Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Staying positive in the face of searing sadness


If you take anything away from my blog, please don't let it be sadness or sympathy.  I am in need of neither.  I hope you can see hope and love of family.

I have done a lot of thinking over the past week  - reflecting on why I started this blog, what drives me to keep posting, and what message I want to share with those who visit these pages.

No-one chooses to be personally connected to Alzheimer's - it's just the luck of the draw.  And when my beloved mother drew the short end of the stick, so did we all.

All of this reflection has made me realize that when your loved one has AD the grieving process really is fluid - and without closure you can't really heal.

I intellectuallize and compartmentalize the tough stuff so that I can move on...after all, life goes on. But when I really take a moment to "feel", it's in such a moment that I am overwhelmed by searing sadness.

Sadness that my kids had to give up so much in the early years to allow me to deal with Mom's rapidly advancing illness.  Sadness that Mom never really knew how great all her grandkids turned out - or the successes that Davie and I are having in midlife.  Sadness that I can never really tell Mom how grateful I am for all she did for me, and gave to me.  Sadness that my Dad is spending his golden years without her by his side.  Sadness that, as Mom said, "it all ended too soon".

And yet I don't spend a lot of my time being sad.  That would be a waste.  I try to be positive and thankful - traits that my mother always showed in the good times and the bad.

I am thankful for my family, and the health of my loved ones.  I am thankful for Baycrest - the wonderful long term care facility where my mother lives.  I am thankful for the many good years we had together, and for the memories that bring me comfort in those moments of sadness.  I am thankful for my dreams - where my mother is well, and vibrant - because in those moments I hug her longer and breathe in her perfumed scent, luxuriating in every second because somewhere deep down I know it will end when I waken.  I am thankful for the chance to write about her, and my family, and our life - then and now, and that there are people who want to read her story.  You help me to keep her alive as she was.

And as apprehensive as I am to go on national TV tomorrow to watch a clip that will probably make me look like an emotional, bumbling sap, I am grateful.  Because, as my best friend Diane (who will be with me tomorrow) said, it's not about being intelligent or insightful, it's about opening your heart and sharing your story so that it helps others to feel a little less alone.  If I'm lucky, they will connect to my story, and see through the bumbling words and teary frowns to my heart - which is still healing from the ongoing loss of my mother to Alzheimer's.

Until next time, I wish you a wonderful evening, filled with family, fun, friends and fantastic food.  B'Tayavon & Buon Appetito!

Thursday, 15 January 2015

It takes a family to raise a mom...

With Canada AM Producer Jessica
Yesterday was my mother's 72nd birthday.  There is another Influenza Outbreak in her pod, and she is restricted to her room.  We insisted that Dad not go and risk exposure, but I went (masked) to see her before I wrote the last of my deferred exams (which signalled the end of Semester 1 of my paralegal studies - hallelujah!).

As I sat with her I could see her struggling to open her eyes.  It seemed an almost impossible task.  I called Davie and Dad and we sang to her. I could have sworn I saw the corners of her mouth turn upward, hinting at a smile.  I kissed her and told her I loved her, and took a selfie of us - because everyone should have a photo to mark their birthday.  And I left.  I had a final exam to write and the clock was ticking.

I wrote the exam and was filled with a sense of accomplishment.  Bravo to Carlo and Sara and Rebecca - for they are the support team behind the scenes that enables me to go to school, and work, and keep it together.  They are my rocks.  It really does take a family to raise a mom - and I am blessed with a great one.

And now in the 2 days I have before Semester 2 begins, I have taken a trip down memory lane, back to a time when it took a complete family to try and raise our mother from sinking into the abyss of Alzheimers Disease.

I was contacted just over a week ago by a producer for Canada AM - a national morning show.  They are presenting a week-long series on Alzheimer's Disease and I was invited to share the story of our journey, along with other families and people touched by AD.

So, today, I went over to the Bell Media Studios thinking that I would have a pleasant interview and be on my way.  Everyone was very nice, although I must say it is a little disconcerting to stand in a darkened studio, look into a camera and answer questions.  But that wasn't what got me.   As I recounted our story, I could feel a lump rising in my throat, and my heart began to race.  It was as though 13 years had fallen to the wayside and I was reliving the moments of discovering something was wrong with my mother all over again.

Sounds melodramatic, I know, and as I had to stop and take a minute - yes, people really do that - I was yelling at myself in my head: "Naomi, this is old news!  Get it together!  Why is this story, of the bookkeeper quitting in a temper tantrum because your mother couldn't understand her instructions, why is this story making you cry?!"  I don't know that I can answer that for you now, except to say that the wounds of the long goodbye are raw, and they never quite heal over.  It's like a persistent cut, you think it's healed and then some slight movement and it's open and bleeding again.

I miss my mother, and when I go beyond the intellectual, and allow myself to feel the loss and sorrow that accompanies the long goodbye, I realize that I am still that girl who needs her mom, only now I can only enjoy the comfort of her embrace in my dreams and memories.

I don't know how the interview piece will turn out (I can only hope I don't appear like a blubbering, babbling fool), but I invite you all to tune into Bell Media/CTV's Canada AM every morning next week, when they will air the special on Alzheimer's.  The piece I participated in will be airing on Thursday January 22nd, 2015, during the Town Hall.

Until next time, which I hope will not be the end of Semester 2 (!!), I wish you all a wonderful week filled with family, fun, friends and fantastic food.  B'Tayavon and Buon Appetito.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Back to School with Simple Meals...Pasta Al Forno



Well, we made it through the first week of school...almost!

The girls started classes this past week.  The drama of settling into a new routine, sorting out confused timetables, and getting everywhere on time is just about behind us.  

But this year, we've added a new twist to back to school...Mom's going back too!  I have a renewed appreciation for our kids' butterflies and apprehension, as I face my own return to the classroom after a 20-year hiatus.  As I stood in line for my student card, surrounded by young people just a year or two older than Sara, I marvelled at how much things have changed, yet stayed the same since Diane and I attended York in the late 1980's.  The line ups at the bookstore, and student photo ID centre are still hours long, but now you can do so much on line - something that was not possible when we went to school.  

But I did it...got my books, got my student ID card, found my classrooms and plotted my route from parking lot to classroom.  And I talked myself through the jitters the same way I would try to calm our kids.  My office is ready for learning - the clutter is cleaned out, all our schedules are logged, notebooks are bought, pens and highlighters on hand.  

I guess all that is left is for classes to start on Monday night...

As far as food, meals and the running of our home - that is pretty much under control too.  My wonderful family are all onside as we face this lifestyle change together.  Everyone will do a little more to help around the house, Carl will cook more, and our meals will be a lot simpler during my school semesters.  

Simpler does not mean flavourless though.  The other night, Becca said she was craving something cheesy and gooey and saucy.  And suddenly it popped in my head - pasta al forno!  This is a pasta which is oven-baked, liked lasagna.  But I don't think fresh pasta is in the cards for us for the next 3 months...so I boiled some small pasta shells, browned some ground beef, made a tomato sauce and shredded some mozzarella.  (If you observe Kashruth, substitute the ground beef for veggie ground or omit the beef altogether).  I drained the pasta and combined it with the sauce and ground beef in a Pyrex, then topped it with mozzarella.  I covered it with foil, placed it on a cookie sheet and baked it in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes.

It was a huge hit - served with a simple side salad and some garlic bread.  Sara had 3 helpings!  Sara, who never has more than a modest single serving said it was scrumptious!  As I sat at the table watching my family devour this incredibly simple meal, I felt the tension flow out of my body, and I realized that it will be OK.  There are plenty of quick and easy dishes like this pasta al forno that I can pull out of a hat and prepare in 30 minutes or less, like I used to when the girls were little and time was limited.   

So, from my family to yours, I hope you enjoy this pasta al forno as much as we did.  Until next time, I wish you all a wonderful back to school season, and a fantastic weekend, filled with family. fun, friends and fantastic food.  B'Tayavon & Buon Appetito!

Naomi's Pasta Al Forno

Ingredients
  • 1 package lean ground beef or veggie ground
  • 1 box pasta 
  • 1 jar tomato sauce (for my recipe, see sauce)
  • 2C shredded mozzarella cheese

Method
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Boil pasta.  Brown ground beef or veggie ground and drain.  Make sauce.  Combine pasta, sauce and beef in Pyrex.  Place on baking sheet (in case it bubbles over) and cover with foil.  Bake for half an hour, then serve.  No need to uncover while baking, unless you like your cheese to brown.  

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Perogies and cooking with love...across the generations and throughout the family

Grandma Rose's Family Recipe

As you know, I was in Victoria last January visiting Jimmy and Barb and their family.  I wrote a few posts during that time, about the my experience there, visiting with my family and cooking up new delicious recipes. Here is another post from that visit...

It is so beautiful here.  Every day they find something beautiful for me to discover, this being my first ever trip to the west coast, even if I often view it  just from the car.

The reason for our visit is bittersweet - my Uncle Jim is not well, that is the bitter - we are together, that is the sweet.  And he smiles...a lot.  He seems to be really happy to see how gelled his family is...how tight we've pulled back together in such a short time.  But I'm really not surprised...
 
We have history...I tried to express it to Barb the other day (and failed miserably, I'm afraid)...so let me try again, here, where I have a backspace and delete button.
As we were leaving after a long day of visiting, cooking, running errands and reminiscing, Rose gave me a big hug, put her arm around me, looked at me and said "you look just like your mother when you smile like that". I thought my heart would burst right on the spot.  That moment embodied everything I've missed so desperately...the history...the back stories...the memories.  Since Alzheimer's took a firm hold of my mother, I have no matriarch to give me a hug and tell me they remember me when I was a girl, that they remember my mother, my grandmother, to share my memories...until now.  My aunt Barb and "Grandma" Rose soothed that throbbing dull ache of loss for me.

Jimmy loves pasta...hmmmm you think we might be related?!?  So I made my pasta a la Sara the other night with Omega 3 enriched pasta to sneak some extra nutrients into his diet.  As I was making this super easy meal, Rose was perusing the Matriarchs' "Golden Recipes" cookbook, and pointing out the similarities between the recipes that we make and the recipes that her family makes (all stemming back to the same Winnipeg roots).  
 
I became intrigued every time Rose would come across a recipe and say "Your Bubbie Lou used to make this for us!  It is so delicious!".  I was dumbfounded.  In one case it was a recipe on a small scrap of paper, for lavash.  I have passed this recipe over many times...nothing in it grabbed my attention.  But now, you can be sure I will be making it when I get back home.  It's like I've been given a window into the world of yesteryear, and awakened from a deep sleep. 
So, Rose, Stan and I corralled Barb into planning the meals for the duration of our visit...and now that I have foodie partners in crime, this is becoming a really fun endeavour!  We are planning on making a special dinner for our last night of the trip: Chicken Kiev, Mushroom Brown Rice and Asparagus a la Nora...and let's not forget dessert: hamentashen and mun bagel 
BUT...that is not the only exciting meal in the works...Jimmy and I both love perogies/verenikes.  I have already told you how we make ravioli, but I've never made a proper perogie...until now.  Stan and Rose are adopting me as their culinary kid and teaching me to make them too!  Tuesday night's dinner is cheddar, potato and onion perogies with sour cream, a Caesar salad and some crusty bread.  No-one will say we aren't eating well this trip!
Grandma Rose cutting circles
The filling balls

Perogies - the finished product

Grandpa Stan overseeing the
boiling of the perogies
Fast forward to July...the here and now.  Over five months have passed since we left Victoria, and lost Jimmy.  But the memories of that wonderful trip remain forever ingrained in my mind and heart.  The dinner preparation that Tuesday night was so much fun.  Rose was very patient, as we rolled out the perogie dough (she ended up breaking Barb's rolling pin handles right off the pin so we'd have our own makeshift French rolling pin!), cut the circles and she skillfully (I, gingerly) filled each one.  I soon got the hang of the hand motions necessary to effectively fill and seal each perogie, and they passed Stan inspection too!  (He was in charge of boiling them).  We gobbled them up that evening, as our family gathered round the table, enjoying every moment we were together.

And they were so yummy that I set out to make them right away once I was back home.  Were they ever a hit with my family!  The first time I made them I fried them up with chopped onions after boiling and draining them. The next time I made them I laid them on a parchment-lined baking sheet, spritzed them with a little canola oil spray and baked them in a 400 degree oven for 20 minutes, turning them once and spritzing again.  They were just as delicious but not fried.  Oh...but I still served them topped with fried onions, of course!

So, from my extended and immediate family to yours, I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as we all do.  Wishing you all a wonderful weekend filled with family, friends, fun and fantastic food.  B'Tayavon and Buon Appetito!

Grandma Rose's Perfect Perogies

Dough Ingredients:

  • 1 C hot water
  • ½ C cold milk
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 4½ C flour

Dough Method:
Combine dry ingredients, then blend in water, oil and milk.  Knead well, and refrigerate for ½ hour.  

Filling Ingredients:
  • 6 medium potatoes, boiled & mashed
  • ½ C grated cheddar cheese (or to taste)  OR cheese whiz to taste
  • salt and pepper to taste

Filling Method:
Boil and mash potatoes. While hot, mix in cheddar cheese and salt and pepper.  Allow to cool so you can comfortably touch the mixture and then roll into balls and place on cookie sheet.

Making the perogies:
Roll the dough on a floured, flat surface.  It will be moist but not sticky.  Roll  it to between ½" and ¼" thickness. Use round glass to cut circles.  Place circle of dough in palm of your hand, put ball of filling in middle of circle. Then roll dough into semi-circle, carefully and tightly sealing all edges.  Place on baking sheet until ready to boil.  

Preparing the perogies:
Boil: Once you have made a batch of perogies, bring a large stock pot of water to a boil and gently place the perogies in the water.  They will float to the top.  Let them boil for 5 minutes, then remove from water with slotted spoon.
Fry: You can place them in frying pan with a little oil to crisp them; or 
Bake: Preheat over to 400 degrees and place them on a parchment-lined baking sheet,  spray with canola oil spray and bake for 20 minutes, turning and respraying once.

We like to eat our perogies with fried onions and sour cream on top!   

Saturday, 12 July 2014

New Beginnings and New (Old) Approaches...

Image courtesy of sweetclipart.com

I haven't been writing much over the past 8 months...life has been so busy, between the move to a new house, my uncle Jim's sudden illness and passing, the kids' busy lives and a new baby joining our family, I have been consistently pulled in too many directions to be able to take the time to bake and try new recipes let alone write about them.

Now things are getting even busier, as I am planning on going back to school part-time in the fall, and upgrading my legal education - finally!  So, how does this fit in with blogging about Mom, food and trying new recipes?  Well, strangely enough, it does.

Last time I was in post-secondary school I had the luxury of living at home, under the protective and indulgent wing of my mother.  She ensured that my living conditions were ideal - all I had to do was go to work during the day and attend University in the evenings.  I studied on weekends. Everything else was taken care of for me.  How lucky I was!  Now, as Sara contemplates her own post-secondary choices, I keep offering her the same - work part-time and attend school full-time, and let me help you by taking care of the rest.  She is not convinced - yet.   But she still has a year to go, and in that year, she will have the added advantage of watching me go back to school, and juggle it all.  This should be interesting...for all of us...

I am already thinking ahead to meal planning - and preparing double recipes of dinners ahead of time that can be frozen and pulled out on a rotating schedule.  With everyone's busy lives I know that it will be necessary to have a meal plan - so we all know what to expect.  It's just simpler that way.  Haven't you ever found yourself racking your brain on the way home from work, trying to figure out what to make for dinner? A meal chart alleviates that stress from the mix.  So I am pulling out some of my tried and true resources from days gone by - including the list of meals that we all liked so I can start  to prepare and freeze.

In my old life, during the month off between semesters I would go on vacation with Diane and Mary, and read books for pleasure - so relaxing and decadent was I.  Now I am thinking that this will be the time that use to prepare & freeze meals and cookies and baking for the semester ahead.

Don't get me wrong.  Carlo and the kids are my biggest supporters.  They are really excited that I am taking the plunge, and have all pledged to help me with the "Mommy tasks" that I have always held a tight reign over - cooking, cleaning, etc..  And I know that much like my mother prepared me for the world, our beautiful daughters are already prepared to fly solo if they had to, but they really don't have to yet.

Actually, I see this as yet another opportunity for me to teach them some essential life lessons: that's it's never too late to follow your dreams (but more importantly, DO NOT cut them short when you're young); that things of value take hard work, effort and commitment; that if you want something done, give it to a busy person.   I am hoping to be a positive example for our daughters, am determined to succeed, and in doing so, I trust I will inspire them to reach for their own stars.

So, the sharing of new recipes may be fewer and farther between, but I think it's worth it...and who knows - we might even get Carlo to start writing about his recipes!

In the meantime, in the next couple of days I plan on posting a fantastic family recipe for perogies - it's perfect for making ahead and freezing (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) - that Grandma Rose (Uncle Jim's mother-in-law) shared with me when I was in Victoria this past January.  So stay tuned!

Until next time, I wish you all a wonderful weekend, filled with family, fun, friends and fantastic food.  B'Tayavon & Buon Appetito!

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Living Through The Long, Lonely Goodbye


When Mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease on September 11th, 2006, a friend sympathetically offered support for the rough times ahead.  I remember thinking to myself  "we'll be fine, we'll deal with it".  Looking back I am amazed by my naivete and innocence...

I had no idea that there would be no relief from the annoying repetitive behaviours...that they would increase in frequency and intensity.  I had no idea that my mother would disappear as she was consumed by a disease that stole her memory, her ability to function in every aspect of daily life.  I had no idea how this disease would rob my mother of her life, and us of ours in trying to help her cope with a new loss every day. 

As we progressed further into this journey, another friend told me to try to enjoy each stage, and appreciate it.  (In hindsight I understand that she meant that each stage to follow would be worse).  I thought she was nuts - enjoy this?!  Seriously?!?   At the time I could not enjoy anything.  I was overwhelmed with pressures and responsibility.  I was a mother of young children and a daughter of an ailing mother.  I was pulled in so many directions and drowning in a melting pot of mixed emotions - frustration, anger, fear, confusion, grief.  I just wanted to be "normal", like other thirty-something mothers, taking my kids to school and play dates...not trying to manoeuvre through medical and social service minefields.   I wanted to go back to the days when my mother mothered me, guiding me through the labyrinth of life.  I needed my mom.


But, more importantly, my mom needed me.  She started calling me her mom.  Not as a joke, but in all seriousness.  I think that's how she saw me - as the woman who took care of her.  I don't like to think back to those days.  The kids remember me losing my patience...a lot.  I remember feeling like the world was crashing in on me...a lot. 

And now...now it's a memory.  Almost eight years have passed since we received my mother's formal diagnosis...five years years since she went into long-term care.  She is at the end stages of Alzheimer's Disease.  She barely speaks, moves or opens her eyes.  She is trapped in a failing body that imprisons her.  I can only pray that she is at peace in there, and does not understand where she has ended up.  

I now understand her better...why she was so afraid of getting this disease, and how brave she was to live with it, all the while enduring the daily torment of knowing what was coming.  My poor mother.  My brave mother.  My beloved mother.
I think of her constantly...and smile at how life has changed, and how much she would have loved this phase.  Sara is almost grown...so beautiful, graceful and stylish...in many ways a younger version of my mom.  Becca is blooming...with her many interests - especially her love of piano and ballet - my mother would have kvelled (burst with pride).  Abby is delightful and sweet, spirited and with a quick wit - Mom would have giggled at all her 5-year-old antics.  And now we are awaiting the arrival of "Baby Boy" (my soon-to-be nephew) later this month.  She would have been on shpilkis (bouncing off the walls) with anticipation of our newest family member...excitedly planning for his arrival.

This time around I am the backup plan.  Abby is so excited for the baby's arrival - because she gets to sleep over with her cousins!  She's priceless! That's what I am talking about, Mom would have had a field day with that one!

When Becca was born we dropped a sleeping Sara to my parents' place on the way to the hospital.  She awakened the next morning and asked my parents "how I got here?".  It became one of the catchphrases that my parents gleefully repeated with a smile and a chuckle for years to come (Dad and I still laugh about it to this day).  Mom made sure that Sara's first meeting with her little sister was an exciting event...from the ride down to the hospital, to coming inside the room, to the actual introduction: "Hi, I'm your big sister Sara, S - A - R - A".


Now the torch has been passed to me.  I will take my niece Abby to meet her little brother.  We will have a sleepover, with lots of fun planned, and then when it's time to go to the hospital we'll get him a nice stuffed animal and a balloon and head downtown.  So, as I plan for this exciting milestone, I think of Mom.  A lot.  I wish I could share these plans with her, and probably will...hoping that she hears me.  These are the moments that I desperately miss her, and feel the impact of the long, lonely goodbye.

But the torch has passed, and like the millions of other people who live with this kind of "limbo loss", when your loved one is effectively gone, but their body perseveres, our family will find a way to emphasize the sweetness in yet another bittersweet Simcha .  I will bake for Baby Boy's Bris, and we will celebrate his life with joy and gratitude and elation...and that is exactly how Mama would have wanted it.  

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Naomi's Super Quick Stir Fry


Funny how I never think to post my own recipes...those fast and easy dishes that I tend to reach for on weeknights when I want a healthy from-scratch meal that doesn't require a huge outlay of time or effort. 
But lately I am getting feedback from people asking for the recipes of my "What's Cooking Good Looking" posts on the MMT Facebook page - the latest being for my veggie stir fry.  

This is the easiest and tastiest shitarein recipe ever...and the best part?  You use whatever ingredients you have on hand!

In my case, I prefer a vegetarian stir fry, but you could easily add some strips of beef, chicken, tofu or seafood - like I said, it's totally up to you.  We round out this meal with some vegetarian spring rolls, fluffy white rice and crusty bread for a light and delicious dinner that satisfies your taste buds and your hunger pangs.

So, directly from my kitchen to yours, I hope you enjoy this dish as much as we all do.  Until next time, I wish you a wonderful day filled with family, friends, fun and fantastic food.  B'Tayavon and Buon Appetito!

Naomi's Super Quick Stir Fry

Ingredients:
½ package of instant noodles (cooked and drained)
2 tbsp canola oil
1 tbsp crushed garlic
2 tbsp soya sauce (or more to taste)
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 large zucchini, peeled and chopped into smaller pieces (same size as carrot rounds)
1 red onion, chopped
10 - 15 mini carrots, cut into smaller rounds
6 celery stalks, chopped into smaller pieces (same size as carrot rounds)
1 package fresh mushrooms, sliced OR 1 tin sliced mushrooms, drained
1 package snap peas, rinsed
1 red, orange or yellow pepper, diced

Method:
In large frying pan on medium heat, saute onions, and garlic in canola oil until translucent.  Add mushrooms, carrots, celery, and saute for about 5 minutes.  Then add peppers, zucchini, snap peas and pre-cooked instant noodles. Toss with lemon juice and soya sauce and saute for a further 5 minutes or until any residual liquid is gone.  Serve hot and enjoy!