afternoon to be at the marina in advance, pick up the boat, back to the hotel room for dinner and packing, drive back to the marina to drop our stuff and the cats off at the rig, return the rental car to the airport, and taxi back to the marina. We left LA about 11 that night and only hit moderate traffic jams on the way out of town. We stopped for the night at that rest area north of the grapevine and crashed.

A day ahead of schedule, we made a short day of driving the next day and stopped at a truck stop just shy of our destination near Rio Vista. We hung out and relaxed, the boat to be delivered the next day, Sunday. We were to meet the guys at the boat launch in a park about 4 in the afternoon, but had a car run into our truck five minutes from the drop point and were delayed a couple hours while the CHP came and took care of the accident report. Crazy lady tried to dive over in front of our rig when we were stopped before turning left to get to the park...totally her fault, and we have the dash cam footage to prove it. Her car was very messed up, and we have a few small scratches on the 4500 pound front bumper of the truck. :) Remember Dave with the Sacramento sheriffs? He stopped by to see what's up while we were waiting for CHP and kept us company and an eye on the situation. We dropped the boat off, and took a walk around the park. We saw some acorn woodpeckers popping in and out of a hole in a tree, probably feeding babies. Pretty cool! Oh, and happy 19th anniversary to us. We went back to the truck stop for the night.

The next three days we hung out with our sister-in-law and nephew in Granite Bay. The weather was HOT, so we relaxed under the ceiling fan watching movies and building jigsaw puzzles. Bill got part of her riding lawn mower fixed, but another part needed to be ordered to get it up and running again. We also helped tear down a damaged boat shed which cleared another parking space for them. We ate good food (fresh picked strawberries!), talked a lot, and took a walk to the lake on the last day. Wow! The lake was so full! So nice to see all the lakes and reservoirs filled up.

We went back to the boat launch at the park to pick up the boat on wednesday evening (no crazy drivers this time!). The boat was there before the trailer (they had stored it offsite this time), so we got to have a brief thrill ride on it! Oh my frog, that thing is FAST (50+ knots), and can turn on a dime! It has shock absorbing seats and armrests with Jesus handles so you can hang on when they make high speed turns. It was amazing. The ride home was mostly uneventful...Mostly. We stopped late that first night at a rest area to check all the straps, and one of the trailer wheels was soaking wet with brake fluid, a trail leading back down the offramp behind it. Roadside repair time, with me guiding him getting the trailer up on wood blocks, holding the light for Bill as he got the wheel off, removed the blown-out caliper, clamped off the brake line, and wheel put back on. I even had extra kitty litter along that I spread on the spilled fluid. What a mess. We didn't make it much further that night.

The last day of the trip was the longest, using up the full 10 hours of driving allowed. We made it to the shop just after midnight, and we unloaded just the cats and what we needed for overnight and went home. One of the other drivers delivered the boat the next morning while we slept in, and we went over later to finish emptying out our stuff and cleaning up the rig. I still need to go over this afternoon and remake the bed in the rig with the freshly washed sheets, but other than that, we're back to normal life today.

The hardest day

Today is the hardest day in any pet parent's life. Jasper is scheduled for his final vet appointment at 5:00 today.

The end of the week before last, Jasper started not wanting to eat his dry cat food. He's been reluctant to chew for a while, so I figured his teeth might be bothering him and switched him over to wet food. He's 14 years old, or the equivalent of a 70-something human, so tooth problems are normal.

He ate great over that weekend, but early last week I noticed he was looking a little bloated. I thought it might be gas, since he was wolfing down his food to get it et before Phoebe started crowding him. I put my ear to his tummy and there were gurgling sounds, typical of gas.

By Thursday, he was not eating even his wet food, and I was very concerned that maybe he had a blockage or something. I called his vet and they had an opening that I could just make. Jasper yowled himself into a lather on the way there, and despite normal vitals, an X-ray showed massive fluid build up in his belly.

This was terrible news. There is no good reason for this to happen, only bad and very bad ones. Top culprits for this are FIP and cancer, both of which are a death sentence. The vet agreed that otherwise he was an unusually healthy cat for his age. There was a slim chance of it being a one-time reaction to who-knows-what, so we talked about options.

I had them drain off the fluid to make him more comfortable and enable the vet to palpate his abdomen more easily to feel for any clues to the source of the problem. There was nothing conclusive found, and he weighed a pound less when the fluid was gone. Laboratory tests were well outside my ability to pay for, and could very well come back inconclusive. The vet also checked and none of the possibilities are contagious to Phoebe, so we're safe on that account. I left the vet with prednisone for him, tears in my eyes, and a plan to spoil him as much as possible.

That evening and friday, Jasper turned up his nose at the soft food, but was snarfing down his kibble like nothing ever happened. He seemed a bit more tired, but otherwise happy to lay on the sofa like usual between meals. He drank significantly more, but that is a side effect of the prednisone and it passed through with no problems. I gave him extra meals to catch up on what nutrition he lost when he wasn't eating the week before. I even popped home during my lunch half-hour friday to give him food.

I started a new routine. Each evening after his bedtime feeding, I would lie down on the sofa with him while he digested his meal. I would do my bedtime reading, and we would just be close. After an hour or so, he would get up and leave and I would head to bed.

By saturday evening, I could see swelling in his belly again. I hoped it was just extra weight from the extra meals...de nile isn't just a river in Egypt. But he was still eating and drinking and using the litter box, so I just kept an eye on him.

Sunday morning, I took Jasper outside to the tall grass in the side yard for a little adventure. He loves chewing on grass and playing catch the twig that I drag across the ground. He had a great time. By evening, the swelling in his belly was getting worse, and I knew he was filling up with fluid again. That night I couldn't sleep. I was up until three, trying to deal with the crushing emotions I was feeling.

Monday I had the day off, thank goodness. I continued the research I had started on thursday, scouring the internet for information. I had more words for what might be wrong with my boy (ascites, mutated coronavirus, carcinomatosis), but no better answers. Tears were common all day, and now I was the one not wanting to eat. My stomach was in knots. Jasper was lethargic. I kept hoping for an opportunity to take him outside again, but he was just too tired. He ate at every meal, but less and less each time.

The vet called to check up on him that evening, and we talked about draining his belly again, and the main conclusion is that it was just a temporary measure. The fluid was heavy with protein, and cats must have that protein in their system for their organs to work. He okayed one more draw, but was concerned that the protein loss would do Jasper in. He said to watch his breathing and eating habits, and just love him until it was time.

By evening, he was retreating to our closet to sit on my cedar chest cushion. I think my distress was bothering him, and I wasn't able to spend my nightly time with him. Bill let me cry all over him, and Phoebe slept beside me all night.

Today, tuesday, I was supposed to go to work. I fed the cats their breakfast, and Jasper barely ate any kibble. I opened a can of wet food for him, and he just licked off the gravy and walked away. My breakfast tasted like cardboard, and I called in sick to work with tummy troubles. I curled up on the couch with Jasper by my ankles, Phoebe behind my knees, and crashed out for another two hours. When I woke, Jasper had moved away so he wasn't touching me. He seemed a bit more lively though, so I took him outside for another romp in the grass.

He ate grass to his heart's content, sniffed the mole holes, and played a little chase the twig.
We sat in the grass in the sunshine and sniffed the breeze, listened to the birds, and watched the leaves wiggle in the wind. Jasper purred a lot. I smiled a bit and cried a bit.

About noon, Bill called to see if I wanted to join him for lunch. I still wasn't feeling very well stomach-wise, and we talked about what we should do. I agreed to call the vet and ask their opinion. After speaking with the tech (the vet is out until thursday) we agreed that another draining is only delaying the inevitable, and I made the appointment for this evening to have him put to sleep.

As I sit to write this, Jasper is "snatted" (also known as 'full loaf' position) on the floor behind my chair. He didn't even lick his lunch, and I'm not sure how I'll get anything down myself. Phoebe is trying to get him to play, but all he does is hiss and walk away. Poor little girl is awfully jealous of the extra and special smelly food he's been getting, but she still takes time every day to wash the back of his head for him whether he wants it or not.

I feel so morbid right now. I just rearranged the things in the shadow box containing Cosmo's collar and paw print to make room for Jasper's. Bill and I talked a little last weekend about what we want to do with our boy's remains. I wish I could have sold some of the furniture I had listed a couple weeks ago; it would have helped pay for the private cremation I want to get done. Bill said not to worry, he would take care of it. I love that man so much. He's even leaving work early today so he can be there for me, Jasper, or us. Whatever, you get the idea.

I may take him outside again, or just let him relax where he's at right now. He's in his favorite spot, smushing down the back cushion of the couch, watching out the window, sniffing the breeze.

I love you, buddy. You're the best cat I ever had. I'll miss you so much.

Blackberry Pie Bars

Ah, blackberry season is here again. For the rest of the year we battle these thorny beasts, but this makes up for all the hassle and sticker pokes. The photo above was taken after I picked four cups of berries from this section. Nature's bounty indeed!

I got this recipe from The Novice Chef, and you can find it here: http://www.thenovicechefblog.com/2013/07/blackberry-pie-bars/

For this recipe you will need:

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups sugar, divided
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
Zest and juice of one lemon, divided
1 cup (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1 inch slices
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 cups fresh blackberries
4 teaspoons cornstarch

Also, you need a food processor, a largish bowl, spatula, and a 9"x13" cake pan.

Now, I didn't happen to have a lemon, so I have in my pile o' ingredients: Lemon juice, dried lemon peel, and lemon extract. You'll see why later.

Preheat your oven to 375 and grease your cake pan and set it aside.
Put the bowl and blade on the base of the food processor. If you don't put the blade in before the ingredients, it's impossible to get it in there later on.
Here's the 3 cups of flour and 1 cup of sugar in the bowl of my Cuisinart.

To substitute for the lemon zest, I measured out half a tablespoon of dried lemon peel and moistened it with the lemon extract. Extract comes from the oils of the fruit, which is what would naturally be found in lemon zest.

In on the flour/sugar goes the "zest", cinnamon, baking powder, and salt.

Put the lid on that sucker and give it a few pulses to mix all that stuff together. Then chop up your cold butter straight from the fridge into smaller chunks.

Dump that butter in on top along with the egg and 2 teaspoons of vanilla.

Give that stuff a heap load of pulses. Don't be shy, this takes a while. You want all the butter chopped into the dry stuff with no big lumps. It may seem tiresome, but just imagine trying to do this by hand with two forks. Power tools for the win!

See that nice, crumbly texture? That's the ticket!

Now dump half those crumbs in the bottom of your GREASED 9x13 pan and press them down with your hand into a relatively smooth layer. You can see little globs of butter that didn't get completely mixed in...that's okay!

Now it's time for the blackberry filling. Don't do like I did here...I waited to take pictures until my second batch of deliciousness and made a little error.
Whisk your 1/2 cup sugar and 4 teaspoons of cornstarch together FIRST in your dry largish bowl. Then add your juice from your lemon (or 1/4 cup from a bottle if you're lame like me).

That way, your cornstarch won't get all lumpy like you see here:

Gently fold those four cups of blackberries with the sugar/cornstarch/lemon juice mixture. Just scoop underneath them and turn your spatula over so they end up nicely coated with the mixture.

Spread those berries over the crust you pressed into your pan.

Now sprinkle the remaining crumbly stuff over the top of your berries. Hold on to that blade so it doesn't go splat into your pan of goodness!

Smooth that crumble out a smidgen so it covers the berries. Oh yeah.

Bake that sucker in your preheated 375 degree oven for 45 minutes. The top will be just starting to get ever so slightly brown and the filling will be bubbling a bit around the edges.

Now the hard part...letting that pan cool completely before you cut it into squares!

Strawberry cake

Here's another recipe for you fellas. Fresh strawberries are so hard to resist, and this is a great dessert to make using them. It's totally easy and I know you can do it!
I even included tons of pictures this time so you can see what's up with each stage.

I stole borrowed this recipe from Smitten Kitchenhttp://smittenkitchen.com/blog/2011/05/strawberry-summer-cake/

Here's what you need to make it:

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus extra for pie plate
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 large egg
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pound strawberries, hulled and halved

Kitchen tip from Karen: When prepping strawberries (or other fruit, like paring and peeling apples), I like to have one bowl handy with a plastic bag lining it for all the junky bits. When you're done, just lift out and toss the bag, and the bowl doesn't even need washing!

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a 10-inch pie pan or 9-inch deep-dish pie pan (what I used). I like to use the wrapper from the butter and smear that sucker all over the pan.

First measure out the dry ingredients. Whisk flour, baking powder and salt together in a small bowl. A quick stir with a fork is fine. Set aside. (No, there's no picture of it. It's just a bowl with floury stuff in it. You can figure that one out by yourselves!)

In a larger bowl, beat butter and 1 cup sugar until pale and fluffy with an electric mixer, about 3 minutes.

Mix in egg, milk and vanilla until just combined.

See? Mine's still a little lumpy because my butter was a little firm. It's okay!

Add dry mixture gradually, mixing until just smooth.

Pour into prepared pie plate. Mine came out thick, so I had to spread it out with the spatula. No big deal!

Arrange strawberries, cut side down, on top of batter, as closely as possible in a single layer. Just squeeze them in as best you can, no need for perfection. Sprinkle remaining 2 tablespoons sugar over berries.

Important!!!!! Bake cake for 10 minutes then reduce oven temperature to 325°F and bake cake until golden brown and a tester comes out free of wet batter, about 50 minutes to 60 minutes. (Gooey strawberries on the tester are a given.)

Let cool in pan on a rack. Cut into wedges. Serve with whipped cream, aka "foo foo", or vanilla ice cream. Enjoy!

Banana Bread Time!

All right, you guys. Your bananas should be thoroughly dead now, and ready to be made into a tasty batch of banana bread.

First off, read this entire thing through at least once, if not twice before you get started. Get out all the ingredients in the list and put them together in one place on your counter near your mixing bowl/device. And if you print out or write down the measurements, it's handy to stick it on the upper cupboard door in front of your work area so slops and spills won't get all over it so easy.

Preheat that oven of yours to 350. Make sure the rack inside is in the middle of the oven before that sucker gets hot.

Do yourself a favor and fill your dishpan or sink or whatever you hand wash dishes in now with hot, soapy water. When you finish with your messy ingredients, you can dump those measuring cups and such right in the soapy water and they'll be half washed before your loaf goes in the oven.

Take that loaf pan you got and grease the bottom only. You can smear a stick of butter around the bottom, or spray it and smear it around a bit with a paper towel. I've done both and either works great. You just don't want to grease the sides because the bread needs to be able to grab onto the sides to grow up to be a nice happy loaf.

Grab that mixing bowl and put all the following in there:

2-3 peeled mushy bananas (no pre-mashing or measuring necessary)
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1/3 cup milk
1 egg

Got all that in there? I keep track by putting all the ingredients out first on one side of the counter, and as I measure and add each one, it goes to the other side of the bowl. Easy way to double check yourself.

*If you're mixing this by hand, mush the layers of stuff together gently at first so you don't throw flour and milk all over the counter. A good circular scrape around that scoops and turns the bottom stuff to the top is a great method of getting the mixing started. For those fancy or trained cooks, that's called folding. Then just get your muscles going and stir that mess until it all looks about the same.

*If you're using a hand mixer (power tools--woot!), just mush the beaters around in the bowl in a stirring motion to get the mixing started, then turn them on a low speed and get that stuff looking like super thick pancake batter.

*And for those blessed with a stand mixer, pulse the beater on for just a fraction of a second a few times to get the mixing started, then mix on low for half a minute. Sometimes I drape a dishtowel over the top so I don't throw flour and milk all over the place, sometimes I manage to make a mess anyway. A nice soapy dishrag from that wash pan cleans up counters quick.

You should now have a bowl with a thick creamy looking mess in it. It should be fairly uniform in texture, no big lumps of dry stuff. Grab that spatula/rubber scraper thingy and clean off your beater/mixing spoon. Give the bowl a good scrape all the way to the bottom and make sure nothing got missed down there. If you find dry flour down on the bottom, just use that spatula and stir it around until it's mixed in.


Great. Now scrape that batter into your prepared loaf pan. It doesn't have to be fancy, just try not to get it all over the edges so you don't end up with burnt icky stuff. If I slop, I just squeegee it off with my fingers and get it all down in the pan. Fingers work well for getting the last globs off the scraper, too. Your pan should be about half full, more or less. There needs to be about an inch of pan showing above the batter...Any less and it might ooze over the sides when it poofs up.

Your oven should be up to temp and had a chance to even itself out inside. Put that loaf pan carefully in the middle of that rack in the oven so you don't burn yourself on that hot rack or oven walls. Close the door and set a timer for an hour.

This is a great time to wash up your mixing stuff. Or go watch a program on TV and let that stuff just soak. It's up to you.

One hour later, your bread should be getting close to done. Some ovens run hot (like mine), so it's best to check it a smidgen early. Open that oven and use a mitt for gawsh sakes to pull the rack out so you can reach the loaf safely. Look at that lovely loaf! It should have a nice light brown top with pale cracks. Take a bamboo skewer or cake tester and poke down to near the bottom through one of the cracks and pull it straight back out. You'll probably have a thin coating of gooey on your skewer, and that's okay. Just put it back in for 10 minutes and then re-check it. If your skewer has a few gooey crumbs, it only needs 5 minutes more, and then poke it again. If that skewer comes out clean, your loaf is done baking!

Set that hot loaf pan on the top of your stove or on a trivet or something and let that sucker cool off for a bit. Don't forget to turn off the oven! (Guess who's forgotten more than once. *blush*)

Once you can hold the pan with your bare hands, take a table knife and run it down between the loaf and all four sides of the pan to loosen the loaf. Gently turn the whole thing upside down in your hand and give the bottom of the pan a sharp pat. Grab that pan and it should pull off the bottom of the loaf fairly neatly with a slight wiggle. There'll be a coating of crumbs on the inside of the pan, but that should be about it. Set the loaf right side up on a cutting board and prepare to slice yourself a slice of yumminess!

New issues for mom

Monday I took mom in to see the doctor because her shoulder was giving her pain. It's been bugging her off and on for a couple weeks, and it's started to wake her when she rolls over on it. She's had arthritis in it for many years, and I can remember taking her in to get a cortisone injection in her shoulder probably 12-15 years ago.

The doctor ordered some x-rays, and looking at them is pretty ugly. Bones in x-rays are supposed to show up bright white; Mom's look translucent. On top of that, the joint space between the top of the humerus and the socket is about a third to a quarter the size it should be. That means there's a lot of connective tissue that's just not there anymore.

If mom were in better shape, it would be time to consider shoulder replacement surgery. But, since mom's really getting kind of frail and the bones aren't dense enough to support the prostheses, that's out of the picture.

We got an appointment this friday with the orthopedic P.A. that visits the local clinic to see if another cortisone injection might relieve some of the pain.

Then mom's doctor called this afternoon. The radiologist took some time to study mom's x-rays and says there's a good possibility that mom has a trapped rotator cuff. I looked it up and it's also called 'rotator cuff impingement'. The tendon of the rotator cuff travels under the shoulder blade through a gap; when it gets 'trapped' it can't move smoothly through that gap. Instead, it rubs on the arthritic gravel/bone spurs and weakens, causing pain and making it more susceptible to tearing.

The orthopedic P.A. will check for that on friday, and hopefully determine if a cortisone shot and/or physical therapy will help manage mom's pain best.


Bad day

Gosh, I ignore this poor blog for over two months and then post twice in a week. Whatever.

I've been avoiding blogging about mom because it's so damn disheartening. She's constantly flopped over to the left worse and worse every day, she can't stay awake, she can barely use even adaptive utensils to feed herself. Sunday morning I awoke to find that she fell down with a great crash....walking across the room in her nightshirt from the commode to the bathroom with no glasses on, not having wiped, with no underwear on, and with absolutely no idea what happened. She couldn't even tell me why she was going to the restroom.

Yesterday she was bugging me to take her out to buy an eye patch. Say what? Apparently her double vision is getting so bad she's having trouble reading even large print books. All the prisms in the world don't help when the Parkinson's gets into the eye muscles.

Today I had high hopes that she would be having a good day. She was actually awake and sitting on the side of the bed trying to take her C-PAP mask off when I got in to give her the first pill doses of the day. She had already used the commode and was just waiting for her pills. Unfortunately, everything went downhill from there. She's got new shingles blisters in two spots: one cluster by her tailbone (normal) and another completely isolated spot on her left shin (bizarre).

Breakfast was the usual mess, with her spooning more onto the table and her thumb than into her mouth. I left her for a bit after she settled back in her room at noon to take lunch to the shop. When I came home at one, she had relieved the kitchen of a huge handful of cookies and said she'd like some lunch. I got her a yogurt at her request and left her to eat.

Two hours later, I go in when her pill alarm beeped to make sure she gets her 'threes' in her. The threes are NOT in her pill box, apparently already taken, and she can't tell me when. She has no memory of taking them, but she must have since I can't find them anywhere. I'd rather she just did her usual of ignoring her pill timer and just forgetting to take doses completely. Not enough meds just makes her shaky and rigid. Too much is what caused the cognitive damage we're already dealing with.

Also, she's pulled out a basket with porcelain doll parts that need the cloth bodies attached and dumped it half out on the floor, breaking in pieces the chest plate of one and possibly damaging several other pieces. I showed her the broken one and she argued with me that she did not break it. Yeah, right. Pieces here on the floor at your feet, with the parts freshly unwrapped from their protective bubble wrap. She said she wanted to finish assembling them, something she has not had the dexterity to do for nearly five years, and she also can't remember how to do it to the point that she was trying to get me to sew the pieces together for her three years ago. I'm sorry, but I have NO interest in trying to figure out how the heck that's supposed to go (very tricky and incomplete directions) and NO desire to get roped into making over a dozen doll bodies for these sets she's been hoarding since before I came home from college.

Oh, and she hadn't even touched her lunch yogurt in two hours.

I don't know how much longer I can do this. I'd say most of the days are okay, with only minor stupidities to deal with. Annoying, but that's life. Then days like this come around and I'm practically in tears.

Mom only mentions going to a nursing home when she's in a depressed anxiety fit, usually when I'm a bit frustrated with her and she's using it as a guilt hammer. Very few will take state-paid residents anyway, and the ones that aren't total hellholes have insanely long waiting lists. Y-e-a-r-s long waiting lists. Were a decent place become available for her, she wouldn't do well there anyway. It's hard enough to get mom to socialize with her friends when I pack her to their houses and invite them over here all the time. If she was in a facility, she'd just isolate herself and refuse interaction and sink into a miserable pile of anti-social do-nothing, get sick, and waste away. I know this for a fact, because that's what she tries to do already as much as she can get away with it.

Bah. What a depressing pile of twaddle. I just need to suck it up, schedule some respite care, and take a freaking vacation.

Any takers?


June was chemo cap month

The month of June is a busy one in Kitsap county as far as charity events go. Five weekends in a row there were American Cancer Society Relay for Life events in the area! I decided to really go for it and bring my hats that I've been making to the events and see if I could sell some.

A bit of backstory first: Several years ago, my aunt in California had breast cancer and was bemoaning the fact that all the hats she could find were either wool or fleece or otherwise hot and unsuitable for summertime in the Bay Area. I offered to find a pattern and attempt to make a hat for her out of lightweight quilting cotton. This was a stretch for me, because all my sewing up to that point had been two-dimensional sewing, aka quilting. A three-dimensional object like a hat was going to be a challenge.

As it turned out, the sewing went well and my aunt loved the hat so much she shared it with the local wig shop down there and said I must make more to share with other people. So, I started making them for people I 'met' on the internet. My hats have been worn in nine states and three countries now! I even made some with nobody in particular in mind and put them up for sale on Etsy. I sold a couple that way, but interest had dropped off over the last year.

Back to this June, I packed up the dozen hats I had made in a variety of fabrics and colorways and headed down to the first one at South Kitsap. Well, that's not entirely true. I also loaded The Blue Brick (mom's wheelchair vanagon) with the generator, my sewing machine, a chair and a table, my portable ironing board and travel iron, and a bunch of fabrics in bins in the back. I also made a ghetto-style banner sign that I laminated with packing tape to put up, bought a 'Square' so I could take credit and debit cards with my Ipad, and a bunch of business cards.

I knew there was parking just outside the north fence at the track, so I headed down a bit before the relay was supposed to start. Having never done this before, I had emailed the even organizer asking if it would be okay for me to bring my hats down, but I received no response. I wasn't sure if they would even allow me in, but I went anyway thinking the worst that could happen is that I'd be sent home. I managed to find one last parking spot by the northeast corner of the track where I set up, stuck my sign to the tailgate, and started sewing.

There was a huge turnout that first night, and I was able to sell four of my ready-made hats! I was thrilled. I went back the next morning hoping to sell some more, but the second day crowd was much smaller and too tired to be interested, so I learned to only go out for the first part of the relays. I learned a lot that first night. I handed out business cards to lots of people as they walked by, and found that standing by the trackside with hats and demonstrating them, barking out their features sold more than just sitting by my machine and waiting.

The following weekend was the North Mason gig. I scoped out the location on Google maps and managed to snag a prime location near the bandstand. I sold three more, but the best sale of the entire month happened that night. It was rather chilly for June (57 degrees!) and a woman walked up, glanced over my hats, and grabbed a blue flannel one. She then proceeded to whip the wig off her head, stuff it in her pocket, and put my hat on with a smile and a snuggly "oooooh!". She told her husband to pay for the hat and marched back to the track to continue her laps.

Next came Gig Harbor. I had never been near the location, so Bill took me down mid-week to scope out the location. I picked a likely area to park and work, and it ended up being just fine. For the first time, I was set up inside the fence, and the organizers were very kind about letting me set up and sew. I also tried using our coat tree from home as a display stand, which worked very well. I had the added bonus of doing a bit of sewing for some people who just wanted a patch stitched on a bandana, as well as sharing my generator with a very nice fellow doing child ID services. I sold three ready-made, made one custom to order that night, and have since received two more orders by phone from the cards I handed out that night. I also tried something new: I walked around to the various camps before the relay started telling them I was there, what I made, showing them a hat and its features, and handing out business cards. I was so nervous, but it obviously worked!

The following weekend was the North Kitsap Relay. The location was awful, with nowhere to park anywhere near the track, and no easy access to bring in my stuff at all. I also managed to mess up my shoulder that week, and the weather was terrible, pouring down rain. Lack of parking, lame shoulder, and lousy weather. I hated to do it, but I wimped out and stayed home.

The last saturday in June was the Bremerton/Central Kitsap Relay. I was stopped entering the parking lot! Luckily, they were just very organized and the coordinators found me a good place to set up inside the fence, along with letting me use the loading ramp to bring in my carts. The announcer even was kind enough to talk my hats up over the speakers! Despite the rain, I did the walk-around before the event and handed out business cards. Everyone was very kind and welcoming, and I sold SEVEN hats that night, including two I custom made between showers.

It was the best experience, and I was sad that the local relays were done for the year. I have high hopes that the cards I handed out and the contacts I made will continue to bring in more sales in the next weeks. And I definitely know what my weekends next June will be spent doing!


No, there's no proof of that, but when you spend hours every day monitoring a parent with a degenerative disease that they haven't proved one way or the other has or hasn't got a genetic component, you get a bit paranoid.

Having done all the research on Parkinson's disease, I know all the potential precursor symptoms. I have many of them! Of course, so do a majority of the average adult population, so it doesn't mean a dang thing....except to that worry-farm in the back corner of my brain.

Here's my worrywart list of symptoms:

My hands will shake when I'm any combination of tired, hungry, and/or stressed.
My legs get twitchy in the evenings sometimes(i.e. restless leg syndrome) which is related to PD.
My left eyelid has been twitching for hours every day for weeks now.
My extremities go tingly or numb a lot easier than they used to when I was younger...the beginnings of neuropathy?
I get constipated sometimes.
I have a sniffly nose year 'round.
My handwriting is not as smooth as it used to be.

Here's my commonsense rebuttals, in order:

Well duh, of course your hands shake when you have low blood sugar and other stresses.
Doing vigorous exercise (like zumba) one day and sitting around the next might do that.
The eyelid is probably related to stress or allergies.
You have low blood pressure, doofus, not to mention longer arms and legs.
Who doesn't when they don't eat enough fruits and vegetables?
You just might be slightly allergic to your cat or house dust, stupid.
And just how much do you actually write anymore? Hard to stay smooth with no practice.

I know I'm just being neurotic. There's absolutely nothing there to take to a doctor that they wouldn't come to the same conclusion as my common sense does. But stress can do strange things to you, including nearly all of the 'symptoms' my worrier likes to point at.

Don't let anyone tell you that caring for an aging/ill parent isn't stressful. No matter how much love and respect there is between you, it can drive you to the edge of sanity. Add to that the pressure from loved ones who thinks said parent should be in a nursing home, as if that would remove ALL the stress from your life...NOT!

Bah. I'm going to go look at pictures of funny kittens now.