Two Words

It’s the strangest thing to find yourself playing a role for which you have no preparation and no escape. That’s how I felt when medical staff looked at me with such kindness and empathy and a trace of “This poor Mom just can’t accept reality.” That’s right, I was abruptly and unwillingly cast in the role of that mother….you’ve seen her in movies, the one who won’t let them pull the plug….the one who sits bedside for decades clinging to hope.

Some of you know about my daughter’s decade-long struggle with violent seizures which has left her brain-injured among other things. I don’t write about this much, mostly because I don’t really want to. I’ve never wanted my blog to become a repository of dreary hospital stories and doom and gloom.

But life is not all hyacinth bean vines and cute little Westie boys, is it?

Once in a while a memory of those early terrifying years will pop up so powerfully and unexpectedly, and with it such a strong life lesson, that I want to tell a bit of the story. That was the case in cleaning out my closet in preparation for fall. Funny the things that trigger memories.

Through a blur of ventilators, medically-induced comas, and at the lowest point, the administration of Last Rites, we never really believed that Jen would die. And inexplicably she did not. Her wonderful nurse shrugged her shoulders at one point later and said, “She’s young.” Sometimes that counts for a lot when you’re critically ill. Jen seemed on her way to some form of recovery when the seizures came back with a vengeance. This time they really did a number on her.

She became a word you don’t ever want to hear describing your loved one: Spastic. She flailed uncontrollably in bed, rocking back and forth endlessly with her hands contorted into a sort of lobster-like claw. And when I would lift her eyelid to try to stimulate some period of awareness, there was nothing. Nothing at all. This went on for two agonizing weeks and in the background, of course, the chilling question of what would remain when she did wake up.

Eventually the hospital informed us she would have to be transferred. The rehab hospital screeners arrived and stood at the foot of her bed as she rocked to and fro. Not surprisingly, they saw her as unfit for rehab.

Except I knew she was in there hiding from all the neurological chaos in her brain. I envisioned her huddled in a dark corner waiting for the terrifying lightning storm overhead to pass before she could make the trip back up to consciousness.

I don’t have to tell you I pleaded with staff, right? Begged and cried for just a little more time before she got transferred “out” to wherever people like her get placed. And one good doctor agreed to let her stay the weekend before transferring.

Saturday morning I showed up early to her room in ICU. She was in her customary fetal position but this morning, somehow, it was different. The relentless flailing had stopped. Her hands had relaxed from that awful contortion. I placed my hand on her cheek to let her know I was there. She opened her eyes and said two words.

“Nice sweater.” This sweater:



How does one burst into simultaneous tears and laughter? Word spread through the ICU like a happy virus. Nurses who had cared for Jen so tenderly were laughing with me and saying, “It IS a nice sweater. No wonder she had to say something.”

No need for me to trot out any cliches here, right? We know when things seem at their bleakest, we sometimes earn a reprieve. And that casting somebody – anybody –  into a particular role can be a terrible mistake.

Winston Churchill said something about “This isn’t the end, it isn’t even the beginning of the end, but it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” And so it was for us.  We had many struggles ahead of us, but I was learning to trust my instincts and to fight for them.

And to wear nice sweaters.

PS: Jen spent almost three years in rehab and did eventually make it to Virginia where she lives nearby.  Mercifully, she doesn’t remember any of it.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Refraction

For this photo challenge, show us what “refraction” means to you. It could be an image taken in a reflective surface, it could be light bent from behind an object, or it could mean remedial math homework: the choice is completely up to you. I’m looking forward to seeing how you interpret “refraction.”

Refraction? I commented to my friend, Sandra, that I’d be sitting out this week’s challenge. But wait! Look what I found while looking for something else….the garden to the rescue again!




And a good day to all,


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Just Give A Listen

I was greeted this morning by this lovely thing from a friend. Some things just shouldn’t be kept to one’s self. Chrissie Hynde, after all.

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Dogwood Days

When we bought our old house, it was called “Eveland” after the former owner. Somehow I didn’t think “Barbland” had quite the same ring to it, don’t you agree? And besides, I had a backup name I’d been carrying in my pocket for years.  We honeymooned in Bermuda and stayed at a manor house in Hamilton called “Rosedon.” We joked to each other that if we ever had a house worthy of a name, that’s what it would be. Yeah, right. Like that would ever happen.

So when the time came, it was a snap to rename our old barn. Rosedon, it is. Had I known then, however, that its original name back in 1915 was “Dogwood,” I might have gone back to that. No matter now.

I tell you this because in front of our old house is an ancient dogwood. I like to imagine the original owners planting it.


Each year I hold my breath to see if it will survive the winter and give us a spring bloom. So far, so good.


I am happy to report that this fall the old girl has produced abundant, glorious red berries! More than I have ever seen before. I think it is a happy harbinger of another spring show.






Dogwood foliage and the omnipresent Berkley.


And speaking of dogs…..we were, weren’t we? Beloved Husband has been in Asia for absolute ages. Max is growing impatient for the truck to come rumbling up the driveway:


The Sentinel awaits….

Have a great weekend!

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Special Delivery

Do you know the late Eva Cassidy? If not, then click on the link and listen for just a minute. Please? You won’t regret it.

Autumn always reminds me of Vietnam. Vietnam, you ask? Yes.

When I was in grade school my father, U.S. Army Signal Corps, was deployed to Vietnam.

An indelible memory of my childhood is tromping through the Minnesota woods with my siblings to gather leaves one fine autumn day. Our mission? To find the most beautiful leaves possible to send to our Dad in Saigon. Oh, the care we took. We examined leaves as closely as if we were little archaeologists on a dig sifting through Etruscan pottery sherds. A vital criterion was color, I remember, vibrant red preferred.

I’ve carried this memory my entire life. So you will imagine my dismay when I mentioned it to the Parental Unit just the other day. They got a little uncomfortable, I could tell, and then confessed the unthinkable: neither of them has the faintest recollection of this ever happening. What?!? They looked at each other sheepishly and started laughing. They don’t doubt me — my mother has called me “The Elephant” for years as a nod to my memory — but neither recalls leaf number one.


The Elephant had not yet rebelled against the blonde Prince Valiant hairstyle. She remembers the boys wore camel-hair blazers, mother a dress in blue silk, and she a little horse brooch given to her by a cute boy in fourth grade. His name was Ted Kennedy.

Do you think one of the clearest memories of my childhood is a mere sham? Did Mom usher us outside to gather leaves as a clever device to have a bit of peace and quiet? And then toss the carefully curated leaves into the trash when we were asleep?

Surely not. I suspect that the events kids find most momentous barely register as a blip in the day-to-day life of a busy adult.

I’m choosing to believe the leaves made their way to Saigon where my dad opened the envelope with delight and pinned the colorful contents to his wall as a reminder of his kids.

And also making a solemn vow not to share any other childhood memories with my parents. Sheesh, the elephant simply cannot bear another shock to the system.

And thanks for reading!


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Snap, Crackle, Crunch

I’d never really thought about it before, but I’ve realized something new about my family over the past six weeks:

We are CRUNCHY people! That’s right, if it snaps, crackles, and pops, it’s welcome at our table. Give us crispy apples, nuts, salads, pretzels, mueslix…..we crave crunch.  Even our peanut butter is, you guessed it, crunchy.

And if we can’t have crunch, we’ll settle for chewy as in the crust of a perfect baguette or slice of pizza.

None of this, sadly, conducive to the soft diet a certain jaw of the fractured variety requires for healing. As I was scuttled out of the Emergency Room after our daughter’s accident, I was handed the Six Week Soft Diet plan: oatmeal, mac and cheese, mashed potatoes, yogurt, etc.

It’s the “etc.” part that is giving me fits. Who can eat like this for six weeks without going stark raving mad, I ask you? It’s not that the food is bad, necessarily, it’s just not good. It’s missing all those key components that make your mouth water: a certain zest, tang, freshness or juiciness that is nonexistent in the pureed gruel that I’ve been serving the past six weeks. It’s the difference between a slice of Honeycrisp apple and applesauce. Between a tangy spinach salad with almonds and bacon and creamed spinach. Between carrot-fennel slaw with dried cranberries in vinaigrette and pureed carrot ala Gerber baby food.

It’s the difference between eating for pleasure or survival.

Desperately rummaging through my recipes to come up with yet one more dinner idea, I came across this one for a Thai Butternut Soup which I used to make regularly and somehow forgot about. I pounced on it immediately as something we could eat together. Part of the difficulty in enduring six weeks of gruel is seeing all the good stuff everybody else gets to have, so I tried to minimize that as much as possible. This soup is a winner, a savory blend of sweet, salt, and sour with just the right amount of heat.

Caveat: I am not a food blogger, food stylist, or come to think of it, a decent food photographer. But I can cook! Let’s proceed:

Butternut Squash Soup With Thai Gremolata


2 lbs. butternut squash

2 cups chicken broth

1 14-oz. can unsweetened coconut milk

1/4 cup finely chopped onion

1 T. packed brown sugar

1 T. fish sauce (soy can be substituted, if you must)

1 t. Asian chili sauce (Sriracha) (I use much more than this, but I like it HOT!)

2 T. lime juice

1 recipe Thai Gremolata, below

OK, you’ve got all your ingredients now. Here comes the hard part:

You must arm wrestle the butternut squash into submission. Butternuts do not go willingly to their demise; unlike the passive zucchini, they put up quite the fight.  So use whatever WMD you have at your disposal, get the thing peeled and seeded, wipe the sweat from your brow and proceed:

Cut the squash into 1-inch pieces and steam until nice and soft.

Because I despise peeling the squash, I’ve altered the original recipe and roast the halved, seeded squash in its skin until done, and then scoop out the flesh. Whatever you prefer.

In a large soup pot, saute the onion until translucent in a bit of vegetable oil of your choice. Peanut or canola will do nicely; olive oil will be too fruity.

Add to the softened onion the steamed or roasted squash, broth, coconut milk, brown sugar, fish sauce, and Sriracha.

Simmer gently until flavors are nicely blended – about twenty minutes or so. Use an immersion blender, potato masher, or whatever method you prefer to puree soup until completely smooth.

Now taste to see if a bit more fish sauce, brown sugar, or Sriracha is needed. Also add a little chicken broth if you want to thin it down.

Stir in lime juice. Ladle into bowls and top with Thai Gremolata. Don’t skip this – it is much more than a mere garnish. The peanuts and cilantro tie all the flavors together beautifully.


Peanuts, cilantro, lime peel. Stir together and, voila, a delicious gremolata.

Thai Gremolata

In a bowl stir together 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil or cilantro, 1/2 cup chopped peanuts, and 1 T. finely shredded lime peel. (I’ve never made with basil, but if you prefer….)

And the best part is it gives the soup a little crunch. You know we like that.

You may serve with lime wedges and a squiggle of bright red Sriracha on top.

I have never made this for guests that they haven’t raved and demanded the recipe.


As we say in our house, “Guten Appetit!”

And thanks for reading,

The Not-So Pampered Chef

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Dreamy

This week, we’d like to see an image that looks dreamy to you. A photo of a place you often visit in dreams. A snapshot of your dreamy boy- or girlfriend. A scene that looks a bit out-of-this world. Take us on a flight of fancy!

Do you see it? Hidden in a forest straight out of a Brothers Grimm story is Burg Eltz, a splendid German castle in the Mosel Valley. Remarkably, it has been in the same family for over 850 years.

Walking through the quiet pine forest only to see this fairy tale castle emerge through the trees did indeed have a dream-like, timeless quality. How many people over the centuries have trudged up this path and been greeted with exactly this sight? And how many more will follow?


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