Cooking Thanksgiving with Uncle Mike

November 26, 2008 at 9:26 am (Brother John, Family, Friends, Stories, Visit) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )


By Eydie Wight

Cooking Thanksgiving with Uncle Mike

First of all, I’d like to issue a disclaimer. To any family members who were actually AT this Thanksgiving dinner, and actually READ this: I have a somewhat dim recollection of all the events that occurred but I’m going to write about them anyway. This is how I remember it!

It was the first Thanksgiving after Granny died and the whole family was making a special effort to get together for dinner at Granddad’s. My second husband Greg, my son Roger, and I had made the trip in from Indiana to stay at my parents for a nice long visit through the holidays. Rog was only about three and I was still in respiratory school. I volunteered to go over to Granddad’s the evening before to help Granddad shop, get the turkey ready, make the pies, sweet potato casserole, and anything else that could be done ahead of time. My Mom said she would stay home with Rog and then they would all come over early Thanksgiving morning. I was surprised when Uncle Mike said he would come down the night before and help with the cooking, but tickled too.

Uncle Mike has always been a very cool uncle. One year when Brother John got a microscope for Christmas Uncle Mike not only let us stick pins in his fingers a billion times so we could look at blood, he also let us look at skin flakes, boogers, arm hair, and spit. He would babysit us when we were kids. I don’t think we ever got to bed on time when Uncle Mike was there. I can remember being cranked up on soda and candy and jumping up and down on the bed yelling at the top of my lungs just for the sake of the irritating noise of it. Uncle Mike took it like a sport.

Now, by this time I was a grown up married lady and had had my hand up many a turkey’s cavity to fill it with stuffing, but mind you always with my Granny or my mother-in-law and sisters-in-law around for moral support. This would be my first solo run without a matriarch to guide me. But, I was no stranger to cooking and was ready for the task at hand. Sure I was.

I arrived at Granddad’s and after he greeted me with his usual “How are you Sweet Thing?” we settled in at the table to make lists. Or rather I made lists, consulted Granddad, and he read me bits and pieces from the newspaper and showed me the Thanksgiving cards he’d received. God love him, he wanted everything to be just like it was when Granny made Thanksgiving dinner. As he went down the list of food I began to feel the first creeping signs of unease. Surely in past years we hadn’t had all that food? Yes turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, dinner rolls, corn, sweet potato casserole, and pumpkin pie. But did we really have in addition corn bread, deviled eggs, pickled eggs and red beets, three bean chowder, Lima beans, green bean casserole, macaroni and cheese, stuffing balls, ham, pineapple upside down cake, cookies, apple dumplings, a pickle and olive tray, dips for pretzels and chips, and hot dogs for my son who at that time in his life ate nothing but hot dogs? How did Granny do it? Granddad had lovingly gotten out all of Granny’s recipes and placed them in a (towering) stack for me to look over.

Armed with my list, Granddad picked up his crutches (he’d been injured in an industrial accident several years back and had nearly lost his legs) and we went out to his big salmon colored Cadillac. Talk about a beautiful car. Leather seats as soft as butter. He handed me the keys and we floated our way into town. That car just about drove itself. I was doing 90 before I knew it. Granddad’s hand on the armrest never even tightened its grip, not even when we sort of sailed over a huge bump and I’m sure all four white walled tires left the ground.

Our first stop was the liquor store. I was a little puzzled when Granddad grabbed a shopping cart on the way in. I soon understood as he went down the aisles. “Now, Sweet Thing, get you a bottle of that Scotch you like, and get your Aunt Deb some of that stuff there, I forget what it’s called but that’s the bottle, and your cousin Tim drinks Jack Daniels and Kathy drinks Old Granddad and your dad likes a Seagram’s Seven and seven -up…” and the list went on and on. He knew what everyone from family members to family friends liked to drink and bought it. The bill was more than I took home in a week! I was thinking that all that liquor never took into consideration that most of the men hung out in Granddad’s shed before dinner and drank his homemade plum brandy anyway and smoked their cigarettes and cigars while he sharpened their pocket knives!

I pulled the now loaded Caddy into Granddad’s driveway, just missing the snow-ball bush to the right and the big walnut tree to the left (at least missing the big walnut tree THIS time) and pulled in beside Uncle Mike’s car. We got the groceries unloaded and it was time to cook. I forgot to mention that Granddad had gotten some of the groceries a day or so before I got there. To my consternation I saw that he had gotten real potatoes to make the mashed potatoes. Not the instant I had planned to make, then hide the box, and hope no one noticed. He had also gotten “real” bread cubes, four big bags of them, for the stuffing. No Stove Top, I sighed. Fortunately, Uncle Mike turned out to be a pretty good cook and took everything in stride. We got the turkey washed and the giblets cooked. (Granddad was horrified when I prepared to throw out the neck. No neck? “Why there’s some commin’ that’d soon have the neck as the whole dang turkey,” he said. By this time it was late, and things were moving along very slowly. Uncle Mike got the pumpkin pies in while I was peeling the hard boiled eggs to put in with the pickled beets. New eggs. New eggs that didn’t want to peel. Lots of new eggs that didn’t want to peel. Uncle Mike lent a hand and we made the most pitted and cratered plate of deviled eggs you ever saw. The pickled eggs floated in the dark beet juice looking like I had beat them with a stick. Uncle Mike said, “Tastes good, all that counts.”

Finally, just about everything was prepared. Granddad had long since nodded off at the kitchen table and was finally persuaded to go to bed. I was yawning and Uncle Mike kept saying, one more thing, and then I’ll go home for awhile and see you in the morning. The last thing on the agenda was the making of the stuffing balls. Now our family likes their stuffing done outside the turkey. We use an ice cream scoop to make balls of stuffing that are cooked in pans in the oven. The stuffing comes out crispy on the outside and the inside is moist enough to stick together but no more. Many a heated discussion has revolved around the stuffing balls and whether or not they were the desirable “bone dry” balls. Granny always got it just right. As we started to shake out the bags of bread cubes into the big mixing bowl I noticed what I thought was a piece of blue bread wrapper in the bowl. I picked it out, and then immediately spied another piece. “Uncle Mike,” I cried aghast, “these bread cubes are MOLDY.” Granddad had gotten the stuffing cubes a day or so ago and had put them on top of the refrigerator. The top of the fridge gets warm, the moisture left in the cubes provides a nice growth medium, and there you have it. We just looked at each other, knowing there was no place open (especially in those days) to buy more. Granddad only had a few slices of bread left in his loaf. So, we started picking mold off the cubes. Uncle Mike said, “penicillin won’t hurt you, right?” Now I’m thinking that that’s not the only kind of mold that can grow on bread, and some people are allergic to penicillin anyway. But, Thanksgiving dinner and no stuffing balls? There would be mutiny. So, until two A.M. I picked and pored over the bread cubes. Finally we made the stuffing balls, ready to pop in the oven come morning. We stored them in the fridge to retard further growth. Uncle Mike left for home and a few hours sleep and I poured myself a hefty Scotch, shed a few tears in the dishwater as I cleaned up, and started getting out the “good” dishes, serving spoons, extra silverware, and coffee cups.

Thanksgiving day dawned. I know it dawned because I saw it. I had gotten as far as putting on my pajamas after Uncle Mike left, but that was as close to beddy-bye as I got. As I watched the sun come up into a clear sky that promised a crisp perfect day I gave thanks that I was blessed with such a large loving family. I also prayed that no one would get sick from the meal, that I would manage to be awake for over 24 hours without becoming a demented shrew, and that Granny would forgive me my many trespasses in the preparation of the family meal.

My mom, dad, husband and son were the first to arrive, followed quickly by pretty much the world. Aunts, Uncles, cousins, second cousins, neighbors, friends, all were welcomed. Everywhere I looked I saw mouths filled with food. The kids were running around the table snatching an olive or pickle here, a cookie or some chips there. And then, it was the moment of truth. The turkey came out of the oven at the right moment and was done to perfection. The mashed potatoes I had delegated to mom with a certain amount of desperation. I had peeled them, I had cooked cooked them, and then she did all sorts of mysterious things with warm milk and butter and came up with smooth mounds of creamy goodness. I made Uncle Mike take the stuffing balls from the oven and pass them around to the ohhs and ahhs of anticipated satisfaction. The balls were lightly browned, pleasing to the eye. They smelled heavenly and I saw that most people took at least two. My dad took the first bite as I bit my tongue and he pronounced, “Bone dry.” The highest compliment. I felt my face turn as red as the pickled beets and I choked back the laughter that was holding hands with the urge to tell on myself. Mom patted my shoulder, “She’s shy.” I felt my face grow redder and added to myself, “and possibly a murderer.” I coughed and mom said, “I hope you’re not coming down with something.” Uncle Mike passed me a stuffing ball. “Here, fix you right up.” (Brother John here… ah yes… and I’m sure he said it with a twinkle in his eye… So much humor and irony expressed with so few words!)

I watched closely for the remainder of the day but no one’s throat swelled up forcing me to do an emergency tracheotomy with the pen Uncle Dave had given me that said, “From the desk of Dave Reed.” One of my second cousins DID throw up but I think that was due more to the entire box of chocolate covered cherries she had eated when no one was watching. By mid afternoon Granddad had run out of chairs and sofa’s for uncle’s to sleep on. Uncle Mike was stretched out on the lining room floor in front of the football game on TV. The snores were so loud and varied that we women giggled from the kitchen as we gossiped and washed dishes. There were no left over stuffing balls. My mom hugged me and said , “Granny would be proud of you.”

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News from Lansdowne

November 26, 2008 at 9:00 am (Brother John, Family, Places) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )


By Brother John

Winter At Brother John's

Ah yes, now… now I’m starting to feel a tiny bit of holiday spirit! Lansdowne recently received her first snow of the season! It’s at times like this that I really enjoy having a huge picture window overlooking my front yard. I can stand there for long periods of time, watching the birds feeding, the squirrels playing, rabbits hopping around… it’s a magical winter wonderland! Kathy and I often call this view, “The Nature Channel”. (Perhaps we watch too much TV). Sleepy Cat'sBut our kitties enjoy it even more! (When they can keep their sleepy eyes open that is). To them, our picture window is way better than plain old TV! Pictured to the right is the “Cat Chair”.

Every cat we’ve ever served has loved that chair! I must admit that I too enjoy sitting on it at night to do a little reading. Sarah Jane wraps her body around my neck and purrs and purrs. The warmth of her body and the vibration from her purring is one of the best natural massages to be found!

Dad's Invention

Sister Eydie mentioned that Kathy and I had been in the hospital. Kathy has Muscular Dystrophy and had quite suddenly developed difficulty breathing. It was so sudden, in fact, that we actually became trapped in our own house! We have a machine that assists Kathy’s breathing at night, allowing her to breathe on her own during the day. But suddenly she was actually using that machine for total life support. Fortunately, I provided our home with a powerful generator capable of running the entire house should we lose power from the local grid. So we were fairly safe in our house, and we had some backup to her breathing equipment which made us safer still. As a programmer, I have the ability to work from home, and we found ourselves unable to leave the safety of our home.

It took quite a bit of ingenuity on our part to try to do something about our dilemma, but I eventually worked out a plan with the private Ambulance company (STAT Medical Transport). We managed to get Kathy into the Emergency Department at our “favorite” hospital, The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP). Nice hospital!!! We then moved from the Emergency Department into HUP’s Medical Intensive Care Unit (M.I.C.U.), (primarily because Kathy was considered to be on life support at that time).

It was in the M.I.C.U. that we discovered Kathy had about nine pounds of fluid pressing on her lungs which make it impossible for her to breathe on her own without mechanical assistance. The fluid was being caused by a defect in her heart known as Diastolic Dysfunction. We managed to get the extra fluid out of Kathy during our stay in the M.I.C.U., but we also learned another thing.

During the night, each and every night, Kathy’s blood pressure would suddenly drop out from under her. It would become so dangerously low, that it set off alarms on the monitoring equipment attached to her. This also could have been a contributing factor to her extra fluid in that during the night, her kidney’s were not receiving proper blood flow. Limited blood meant limited oxygen. Limited oxygen meant improper functioning kidney’s and even damage to Kathy’s organs.

So we began a complicated “game” of finding the best way to prevent Kathy from building up fluid, combined with the best way to have her blood pressure under proper control during the night. Our insurance company could see that this could possibly take some time, time they didn’t want Kathy to be spending in an expensive M.I.C.U. So they shipped us both out of our favored hospital and into an unknown Long Term Care facility (L.T.A.C.).

At the L.T.A.C., our goals were three:

  • Figure out the exact amount of diuretics Kathy required to assist her in keeping off the extra fluids without also causing damage to her kidneys.
  • Figure out the exact amount of blood pressure medication it would take, to maintain her higher blood pressure during the day, yet wear off in time for sleep so that it wouldn’t drop critically low.
  • With the fluid off, retrain Kathy’s lungs and muscles to permit her to wean herself from daytime assisted mechanical breathing devices.

We nicely accomplished the first two simply because we were almost at that point anyway by the end of our stay at the M.I.C.U. Our hope was that the L.T.A.C. would have intelligent techniques to teach Kathy how to wean herself from what had become total life support. We were sorely disappointed. I won’t go into the details of what Kathy endured at the L.T.A.C. other then to say she wouldn’t be with us today had I not been constantly by her side.

Bottom line was I got her out of there with great haste.

We got Kathy a portable non-invasive ventilator. My dad rigged up an attachment that holds a mouth piece near Kathy’s mouth. When she wants air, she causes her chair to recline (in a forward direction) until the mouth piece enters her mouth. She takes in as much air as she needs. Then she reclines the chair away from the mouth piece and breathes on her own. Using this technique, she is spending less and less time seeking the assisted breaths, and is doing more of the work on her own.

I’m happy to report that she continues to breathe on her own more and more each day. All because of the non-invasive portable vent. And we can finally get out of the house! Yay!

I’m not so happy to report another thing. Our insurance company has so far denied covering the cost of the expensive non-invasive portable vent. They have gone against the prescription and order of her physician. We have initiated what is known as a physician to physician appeal.

And I’m even unhappier to report something that just came to me via a received phone call. Evidently the physician to physician appeal was rejected by the insurance company. We will have to give back the non-invasive ventilator on Friday or Monday. Kathy’s bummed.


Walt's Philly Cheese Steaks

Since I hate ending things on a sour note, let’s just say I ended this one on a fatty one. Yes, I went to Walt’s Philly Style Cheese Steaks (the best in Delaware County!!!) and I treated myself to a heart attack on a plate! Yum! I ate the best mushroom cheese steak I’ve ever had (well… since the last time I ate at Walt’s that is 🙂 ). And they have these delicious crunchy onion Rings that are just to die for! I washed it all down with a giant fountain Coke and man… I was in heaven (or would soon be).

Inside Walt's Steaks

Walking into Walt’s is like stepping back in time. Everything is colorful and quaint and has the feel of days gone by. Much of the art is antique and classic. The service is fast and friendly and the prices are quite reasonable. You won’t go home hungry! As I sat at one of the small square tables, I found myself near several groups of friendly customers who were all having a great time. Even though I was by myself, I found myself smiling often, somehow becoming a part of the shared community. All in all, it was a great way to end out the day (and my low sodium diet).

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Excitement Over My New Book!

November 17, 2008 at 7:48 am (Authors, Books, Bottles, Brother John, Carboy, Family, Mead Making, poetry, Siphon, Uncategorized, Wine Making) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )


By Eydie Wight

Welcome Back Brother John and Kathy

First I’d like to say, “Welcome home Brother John and Kathy!” I may work in a hospital but it’s the LAST place I’d want to spend 24/7 time for nearly two weeks. Especially, in Kathy’s case, being poked with needles, tied to monitors, and a being a guinea pig to the whims of residents who HOPE this medicine or this test will fix the problem that they HOPE they have figured out. Medicine is not an exact science but it is an exasperating one! And, in Brother John’s case, days of sleeping in a chair, not being provided with a place to shower, having to eat cafeteria food and Kathy’s leftovers, and making sure that doctors realize they have to wash their hands just like inferior people all can make you just want to curl up and have a Twinkie. Brother John will have to expound on their adventures in ICU land.

Announcing My New Book Of Poetry!

On Thursday I officially turned my book of poetry over to the printers! I am obnoxiously excited and beg forgiveness for shameless self promotion but this has been my dream for so long. Number one on the old bucket list! I had been working pretty hard the last several weeks to get everything in the correct form. I’m not very computer literate and the pictures I was trying to place kept jumping all over the screen, growing larger and smaller at whim, knocking my text right off the page, or disappearing entirely. Last Saturday was a cold, drizzly day so I worked steadily on the book, progressing from page 17 to page 65, typing in poems I only had in hard copy, searching for elusive photos I KNEW we had somewhere in the big Rubbermaid vat of photos, picture CDs, and negatives, and writing the “thank-you”page, content page, and cover pages. Then, I hit a whole slew of poems that needed to be typed into the format and I was so tired. I was whining to Sammy and he came up with the idea that they could be copied from a poetry site I belong to. And then he somehow hit the “X” button. Now, despite what I have been told over and over again, I hadn’t saved any of my day’s work. Yup, back to page 17. I stomped around the house cursing, I slammed the refrigerator door and kitchen cupboards, I finally grabbed the keys and ran out into the rain. I drove to the top of the ridge and sat in the car and pounded the steering wheel and cursed some more and wailed and boohooed. Then I drove back home, made a pot of strong coffee, and re-entered everything. By 4:30 AM the darn book was done except for proofreading and a little editing. Poor Sammy made me the biggest, most beautiful breakfast in the morning.

So, Thursday we drove to the printers. I had everything on disk, which I copied, including a copy for the fire safe. I had a hard copy (one in the fire safe too). The meeting went smoothly and well, even though I had to pop a couple of Mylanta and wished for a much stronger deodorant. I had a little trouble actually handing over the disk and hard copy. My fingers just didn’t want to let go. I did ask them to make sure they tucked in my poems before bed, didn’t let them go out and play in the rain, and if it wasn’t too much trouble, maybe sing to them just a little. Yup, they think I’m a crazy lady. So, December 1st my poems will come back to me in perfect binding form with an ISBN and a price tag. I may have to break out the Scotch. I DID break out the Apple Jack after we left the printer.

It may have been the high spirits, it may have been the Apple Jack “spirits”, but on the way home Sammy had to forcibly restrain me from using the pellet gun on the large inflatable turkey someone had decorated their yard with. I have a deep, abiding dislike of inflatable yard decorations. This dislike leaves pet peeves in the dust and borders on inflatable serial killer rage. First the inflatables started popping up at Christmas. Then I saw inflatable spiders, ghosts, and a seven foot tall Frankenstein at Halloween. Now the turkey. I don’t want to make light of anybody’s right to tacky lawn decoration, but they do make my trigger finger itch.

Take A Look At Our Beautiful Young Mead!

Speaking of alcoholic beverages, the mead is bottled! At the moment the pantry is empty of carboys. We bottled a case of small beer sized bottles and a case and a half of fifths. Young as it is, the Minsi Mountain Mead has a mellow, somewhat earthy flavor. Not too dry, not too sweet. Now it should age for at least a year. We’ll see…

Each year I try to knit several little Christmas gifts. This year I was so excited because I found a knitted slipper pattern that had belonged to our Granny. I remember those slippers. Every family member had a pair in whatever colors Granny happened to have yarn scraps enough for. They were great for skating down the hallway. I can’t remember which cousin it was (I’m thinking cousin Tim) who had the bright idea to lemon pledge the hall first and then skate down it wearing the Granny slippers but that worked GREAT! Kids, try this at home. (I mean knitting slippers but the hallway slide part is pretty good too!) The slippers are an easy pattern to make. (You can follow the pattern here: Granny’s Knitted Slippers but come back when you are done!). I made my first pair the other night after 40 years of slipper less knitting. I chose a thick brown wool and then knitted a narrow cashmere trim to line the foot opening. Unfortunately the kittens think my slippered foot is the best play toy ever invented. I may have to knit them their own pair. They keep dragging the slippers all over the house at night. Usually a soggy chewed on slipper finds its way into the bed during our day sleep.

I can’t believe that Thanksgiving is nearly here. I still haven’t finished all the fall projects (like winterizing the shed where the outside cats sleep and sorting through the flower seeds I harvested.) I do have the heater running in the cat shed and the old comforters washed and set out on the shelves in there. Big Fat Sherman refuses to leave the shed in the winter so he has a litter box even though the whole world could be his litter box. I have neurotic cats.

I remember one Thanksgiving when my second husband Greg was alive. He was quite a good hunter and had shot a fine big turkey with the shot gun. I skinned it, cooked it with all the trimmings (mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, sweet potato casserole, corn, pumpkin pie) and made myself a nice lunch to take to work. Greg and Roger had gone to mom and dad’s for Thanksgiving and stopped by afterward to see me at work and brought ANOTHER whole plate of food! I had been working with one of the hospital residents who was from Russia and had never had a “true American Thanksgiving” I had spoken of the food in glowing terms during the shift and decided, since I now had two dinners, to share the one I had brought with him. I heated everything up and eagerly awaited his opinion. Well, it seemed that I hadn’t gotten all the shot out of the turkey and the resident’s first experience of an American Thanksgiving resulted in a broken tooth and a first visit to an American dentist. Also, I had over microwaved the mashed potatoes and he had to chisel his way through them. The stuffing like wise was “bone dry” and as he struggled politely through it I thought I was going to have to give him his first American Heimlich maneuver.

We had a little bit of a snow shower as Sammy was driving us to work last night. Combined with my double header of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and “The Wizzard of Oz” that I watched before coming into work, I’d have to say I’m getting into the holiday spirit. There’s nothing like holiday movies, a nice fire in the wood stove and (you guessed it) my pajamas to make me a happy girl. Add a little snow falling outside, put a cup of hot tea on the coffeetable and some Granny slippers knitting in my hands and I’m a very happy girl.

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Announcement!

November 16, 2008 at 9:34 pm (Authors, Books, Brother John, Family, Mead Making, poetry, Stories) (, , , , , , , , )


By Sammy Wight

Beautiful Fall Scene

I was so pleased this past Thursday when we drove into the “Burg” of “Harris” for a long awaited special event; the day had finally arrived after two years of very laborious work, when my wife Eydie had completed her first book of poetry entitled: “SEPTEMBER BUTTERFLY“.

The printer was excited to be working with her to ensure that this book would be perfectly bound and presented with a cover that everyone would be proud to own a copy. They told us that the book would be ready to pick up by December 3rd this year, so we became even more excited! That means when our Perry County Arts Council has it to display among all the other artistic contributions from our area, that we can proudly offer it to her fans and future fans! I have also heard that 2 other local writers are planning a “book signing” party at the arts council in Newport, so, it should be a very uplifting time for Eydie and her family and friends this year.

Eydie has also spoken with a representative from the “Borders” media store about hosting a book signing there, and from all first glances, it appears that we can schedule that also. I am so proud of her for her work on this book, and the future contributions that will come from her arsenal of stories waiting to be completed.

Eydie has a wonderful story that she has written called, “The Christmas Bear“, that we hope to have ready by next Christmas. It will have some detailed illustrations that are contributions from one of her artist friends. Eydie’s time has finally arrived that she can complete some of these long awaited projects and share them with her fans. Believe me, her dreams each night, as told to me every morning, are just as vivid and spectacular as her poems and stories. I guess the next thing is for us to get our “Screenplay” written from a dream i had back in the mid 70’s that has never eluded me and is begging to be written and made into a very powerful film. I know Eydie is chompin’ at the bit to write a story to the website and offer her interpretation of things.

I sent brother John many photos from our Fall Driving adventures, and from our bottling of the wine and mead recently. By the way……….the Mead tastes wonderful! Wait til you see the photos!

(Brother John here. Well… why wait? Feel free to click on each image below to see it at full size!)

Beautiful Fall Scene

Fruits of our labor #1

Fruits of our labor #2 Fruits of our labor #3

Well, bye for now, and hope to hear back from our readers!

Happy Holidays!
Sammy

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