Ahhhh.....Autumn!

Oh, how I love the approach of autumn! Arizona is so beautiful this time of year. The bugs pretty much disappear, the days grow cooler and the nights can be downright chilly! We don't get a lot of fall color, except from our landscaping, but the glorious angle of the sunlight compensates for the lack of reds and yellows in the foliage.

Fall is for hearty foods, warm breads and dinner after dark (which we haven't had since early spring!)
Fall is for fuzzy slippers, flannel jammies, deep jewel tones, woolens and tweeds and leather jackets.
Fall is for camouflage!
Fall is for the best sleeping weather all year.
Fall is a sigh of cool relief after the hot summer.
Fall is the hot tub on HOT again, and long lazy talks while we soak.

I do so love the fall.

Full Circle


Sometimes it seems that life is really just a bunch of overlapping circles, a little bit like the Spirograph I played with as child. Beautiful and complicated images could be made with those circles....but it was also pretty easy to end up with a scribbled mess. If you were very careful and patiently worked your colored pen around in the proper motion, you had a beautiful picture that had magically brought you back to your point of origin.

Life is often like that, I think. You carefully go through the motions of your life and try to be patient and attentive, only to discover you have come full circle. Of course, life always throws in a twist, just to keep it interesting.

I had the chance to spend a little time with Mom this past week and she has come full circle, too. In many ways, she is a child again. Mom is 85 years old now, and she has dementia. Overall she does very well. She gets around quite well, she's cheerful and she has very few health problems overall. She doesn't have any trouble recognizing her children and grandchildren. That part is pretty good. Like many elderly people (even if they don't have dementia) she remembers the past much better than she recalls what happened yesterday. But my mother's memories stop at about 1951. The 38+ years she was married to Dad? Gone. Her own children's childhoods? Gone. It feels very strange, I must admit. She doesn't seem to recall my late brother at all: he was born after the magic memory threshold and passed away 8 years ago, so he is in that window of missing time. She knows I have two sons, and she recognizes them when she sees them. But if they aren't there, she doesn't know that they're grown men.

Like the pretty spirograph pictures, there are ups and downs and sometimes unexpected moments. Mom cusses now. In two languages. Since I'm a big fan of appropriately-used profanity, I'm not offended. But it's funny to hear the same woman who washed MY mouth out with soap say "shit" every few minutes. She has to be coerced into bathing, and feels free to stick her tongue out at anyone who crosses her, like a petulant toddler. And yet, she is insulted if she feels like she's being ordered around. Come to think of it, that's a lot like a toddler, too, isn't it?

There's also the filter thing. Until just a couple of years ago, Mom refused to talk about anything that happened during the war years, unless it was funny. She was always careful in her speech, didn't speak Dutch unless everyone in the room was also fluent in that language. Then her filter started to become more porous. Dutch words pop out in the most unexpected places. Ask her a question about Holland and the answer may very well come back in Dutch. She started talking about some of the not-funny things that happened during the war. She talked more freely about the starving time. And of course, the profanity began to pepper her speech until she became downright spicy.

Then I started to notice that some of the stories she was telling had changed from previous versions. She would sometimes take two separate stories, mix up parts of both of them and come with a whole new story. Gradually, she even began to contradict herself within a single telling. For a brief period of time, I had a window into a part of Mom's life that she had carefully shielded before. Then she lost all those middle years to the dark cavern of memory loss. Now even the parts she does recall are jumbled and amorphous and confused.

So it is that years of being able to have a meaningful or sensible conversation with Mom have passed. Friday afternoon, we sat on the porch, Mother and I. We had two basic conversations. Only MY part of the script varied at all. Conversation 1 went like this:

Mom: "So. What have you been doing?"
Me: "Not a whole lot. I had a meeting this morning and I brought some work home with me to finish up here."
Mom: "Awww. Poor baby. Should I cry now, or can I wait til later?" (This is Mom's stock answer to anything she perceives as a complaint, a worry, or something that she would not like but that doesn't bother anyone else. In other words, she says this a LOT.)
Me: "You can wait til later, I guess." or "Can you squeeze out a few tears for me right now?"
Mom: "I'm too old to cry. All dried up."

Conversation 2:
Mom: "How are the boys doing?"
Me: "They're good. Working hard, having fun...like all young men should."
Mom: "That's good. At least you don't have to support them. Are you going to give me any more grandchildren?" (The first couple of times she dropped that last little bomb on me, I almost had ice tea coming out of my nose.)
Me: "Sorry Mom. That ship has done sailed."
Mom: "Awww. Poor baby. Should I cry now, or can I wait til later?"

Roasted Brussels Sprouts


Lordy lordy, how I love Brussels Sprouts! Roasting them is my new favorite way to eat them. If you can live with the stench in your house, trust me....these are fabulous!

I like my sprouts pretty tender, probably due to a childhood during which Mom cooked the little cabbages damn near to death, but that's another story. I bought a nice sized bag of already cleaned and trimmed sprouts and dropped the entire contents in the steamer to cook them just to tender-crisp.
Meanwhile, pre-heat your oven to something in the neighborhood of 400 degrees.

Then I dragged out my heavy-duty baking sheet (it was rescued from a restaurant and has loved me ever since). A little smear of olive oil on the pan, then the sprouts, another drizzle of olive oil over the top and a healthy sprinkle of kosher salt. I will confess that I have used bacon grease at this step it was just heavenly.

Pop this deliciousness into the oven. Meanwhile, open all the doors and windows because if you think steaming Brussels Sprouts is a smelly business, just wait!

When the side of your baby cabbages that touches the pan is well-browned and yummy, give the pan a healthy shaking to roll them around so a new side touches. Or, if you are the patient, perfectionist type, turn them over, one by one. When they have plenty of flavorful brown crispy spots, take them out (I sprinkle a bit more salt here, since I lost some in the shaking step) and serve. You don't need any butter or anything else on top, in my humble opinion, although I have seen them shown with parmesan or bacon crumbles. Well. OK. Parmesan and/or bacon crumbles might be amazing, too.

Run right out and roast you some sprouts today!


Perspective


I would like to tell you a true story about perspective. From the perspective of an old, married woman. :-)

My sweet hubs is a whistler. As in, All. The. Time. He whistles in the morning and he whistles in the evening. He whistles happy and grumpy and when he is in no particular mood at all. He has been a whistler for as long as I have known him.

About 28 years ago, the whistling was getting on my nerves. I would be talking on the phone, or watching TV (we had TV, once) and the whistling was distracting annoying. One afternoon, I was listening to the late Paul Harvey telling "the rest of the story". Sweet Hubs walked in, whistling, and I never got to hear the rest of the story!

Then one day at work, I sat down in the break room to eat my lunch and read the paper. There was a letter to Dear Abby that was commenting on a previous letter from a lady who was married to a man who hummed all the time and it was driving her batty. Abby had advised that letter writer to talk candidly with her husband about the humming. This person was writing to tell Abby that she, too, had been married to a humming husband. She lost him suddenly and wrote to say to the original poster, don't sweat the humming. It isn't worth worrying about, and be glad you are both alive, he to hum and you to hear it.

The proverbial light bulb came on. That was the last day that Sweet Hubs whistling got under my skin.

Instead, I've been playing my own private game of "Name That Tune" for 28 years. I'm getting pretty good at it.