Recipes for Happiness

You know, it's true...We really are about as happy as we make up our minds to be...

I'm settling into a routine here in New Bern with Dad. Four or five days a week I spend 12 to 14 hours with him in the assisted living facility. Basically, we live in one room. But oh, the triumphs and victories we have here!

Last night I made apricot-glazed pork tenderloin and carrots, peas, brown rice and homemade cornbread. The cornbread was baked in the traditional cast iron skillet and was probably the best batch I've ever made! Tonight it'll be chicken thighs in a mushroom-cheddar sauce with rice, peas, and crescent rolls. I made beef stew and fricassed chicken last week. And all I have to work with is a toaster oven, a crockpot, a microwave, an iron skillet and two corningware bowls! The sink is a tiny bar sink. The refrigerator is an under-the-counter dorm room fridge. And I bake on the bathroom sink.

And this makes me very, very happy.

Dad hasn't had an appetite. He's wasting away and the food in this place is criminally bad...Okay, maybe not criminally...But mystery meat is no stranger here. Anyway, the smell of food slowly simmering for hours has had the effect of making him almost ravenous. He eats everything on his plate and is happy to have had it. It's a tiny miracle.

It's one little victory I can have in this war against Dad's Pulmonary Fibrosis. I can give him a good meal. I can see the color return to his ashen cheeks. I can joke and kid and laugh because he's strong enough to be able to take a good dose of his full-strength, wide-open daughter...Although like his meals, the portion of hijinks and carrying on is kept fairly small. Dad doesn't have a lot of energy, even with a good meal in him.

Living such a scaled down existence has reminded me again of how resourceful we humans must be in creating our own happiness...And how very little it takes to create and maintain that happiness.

Dad's been a little restless lately. My thought on the matter is that it's taking longer than he'd planned to die and this is giving him more time to worry about it. We've talked about it any number of times, but you can't out-talk or out-think a big experience you've never had. Dad's just a little anxious, so finding entertainment, other than movies or crossword puzzles, has been a bit of a challenge. But when my boys came down with Adam's girlfriend, Amanda in tow, she brought out a deck of cards and suddenly we had an instant party!

Dad trounced them! Even when Adam inadvertently sat on his oxygen tube and cut off Dad's airflow- he still managed to beat all of them in a landslide Hearts victory that we will all treasure as one of the "good time" memories.

The Hearts game reminded me of my old college card playing days and how we all loved Pinochle. Pinochle is Bridge-lite and probably just about the level of distraction Dad could handle without having to concentrate too hard. (After all, he is taking huge amounts of morphine and ativan...And yes, he still runs circles around the rest of us intellectually and emotionally) So I think we'll try Pinochle this week, ( that is, if I can re-learn it through the miracle of the internet and a good website.)

My sister has the night shift. She arrives around 8pm and the three of us watch movies, or old episodes of Upstairs, Downstairs. Around 10 or 11pm, I walk out to the parking lot, lower the top on my convertible and decompress on the 12 mile drive out to my "place in the country."

My route takes me over the long bridge that spans the Trent and Neuse rivers. At night you can see the lights of the marina and the distant lit-up houses along the shoreline. I drive with the wind in my hair, singing "The Tracks of My Tears, " along with Patti Griffin.

Across the bridge, I turn down a six mile-long road that is largely unpopulated except for deer and other nighttime critters. Broadcreek Road has no streetlights, all the better for star-gazing. JoDee Messina and I sing "Bring On the Rain," as I pass the golf course and turn into the retirement community where I've rented a room.

That's when I miss my boys the very most.

I crawl up in my lumpy bed and turn on The Daily Show and wish like hell I was home, laughing with Ben and Adam. This has been a special summer, one that will never be repeated and they are good about knowing that. Oddly enough, my absence seems to make their adolescent hearts grow fonder. On Wednesday night I will make them an elaborate dinner, dirtying every pot in the kitchen, preparing every vegetable I can think of, and concocting fruit salads and desserts.

Afterward, I plan on teaching them how to play Pinochle. There will be much shouting and laughing, as there always is when we play games.

That night before we fall asleep, there will be hugs. Confidences will be whispered, friendly insults exchanged and life will continue to be good.

Very, very good.

Here's the recipe for the Pork and Carrots:

Line your crockpot with one of those new disposable liners. Throw in some carrots cut up in chunks (Don't use the little ones, they're flavorless! Bite the bullet and peel the big guys.) Add a pork loin roast and a jar of apricot preserves. Turn the pot on and come back 8 or 10 hours later.

I bought the heat and serve brown rice, and don't give me a hard time about it...Desperate times call for already prepared rice at times!

The Cornbread was from a mix too, on account of I can con the facility kitchen out of a carton of milk but not a raw egg...I use the Martha Lily mix that says "Just add milk." I actually use 2 bags of the mix, add chipped up pieces of butter right before I pour it into the prepared iron skillet (melt about a tablespoon of butter in the pan while it preheats in the toaster oven to 400.) and add a little honey to the mix. When you pour the batter into the skillet, drizzle a little honey across the top.

Yep, life's about as good as you make it, alright!

1 comment:

BIGDAWG said...

Hey Nance.....I just love these one-way conversations...it's almost like you're still married, eh?

Anyway, I just finished up a really good book called Immoral and happened to drop the author (Brian Freeman) a quick note to let him know how much I enjoyed it. He got back to me very quickly....anyway, I sent him your way via your website and encouraged him to check out your work.

Hope all is well. Prayers for your Dad.