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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Davis Weekend

After 7 or 8 weekends spent in Livermore (I've lost count) with my parents, Dave and I spent a much-anticipated weekend at our OWN house in Davis. It was fabulous--full of a million little projects, lots of cooking, and hanging out with Edward, who flew into California last Friday.

Braving the rain, Edward helped me tackle some long overdue maintenance in the yards. All this stuff with my mom happened right when the garden was planted and I have neglected it ever since. Once the time changed, I was never at home during daylight hours except in the morning before school (and I certainly wasn't going to do any gardening that early!). Edward and I applied mulch to the vegetable garden after thinning the greens, onions, and beets. Then we planted some things in the front yard and applied mulch around everything to keep it nice and warm. Which is good since it has been below freezing every night since then.
Back in the spring of 2007 (right when we were moving into our new house), my dad and brother took a road trip from Kentucky to California to haul back a photographic enlarger they purchased. (Don't ask.) Along the way, they bought me a salt-cured ham as a southern souvenir. I never did anything with it because I was just so busy with things like moving furniture into the house and whatnot. Finally, after over 1.5 years I decided to open it up and eat some. Last Sunday I pulled the paper off it, only to discover that it was covered in mold. It grossed me out and I had to wait a week before diving into it anyway. Apparently mold is normal--the instructions even tell you how to remove it (vinegar, clean scrub brush, and warm water).
I always thought only wimpy people use electric knives, but after spending a full 45 minutes hacking away at that ham, I really wish I had one. (So if anyone ever buys me another whole ham, please also get me an electric knife. Thanks.)

The instructions warn that the ham should be eaten right away, otherwise an increasingly intense flavor develops. It also suggests soaking the ham in cold water before cooking to remove some of the salt. Since I was so tired from all the hacking, I just fried it up. It was super salty, but very good. It's called "country ham" in the south. Yummy!
While I was in the garden and in the kitchen, Dave was in the garage building a doggie door for our babies (I mean our dogs). He got it mostly done, except for painting, weather stripping, and a plastic flap over the hole. The hole is just big enough for the dogs to get through and small enough to keep human intruders out. It has handles on it so we can easily remove it from the sliding glass door track when needed (we'll lay a metal pipe in the track of the door so it can't be opened from the outside). We'll paint the outside half to match the color of the house so it won't be so obvious when viewed from the park.
After all that hard work we were starving so I made pizza for dinner with a salad made of the collard/mustard/beet greens we thinned from the garden. Oh-la-la it was delicious, but what isn't good with pesto, goat cheese, marinated olives, and pepperoni?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Funding is Not Fun

Right after Mr. Murphey and his ruling hand took away my lab's funding I began looking for my own funding. I told everyone I saw in my department about our lab's sudden loss of money and asked them if they knew of any professor who might want to hire me as an analytical chemist or instrumentalist.

When that didn't work I began schmoozing professors who would be needing TA's for their winter quarter classes. Since I couldn't apply for TA positions for several more weeks I finally decided to schmooze the professor I have long dreamed of working with some day. He's a soil organic matter genius (swoon!) and I already have a good track record with him and several of his students (a few of us have formed a "thermal guild" where we meet to chat about using thermal analysis techniques on soil organic matter...so interesting to you all, I know). I wrote him an email telling him about our situation (which he already knew about since he's also the vice dean of the department) and asking him if there was any way I could work in his lab, at least temporarily. We met, we chatted, I reminded him of my research and career goals, and he agreed to take me on for at least winter quarter on a brand new project. He was originally going to hire some post docs to do the work (heavy field work in the beginning followed by lab work) but he thought that maybe I could do it instead (I'm taking that as a compliment...even if he just means that I'm cheaper labor than a post doc).

So...now I have a lab and funding for at least next quarter. As of yesterday he still hadn't submitted a funding plan for me (so my tuition, health insurance, and student fees hadn't been paid) so I asked the nice office lady to get him to do the appropriate paperwork. The last thing I need is to come back to campus in January only to discover that there's an outstanding balance on my account and I have no insurance. Anyway...I hope it all gets taken care of this week so I don't have to worry about it.

My current research professor actually told me he thinks I should switch labs permanently since it would be better for my thesis research. I guess we'll have to see how this coming quarter goes and see if I like the project enough to make it "my" thesis research (and if the professor will take me on permanently, which would be super cool).

On another academic note, I received a passing grade for the class I just finished this quarter (transition metals chemistry) which means that I'm officially DONE DONE DONE with coursework for my graduate degree. Woohoo!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Finally Done!

Whew...exactly 4 years ago I finished-up my last classes as an undergraduate at Saint Mary's College. This week I took my final exam for my last class EVER for graduate school! Woohoo! (Luckily for me, my graduate program course requirements are the same for both the Ph.D. and the masters track...so I can choose which track to take later, depending on what research opportunities present themselves in the coming months.)

This is a super-short post because I'm exhausted from a full day of baby sitting Teo followed by 5 straight hours of cooking up massive batches of potato leek soup (for which I first had to make a batch of chicken stock), split pea soup, and a sausage-cabbage casserole.

I'll write more later with an update about my job/funding status at school.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Santa at Sea Ranch?

My friend Tina posted this cartoon and it instantly made me think of the Sea Ranch.

If you've ever been to this community you'll really appreciate it:

Monday, December 1, 2008

Best Tacos

Tonight I made the best tacos ever. Ever.

I warmed a butter-garlic tortilla in a skillet and sprinkled cheddar cheese on it until it melted. Then I spread some of my spicy barbacoa beef in the middle, topped it with plain yogurt, then a packet of Taco Bell sauce, then mixed mesclun lettuce and chopped cilantro, and topped it all off with chopped tomatoes. Holy. Good. God...it was so good!

And by melting the cheese onto the tortilla I didn't have little bits of cheese falling out while I ate it AND the heat browned the tortilla for extra flavor.

Go into your kitchen and make one. Now. You won't regret it.

Go!

Thanksgiving!

We had a small, relaxing Thanksgiving...even though we waited until Friday evening for our special meal. I was stuck in lab until after 9pm on Wednesday (my professor and I were running a very "cranky" instrument that decided to crap-out on us around 7:30pm and I had to stick around to prepare new samples so he could re-run them after the holiday) and Dave didn't pull into Davis until almost 10pm. We were both so tired that we decided to postpone the festivities (and all that cooking) until later. In fact, we didn't even get to Livermore until Thursday afternoon.

Our meal was planned around all the wild-picked, garden-grown, and homemade food we've collected for the past year specifically for Thanksgiving. Back in October I pre-ordered a heritage variety turkey. It was quite expensive but turned out to be totally worth it--the flavor was wonderful. The fact that it was a "heritage variety" means that it was not one of those standard-issue, commercial, all-white-breast meat, so-top-heavy-they-can't-walk turkeys. You could totally tell, too--I ate one of the drumsticks and was surprised to find tons of tendons in the meat. I was pulling them out as I cut the meat off the bone and asked my dad why there were so many. He laughed and said that most turkeys are so crammed together that they don't have a chance to walk and develop such things as leg tendons (that's sad and gross). Besides which, since commercial white turkeys are bred for maximum breast meat they can't usually walk because they'll just fall over (that's sad, gross, and sickening).

We defrost our turkeys in a pot of cold water, changing it often to prevent ickiness and illness from ensuing. Typically it takes a day of in-the-fridge defrosting per 5 pounds. Water defrosting takes much, much less time. Once it begins to thaw we open up the cavity, pull the paper sack of liver and gizzards, and fill the cavity with water. Once it is pretty well thawed we drain the meat and fill the pot with fresh water and a bunch of salt (I don't measure it but it is probably about a cup per 2.5 gallons of water). The turkey "brines" in this solution until we're ready roast it. (If it is going to be a while, we sanitize the outside of the pot and put it in the fridge.) To cook the turkey we dry it with paper towels, drizzle it with olive oil or melted butter, and then sprinkle it with salt and poultry seasonings (thyme, marjoram, savory, etc.). Then we tress it and pop it into a preheated roaster oven. No need to baste at all since these roaster ovens work by roasting and steaming the food. The meat is always super moist and perfect. These ovens are cheap and cook a bird much faster than a normal oven because of the steam action. (I like them so much that I have two!)

I didn't get a picture of the turkey before Dave carved it so this looks unimpressive--but I promise the roaster oven yields a picture perfect turkey every time.
The roaster pan collected almost 3 cups of drippings (with very little fat) which we promptly turned into gravey with wild mushrooms simmered in white wine. If my waistline would allow it, I'd have eaten only gravey for dinner.

To accompany our delicious protein we had stuffing (or is it called "dresssing" since I didn't actually stuff the bird?) made with my daddy's homemade bread, browned breakfast sausage we made in May, dried wild mushrooms we picked up in Gualala last fall, and parsely from our winter garden. It was super good, but a bit clove-y since we used our "antiseptic sausage."
We simmered a huge pot of greens (kale and other random types) with chopped bits of ham. We were going to use frozen greens from last year's winter garden but decided to use fresh greens I received in my produce box from Farm Fresh To You (I get the local-only Capay box twice a month). I could have eaten that whole pot of greens, they were so good! Another yummy dish that is a must at our house is baked mashed sweet potatoes with raisins and chopped pecans.
No Thanksgiving is complete without cranberry relish (the recipe is on the back of the cranberry bag--so good!) and Dave's requisite can of cranberry jelly.
While we dinned my giant Gualala-picked apple pie baked, which made the house smell incredible. Unfortunately, the pie wasn't my best work. The apples were old and a little mushy. I prefer crisp and tart (but not incredibly sour) apples cut into 1/8ths so the pie has a little tang to it and some texture. This pie was a family affair: my dad peeled and cut the apples for me while Dave rolled the dough (I was busy brining the turkey and disinfecting the sink). My dad cut up like 10 or 12 cups of apples. He was concerned that we had too many apples for a single pie. Ha! I loaded all the apples and cinnamony goodness into the pie with no problem (he underestimated my pie dough strechability. =)
Of all the things in life to be thankful for, I'm most thankful that my mom could be home with us for the holiday (and that she had enough of an appetite to enjoy the meal).

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Can't Wait!

I'm so excited for the Thanksgiving holiday--not only because I get to make a delicious meal but also because we get to spend 4 whole days with my parents and our doggies. (They've had to stay with my in-laws every weekend thus far.) We've seen my parents every weekend for the last, what, 6 weeks, but it is always so brief and we're always so busy. This time we'll (hopefully) have some down-time to hang around together in the family room with a firing going. There are some holiday movies out that my mom is interested in seeing...so maybe a movie, too. We'll see.

Last weekend Dave and I took a huge cooler full of all the Thanksgiving ingredients we've been hoarding away in our deep freeze over the last year. I'm making an almost-completely locally grown meal. The turkey is a heritage variety from the Central Valley; all the fruit for pies is from my in-laws orchard or wildlands around their house; many of the herbs are from my garden; the greens are from my garden and from a farm in Winters; we'll make homemade bread for the stuffing; wild mushrooms picked up in Gualala. It is going to be delicious! We can even drink home-pressed mulled apple cider.

Dave has to work a full day up in Gualala today and won't get into Davis until about 10pm. I have TONS of lab work to do (so why am I wasting time writing a blog post?) and an experiment to run before I leave tonight. I could have put it off even longer and waited until next week but I just want to get it done.

Ok...time for a meeting...then class...then lunch...then back to the lab to leach my composts with salt solution. Fun! Have a great Thanksgiving everyone!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Bye Bye Hair

This weekend was another spent in Livermore. Friday night, though, Dave and I went out to sushi with some friends here in Davis. It was a nice change of pace, for sure.

Saturday evening Mommy and I went to Anita's salon. When the stylist realized that Mommy's hair had been falling out for a few days, she asked the owner (Mark) to come talk to my mom about her options. My mom thought that she'd have a couple more weeks to deal with her hair before it fell out completely. Unfortunately, Mark explained, she probably wouldn't make it one more week without losing all her hair. The people at Anita's certainly didn't force her to cut all her hair off, but did recommend it so she wouldn't have to deal with clumps of it falling out at home.

So...she agreed to have Mark shave her head down to about 1/8th of an inch. She winced while he did it, which made me feel sad for her. After she put her glasses back on and surveyed her head she just rolled her eyes, chuckled a little, and asked me to pick out some hats for her to wear. We picked a cute pink night cap, a plain brown beanie, a nice light blue scarf/cap thing, and a pretty pink floral cap. After a long head massage/shampooing (with shampoo specially made for chemo patients) she bravely pulled on her cap and we headed up to the register.

She didn't want me to tell my dad or Dave about her bald head--she wanted to walk into the house and see how long it would take for them to notice! Haha! We ended up meeting them at Emil Villa's (where else?) in the parking lot. They both did a double-take when they saw her and then smiled. Like she said "it is only hair and it will grow back."

This weekend I became "Nurse Julie" at the house. On Sunday she took a shower while I read an Oprah magazine in the bedroom in case she needed help. She hadn't been able to shower since October and she was a little nervous about it. We installed a shower stool and a hose for the shower head so she wouldn't have to move her arms too much. First I had to cover up the chest catheter with tape and Saran wrap so it wouldn't get wet. The after the shower I changed the dressing on the chest wound from her lung drainage tube. The wound looks like a bullet hole in her chest. It is about the size of a nickel and is filled with white goop--not puss, I don't think, but probably surgical adhesive. Still, it was a little gross. I made my dad look at it in case it gets worse he'll have something to compare it to.

The rest of my weekend was full of cooking meals, eating, washing dishes, doing laundry, changing bedsheets and bathroom towels, and generally tending to my mom's needs. It is a lot of work being the "woman of the house" for two households! But I'm glad to do it. I admit, though, that I couldn't stand doing all this without having Dave with me each weekend. The first weekend I went to Livermore to see my mom Dave had to work. I was so stressed out and depressed after that weekend. Since then my stress level has lightened greatly (despite all the other crap that has come up--like the sudden disappearance of my school funding) and I'm feeling much more upbeat. Every weekend gets a little easier but I know it wouldn't be as nice without Dave. Just knowing he's around makes all the difference. Plus he's a HUGE help to my dad with all the cleaning...and my mom absolutely loves having him around. But who wouldn't? =o) (I love you, my baby.)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Mommy's New 'Do

In all my life, my mom has had long, dark hair. It has been rumored that in high school she had very short, curly hair like all other 1960's teens...but I'm not so sure I believe it. But now it is short and sweet.

Until the last day of her 5 week hospital stay, she had a drainage tube coming out of her back and she was connected to a fluid collection box all the time. It was a nuisance for her to walk further than the sink to brush her teeth or use her portable commode so she didn't shower at all. (She did bathe, but her hair was never truly washed. A few times the nurses used a dry shampoo shower cap thing on her hair but it do anything to degrease her hair. I'm pretty sure those caps are completely useless.)

In downtown Livermore there's a great little salon called Anita's Salon & Scalp Clinic that specializes in cancer patients and other people losing their hair (they are a full salon, too, if you just want a cut or color). They fit people for wigs and have all sorts of products for irritated scalps. The ladies there are so wonderful, patient, and understanding.

My mom's hair was still in the braids I'd made two weeks previously, so we weren't yet sure if her hair was falling out from the chemo. After it was combed, we tugged at her scalp but didn't see any hair coming out.

So the lady washed my mom's hair about 4 times with yummy-smelling minty stuff. My mom was in absolute heaven, let me tell you. She just laid back in the comfy chair and closed her eye as the lady massaged her scalp. Once it was clean, she moved back to the big chair and had her hair cut into a really cute, short bob. The layering in the back make it look much fuller.

I think it looks fabulous. She looks really gaunt in this picture, which I guess she is these days, but it isn't nearly as obvious in person:
I made her a standing appointment at the salon for every Saturday afternoon to have her hair/head washed. (I'll ask the lady to give her a good 40 minute scrub...so she can bliss out for a while.)

=)

Monday, November 17, 2008

Mommy is Home!

Dave and I got to pick my mom up from the hospital on Friday night after eating dinner with my dad at Emil Villa's (where else would we eat?).

Her chest drainage tube was removed on Thursday after the third medication injection did its magic and stopped the fluid build-up. By the time we arrived in her hospital room she'd already packed up her stuff into a box and a few grocery bags labeled "personal belongings." She was still in her hospital gown because the nurse still needed to remove the needle from her breast where the chemotherapy is pumped in.

After all that was taken care of the nurse came in with a bunch of papers for her to sign and review--things like OTC medications to purchase, doctors' phone numbers, and when she should schedule appointments with her new collection of physicians. I will have to scan them later so we'll have a more permanent record--all these forms are hard to read carbon copies.

I can't say that she was super excited to leave the hospital. In fact, she admitted to trying to convince the doctor to let her stay another night but he wouldn't let her! She said being in the hospital was so nice because it was like being in a hotel. I keep reassuring her that I will take care of cleaning the house every weekend and she won't have to prepare her own meals. In time she'll see that being back at the house will be calm and relaxing for her.

While she was gone at the hospital my dad, Dave, and I tackled the HUGE mess that was our house. My mom had basically never thrown anything out since I was born. Most rooms were so cluttered that they were impassable. I honestly don't know where it all came from--the house wasn't that cluttered when I was in high school. Anyway, we worked for about 10 hours a day for 4 full weekends. And the house is looking darn near perfect. We still have two rooms to deal with, but we're so close. I was a little worried that she'd be angry when she saw that all the stuff was gone (mostly thrown away or donated; only useful and sentimental stuff kept) but she seemed really pleased. I think it was so close to completely cleaned that she figured there was no use in complaining. She actually got into the spirit and helped me clear out her medicine cabinets and go through old clothes in her closet!

We were very careful and considerate when rearranging the furnishings in the house, keeping in mind her preferences. I made her room look like a bed-and-breakfast, complete with wall sconces, an antique secretary, and floral pictures. She really, really liked it. She always wanted a fancy guest room in the house so we turned Edward's room into one, using her parent' matching maple bed frame and dresser, which we paired with my other grandparents' maple nightstands and brass lamps.

My old bedroom is my dad's new computer and ammunition reloading room (charming, I know). The room has no windows, only a skylight so it is good for projects and less good for sleeping-in, trust me. We'll get an oak Murphy Bed for Dave and me to sleep on when we visit (I'm becoming very familiar with all things Murphy it seems!). I've requested a queen size since our dogs will insist on sleeping with us in the bed.

Having my mom home has been so wonderful for me. I love hearing her shuffle around the house because it makes me remember that cancer is not her most overwhelming trait. Hearing her doing regular things around the house like chat on the phone, get a glass of water, flip through a magazine, and brush her teeth remind me that cancer does not define her.

She's still very weak and becomes short of breath when she walks around the house. Her strength will return as she gains weight and continues to exercise her muscles by walking around.

Prayers are still needed as she continues to receive her chemo treatments, and cards sent to her in the mail are always welcome. I appreciate the kind words and prayers from everyone that we've received so far. It has has helped so, so much.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Murphey's Law

Everyone knows about Murphey's Law: "everything that can go wrong, will go wrong." In my case, it seems to have happened all at once. Allow me to recount my recent misfortunes:

1. My great uncle passed away. The day after we returned from his funeral...

2. My mom ended up in the hospital and has been there for over a month so far, then...

3. The pump in my parents' well quit working while we were in the midst of cleaning their house in preparation for my mom's (eventual) return home. This required us to have a lovely weekend of flushing toilets with buckets of rainwater, washing our hands with rainwater, not showering, and not doing dishes (no complaints here!). My dad then had to dedicate too much time contacting various well companies and dealing with replacing the pump. But I'm happy to report that they have water once again.

4. Then we hear that Edward hurt his ankle playing soccer. This doesn't affect me so much, but it still sucks.

Just when I thought things couldn't get worse (that's a line from a Shania Twain song...) Edward, Dave, and I decided to go on a cheap cruise over the holidays since we've all been so distracted lately. Apparently, right when I was making the reservations this afternoon, Mr. Murphey decided to have a little more fun with me...

When I got home from baby sitting this evening, my labmate/housemate, Eric, was standing in the driveway looking really pissed off. He asked me if our other labmate, Rebecca, had called me when I was baby sitting. I got worried, thinking she was hurt or something. She's fine he assured me, but...

6. We've all been laid off. Rebecca and I are the other ones who are still on the payroll because we're students and our stipends were set aside for the whole quarter. So after December I guess I have no job in my lab. Without money for my student fees/tuition I can't even remain a student for the next quarter. Hopefully I will be able to find a TA position or another source of funding (like with another professor, although lots of other labs have lost funding recently, too, because many funding agencies in CA have put their grants on an indefinite hold until the economy recovers). If all else fails I'll baby sit full time or work for my father-in-law.

So now I'm left wondering what else bad can possibly happen? There are of course numerous things that can go wrong at any given time but I won't list them because that's just depressing. Instead I'm going to go make up a huge batch of Cook Su to put into the freezer for lunches next week and watch some old episodes of Desperate Housewives until Dave gets here.

All in all, I'm very grateful to be in a position where I can laugh at most of my misfortune. There are many, many people suffering job loss, disease, war, etc. right now and I'm thankful that I'm not one of them.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

"How's Jane?"

People are always asking me "how's your mom?" and sometimes I just don't know how to answer. My canned (but honest) response is that she's in good spirits and is much more comfortable now that she can breathe again. But then I mention the caveat that she has stage four cancer and her lung won't stop over-producing fluid.

She's been in the hospital now for over a month. Here's the long-winded version of how she's doing:

She's in high spirits and her body is doing really well with the chemotherapy treatments. So far she's had 3 treatments. They give her a bunch of medications for nausea so she hasn't felt the ill effects yet. She was told that her hair would start falling out after the 2nd treatment...but since she refuses to have anything more than a sponge bath while in the hospital (for over a month!!!), she doesn't yet know if her hair is indeed falling out. For the first few weekends I was home, I'd spend most of our ~2 hour hospital visits brushing and braiding her hair (she loves it when people do her hair). This last visit I didn't...I think because the greasiness of her hair grossed me out and because I was afraid it would all fall out. She said she'd like to get a really short hair cut when she gets home and then just shave later her head to avoid the whole issue.


I finally spoke to the oncologist today (not because I didn't trust what my mom was telling me but because I wanted to hear it "from the horse's mouth" and find out if there was any other information that didn't get passed on). He confirmed that she's in stage 4 metastatic breast cancer (stage 4 means metastatic so that's a bit redundant--it means that the breast cancer is the origin of the cancer but it has spread to other locations, her lungs and bones). The chemo treatments are being done not to "cure" the cancer but simply to halt the progression. She'll receive the chemo for a few months, then they'll redo all the x-rays to determine if it has worked.

The only reason she is still in the hospital is because they need to wait until her lung fluid stops accumulating. I think she'll probably be home in time for Thanksgiving, but no one can be sure. It'll be quite an adjustment for her to be at home though since we've removed like 90% of the "stuff" from the house (mostly garbage she never threw away and old clothes she was keeping for unknown reasons). We've also found all of my and Edward's old baby clothes and baby toys. Many are in mint condition (even brand new in the packaging!) so we're keeping all that stuff stashed away for when we have our own kids. Since I was the only girl in the family, my grandma made me tons of clothes...poor Edward wore hand-me-downs from the Jones Family so most of his clothing didn't survive being piled-up for 20+ years. Hopefully at least one of us will have a baby girl because Lord knows we have enough gorgeous dresses and rompers for one!

Because she's not walked more than the two steps to her commode in the last month, she is much weaker now than before (muscle atrophy) but the doctor says that'll probably go away once she's not confined to the lung-drainage gizmo and she can walk around again. Her hands shake like crazy when she tries to lift anything heavier than the telephone. This freaked me out at first but today the doctor said that's probably just from lack of exercise.

She'll probably be able to drive when she gets out of the hospital (although not to her chemo treatments), but first we'll have to get her a newer vehicle and she'll have to regain her strength. For the last 22 years she's been driving what our family calls the Swedish Death Star--her tan 1986 Volvo sedan that just won't quit. (It has been in accidents, had pieces fall off of it, the seats, doors, clutch, and AC have all been replaced multiple times and the DMV even changed it's status to "totaled" after one accident but she bought it back from them anyway and got my dad to make it drivable.) We'll get her a minivan or something that doesn't require climbing into the cab (like my parents' truck) or any knee bending to get into a sitting position (like most sedans). It'll have air conditioning, a working speedometer, heat, defrost, working locks and door handles--you know, all the "regular" functions you expect from a car but which her current car lacks.

My ultimate question to the doctor was if he knew how long she would live. He said there is no way to pinpoint a timeline for any given patient but that on average (notice the bold font) patients with stage 4 breast cancer live ~3 years--many live less than that and many live more than that. He encouraged me to remain in school full-time right now since we don't and can't know what will happen until we see how she does with her treatments.

This is all I know, and it turns out to be exactly what my mom had told us all along. I feel much better after talking to the doctor--it sounds like we should hope for the best (she can return to a normal but modified life at home while undergoing treatment) but thinking about preparing for the worst (getting the house ready for a wheelchair, hospital bed, getting finances in order, etc.).

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Veteran's Day

Since today is a UC holiday, I got to baby sit little Teo all day. We had a fabulous day together...I don't know where our 9 hours went!

In the morning I put him in the backpack and hauled him around the kitchen while I made a loaf of olive bread. Then after his morning nap we loaded all the plastic recycling into the stroller and walked over to the Second Street recycling place. I brought all of my own plastic recycling stuff, too, but inadvertently left it in my bike basket so I'll have to drop mine off tomorrow. It sure would be nice if we could dump ALL plastics into the curbside bins. I don't know about other cities but in Davis the garbage people only pick up numbers 1 and 2. It's not that big of a deal but I eat a lot of cottage cheese and yogurt and all those containers are number 6.

As most of you know by now, Dave and I spend every weekend in Livermore now. We're there to see my mom for a few hours everyday in the hospital and the rest of our time is spent cleaning out her house. I can't even count the number of bags of trash and donation stuff we've hauled away. Once all the junk is gone we're left with pretty much a blank slate in each room--we decided a new couch was in order for the family room since the one we had was old, orange, and falling apart. I love shopping for home furnishings--so much so that Dave has to keep reminding me to "focus!" and stop looking for stuff for our own house.

I did buy one thing for our house: an amazing wooden rocking chair. It is big and has great back support. I looooooooooooooooove it. I've been keeping an eye out for a nice one for when we have a baby (don't get your hopes up...we're not having a baby any time soon...I just like to plan ahead). Many rocking chairs and gliders sold at baby stores are cheaply made, fall apart in a short amount of time, and are too small for bottle feeding or nursing. When I worked at the church baby nursery in college we had various gliders from Babys R Us and they were such junk! The support rails fell off, the hardware broke, and they were too small to hold a grown woman, a boppy pillow, and a baby all at the same time. Ridicilous, if you ask me. Anyway, my new rocking chair is sturdy, comfortable, and large. Dave helped me haul it into the living room on Sunday before he drove up to Gualala. I've been enjoying it while watching TV ever since.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Halloween 2008

Since we actually had a Halloween party to go to this year (and I didn't have a midterm the next morning like other years), I really wanted to dress up like Beauty and the Beast with Dave. But circumstances changed and I didn't have time or inclination to find a costume rental place.

So we dressed up as a pair of electrons. I was down spin and he was up spin and together we were a perfectly matched pair. Just like in real life. =)

Don't make fun of us. You know you're jealous.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

My Mom's Hospitalization

My mom FINALLY told her brother about her hospitalization. He's been on vacation overseas for the last few weeks and she wanted to make sure that he heard about it from her first, which is why I hadn't posted much about it or leaked too many details on Facebook, lest my Halliday relatives get the bad news that way.

I will post a time-line of the whole thing later on, so I can document my reactions along the way. It has been an interesting (albeit distressful and heart-wrenching) experience and my reactions have evolved a lot over the last three weeks. And it isn't over yet.

Here's the email I sent out to everyone. If you didn't receive my email it is probably because I don't have your address. My apologies.

Dear friends and family,

I just wanted to write everyone a quick note about my mom's recent hospitalization.

On Sunday, October 12 she was admitted to the hospital due to fluid build-up in her chest, which had caused her discomfort and difficulty breathing for a long time. Her health began to deteriorate rapidly over the last few months to the point that she was unable to walk, stand, or even speak without wheezing and struggling to breathe. A group of her friends (along with her pastor) confronted her that Sunday and urged her to seek medical treatment. Without that intervention, she would probably not be with us today.

The root of her breathing problem appears to be advanced breast cancer, which has spread to her lungs and bones. She has now been in the hospital for over 3 weeks and she will have to remain there until the fluid build-up in her chest has been mediated. She may undergo a surgical procedure later this week to remove the malfunctioning pleural cavity so that her left lung can work at full capacity once again. (A handful of other treatments have been tried, but to no avail.)

Her weekly chemotherapy treatments began last Monday. We're all hopeful that these treatments will do their magic and halt the spread of cancer. We're also hopeful that she'll be able to come home soon (until then we're busy readying the house for the possibility of wheelchair accessibility and sit-down showering).

The support from my mom's Livermore friends has been amazing--she actually had so many visitors her first week in the hospital that she complained to me about not having time for a nap!

As you know, my mom *loves* receiving short notes and cards in the mail. If you would like to send her a get-well-soon note you can mail it to my parents' house in Livermore. (If you would like her address, please leave a comment on the blog or email me.)

My entire family would benefit from the power of positive thinking and prayer from all of you right now. My mom needs "get well" wishes while the rest of our family could use prayers for concentration on our regular work/school duties.

Thanks in advance for keeping my mom in your thoughts,
Julie

Friday, October 31, 2008

I Married a Dork

My dad and Dave and I were at the store last weekend picking up some cleaning supplies. As we were pushing our cart past the men's clothing section, I heard this quite little voice saying "I want to buy some suspenders."

I looked around to see who was talking. It wasn't my dad--he looked just as confused as I did.

It was Dave. He said louder, "I want to buy some suspenders."

Then I said, "Wha....what?! Like for a Halloween costume?"

"No, because my pants are always falling down. It's annoying. I have to pull my pants up about a million times a day. I want suspenders." (This is true--he does this little jig every few minutes where he sorta kicks out his feet, wiggles his rear, and yanks at the waist band of his jeans.)

I couldn't contain myself and I laughed so hard that I might have snorted. Then my dad started laughing, too.

Ah...so we found him some black elastic suspenders and he loves them. God, he looks like such a dork.
I had to remind him that years ago I suggested that he use suspenders and he said "no way, that's for old guys." Well, well, well. His problem is that he has absolutely no butt whatsoever. His back goes straight down to his thighs. As he puts it using a belt for him is "like putting a belt on a tree trunk" since there's no bump below the belt to hold the belt up. Oh man, is he right.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Cabbage

For the last few weeks I've been receiving a box of local produce from the Capay Valley. It is fun because I get whatever is in season, not just stuff that I'd normally buy. So it forces me to try new recipes and new veggies. As lame as it sounds, it is exciting for me.

This week I received some mystery greens, 2 small pumpkins, a fennel bulb (with fronds), potatoes, some habanero peppers, and a head of Chinese cabbage.

My problem is that I already have a head of Chinese cabbage in the fridge from the last shipment. Since Dave isn't here during the week and we go to Livermore every weekend I haven't been able use all my produce as quickly as I receive it. Cabbage isn't one of my favorite vegetables because when cooked it is slimy and it smells like sulfur. But I paid for it and it is in season so I'm goin got make the most of it.

What does one person do with two heads of cabbage? There's Chinese Chicken Salad, of course. But that'd be a lot of salad for one person, and I don't really like chicken much anymore. I decided to find some casserole and soup recipes that I can make and put into small containers for the freezer. By splitting up a casserole recipe into 3 or 4 smaller Corningware dishes then I can defrost one and eat through it by myself during the week. (Full recipes aren't good for one person because then I end up eating one dish everyday for lunch and dinner for the whole week. It gets really old.)

This week I made a butternut squash with caramelized onion casserole, a cabbage and hot sausage casserole, a Morrocan potato tomato casserole, and a batch of black bean cabbage soup with tomatoes in the CrockPot.

Tonight we ate the soup with some bread I made while baby sitting this afternoon. For cabbage soup, it was pretty darn good.
Cabbage Soup For the Soul
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/2 large onion, chopped
  • 5 cups chopped cabbage
  • 2 (16 ounce) cans of beans (and kind), drained
  • 2 cups water
  • 3 cans of chopped tomatoes, undrained
  • 4 bouillon cubes
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons oregano
  • 1 teaspoon thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
1. Heat oil in a large stockpot over medium high heat. Cook onion until it begins to brown. Add cabbage, beans, water, tomatoes, bouillon, cumin, salt, pepper, and herbs. Stir to dissolve bouillon, and cover. (You can add browned ground beef to this if you want, too.)

2. Cook on high setting for 4 hours, or on low setting for 6 to 8 hours. Stir occasionally. Enjoy!


Once I defrost the casseroles I will take pictures and post the recipes.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Long Time No Post

I know, it has been a while since I last posted anything.

My weekend activities have now shifted from hanging out with my out-of-town husband while doing our own home-improvement projects to going to Livermore to clean my parents' house between visits to the hospital in Pleasanton.

Along with classes, meetings, etc. the last 2 weeks have been insane...and the prospects of my life calming down soon are slim indeed.

More later.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Grandpa's Obituary




My grandpa passed away a couple of years ago, but I wanted to post his obituary because he was such an amazing person. I'm so incredibly proud of him and am very honored to be his granddaughter. And I miss him a lot.

This is not a post to skim through, folks. He was such an amazing person and he really did shape US history during his time in the Army and at NASA. He and my grandma always said they wanted only two things from us: to get an education and to never dishonor the Levie name. I think we should step that up a notch and commit to use our educations to improve the well-being of our country in a noticeable way.

Anyway...I hope you will read this post all the way through. If his actions during the war don't inspire you then perhaps is happy 64 year marriage to my grandma will.

Here is his Silver Star. We had to break open a safe to get it and put it on his coat before his burial:

Uncle Walter sure enjoyed breaking into that safe:
His obituary was read on the radio stations in northern Georgia on the day of his funeral.

LaFAYETTE — James Kellum "Jake" Levie III, 90, died Friday, March 3, 2006. He was born Nov. 14, 1915, in Atlanta.

His later childhood was spent in Korea
where his parents served as dental missionaries, and he returned to the United States to attend Berry School in Kentucky and then the Georgia Institute of Technology, where he studied electrical engineering and joined the Reserve Officer Training Corps.

In 1939, he entered active duty in the U.S. Army Signal Corps. He was stationed in the Philippine Islands when World War II began.

In the early days of WWII, as the Japanese forces approached the Bataan Peninsula, Lt. Levie's unit covered the withdrawal of the Division. Upon the withdrawal, Lt. Levie remained behind to salvage valuable signals equipment. For his "conspicuous bravery and inspiring leadership," he was awarded the Silver Star. After the surrender of the American forces in April 1942, Lt. Levie survived the Bataan Death March. He was transported to the P.O.W. camp in Mukden, Manchuria, in April 1942 where he was appointed Protestant chaplain and performed burial services for more than 500 men. When the P.O.W. camp was liberated by Soviet troops in 1945, the Soviet commander put Lt. Levie in charge, and the Japanese commandant surrendered his sword and his command to Lt. Levie.

After the war, he transferred to Army Counter-intelligence with assignments in occupied Japan, in Huntsville, Alabama, and in Birmingham, Alabama. In 1959, he retired from the Army with the rank of lieutenant colonel. In 1960, he joined the National Aeronautics and Space Administration at the newly created Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville. He worked there until 1986, rising to the position of chief of security by the time he retired with some 46 years of cumulative federal service.

In 1941, he married Avis Virginia Nash, of Atlanta, a union which lasted until her death in 2005 (64 years). During his retirement, they lived on a small farm near Huntsville, where he tended his prized herd of purebred Angus cattle, indulged his lifelong interests in the mechanical arts and agriculture and shepherded his children through school and out into the world.

Jake and Avis moved in 2002 to LaFayette, to be closer to relatives of their generation.

Survivors include their three children, James K. Levie III, of Huntsville, Harold W. Levie, of Livermore, Calif., and Virginia A. Maloney of Brooklyn, N.Y.; five grandchildren, Julie C. Levie and Edward J. Levie, of Livermore, Kelwyn M. Levie and Ryan E. Levie, of Huntsville, and James N. Maloney, of Brooklyn; two brothers, Dr. Walter H. Levie, of LaFayette, and Jim F. Levie, of San Francisco, Calif.; and a sister, Jessie R. Gilreath, of California; several nieces and nephews also survive.

Funeral 1 p.m. Monday from the Wallis Memorial Chapel with services conducted by Dr. Todd Gaddis.

Interment in Chattanooga National Cemetery with full military honors.

The family will receive friends from 6-8 p.m. today at the funeral home.

Arrangements are by Wallis-Wilbanks Funeral Home of LaFayette.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Georgia On My Mind

This post will be sorta boring to read and I apologize for that. Ever since my mom has been in the hospital I've been feeling down and unfocused...so the writing won't be clever or fun to read. I should be trying to do my chemistry homework but I don't feel like it so I'm doing this instead.

Last week we went down to Georgia with my dad for my great Uncle Walter's funeral. Although the circumstances sucked, I'm glad we were able to see all our family.
That entire side of my family has a unique bond because everyone is "double" related. My grandma and her sister married a pair of brothers--my grandpa and his brother Walter. Growing up my dad got to run around with all his double cousins. And now Edward and I get to hang out with all our double-second-cousins and double-first-cousins-once-removed.

For the first 3 nights Dave and I shared a hotel room with my dad. I've done this in the past and have always regretted it because of my dad's horrendous snoring. No amount of yelling or throwing things at him will get him to completely stop (because believe me, I've tried). My slim pocketbook kept me from booking us a separate room this time. Thank goodness Chip and Kathy invited us to stay at their house for the remainder of our trip. Dave and I made sure that Daddy stayed down the hallway, with two closed doors between us from then on.

After the memorial service and luncheon, the whole family went fishing over at my cousin Chip's pond. His friend George killed a huge rattlesnake while he was walking back to the house, which he then brought back to the pond for us all to see. It was pretty gross: he smashed its head with a stick until it died but it still squirmed around on the ground. It was gross but I touched it anyway. =)

The next day we wandered around the corn fields looking for the original (and very old) houses/barns on the property that my dad remembers from his childhood.


That day they were harvesting corn before the rains came and we got to watch. I got to climb up into the combine while Ray waited for the tractor and trailer to show up so he could off-load the corn.


It looks like Emmy is a farm-girl at heart...or maybe she just wanted to get to her daddy:

We found an old beech tree behind an equally old barn that had initials carved into it. Given that tree branches don't elongate (except at the tip, the "apical meristem") but only grow wider, the initals can't be more than about 20 years old. No one in our family could figure out who these initals belong to. Edward climbed up the tree and added our own legacy to the bark.


Wednesday was rainy (yay!) and Allison and I got snazzy new haircuts while the boys did some maintenance on her car. My dad stayed at the farm with Chip and fixed his band saw. (All major businesses in this town are closed on Wednesday so that's when Chip and Kathy get a lot of their house/farm work done. How cool is that?)

Thursday us Californians went to Rock City and Ruby Falls. I bought a shirt that says "I Love Ruby Falls" but I think the last word is unnecessary. =)

Us kiddos:
The whole family:
Friday we packed up our bags and flew home. Since we arrived about 4 minutes past the deadline to check baggage we all had to fly home separately. I went first, on my regular flight since I had no checked baggage. And then I spent a boring 4 hours in the SFO terminal waiting for Dave and Daddy to arrive. Thank goodness I had a book with me. Mind you, it was not the required book for my seminar nor was it my chemistry homework that I should have been doing. Oh well, I made do.

Friday night we slept in Livermore. My mom looked so sick and thin that I nearly burst into tears when I saw her. She brushed me off and then got upset when I told her I was really concerned and that she was scaring me. Luckily on Sunday her friends stepped in and now she's doing much better (although she is still in the hospital).

Saturday in Davis Dave and I set up the apple press my dad made for us so we could make cider. We spent all day Sunday pressing about 400lbs of apples. Then my friends John and Christina came over with a bunch of bell peppers and tomatoes for a late-night canning marathon. Whew...it was quite a busy week.

Stay tuned for a detailed apple cider making post.

Uncle Walter's Obituary

This was published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press paper. Like everyone else in his family he was such a wonderful, hardworking, loving person. I hope I can live up to his expectations of always putting family and friends first and honest work a close second.

Walter Levie Sr.

LaFAYETTE — Walter Hill Levie Sr., 89, a prominent dentist in LaFayette, passed away on Thursday, Oct. 2, 2008, at his beloved farm surrounded by his family.

As a child growing up in Korea, he was introduced to Jesus Christ and shown the importance of selfless giving by his missionary parents, Dr. and Mrs. James K. Levie. After returning to the United States in 1936, he attended the University of Georgia before matriculating to the Atlanta Southern School of Dentistry, an affiliate of Emory University, from which he graduated in 1944. After being honorably discharged from the U.S. Army in 1946, he came to LaFayette to join his father in his dental practice. In 1952, he married Doris Nash of Atlanta.

He was awarded a lifetime membership in the American Dental Association and the Georgia Dental Association for his service to the dental profession for 60 years. He was also awarded Citizen of the Year in 1991 by the LaFayette Chamber of Commerce. Dr. Levie was involved in numerous civic and church activities and was a member and former deacon of the First Baptist Church of LaFayette.

His passion for farming led to innovative ideas that contributed to the agricultural community. In Dr. Levie’s later years, he continued to enjoy farming, gardening, and spending time with his loving family.

A devoted husband, father and grandfather, he was preceded in death by his parents, his loving wife of 54 years, Doris Nash Levie; and his brothers, James K. Levie Jr. and Elmer A. Levie.

He is survived by his son, Dr. Walter Hill “Chip” Levie Jr. and wife, Kathy; daughters, Nancy Levie Hearn and husband, Henry, and Annette Levie Weldon; his grandsons, Walter Hill “Trey” Levie III, Tyler Kellum Levie, William Paul Hill Weldon and Philip Henry Hearn; and his granddaughters, Jillian Lee Hearn, Susanna Parker Hearn and Virginia “Jennie” Nash Weldon. He is also survived by his sister, Ruth L. Baumbach, of Portland, Ore.; and brother, James F. Levie, of San Francisco, Calif.; and several nieces and nephews.

The family will receive friends and relatives Sunday, Oct. 5, 2008, from 4-7 p.m. at Wallis-Wilbanks Funeral Home.

A memorial service, officiated by Dr. Todd Gaddis and Pastor George Parker, will be at First Baptist Church of LaFayette, at 11 a.m. Monday, Oct. 6.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests memorials be made to Countryside Hospice, 104 East Patton St., LaFayette, GA 30728, or Christian Friends of Korea, P.O. Box 936, Black Mountain, NC 28711.

Arrangements are by Wallis-Wilbanks Funeral Home.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Prayers for my Mommy

My mom has been in the hospital since Sunday afternoon after church. Her friends convinced her to go since her health has been declining rapidly in the last couple of months. She has an amazing group of friends; I'm so thankful that they can care for her in ways she wouldn't let me. (Whenever my dad or I asked her to see a doctor about her constant coughing, shortness of breath, weight loss, struggle to walk/stand for very long, etc. she wouldn't listen and would generally just get quite flustered and very upset. Since you can't legally force anyone to seek medical attention, we knew it would have to be on her own terms. And with some convincing from her closest friends and the pastor she made the right decision.)

So far she's had over 2L of fluid removed from her chest and she's on oxygen so she can breathe more easily. Hopefully all the tests will tell us what the problem is, what caused it, and how to treat it. She'll be in the hospital for at least a few more days and I'll go home this weekend to see her.

Your thoughts and prayers would do a world of good for my mom right now.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Whey Cool, Dude

A few months ago we took a cheese making class in New England. I bought supplies to make hard cheeses, goat cheese (my favorite), and mozzarella. While up in Gualala, Dave and I finally got around to making a batch of mozzarella. It was SO cool that it actually worked!

We weren't sure that it would work because the brand of milk you use is important. Ultra-pasteurized milk is processed at such a high temperature that most/all of the casein protein is denatured to prevent spoiling. This also makes the milk less nutritious and useless for cheese making. At the store we found Clover milk that was only pasteurized and it worked great. The recipe is called 30 Minute Mozzarella and you don't need any fancy equipment to try it yourself.

You need:

  • Thermometer (50-105F)
  • Metal pot
  • Metal skimmer
  • Variety of measuring spoons
  • Measuring cup
  • Rennet (liquid or tablet—purchase online)
  • Citric acid (available in most stores selling canning supplies)
  • 1 gallon pasteurized cow milk
  • About 30 uninterrupted minutes

As with most activities, Dave was not nearly as impressed or excited as I was:

video

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Huckleberry Season

That same weekend in Gualala Dave made mini pancakes for my breakfast. They were so yummy! Then on Sunday morning we headed outside to pick wild huckleberries along the road.

For whatever reason, the berries this year were much smaller than usual and sorta tasteless if you ask me. I’m not such a fan of these berries because they are so much work. Picking them isn’t so bad; you just pull your hand down the stem, letting the berries all into your bucket.

Cleaning them is the worst. You know how grapes have little stems that connect each berry to the bigger stem? And sometimes when you pull a grape off the bunch, that little stem stays on the grape? Imagine that but with tick-tack sized berries. No one likes eating stems so when you clean them you not only have to remove all the bark and leaves, but also these tiny stems.

My mother-in-law’s method for cleaning huckleberries is pretty efficient at doing this: you dump a few cups of berries onto a clean kitchen towel that is laid out on the table in front of you. You pick out the biggest pieces of debris, and scoot the clean berries towards you. By rolling the berries along the towel most of those annoying little stems come right off. Of course, my dad-in-law decided to go do something else while Dave and I cleaned our berries so we ended up having to clean his as well!

All clean:

And what do you do with all these berries? I made a cake and a pie:

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Hotel Julie

Now that Dave is more or less permanently working for his dad, I’ve opened-up our house to any friends who need a place to stay. My labmate, Eric, stayed at the house for a few weeks before his band left to tour Japan. He’s the bass player in his bands, Second Shot and Van Hammersley. His wife, Rachael, used to work in our lab as well but then she landed a great job down in San Diego. It is a résumé-building job so she’ll stick it out for a year and then move on (and hopefully back up north). I actually know a few other couples who are in a similar one-spouse-lives-away-for-work situation as me. Eric’s stay was temporary before he left on tour, but now that he’s back he wants to “contribute financially” so he can stay at the house until he either lands a job down in SD with Rachael (not likely given the economy) or she’s done with her job (in June). Dave and I will have to figure out how much rent is reasonable and then clear out a kitchen cabinet so he can have a place to stash his food. Lucky for me, he used to be a certified veterinary technician so he’s super good with dogs—even my little Ruby who barks and jumps on him all the time.

Just yesterday my prof says to me, “Hey Julie, if we change A-Eric’s name to start with an ‘e’ can he also stay at your house?” At first I didn’t understand what he meant, but then I just laughed. So…my other labmate, Arek (who we refer to as “A-Eric” as opposed to “E-Eric” since our lab is home to both), is now staying on our futon in the office while he does some field work here in Davis. He lives in Oregon now, but has a few more experiments going down here that he needs to finish up. Then I think he’s heading back up north to get married.

Last week my friend Mari and her baby boy, Alex, stayed at our house while she was down here meeting with professors about her doctorate research. I baby sat Alex a lot while she was in meetings and we had such a ball. He’s not walking yet, but boy can he scoot across a room fast! The last time I saw him was when I helped Mari haul all her stuff to the airport when they moved back to Alaska (they live half a year there and half a year here while she finishes her PhD research and classes). He’s getting so big! Babies never seem like “real” people until they start to stand up and walk. Well, he’s almost there. By the time they move back to Davis in January he’ll be over a year old and probably starting to talk!

Whenever someone comes to stay at our house, I make sure to sweep/vacuum up as much of the dog hair as I can, dust the furniture, make the beds up with clean sheets, clean the bathrooms, etc. I’ve given up vacuuming the couches to get all the dog hair off. The fabric is a loose weave and it really just works it’s way into the cushions. Dave uses the shop-vac, but I’m just too lazy (and tired from cleaning the rest of the house) to bother anymore. (No one seems to mind/notice anyway.)

So, if you’re ever in town and need a place to stay just ask! We'd be happy to have you!