Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Adventures with Grandpa – six months’ catch-up edition

I haven’t written in my blog for a while, and I’ve meant to write one specifically about some adventures I’ve had with my dad (aka grandpa), but it keeps getting further and further in the past, so I’ve been telling myself that I shouldn’t bother writing such old news.  But then I thought that some of these experiences were so amusing that I just have to share them anyway.  Pretend it’s still winter and Thanksgiving was just a few weeks ago!  It doesn’t seem that long ago to me, anyway.  How time does fly when you’re getting OLD!

The most recent tales began last Thanksgiving.  Dad came to spend the day with us, and since there was nobody else to push it off onto, I had to do the cooking myself.  Gina came too, and Dad wanted to invite Tim Wolf and his family, too.  Tim is a guy that Dad met by accident a number of years ago.  If I remember correctly, Dad was doing some land surveying somewhere off the Beaver Dam road, and Tim, who is a land surveyor who happened to work at the Water District at the time, drove by.  He saw the equipment and decided to stop for a chat.  And so they got to know each other.  At the time that they met, I didn’t know Tim, but not much later we both arrived early to a meeting and, while making small talk, realized who we were.  After that we had fun chatting from time to time, and his father was dying of prostate cancer right about the time my dad was diagnosed with it.  Fortunately my dad survived; his father didn’t.  My dad has become something of a father figure to Tim since then, though.  Tim has gone up to Caliente to visit Dad many times, sometimes with his wife and kids, sometimes without.  Tim left the Water District a while back and opened his own land surveying business here in Vegas, just in time for the market to crash.  Isn’t that how it works sometimes?  I understand that Tim is now preparing to take over Dad’s land surveying business.  I asked him recently if he regrets leaving the Water District, and I got an emphatic yes. 

Anyway, Dad wanted to invite them to come for Thanksgiving, and I didn’t have a problem with it, in spite of the fact that I had never met Tim’s family; my only problem is that when “company” is coming and it isn’t just family, there’s more pressure to not mess up any of the food!  I was surprised when Tim and his family actually accepted.

Something else a little different was going on at the same time.  Without going into too much detail, Jenny was sort of seeing two different guys, George and Mike.  They knew about each other and kind of rotated through the house.  She had already invited Mike to come for Thanksgiving, so I expected him to be there.  Imagine my surprise when the night before, Jenny walks through the door with both Mike and George in tow.  I have to admit that I’ve always had a soft spot for George.  I’ve mentioned him in my blog before; he’s the guy who was raised by his Jewish grandmother who was a holocaust survivor from Hungary, and when we went to her funeral, Jimmy ended up being a pallbearer with yarmulke on his head.  George also had leukemia as a child.  He is such a sweet guy, so willing and eager to help.  Mike is nice, too, but I haven’t become as attached to him.  Anyway, on Thanksgiving Eve, Jenny arrived with both guys, and they crashed on various couches for the night.  The next day, Thanksgiving, both were eager to help with whatever they could.  I sent Mike outside to do some yard work and George helped me in the kitchen.  He went to chef’s school for a short time, so he has a few kitchen skills, and it was fun ordering them both around.  In his enthusiasm, Mike pulled up a few plants in the front yard that I wanted to keep, but I didn’t say anything to him.  No point in that!

Meanwhile, back in the kitchen, I was also directing Dad to assist here and there.  I asked him to peel some potatoes.  I’ve never been very good at judging how many potatoes you need, so after he peeled some, he asked me if it was enough.  I wasn’t sure, so he kept going.  I got distracted with other kitchen chores, and before I knew it, he had finished the whole bag!  It was a Costco bag of potatoes, too!  We had leftover mashed potatoes for quite a while.

Eventually all the food was prepared, Tim and his family arrived, and we had dinner.  We used Mom’s china, and it was very nice, except that Dad forgot to bring the serving dishes, so we had to go non-matching for those.  You can’t have everything!  The hardest part was dragging all the guys away from the football game on TV so we could eat.  They do have their priorities.  For my whole life I’ve never known Dad to be much of a football fan, but when he wants to, he can sit and watch with the best of them.  I guess he’s usually just too busy with other things to watch a game.

We had dinner, which must have been fairly uneventful, since I don’t remember much about it.  Tim had asked if they could bring wine and Dad said okay, but they didn’t, we had the usual sparkling cider to drink.  After it was all cleaned up and we sat around for a while, Tim and his family left.  Jenny then asked me if she could borrow my car to drive Mike and George home.  I said okay, but first we had to move Dad’s car.  He had parked in the driveway behind the space in the garage where I keep my car.  I asked Dad for his keys, and he asked why Jenny didn’t just take his car instead.  I wasn’t sure if that was such a good idea, but he seemed pretty confident about the idea, so he produced the keys and off they went.  Of course, not long after they left, he wanted to know when she was coming back.  I told him it shouldn’t be too long, but you know how these things can go, especially when the person has two boyfriends in tow.

And, true to form, it was quite late when Jenny returned.  I’m so sad I missed this part of the story because I was sleeping quite soundly upstairs in my bed, rather exhausted from the long day.  But this is what happened, or so I was told.

Dad went to bed, but he woke up at some point and wondered if his car was back yet.  I believe this was about 2:00 AM.  He went downstairs and, just as he was peeking out the window, Jenny came in … with George.  I can’t remember what the story was, but somehow she dropped off Mike but ended up bringing George back with her.  I imagine Jenny was surprised to see her grandpa standing there, and he wanted to know what had been going on.  Gina, who was sleeping in the den downstairs, heard the commotion and came out of the room, not wanting to miss anything.

Dad told Jenny and George that they should get married.  Jenny said that they couldn’t, and he wanted to know why.  She said there were problems.  Dad said that if they would just get married, they would work out their problems together.  Dad then told them to go get in the car, he was going to drive them downtown, yes, in the middle of the night, so they could get married.  They managed to convince him that the marriage bureau was surely closed at that time (not sure if it is, but he believed it).

Sometime during this discussion, a cockroach of impressive size also became agitated by the discussion and decided to run across the floor.  Dad was very impressed at how efficiently George dispatched it.  He picked it up with his fingers, snapped it in half, and put it in the trash.  According to George, though, Gina was “three houses down” by the time he grabbed it.  I guess the cockroach appeared to be chasing her and she left the room in a hurry!  George’s explanation of his cockroach skills was summed up in a minor statement:  he was born and raised in the Bronx.  So there you go.

Not long after this holiday fun (the very next week, in fact), Dad had to go to the hospital in St. George for his heart procedure.  He had been feeling short of breath while jogging or even walking too much, and the doctor wanted to do an angiogram.  When they do that, they decide on the spot if they’re going to do heart bypass surgery or put some stents in there, so we knew that after the test, there was a good chance he was going to have one procedure or another.  I think they had to be there at 7:00 AM Utah time, which is 6:00 my time, and I got a little lost looking for the hospital, so I was a little late (that’s my story and I’m sticking with it).  Honestly, they have moved the hospital, and that’s a fact.  I headed for the hospital that was near the temple, and it wasn’t there anymore, and since it was so early, I had some trouble finding someone to tell me where it was. 

Kevin drove Dad to St. George, and when I got there, they were in the area where you wait to be taken into getting whatever done (it ended up also being the recovery area).  Dad was in a hospital gown and lying on a bed, and Kevin was with him (Kev was standing up).  Nurses came in and out to ask him questions and stuff, and Dad was having his usual fun flirting with them.  He was happy that a cute nurse shaved his groin area (where they accessed his artery for the angiogram – not sorry I missed that part).  Eventually they took him away, and Kevin and I went to the waiting area.  After a while the surgeon called us back to where Dad’s bed had been and, using a dry erase marker, wrote all over one of the lovely landscape pictures (on the glass), describing what he had found.  He drew a picture of the heart and showed and described the various arteries that are attached, noting on the picture that “this area is 80% blocked” or “that area is 70% blocked.”  All of the areas were pretty bad, really.  He said that if Dad was younger, they would immediately do a multiple bypass on him, but since he’s over 80, they’re just going to do a couple of stents.  I want Dad to be as healthy as possible, so I tried to talk to the cardiologist about how Dad’s really healthy and isn’t your average 80-something-year-old (and how!).  The doctor said that it doesn’t matter how healthy the patient is, their organs are still that age and a bypass operation would bring more possible complications, like a stroke.  I knew that Dad absolutely wouldn’t want to risk a stroke, so I quit arguing.  Kevin and I returned to the waiting area.

A while later (seemed forever), they called us back to the same area, where Dad’s bed was back with him in it.  He was happy that he didn’t have a bypass.  The doctor came and asked Kevin and I if we wanted to see a film of the procedure.  Dad wanted to come and see it too, but the doctor wouldn’t let him get up.  Dad was crying foul as Kevin and I left with the doctor.

On the screen, we could see Dad’s beating heart.  The doctor pointed out a small little vein on the screen, then showed us the stent being placed.  Suddenly, the small little vein plumped up and became much larger and much longer, obviously showing that it had been pretty badly blocked.  Then he showed us the next vein, and how the blood running through it suddenly went from a trickle to a flood.  Pretty amazing.  Like I think I said on my Facebook post, it was cool, kind of creepy-cool, for us squeamish types.  If my memory serves, they did four stents; they had no idea he would need that many, and the last one was in an area the doctors call the “widow maker,” and it was really badly blocked.  He said that if they had done that area first, they would have just gone ahead with the bypass surgery regardless of his age, it was so bad, but since they had already placed three stents, they just placed a fourth.  It’s very scary to think that Dad’s heart was so badly compromised and how easily we could have lost him.

Meanwhile, back in the recovery room, Dad wasn’t very happy.  Not because he was in pain or anything; it was because all of the “cute nurses” were gone and the nurses now on shift were all guys.  What a letdown!

Eventually he was moved to a room, and he was told that he would have to spend the night.  I said that I would stay with him and drive him home to Caliente the next day.  Kevin went home.  The following are a few exchanges that I noted as they happened.

Nurse:  Do you have any pain?
Dad:  Lots of pain.
Nurse (with concern):  Where?
Dad:  Just being here.

The nurse brings Dad a pill and hands it to him. 
Dad:  What’s that? 
Nurse:  It’s Prilosec, in case you get a stomach ache.
Dad:  I don’t have a stomach ache!
Nurse:  Well some heart patients get stomach upset from the procedure.
Dad:  What about if we wait until I HAVE a stomach ache to take it?
Nurse:  OK.  Fine.

The nurse comes in to talk to Dad about taking a pain pill.
Nurse:  Even if they’re not in a lot of pain, some people will take the pain meds just to help them relax.
Me (silently to myself):  Please please please, take it!
Dad:  No.  I’ll relax when I’m dead.
Me:  We don’t want to speed up that process, do we?
(Dad ignores me.)
Me (to nurse):  Well, then I’m the one who needs to relax, so give it to me.
(No pain pills administered to anyone.)

I spent a fitful night on the couch-that-turns-into-a-“bed” thing in Dad’s room.  I had thought about going to my car to get the faux fur throw I had brought, but I thought I’d be warm enough with the hospital-provided blanket.  I woke up freezing several times.  I missed my pillow, too.  Oh well …

When we woke up the next morning, we were ready and raring to go home as soon as possible.  It’s funny how one night can seem like forever when you’re in a hospital.  We practically had the bags packed and the car warming up when the doctor appeared and told Dad that he had to stay another night.  You would think that someone spoiled Christmas.  Both Dad and I were very sad at the news, but the doctor said that since that last stent was so bad, they needed to have him there for close monitoring for another 24 hours.  I couldn’t take another day off work (already took two days and at that time I still had a boss – my “new boss” only lasted a little over a year and I’m currently bossless), so I called Kevin and he said he’d come get Dad the next day.  I intended to leave fairly early, at least early afternoon, but I had a hard time tearing myself away from Dad.  I didn’t want to leave him alone.  I eventually left after it got dark outside.  Kevin arrived promptly the next morning and took him home, hale and hearty, with instructions to take it easy.  We’ll see about that!

I should have more adventures to share in another month or so.  I’m driving up to Washington with Dad again, this time to celebrate Samantha’s graduation, and we’re stopping to visit various people along the way, as always.  Right after we get back to Vegas we’re going to fly to Dallas for Neal’s wedding.  That will be 10 straight days with Dad, 24/7.  Can’t.  Hardly.  Wait.    =)

I’m going to post my recipe for Spinach Dip.  I hate to claim it because, like I always tell everyone who asks for the recipe, it’s on the package of the veggie soup mix, but people still seem to have trouble replicating it, so I’ll just publish it once and for all, and maybe yours will turn out better.  I’ll include descriptions of each step, just in case something gets lost in translation.

Karen’s Spinach Dip

1 package frozen CHOPPED spinach (Make sure it’s chopped, not whole leaf or whatever else they sell.  I always get one of those square boxes of it, the cheap kind.  It’s probably about 8 oz., I’m not sure.)
1 can water chestnuts, drained and diced (whole or sliced or whatever, the can is about the same size as a standard can of tuna)
1 cup mayonnaise
2 cups sour cream (I believe the original recipe says one 16-oz. Carton.  I buy sour cream in the super-size cartons, so I measure out two cups.)
1 package Knorr or Mrs. Grass vegetable soup mix (NOT spring vegetable; use the regular vegetable mix)
Chopped onions (I never add onions, but it’s on the recipe so you can add some if you like them.  Mom and Dad used to like to make it with triple onions and thought it was great.  Whatever!)

1.      Defrost the frozen spinach.  This year I didn’t plan ahead, so I put the frozen block into a colander and ran water over it until it was defrosted.  Squeeze as much water out of it as you can by pushing down on it with a spoon (or squeezing it with your fingers) while it’s in the colander.  Do NOT cook the spinach (Jill said she saw a recipe that said the spinach should be cooked.)

2.      Mix the sour cream and mayonnaise together in a bowl.  Add the squeezed-dry chopped spinach and the dry soup mix and stir it together.

3.      Chop up the water chestnuts.  I drain them and dump them into my Ninja food processor and push down on the button a couple of times.  You want them to add crunch to the dip, so don’t puree them.  Add to sour cream/mayo mixture.

4.      Add the onions if you want them.

Refrigerate at least a couple of hours or overnight to give the soup mix a chance to “wake up” (those veggies have been dehydrated, you know). 

Serve with bread or tortilla chips (must be bread).

That’s it!  Someone can feel free to post it on the Smithalicious blog if you want to.  Like I said, I didn’t exactly invent this recipe, but this is how I make it. 

And that’s it for now!

Thursday, January 31, 2013


I took a trip to visit Jill and Jared (and family) over the MLK weekend.  It was a wonderful trip.  While I was there, we visited Arlington National Cemetery.  Richard Snelding, a friend from work, had a close childhood friend, Jonas Kelsall, who was killed in the Chinook helicopter that was shot down in Afghanistan in 2011, and I promised Richard that the next time I was in the area, I’d try to visit his grave.  Richard went to the funeral services, but those were held in Shreveport, where they grew up.  Jonas (the soldier) is buried at Arlington, and Richard couldn’t go to that part.  I figured we’d find the grave (they have a terminal in the visitor’s center where you can look up locations of graves and it prints out directions), take a picture, and then move on.  But it was so much more than that.  

When we first got there, before we found the grave, I was already amazed to see that they still had the wreaths on all the graves.  I knew that a nonprofit organization lays wreaths on all the graves at Arlington in December.  I’ve seen pictures of it before, and when I was visiting Jill a year ago in December, a woman in her ward talked about volunteering to go help lay the wreaths.  Somebody goes to a lot of work MAKING all those wreaths, too.  I can’t imagine how many it must be.  Anyway, I figured the wreaths would be gone by now, but they were all still there, and still in very good condition.  There was a tiny bit of browning here and there, but nothing significant, all with a big red bow.  They keep the grass immaculately groomed, so they must have to move those wreaths and then put them back to mow, which would be a big job in itself.  (I assume you still have to mow grass in the winter, as long as there’s no snow on the ground?  Not much experience in this department.) 
Just Jill, Kadence, and I went out there after church on Sunday.  When we got to the grave, we took pictures, and we had Kadence hold up the flag showing that he was a SEAL (the wind was blowing like crazy).   He was a member of SEAL Team 6, and a bunch of them were killed when their helicopter was shot down.  

We took pictures of where the tombstones began from the deaths that day and had Kadence stand at the end, there were a lot of them.  I have since looked up more information about what happened that day, and 38 people died in the crash, plus a SEAL working dog, so a lot of the soldiers are probably buried somewhere else, maybe in the veterans’ cemetery in their own home town. 
The tombstone next to Jonas’s said “Here lies the unidentified remains” from that day, and we thought that was strange.  I’ve since found out that sometimes they have remains left over that they can’t identify (I imagine a lot of those caskets hold pieces and parts of people instead of intact bodies), so they put them together in another grave, so that’s what they did here.  The tombstone shows in one of the pictures I took of Jonas’s grave, and I have cropped it so you can see it.  It says, “Here lies the Unidentified Remains of Extortion 17.  Afghanistan August 6 2011”
They call the incident Extortion 17 because that was the call sign of their helicopter that crashed.  It was hit by a RPG (Rocket Propelled Grenade) soon after it took off after the soldiers participated in battle there for at least two hours. 

Instead of just taking pictures and moving on, we stayed with the grave for a while.  It truly felt like we were spending time with him and the others there.  When we were finally ready to leave, we decided to have a prayer.  It was actually Jill’s idea.  She and Kadence got on their knees and she suggested it.  I knelt down too and I said the prayer.  Even though we never met Jonas, Jill and I cried and the spirit was so strong that I felt it for days.  It ended up being a very spiritual experience and totally unexpected.  We walked around for a while with wet and slightly muddy knees, but we didn’t care. 

Then as we walked from the grave to the Tomb of the Unknowns, we noticed a few wreathes were blown over, so we fixed them.  Then we spent more time picking up wreaths and returning them to their spots.  Kadence went from “I’m tired, I can’t walk anymore” to being very enthusiastic about picking up the wreaths and she was running all over the place, fixing them.  We all participated, and before long it got out of control.  It was a windy day and quite a few wreaths were tipped over.  “Come on, Grandma!  Here are four more!  Look, there’s a whole row!”  I got my exercise that day.

The soldier guarding the tomb.  He walks very precisely back and forth on the black runner.
The officer inspecting the new guard to make sure everything is perfect
Making the change
We went to the Tomb of the Unknowns.  During the summer they do the changing of the guard every 30 minutes, and we hurried to get there before the half-hour, but we then found out that it only happens every hour during the winter months.  Jill had never been able to watch it, even though she had been there a number of times, because she always had baby-watching duty and had to stay over to the side of the big memorial amphitheater they have there.  You have to be silent and show respect when you’re there.  So, even though it was cold and we had left our coats in the car (we had debated on whether we wanted to carry them around if we got too warm and decided against it), we waited the next 30 minutes for the changing of the guard.  Jill suggested that we wander around until it got closer to the time for it to begin, but we had a front-row seat (actually a front-row STAND) and I didn’t want to give it up.  I was afraid we wouldn’t be able to get close if we left, and it’s a good thing we didn’t, because the place was PACKED by the time the guard change began.  It was MLK Day and inauguration weekend, and there were a lot of people there  (lots of tour buses, too).  So we watched that and it was so cool, as always. 

Then we hobbled our frozen selves back to the car to return to Jill’s place.  In spite of the cold, a quick, casual side trip turned into a warm, wonderful memory.  You never know when that will happen.