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Category Archives: Adult Children

The Great Potato Pancake Fry-Off

It’s that wonderful time of year again…

 crispy-panko-potato-latkes-16

 

According to my friend Rita, the invention of the blender spelled disaster for the potato latke. She insists that the blood dripping from our grandmother’s knuckles as they grated the potatoes is what made their latkes so delicious.

My friend Larry swears that skimping on oil will produce an inferior latke; he fills the pan with three inches, which he regularly replenishes. He admits this makes for “an ongoing battle with grease,” but says it’s worth the fight.

My father used to criticize my mother’s latkes for lack of salt, and added it by the spoonful to his pancake batter. I had a cousin who reduced the amount of matzo meal to a scant two tablespoons. Another cousin uses flour. Martha Stewart chops scallions rather than grated onion in hers.

The point is, no two latkes are alike. I should not have been surprised, then, when my daughter Stacy, grown and with a kitchen of her own, had definite ideas about potato latkes. Thus, when we cooked together for a Chanukah party, conflicts surfaced as soon as she lined up the ingredients. which included a six-ounce bottle of vegetable oil. I immediately prepared to go to the store for more oil.

“We’re going to use more oil than that?” she asked, incredulous. I should mention that Stacy is a thin vegetarian who buys only organic produce and shops in health food stores. Using a large amount of oil in any dish is anathema to her. Ignoring her horror-stricken face, I went out and bought a half gallon.

When I returned, Stacy was putting potatoes through a food processor, from which they emerged shaped like tiny french fries. Horrified by their texture, I politely asked for a blender on the pretense that we’d finish faster if we both made the batter, and used it to grate my potatoes, onions and eggs.

When we got to the frying stage, all hell broke loose. Stacy poured in just enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan. She was about to lower a spoonful of batter into it when I grabbed her wrist.

“You can’t fry latkes in that little bitty oil,” I insisted. “They need to be almost covered to get crispy.” Stacy pulled free of my grip. “Ma, no way am I gonna use that much oil. It’s disgusting!”

“Disgusting? Grandma Sylvia is turning over in her grave.” Stacy rolled her eyes and continued to drop dollops of batter in her nearly oil-less cephalon pan. I suggested that, as an experiment, we each fry our own latkes–hers made of the batter from the food processor, mine from the blended batter. She agreed.

I stood in front of my burner, frying smooth-textured latkes in two inches of oil, while Stacy stood in front of her pan, sautéing mounds of teensy french fry look-alikes. When she briefly left her post for a bathroom break, I peered into her pan; without more oil her pancakes were going to stick. “It can’t hurt….” I murmured, tipping over the vegetable bottle and pouring some into her pan. Stacy returned from the bathroom, picked up her spatula and prodded one of her pancakes. “Wha…? Ma, did you put more oil in here?” Her tone was one of wounded shock.

“Yeah, “ I replied sheepishly. “Just a teensy drop—they were sticking.”

“I can’t believe you did that!” she shouted, on the verge of tears. “I would never do that to you! That shows complete disrespect. You don’t have any boundaries.”

Such words have been uttered by daughters to mothers since time immemorial; I had once used them myself. As their recipient I could only murmur, “I’m sorry…I just wanted to be sure your latkes didn’t stick.”

“It’s not just the latkes,” she said, tears falling freely. “You do things like this all the time.” She lifted her arm for emphasis, spatula in hand. I raised my arms, intending to give her a calming hug, but our spatulas collided, clinking like dueling swords. Stacy  stopped crying and burst into laughter. Relieved, I tapped her spatula again and we engaged in a mock duel, our laughter dispelling the built-up tension.

Later, when our separate latke platters sat side by side on the buffet table, I overheard Stacy talking to her friend Joann, a tall thin beauty. “My mom uses so much oil in her latkes,” I heard her say. “Don’t you think mine are better? They’re not as greasy.” Joann nodded. “You know how they cook,” she said, “all carbs and grease and sugar.”

Later on, though, I noticed Joann standing alone by the buffet. She glanced around furtively, then hastily grabbed one of my latkes and put it on her plate.

“What’s so funny?” Stacy, who’d been standing next to me, asked.

“I was just thinking of the dueling spatulas, I said.

Stacy chuckled. “You’ll have to admit,” she said, “my latkes are less greasy than yours.

“Uh huh,” I nodded, feeling like I’d just let her win at Scrabble or cards.  “Less greasy. Definitely.”

 

 

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Mensch of the Year

Stacy and Lowell

Stacy and Lowell

A bit of clean laundry for the New Year. No, more than that: a bit of nachas, the Yiddish term for happiness, particularly that generated by one’s child.

My daughter was named a Mensch of the Year by LA’s Jewish Journal, a distinction she richly deserves for having turned a difficult and heartbreaking life experience into something useful, starting her own organization to raise money for research into Crohns disease.

Not, I hasten to note, that I deserve any credit: I’ve always said that Stacy was born almost fully formed as exactly who she is—it’s the only way to explain how utterly different from me she was and is. Once, when she was five and I was carting her all over New York State in search of some elusive nirvana, she sat on the back of our U-Haul truck once again with our packed possessions and exclaimed, “I can’t wait till I grow up so I don’t have to live with nobody!”

More recently, when I tried to do something new and different with an advocacy group I worked with and they weren’t interested, I simply left and ceased doing anything. In a similar situation, Stacy started her own group.

Lowell

Lowell

When my grandson Lowell was diagnosed early on with IBD, specifically Crohns, I thought, as most people probably do, that it just meant stomach aches and dietary restrictions. It turns out to be much more problematic, in some cases, including his, causing chronic pain and fatigue, nutritional deficiencies, delayed growth, and constant crises necessitating invasive medical tests, visits to the ER and hospitalizations, even surgery.

Besides dealing with all that and more, Stacy started running marathons. So did Jonah, Lowell’s older brother.

Marathon runners Stacy and Jonah

Marathon runners Stacy and Jonah

I’m thrilled that my daughter has been recognized for her hard work and advocacy of people with IBD, and not just because she’s on the cover of a magazine, though I admit I got a huge kick out of that. The deeper meaning is that a lot of other people will learn about what she’s done, she’ll get energy and kudos, and it will raise awareness of Crohns disease.

As for me, I’m starting 2015 brimming with nachas.

Happy New Year all.

 

When Writing Doesn’t Happen

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It’s been more than a month since I blogged—possibly the longest silence on record since I started Dirty Laundry in October 2006. And it’s not as if I’ve been writing something else, like a novel, or ghosting a book for someone else, or even copyediting. Nope. I haven’t been writing, period. Of course, there’s a reason; as my dearly departed friend Richard used to say, “There are always reasons, never excuses.” Richard was hard on everyone, including himself, and was consequently depressed most of his life.

Actually there’s only one reason I haven’t been writing: my son Daryl was hit by a car (his second such adventure), broke his ankle, necessitating surgery, and, since he can’t walk and take care of himself, he’s been in a rehab/nursing facility since the beginning of January. I call the place the Garden Spot of Alameda. Daryl’s an adult of 47, so readers might wonder why the circumstances of his life would affect mine. The short answer—and that’s the only one I’m going into today—is that I’m used to taking care of Daryl, as he was born with a chronic medical condition (hydrocephalus)  that led to seizures, learning disabilities,  and other physical and mental challenges. His first car accident, in 2004, inflicted further brain damage, or TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury). The upshot of all this is that Daryl needs a lot of support, primarily emotional.

Daryl, Immediate Post Accident

Daryl, Immediate Post Accident

When he first checked into the Garden Spot I felt so bad I visited daily, but at this point he’s used to it, so I’m only going two or three times a week. If there’s a reason beyond time that I haven’t been writing, it’s the traumatic crash course I’ve been getting on American (all?) nursing homes. Though the facility serves two populations, not just the elderly, the aged predominate. And, since everyone in this place is, I believe, governmentally subsidized, the residents tend to be, um, financially challenged (Don’t you just love my euphemisms?). The motives of the owners and managers ….well, I’m not going to go into the specifics until Daryl is home safe and sound. In the meantime, I’ll speak in generalities.

Nursing homes are notoriously hellish. After my father died, my mother began telling me not to put her into a nursing home, ever. Being a 30something brat who, like all brats, was ignorant of aging issues, I poked fun at her. Now I wish I hadn’t. This is an important, urgent issue that all families should talk about. Attention must be paid! I’m now telling my kids all the time, “Don’t you ever put me into a nursing home!” And, of course, they make fun of me.

I would not last one night in this place. To begin with, I’m claustrophobic—and they put 3 beds into not-so-big rooms. Also, I consider myself, like 25% of the population, a Highly Sensitive Person, a designation that in recent years has gained recognition. I’m certain I’d be having panic attacks in the Garden of Alameda—especially if, like Daryl, I was at the mercy of people I didn’t know, some of whom aren’t entirely wonderful, and I couldn’t get out of bed by myself. Because he has a broken ankle on the right and a fractured toe on the left, Daryl needs someone to help him get into a wheelchair. He uses plastic urination bottles and has a portable toilet next to his bed.  As stated, I don’t want to get too specific–but staff has to empty these receptacles. Would readers care to speculate how quickly they perform this task? Can you imagine the odors that fill the room when these containers aren’t dumped in a timely manner? And that’s just one of the discomforts that can drive a Highly Sensitive Person batty. Not one day. I couldn’t do one single day.

The CountFor the first month Daryl had a roommate who was, IMO, certifiably insane. The night he was transferred from the hospital to the Garden I was hanging his clothes while the nurses got him into bed, when R., the roommate, came over and began whispering to me about all the trouble Daryl was going to have getting the nurses to help him use the facilities. He was a real yenta, this guy, and I immediately took myself away, vowing to avoid him from now on. During the next few days, though, he  helped Daryl a lot, getting him water, or nudging a nurse if he needed one. He saved his newspaper crossword puzzles for me, went out of his way to be “helpful”. He also told funny stories—so I changed my mind, figuring my first impression of R. had been wrong. Eventually, however,  I discovered that my first impression was in fact one hundred percent spot on. R. was constantly in our business. He eavesdropped on us and unashamedly brought up the things he’d heard; when I was on the phone with Daryl he’d shout out conversational tidbits to me; he called me “Mom” and followed me out to the lobby whenever I left to give me his reports on Daryl’s behavior. He was driving Daryl completely crazy. The last straw came when I was trimming Daryl’s beard, and kept telling him not to talk so I wouldn’t slip with the scissors. R. walked up to the other side of the bed and hit, yes, HIT Daryl on the arm, hard, and yelled “Stop talking!” Daryl got pissed off, picked up a half full cup of coffee and threw it at the wall, and told ME to leave (Daryl takes out all his frustrations on me because I’m “safe”.)  R. had the chutzpah to follow me out to the lobby, saying “See? That’s what he does!” After that I wouldn’t let him whisper his reports to me, or inject himself into our conversations, or shout through the phone at me. He got weepy, almost crying as he begged me to engage with him, but I wouldn’t. Yes, he ‘s a lonely guy—60 years old, and he never had a single visitor—but is that my problem? Fortunately, the social worker found a permanent residence for R.—I never found out WTF he was doing there to begin with—and he left. Daryl’s attitude and behavior since R. is gone has been a hundred percent improved. No more yelling or throwing things or telling me to go home. In fact he’s the perfect patient, despite wanting desperately to go home. Which might happen next week.

red typewriterI was planning to write a lot more here, to catch up on the movies I’ve been seeing, podcasts listened to, friends old and new—as well as some of the more amusing residents of the Garden. Unfortunately, I’m already drained. This is what happens when a writer doesn’t write every day, or almost. Doris Lessing says she finds herself becoming “unbalanced” when she doesn’t write for a few days. This applies to me as well. Bad enough being unbalanced, but I bet Lessing doesn’t let her craziness show; but me, I’m talking to myself a mile a minute! Sure, most of us talk to ourselves once in awhile–but I’m a regular Chatty Cathy these days, and I’m doing it out in public. Without the outlet of the paper, or screen, words just come spilling out of my mouth. I don’t even realize I’m doing it until someone looks at me oddly on the street, and I get embarrassed. Or I’m in the supermarket, when suddenly someone swings their head towards me, thinking I’m talking to them. Unbalanced indeed! Finally, when I do try to write, I seem to undergo a certain level of fear. It’s like I get when approaching a new story, or  unfamiliar territory. It’s as if I have to wade through the shallow end of the pool before I can get to the depths. Like starting over.

DeskChaosSo here’s what I hope to do: I’m going to write a little bit every day, and post it if I think it will interest anyone. I know it will interest other writers—we all love hearing about each other’s process, especially how to work our way out of Writer’s Block.  I‘ve frequently claimed I never, or rarely, have Writer’s Block—but what else is this? It’s just that the way I’ve heard it described, Writer’s Block usually comes out of nowhere and hangs around with no rhyme or reason. My blocks, if that’s what they are, have a root cause: lack of writing, usually of necessity. When my children were little I grabbed every scrap of time I could for writing, and I learned to be ready to roll the minute time became available. For a mother, Writer’s Block is just one more unaffordable luxury. Now I can afford it. But surely there are better ways to spend my time.

Another Family Crisis

Daryl, Immediate Post Accident

Daryl, Immediately Post Accident

In case anyone’s noticed my recent absence from the world of bloggery, here’s the reason: once again my son Daryl is in crisis. Ten days ago he was hit by a pickup truck—his second collision with a moving vehicle in ten years—while crossing the street. It was going very slowly in a crowded area and ran over his feet, breaking the right ankle and fracturing the big toe on the left. It sounds minor, and compared to his 2003 accident, which resulted in TBI, or Traumatic Brain Injury, it was—but when it comes to Daryl, nothing is ever minor. His poor body’s had too many run-ins, starting in utero, for a broken ankle to simply be set like anyone else’s would be and heal in a couple of months. No, with Daryl it’s always an impossible  melodrama.

Among the snafu’s there’s been a bureaucratic snarl the likes of which is fairly common nowadays, and while awaiting surgery the hospital shipped him off to a rehab center that turned out to be more of an old folks’ nursing home for the indigent. The place is overcrowded and so backed up that the initial “family meeting” to discuss treatment happens a full  two weeks after admission. My daughter came up from LA and told them this is unacceptable, we’ll have our family meeting today thank-you-very-much.  Now we’re awaiting authorization from so-and-so agency for so-and-so orthopedist to perform surgery on the ankle ASAP. Meanwhile he’s doing physical therapy daily and eating truckloads of atrocious canned and oversalted food against a soundtrack of raucous television, intermittent beeping of pagers, and moaning cries for help from other residents (I kid you not). He and I play endless rounds of 500-rummy, to which we’ve become addicted.

Today his sister is there with him, so I took a day off, the first one I haven’t spent with Daryl since it all began. His oldest bestest friend is coming from New York tomorrow, so I’ll have a whole luxurious weekend off as well. Maybe then I’ll post a blog about something other than my personal problems.scared 2

In the meantime, I suggest we all  start thinking about a plan for our aging generation; if we don’t develop a better solution than what’s available now, we’re going to find ourselves in a sad situation pretty soon.

Hillary Clinton Hospitalized With Blood Clot


HillaryOn the verge of retiring from the awesome position as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton has developed a blood clot and is in a New York hospital being treated with anti-coagulants. Those are the only details I’ve heard as of this morning: they’re slowly given out one at a time. In the first report I heard she had a clot; in the second report she was in the hospital; and in the third she was taking meds.  This method of feeding bits and pieces to a hungry public makes it hard to know exactly how serious her condition is.

Over on NPR’s Facebook Page you can get an idea of the possibilities from people posting their experiences with blood clots, ranging from a minor glitch to sudden death. My father died indirectly because of one: in 1975 he developed a clot while flying with his legs crossed; the doctors told him this was at least partly responsible, and said that when flying long distances people should get up and walk about at least once an hour. Have you noticed the way all the airline companies took this information to heart and began building planes to accommodate our health needs?

My father’s clot hit his lung. He was prescribed Coumidin, an anti-coagulant, or blood thinner. But my dad was something of a macho guy deep down–I say ‘deep down’ because up until now I hadn’t seen any macho behavior from him. Taking a pill every day, however, made him feel weak, less of a MAN. So after five years of the utter humiliation of ingesting medicine every day, he stopped. Just up and stopped, without consulting with his doctor or anyone else. This was in 1979 just before the holidays. When I saw him on Thanksgiving his fingers were turning blue and he was in pain. I told him to go see his doctor, and he said he would.

I don’t know if he ever did go see the doctor, but a short time later he had a heart attack and went into the hospital. Three weeks later he was dead. It was January 2, 1980. His illness pretty much covered the season, from Thanksgiving through New Years. He was 64 years old, and the kind of guy whose blood pressure skyrocketed when he drove in traffic, so a heart attack wasn’t entirely out of the question. Still, nobody can tell me the heart attack wasn’t caused by the sudden cessation of a blood thinning agent. Obviously his heart went into shock from the withdrawal. I asked the doctor about it, and he said oh no, that had nothing to do with it. What bullshit! Doctors will never ever blame their potions for anything, even when it was not taking them that caused the problem! I mean, I wasn’t planning on suing the drug company–or him!

In any case, that’s my experience and knowledge of blood clots. Not a happy story. I was 33 and had never lost anyone close to me before. My father’s parents were still alive, in their 80’s, and I will never forget the sight of my hysterical grandmother being practically carried into the funeral home. It was a great shock to everyone, especially since my father was much beloved by family, friends, and co-workers.

Rhoda and Toby Sheiner (my mother and father)

Rhoda and Toby Sheiner (my mother and father)

I hope Hillary’s experience is nothing like my father’s, that her story is closer to those I read online by people who took their meds and survived blood clots without a hitch in their lives or even their schedules. After all the bragging others have done on her behalf for logging umpteen thousands of flying hours, I hope she hasn’t made the ultimate sacrifice for her job.