Saturday, May 6, 2017

Cucumber Salad

Today was the 143rd Kentucky Derby. We're a Derby family: we've been to the Derby twice as a family, I remember watching the Derby in 1992 from my apartment in Boston because my then-husband was at a Marine Corps Reserve training weekend, and my great-aunt Shirley and my great-uncle Norton always bet on the Derby. They'd usually watch it from my grandparents' living room while all of us kids were running around like crazed banshees. I know the first two versus and the chorus from My Old Kentucky Home, the state song of Kentucky. I don't think I know that much of the Wisconsin state song.
The Derby marks the arrival of May. A complicated month for me. This month has Mother's Day, my birthday, my grandson's birthday which is the same day as my cousin Ann's birthday, my second cousin's birthday which is the same day as mine, my friend Becky's birthday, and Memorial Day weekend. For 20 years we've referred to Memorial Day weekend as "Gravehopping" because it was about 20 years ago that I started going to Shawano to place flowers on our relatives' graves with my grandparents, great-aunt Kootchie, and my great-aunt and uncle Shirley & Butch. Grandpa, Kootchie, and Butch are gone now. Shirley and Grandma are both in nursing homes.
I was the only grandchild who tagged along with them back in 1997. It remained that way for three years until my sister decided to join us, which I was ok with. A few years later when my other female cousins and aunts decided to join in, my initial reaction was jealousy. My first thoughts were, "Fuck no people. This is my thing, not yours." I felt invaded upon. By the time we got to the Red River Tavern & Grocery, my jealousy had withered away and I thought, "The women in my family kick ass! We need to all do this every year." The weekend title "Gravehopping" was born.
Before we left for the cemeteries at 1pm, we had what amounted to a banquet cooked by Grandma, served in her kitchen on South Smalley Street. The menu included a mix-and-match of some of the following: teriyaki chicken wings, ham, pasta salad, a relish tray including radishes cut like roses, cucumber salad, potato salad and at least two desserts such as cherry torte and rhubarb torte. But the absolute BEST part of Gravehopping was the breakfast Grandma cooked on Sunday morning. In her cast iron skillet she fried eggs over hard in the bacon grease from freshly fried bacon. I began looking forward to that breakfast as soon as I was driving home from the weekend. However, here comes the rub.
The week before Gravehopping in 2015 my grandma picked rhubarb from her yard and while walking back to the house twisted her ankle in an uneven spot in the backyard and she fell. She fell hard and fractured her hip. Someone driving by stopped and asked if she was ok. She wasn't and somehow either my aunt Margie and uncle Dan were called or an ambulance came (I'm not sure of the details) but she ended up at Shawano Memorial Hospital and was then transferred to AMC for hip surgery.
She was picking that rhubarb to make a torte for me because she knows I love her rhubarb torte. The guilt and responsibility I continue to feel about how that one event, an event she was engaging in for me, makes me cry to this day, even as I type this on my laptop in my living room two years later.
Gravehopping was different that year because Grandma was at a hospital in Appleton and we were all in Shawano, ready to stick silk flowers into the dirt next to headstones of our ancestors. We followed our basic routine, minus the pre-Gravehopping food feast, and those of us who usually spent the night at Grandpa & Grandma's did even though Grandma wasn't there. I was the last one to leave the house that Sunday.
There were no eggs fried in bacon grease on Sunday morning, and there never would be again.
Although Grandma recovered quickly from hip surgery, when the OT folks did the home safety assessment, they determined that Grandma couldn't return home because the house was so small she couldn't adequately use her walker or other adaptive equipment they recommended for installation. So she's been at Maple Lane since around mid-June of 2015. The house was sold in the fall of 2015. I no longer have a place to come home to in Shawano. It is heart-breaking because pre-hip fracture, whenever we visited, she always told us to "Come home again soon." I don't visit Shawano often any more because I don't feel that I have a place there where I belong. I don't have a home anymore.
Quite some time before the contents of the house were dismantled and the "For Sale" sign went into the corner of the front yard, my sister got a hold of  Grandma's cucumber salad recipe. I've asked Grandma for recipes many times and when relaying them, she always started with, "Well you take some flour and sugar and eggs and beat them together..." It's virtually impossible for me to replicate anything she's ever baked, cooked, or fried based on that information. However, there is one thing I've managed to translate into something edible and that is Grandma's cucumber salad.
The recipe I got from my sister doesn't list the order of ingredients, and there are a few quantities of items missing, but I've managed to cobble it together into something quite spectacular. I first made it for a Salad Bar lunch at work in the summer of 2016. My coworkers raved about it. Honestly, I'm not just making this shit up to help myself feel better. Ask anyone who was there: they loved it.
I brought it to Easter dinner at my parents' house this year and both Rog & Shirl said it tasted exactly like Grandma's.
Exactly like Grandma's. I can't imagine a greater compliment in the world. Maybe one Sunday morning I'll fry eggs in bacon grease in my cast iron skillet.


Saturday, January 28, 2017

It's Complicated

I have a complicated relationship with the city of Milwaukee. I'm here this weekend for Lawrence University's annual Great Midwest Trivia Contest; the irony is not lost on me: I live approximately 12-15 miles from the Lawrence campus, yet I travel approximately 104 miles one-way to participate in their trivia game held the final weekend of January for the past 52 years. I obviously haven't participated in 52 "Trivia Weekends", but that's just putting things into perspective. I capitalize the T and W because for me and my Drunk Appleton Cop friends, it's like an official holiday. My first Trivia Weekend was 1988, my junior year of high school.

I could write an entire blog on Trivia Weekends alone, but this is about Milwaukee and my relationship with the city I called home from 1994 to 2002.

You know that saying, "the more things change, the more they stay the same"? That kind of describes how I view Milwaukee from a 500 foot view: the Marquette Interchange has been torn apart and reconstructed and it really hasn't solved the massive traffic delays that happen there Monday through Friday. Now the Zoo Interchange and the 894 Bypass are being torn apart and appear to be a long way from being reconstructed. I will admit when I was driving through that part of the city on Friday evening at around 4:50pm, the back-ups weren't as horrible as expected. Usually, once you get to the North Ave. exits, traffic stops for whatever reason, then slowly meanders until the Hales Corners Interchange and it frees up a little which was basically what happened on Friday. I can never figure out what it is about the area around the North Ave. exits that prompts the massive slow-down. It doesn't matter which direction you're heading in or if it's morning or evening rush hour, there is just a natural hang-up there. Now that's something the DOT should look into.

When I'm here for Trivia, I don't spend much time trolling old haunts on the north-side, where I spent most of the time I lived here. I made it as far west as 53rd and Galena which was a great neighborhood. My second favorite only to the last place I lived, the Orthodox Jewish neighborhood north of St. Joe's Hospital around 50th & Burleigh.  The Kosher Meat Market has the best corned beef on rye with Swiss cheese EVER, even if it's not kosher.

So what's so complicated? Although I only spent 8 years living here, it was such a formative time in whom I would become as an individual and as a woman. My experiences during those 8 years are enough to last a lifetime, trust me. Those of you who traveled that path with me, or have heard me talk about it, know that I was married to my first husband when I moved here for a job that required "skills" close enough to those I learned majoring in Women's Studies. I didn't plan on staying in Appleton when I came back from Boston and Milwaukee, being the largest city in the state, seemed like an appealing option. In those 8 years after moving here I had an affair with my boss which "gave" me the confidence to divorce my first husband and for him to divorce his second wife. Our relationship lasted a little more than three years which included the divorces; moving into his swanky home on a private lake in Waukesha County; financial excess which a doctor's salary afforded us; a 2 carat diamond engagement ring; two or three weeks of 24 hour protection from US Marshalls after he was listed on a national "hit list" of doctors who provided certain health care services to women; him reconciling with his parents after 7 years of not speaking to them which sparked a couple of trips to visit them in the western part of the country (I don't want to provide too much identifying information about him whom I affectionately [SARCASM] refer to as Dr. Dick in such circumstances, so I'll just use that reference moving forward); wearing a Kevlar vest to work once we were officially out as a couple to our coworkers; harassment at local stores  and protests in front of our house by those who put his name on that hit list and didn't agree with how he practiced medicine; and both of us becoming drug addicts which lead to a whole host of new and terrifying experiences.

In brief those included: taking drugs from the office home and using together (how romantic, again sarcasm); treatment for us both; being greeted at the office by (ironically) two US Marshalls, someone from the US Dept of Justice, and a small but loud woman from the WI Medical Board all demanding to see the office's narcotics logs which had been in disarray for months; the office closing; unemployment; stigma and shame; professional consequences for him that I only really understood upon becoming a state professional license holder myself in 2014; the end of our relationship; me selling the engagement ring and spending one kick-ass week by myself in Paris (that was actually a natural progression of healing and breaking ties for me, and it is the BEST vacation I've ever had!); meeting with the DOJ and DEA almost exactly six months after our relationship ended and one week after I returned from Paris - they had been monitoring us both and decided that if I sold the ring and went to France, the relationship was likely beyond reconciliation and of course they were right.

My insanely expensive criminal defense attorney, #2 in the state behind the attorney Dr. Dick retained I've been told, and I met with the Feds for six hours of interrogation on a cloudy Tuesday in April 1997 with one 20 minute break at my request. I was fingerprinted and have an official file at the FBI. (I don't know what an unofficial file at a federal agency would be, so I apologize for pointing out the obvious). At the time I thought I was providing them with all sorts of information they didn't know about him, about us, but my therapist at the time told me I likely didn't tell them anything they didn't already know, which helped assuage my guilt about talking with them. I do believe I surprised them with a few things, but nothing of real significance. When push came to shove, I was out to save my own ass rather than protect his out of some sense of misplaced devotion. Thank God I wasn't that codependent or who knows how the hell this mess may have turned out.

It's approaching 20 years since my last contact with federal officials of any sort, which is a good thing. I went on to spend five years clean in Milwaukee, continued working for a local hospital's outpatient clinics and got promoted to Clinic Coordinator which is one of the best jobs I've had. I had a great group of young women who reported to me and became some of my closest friends here. I worked hard and was rewarded for it. At work people higher up the food chain respected me, which is an amazing feeling after the paranoid thoughts that everyone at the  mall somehow "knew" about my drug addiction and legal consequences while simply shopping for Christmas gifts five years prior.

I made peace with the type of work I was involved with when working for Dr. Dick many years ago, which surprised me, actually. At the time I was naive and young enough to believe that there were no regrets in life. I've grown up a lot since then and until recently, refused to have regrets in life, telling people I've made mistakes, but I regret nothing. That's simply not true. I do have regrets, hundreds of them, but I've made peace with the majority of them. Some I still carry, which complicates my relationship with this city. A woman's heart truly is a deep ocean of secrets...and regrets.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

It's a New Year Upon Us & There are Many Miracles & Struggles to Look Forward To

Welcome 2017!!! I anticipate some wonderful events, some challenging events, and some straight up shitty events coming this year. Which, I think is a fairly normal mix of expectations.
On December 23, 2016 Mark received notification that he meets the qualifications for SSDI. Considering he hasn't worked and brought any income into our household since mid-January 2016, we were both happy to hear this news, which is an odd thing considering this was not in my Life Master Plan: marry a guy who ends up receiving SSDI as his primary source of income. He's applied for Medicaid but because my employer offers insurance benefits to spouses, we'll have to wait the 24 months until he's eligible for Medicare. Mark will be 57 years old when he's eligible to apply.

Since college graduation and moving to Milwaukee, I've always been able to take care of myself. Well, maybe I need to backtrack a bit because I was SO codependent on my first husband, that I typed up every resume and cover letter for him to find a job in Milwaukee which because of my hard work, he eventually did. I have to admit that the two months I spent alone in Milwaukee after I started working in February and my first husband's job didn't start until early April 1994, was glorious. For those that don't know, on the night before our wedding, 12-03-93, I cried as I was arranging the boughs and gold brocade ribbons that were the pew decorations. Yes, the wedding was beautiful and elegant and several of my relatives told me during the reception that they thought it was, "So sweet" that I sniffled through the entire ceremony; little did they know that those were tears and sniffles of regret because I knew I was making the first biggest mistake of  my life.

But that was 25 years go...ok, wait. I got married for the first time 25 frickin' years ago?!?!? That should be illegal!! I was 22 years old and no one should be allowed to make such life altering decisions at that age!

Ok, back on track to 2017: as most of you know I received a promotion to School Based Mental Health Coordinator in October 2015. So I've had this role for a bit over a year and I've met my "deliverables" to my Director. I've developed new forms and documents for this program in an attempt to meet the documentation needs of the program. I've promoted this particular model to any community group that was willing to listen to me, which were many more than I anticipated. I was featured in the USA Today-Gannet newspapers across the state, which totaled ten papers running the same story about the PATH school based  mental health counseling program, which included a rather flattering photo of me in the hallways of Appleton East High School.

I know there are miracles coming because I've heard "rumblings" about some additional funding we may receive. The struggles I anticipate are some "rumblings" I've heard about my program being moved into another line of service, which won't be horrible at all because I have a pretty good idea who my new manager would be and SHE KICKS ASS!!

Every year brings its challenges and peace-offerings. It's always nice when they are in equal amount.
At the end of January, I have Trivia Weekend to look forward to; my time to spend time with friends have known me for so long, I don't have to explain myself to them!!

TRIVIA 2017!!