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Thursday, June 30, 2011

A Day With Carolyn; A Night In Havana

Thursday morning and early afternoon were spent at KU Med with Kiko as we sat with Jim and monitored Carolyn's progress. Our great lady had a tough morning of poking and prodding and various tests. She was shuddering with labored breaths and had clearly been through the wringer. Jim himself, already beside himself with concern for his wife, also had to weather some seriously negative energy from various sources. Said sources have left the building, so to speak, and everyone is breathing easier, including Carolyn. Jim had hooked up the earbuds of her iPhone to her ears so that she could listen to Mary Chapin Carpenter; one of her favorite musicians. She was already settling into a more peaceful slumber.

I told Carolyn earlier that I was planning to attend a party that evening. I had canceled all of my plans for the rest of the week, but I held on to this soiree: Troy and Sarah's A Night In Havana-1958. Troy's shindigs have long been legendary and I really wanted to attend but admittedly hadn't been feeling too celebratory. I began to remember that, of what I know about Carolyn; I know that she would insist we continue to live and not pass up a good party. After sharing a giant bag of "gourmet" jelly beans with Jim and Kiko in the waiting room, I headed out....however, not before learning that two blueberry jelly beans combined with one of those reviled buttered popcorn flavored ones tastes like a blueberry muffin. Who knew? I stopped by Wines by Jennifer in Parkville to pick up some Spanish Muscati for the party and noted the rising waters of the Missouri River encroaching on this beloved town. This is the park where we usually walk and it is now underwater. The good folks there have been sandbagging in preparation for the approaching flood and we are all hoping that they hold off the worst.

My friend Linda accompanied me to Casa de Snelling on an appropriately sultry evening that flirted with 100 degree temps. We arrived as the food was being set out and the aromas wafting from the kitchen were already enticing. Troy and several gentleman sported white dinner jackets and fedora hats. The women, including my friend Linda, were all alluringly draped in their festive best. I showed Linda around their home a bit and we noted the display cases featuring vintage Cuban money. Troy's friend Andy was the master cocktail craftsman and he created some marvelous mojitos in addition to a wicked Bacardi Especial. We met Amanda, the one genuine Cuban guest who also looked as if she had just stepped off the streets of Havana and she graciously agreed to being photographed next to Troy's classic Packard. I also asked the stylish Dr. Sid, whom Troy pointed out was channeling Paul Gauguin, and his lovely wife Jeri to pose by the Packard for some shots. I met Paige and Chris who were every bit as cool as Sarah said they would be. Paige created a fascinating drink: the Serrano Sling or as Paige herself describes it; the mashed-out guts of 12 limes, rum, gin and serrano peppers. This drink was served shooter-style in the makeshift lime rinds and as Dr. Sid helped serve my first one he told me that I needed to get a piece of that "okra" in the drink. That okra would prove to be a slice of serrano and that drink was an eye-opening shot of fiery heaven.

The food, sure to always be a highlight at Casa de Snelling, was indeed a sumptuous treat. Claire made a savory pork tenderloin, Sarah provided some luscious Cuban beans and rice, Tish made a seriously delicious avocado and tomato salad and Dr. Roy brought some soul-nourishing Cuban bread. Troy would introduce us to Roy later in the evening and I was enthralled in listening to him speak of his love of baking. He would give Linda some pointers with the sourdough starter shes' preparing. Dr. Roy's starter is 12 years old! Dessert was equally desirable: Corrine's' Caribbean Rum Cake (splashed with some of Dr. Sid's Caribbean Rum), fresh-baked key-lime pie and Tish's famous flan. Light breezes fell as the pink-hued sunset made for an ideal setting for the festivities.

Night fell; tiki torches flickered and cigars were lit. Everyone settled in for cocktails and conversation while the sensuous sounds of Tito Puente and The Mambo Kings soundtrack played in the background. The party may sound divine to you and indeed it was but I admit that my mind did not completely relax. Carolyn still occupied my mind, I've been lacking sleep and despite my best efforts, I couldn't quite kick back. Linda would later remind me that even though I'm passionate about this blog, I shouldn't forget to enjoy and even revel in the moment and she's right. Considering that this was one of the most intriguing and cool soirees that I've attended in quite awhile; its obvious that I still need to work on enjoying the moment. My guess is that Carolyn would not dig the fact that I was letting worry get in the way of living. Frankly, she would have loved this party.

Thank you for a brilliant evening, Sarah and Troy.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Gratitude

This day is hot and steamy and I am glad for it. Gratitude is a necessary thing but can often be elusive as we get caught up in our own minute details and allow these details to cloud our minds. We find ourselves ignoring the beauty and brilliance that surrounds us every day by concentrating on something irritating like say, the ant colony that I discovered moving up my arm while watering the gardens today. Or say, maybe the traffic and lack of parking I encountered at KU-Med and muttered disparagingly about on my way in to visit our friend Carolyn.....who's fighting for her life. We would give anything for Carolyn to be walking around complaining about heavy traffic right now. Why is it so easy to give in to bellyaching when I should be thanking God for every moment I or Keith or any loved one has right now? Aye, there's the rub....

I don't have any easy answers. I just have to take it a day at a time and ask for guidance from above and for patience from my loved ones (if patience is a virtue; Keith is the most virtuous person I know). I looked through some old photos that I apparently took so they could just sit in an archive and finally brought them out for show. These will be the display for today's effort towards gratitude:

I am grateful for that stunning double rainbow I witnessed a few months back taken at my job. I'm grateful for Keith's green thumb, his bountiful gardens and that blooming red hot poker. I'm also grateful for the vegetables we grow that survive the elements and the critters, such as these peppers that are pictured.

I'm most grateful today for the continued little bits of good news we receive about Carolyn. She is ensconced in her snazzy new digs at KU-Med and continues to be surrounded by family and friends. I am most grateful for Carolyn's husband Jim who is ever by her side. Jim is a master wordsmith and tells us in his Facebook updates of the latest and best reason to be grateful today. The following is in Jim's own words:

According to these neurologists, based on what they admitted was mostly geriatric data that has nothing to do with Carolyn, she has a 1 in 20 chance of a full recovery and a 1 in 3 chance of a "significant" recovery. Those same stats predicted that Gabby Giffords died last February. Today, twice, when I held her hand and told her that I loved her, that I adored her, and that I needed her back, tears streamed down her cheeks. She's still in there, trapped in a body she's training to respond to her will. And anyone who knows her has no doubt that, when she wills something, it eventually happens. By sheer coincidence, the deal that saved the Elms Hotel, which she worked night and day for 3 years to succeed, all the while ignoring a rising tide of skepticism, was formalized today. She is a woman triumphant, and she will succeed.

Amen and Godspeed. This morning, Jim has just announced that the heart damage wasn't nearly as bad as they feared. Keep those prayers coming, folks.

The video below is Coldplay's Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall. I've been listening to it all day. Carolyn's teardrops were a waterfall, after all.


Monday, June 27, 2011

The Power Of Good Vibes

The first scene froze my blood. I rounded the corner on the second floor ICU unit and my initial image is of Keith, Carolyn's husband Jim, Kiko and several others gathered in conspiratorial whispers. The next image melted my heart...Keith looked at me and said, "We got good news!" Indeed we did.

The neurologist told Jim that Carolyn had positive brain activity on the left side and that the right side is suppressed. The CT scan of her brain was positive, with no sign of swelling. She is still not awake and has been life-flighted to KU Med.

There is a long road ahead but this news brought a wave of relief to everyone present. It was so gratifying to see Jim breathe easy for a moment and suddenly realize that he was famished. Food was abundant in the waiting room and Jim heartily dug in. Most of the dinner party "posse" was present for the good news and we all could have collapsed right then. We all took turns saying our "see ya at KU" to Carolyn and reassured her that she had the sweetest ride available to take her to the next stop on her journey.

We agreed that tonight we would not descend on KU Med en masse and allow Carolyn to settle in and have a peaceful night with family. We saw her off in style, though....we all gathered in the surrounding parking lot and garage to bid her Life Flight helicopter safe travels. Charlotte and Carl opened the back of their car to host the tailgate/watch party for Carolyn. Several security guards had gathered at the doors; a bit concerned as to what we were up to. When the guys rolled out her gurney we wished them well; reminding them of their precious cargo. We waved and cheered as if the departing helicopter was a celebrity-filled sea vessel on its maiden voyage. That aircraft did have a celebrity....our celebrity.

Our group trudged off for an impromptu dinner at Jem.....cocktails like chocolate martinis and tasty pizza such as our excellent Farmer's Florentine with onions, peppers and sun-dried tomatoes with a Parmesan spinach sauce. We managed to relax and laughed the laughs of a very weary but relieved group of friends.

This recounted tale proves it, friends and neighbors......the positive power of prayer and energy collectively focused on a friend in need is a wonder to behold. We all know that its only a start. We know there could be setbacks. Already noted, but again, we know there's a long road ahead.

We also know this mighty gathering of positive energy is working. Keep the prayers, thoughts and karma coming, folks. It really is working.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

We Need Your Help

Today's post was going to be about a festival in Excelsior Springs....a lovingly written post of pancake breakfasts, corn dogs, funnel cakes and hot air balloon rides. I was helping man the D.E.P. booth at Waterfest during the morning and heading out to meet friends for dinner and a performance of Shakespeare in the Park. This day became about so much more.

The previous evening, we had heard late in the evening that our friend Carolyn had collapsed at her home and was rushed to the hospital. We anxiously awaited word as to her condition and today, as news trickled in, the gravity of the situation sank in: Carolyn had suffered a heart attack and the next 24 hours are critical. Her brain function was of great concern and at first, her husband Jim and their dear friend Kiko simply sent out word as to her condition. Friends started to descend and Keith accompanied John, the local chief of police out to Liberty Hospital to visit her. When Keith returned from his visit, he was ashen...and I soon was made aware that the situation was far more dire than either of us had realized. We checked Jim's Facebook page and he put out the call: we need positive energy; please come. I quickly canceled my evening plans and soon accompanied Kathleen out to visit Carolyn while Keith took over the booth. Upon arrival, the family was shaken but stalwart by her side and we took our first breathtaking first steps in to see her....a disconcerting sight of our dear friend obscured among those awful tubes and wires.

Let me tell you a bit about this fine lady. Carolyn is by all rights a force of nature. She is an incredibly strong woman with a brilliant sense of humor and undeniable joie de vivre. Her lust for life is inescapable and a joy to be around. She was most recently Mayor of ES and she is passionate about the town and ensuring a strong future for it. How humbling it is to see her fighting for her life on a night when Waterfest saw a record crowd. She would be so excited.

I've been blessed to get to know Carolyn in a short amount of time. She has been good friends with Keith for some time now and after I attended her and Jim's Mardi Gras party, we became fast friends with they and Kiko. We were invited to join in with their First Friday dinner groups. In the pic at the top left is Carolyn at the far left at our dinner at the Farmhouse. You may have read my recent posts on some of our recent adventures: a Royals game and our night of Moroccan food and drag queens. I've become very attached to Carolyn in a short amount of time....I was already a fan of hers due to the fact that she always had Keith's back....but since becoming friends with her; I've become crazy about her.

We need her to wake up.

Sitting at her bedside with Kathleen and later on tonight with Keith was a powerful experience. We were told that we needed to bring positive energy to Carolyn's bedside to help stimulate her brain. Now, I have spent an inordinate amount of time at hospital bedsides; particularly in the last year. I have never, however, sucked up my own emotions and stayed on the course of putting out nothing but positive energy. We stroked her hand, told funny stories, laughed and continuously coaxed her to wake up. We watched the number on the monitor that measured brain activity as if it were a sports score; literally willing her to raise that number. We hooted and hollered when the score jumped to a 98; so much so that the nurse scolded us. The number would plummet and we would try to "coach" her number back up. We used everything in our arsenal including political jibes. Sometimes, the laughs were unintentional....while telling Carolyn about the day, I kept bumping into her bed controls and moving her every which way but loose. I finally kept my distance so as not to launch her across the room.

All kidding aside, we need your help. If you are a regular or casual reader, or just stopping by, I'm asking you for prayer or any bit of positive thoughts, karma or juju you could share and send it our way. These next few hours and days are critical. If anyone can beat this; it is Carolyn because of her innate stength and because we will raise the roof and rally the troops to see her through this. Already, the shifts have fallen into place....folks were leaving as we showed up tonight and Gary and Kim were arriving as we were leaving. And so it will continue. We will return in the morning.

Again, the family needs our help and we need yours. Please send Carolyn whatever positive energy you can share. Thank you.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Ronnie's Birthday: The Anthony Weiner Roast

Summer is officially here and one of the first signs of seasonal fun is my friend Ronnie being done with the school year and let loose in the city. Its also been a long, damn time since my dinner party group has been hangin' out and so we made the latest gathering a birthday dinner for Ronnie. Celebrating Ronnie tends to connote celebrating with salty humor and this would be no exception. We allowed current sordid events to play a lead role in the festivities and our humble cookout became The Anthony Weiner Roast. The easily offended among you may want to exit stage left at this point.

We were blessed with pristine weather and so decked out the deck for the evening. A banner hung above the doorway to the deck featuring Ronnie's and Mr. Weiner's infamous pics. We served mango mojitos with fresh mint from the garden and munched on Jolynn's pigs in blankets and Jane's famous deviled eggs while watching Ronnie open his marvelous gifts. He received several appropriately rude birthday cards as well as wine, books, gift cards and some wonderfully imaginative gifts from Jeff including these most excellent prints depicting movie scenes as children's book illustrations. These were too much...scenes from Alien and The Shining drawn as if from the pages of a bizarro Dick and Jane book.

As the sun was setting, we moved to the deck for the main dinner. I made a brief presentation for Ronnie, letting him know that this would also be a Roast of another sort and proceeded to speak of his predilection for twisted texting. I introduced some invented bawdy tweets a la Weiner highlighting some of his funnier moments over the years.

We moved on to the meal which was sort of like jazzed-up picnic fare. Linda brought her killer potato salad. We grilled weenies and brats and I had made some kicked up condiments from Food Network Magazine: Bloody Mary ketchup, dill mustard, and corn-tomato relish. We also made Bobby Flay's amazing Grilled Corn on the Cob. Were all unsure of how the cheese, garlic butter and fresh lime would be on grilled corn but it was a highlight.

The edible highlight of the entire evening, though, was yet another example of Jeff's apparently boundless creativity this week: his stunning birthday cake for Ronnie. Shaped and designed to look like a coconut cocktail drink, it took everyone's breath away. Complete with drink umbrella and dried pineapple garnish, it was a beauty of a cake. To beat all; it was crazy delicious....moist chocolate cake with chocolate icing and dusted with toasted coconut. This was surrounded by Jo's chocolate cupcakes and six of those spelled out WEINER. It was a chocoholic's heaven.

We laughed and talked and got to know Ronnie and Jeff's adorable friend SueAnn. Jane, always sure to entertain us, let it be known that she didn't fear a serial killer coming after her at home as she was a fast runner and an even faster skipper. Fast skipping, she surmised, would be horribly disturbing to said killer and they would simply give up. We gave her a Native American moniker: Skips Like The Wind.

We sipped wine as dusk settled in and the citronella flames flickered. The first fireflies floated around us while that perfect breeze slid past. We celebrated all things Ronnie last night but it was a brilliant night for the rest of us, too. I simply love spending the evening with this group. Wonderful company, loud laughter and delectable food remain a staple of this; our beloved B & N dinner party group.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Awake

I had planned on saving this until the two-year anniversary of the blog but, instead, I decided to express it now. I'm feeling quite grateful these days and while I've spoken of my gratitude to the vital people in my life many a time; I realize that I really haven't written about the true gratitude I have for the blog itself. I'm struggling with articulating this, so bear with me.

The pics on this post are from inside our vehicle while sitting in a car wash. This would typically be yet another moment to be utterly lost and stranded in my thoughts; so much so that when the car wash or whatever would be occurring at the time would eventually end and I would remain there; unaware that anything had changed; adrift in crippling worry and stress. Life would frequently pass me by and I would therefore pass on life as often as I could get away with it....I would turn Keith down to go out for dinner and choose to stay home as often as possible. I have always been a voracious reader but I wasn't reading for enjoyment so much anymore and instead just read to escape my own thoughts.....to turn my brain off. Work was always stressful and I often added to said stress with my own negativity. I was so weighed down with worry and anxiety about my family that I failed to live myself and also became a serious insomniac. I solved none of my problems with my own anxiety but the nature of my family's issues were not quick, easy fixes so I simply worried...all of the time. Thank God for Keith and his unyielding patience and fortitude for supporting me through every minute.

The element that turned me around however, is this blog. It took a bit, but writing about my passion for food which in turn allowed me to rediscover my passion for writing and photography. The blog began as a means to force me to be honest while attempting to become a better cook. As I recounted the cooking, the blog slowly became, indeed, "my life with food". Family and friend's recipes started including stories and histories. The turning point for the blog came when I cared for my aging parents last year....The Confounded Cook became the outlet for some of the most challenging and painful days of my life. My Dad would pass away less than a year later and now I've captured the last year of his life and been able to write down what he means to me. I wrote about my experience with childhood bullying and thus learned about writing as deep catharsis. I also learned the true power of words as the overwhelming response I received from that post stuns me to this day.

What I am most grateful for is a renewed outlook on life...one that I hadn't been able to recognize for some time. In the early years of my relationship with Keith, I began to feel it....the joy of discovery that came with traveling and the unknown that he wouldn't let me shy away from. What Keith did for me was life-changing, for sure....he helped me face my fears and helped me to relearn the joy of life. I couldn't completely give myself over to it, though....despite his best efforts, the worry always returned, the underlying self-doubt crept back in. Now, looking at life from the blog's standpoint has helped me to be truly awake again for the first time in a long time. Looking at life from a writing and photography stance has me waking up excited and looking at everything differently.

Now, I sit in a car wash and I'm awake....I see the shapes and colors from the water and light; I listen to the music and I'm already writing a post in my head. So, yeah, I'm still distracted but in a different way....my mind is adrift in creativity and the boundless possibilities. I was driving home from work on Monday night and there was a time when my mind was so heavy with bleakness that all I wanted was an escape but this night, like every night now is different....

...a storm was building; the wind was picking up and lightning flashed all around my drive home. The rain hadn't begun falling, so I rolled down my windows so that I could feel the electricity in the cooling air. The car radio was tuned to NPR and they were playing a soaring classical concerto that seemed to echo the elements. God, it was exhilarating. I would later find out it was Schubert's Symphony No. 8 "Unfinished".

Thank you, Confounded Cook. Its so gratifying to be awake again.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The First Father's Day

Indeed, I had been dreading the first Father's Day since Dad's death and in fact, seemed to be in a strange state of denial in the past few weeks as it steadily approached. A fleeting thought kept flitting around my mind....what should I get him? It's getting closer...better start looking for that funny Father's Day card that will hopefully bring a chuckle to that ornery underbite of his. Hopefully, it will lift his spirits as Father's Day has also become the anniversary of the day he buried his daughter. Then it hits me again and again..I don't need to buy anything for Father's Day this year, do I? That particular realization was repeatedly cemented in my mind during every shift at the bookstore this week while helping the hordes of customers shopping for their own perfect Dad's day gifts.

We had planned a getaway to Keith's parent's lake house for the weekend and as it turned out; the lake was a fitting locale for remembering Dad while clearing some mental cobwebs. The weather was warm but laced with a steady breeze and the blue sky showcased mighty cumulus clouds reflecting in the rippling waters. The nights were stormy and the morning dew sparkled on the sunlit pine needles near the outside deck. The setting was perfect to feel closer to God and therefore to Dad.

The weekend was also a time to help Keith's Dad and we did by powerwashing the dock and boat and basically getting the dock open for business....he does so much for us that we were jazzed to be able to help him out for once. My own Dad's presence would grow during the late lunch we had with Keith's Mom Helen. Helen put together some BLTs for us and the beauty of said BLTs were in their components: fresh-baked wheat bread from an Amish market, tomatoes Keith had bought at the ES Farmer's Market and lettuce grown in Helen and Ken's garden. All fresh ingredients making for some serious taste of summer....and a perfect sensory flash of Dad. I've shared Dad's love of fresh garden tomatoes in former posts; most notably in The Wisdom Of Rex when our sharing of one of his brother's garden tomatoes would be one of the last moments I would ever share with him. Dad loved little more than a good BLT in the summer utilizing those fresh ingredients and with one taste of this one, I was transported to my parent's dining room watching my father savor the joy of that BLT. I thought back to my boneheaded teen years and how I would roll my eyes when he tore into that BLT and tomato juice would drip down his chin and he'd eat with his mouth open. How small and petty that seems now...had I to do it over again, I would have tore into a BLT with him, hungrily finding that simple joy and proper table etiquette be damned. I treasured the tomato juice sliding down his chin in those last days I spent with him because it accompanied an increasingly rare look of utter contentment.

The rest of this present weekend would be filled with lake-inspired fun. A shared cold beverage on the dock while looking out on the lake. Dinner at Camp Bagnell; a historic former poultry house that is now a campground centerpiece...a steak and fish shack where we would dine on fresh catfish, brisket, shrimp, "footballs" (twice-baked potatoes...deep-fried) and in Ken's case, Frogs N' Hogs (frog legs and ribs). An evening ride on their boat intended for sunset admiration became a thrilling, soaked attempt to outrun an approaching storm. Once again, I'm weirdly fascinated by oncoming storms in dicey situations: I watched behind us as the boat raced across the water to return to the dock, utterly enthralled by the dark, rolling clouds and the lightning slicing across the sky. I also felt like a character in a sitcom, desperately trying to keep my cocktail upright as the boat bounced across the waves. We celebrated our hair-breadth escape of the drenching downpour with another cocktail over the just-fallen hailstones as our ice.

The next morning would mean a steaming cup of coffee, a final cruise down the lake to admire some lake homes (including the has-to-be Party Central Polynesian-like home pictured) and a last lunch of sandwiches, tomato-feta salad and fresh watermelon before departing. One last stop on the way home for one last taste of summer weekend: frozen custard at Custard's Last Stand at Warrensburg.

Happy Father's Day, Pop. I miss ya like crazy but I still feel you near me when I need to. Thanks for that.