I’m Grumpy Today

I’m not sure what my malfunction is, but I’m sorta grumpy.  I got up way earlier than usual (I’m one of those who is usually up half of the night and then sleeps until noon).  I’ve got a vague headache, but that’s nothing all that new. I have chronic headaches.  Christmas was really good- I got to see (and meet) family, and talked to my biological mom and half-brother on the phone, which is always good.  I got to spend time with family at the Swedish Christmas party since I’ve got the ice vest to wear when I leave home and don’t have as much chance of being overheated because of the dysautonomia. And yet, I’m a major dud this morning.

My 11.75 year old schnauzer with heart failure was so eager to eat some ‘meatloaf’ I made for her yesterday (with controlled sodium), and this morning she won’t touch it. I’m running out of options.  She started refusing the prescription dog food weeks ago, and prior to that had been eating a minimal amount (which wasn’t all that unusual for her- but she managed to keep her weight up). So now I’m trying to figure out other ideas… have been through ground beef/turkey/chicken, oatmeal, mashed potatoes, brown rice, white rice, baby food veggies, cooked carrots (gag), baby food applesauce and oatmeal,  and various combinations of the above.  She normally likes all of those things. Now, I’m lucky if she eats some of her Charlee Bear dog treats- they have minimal sodium, so she can still have them.  If she weren’t still alert and very interested in what is going on, as well as physically mobile and showing no signs of pain, I’d have her put to sleep…but I don’t want to ‘kill’ my best friend if she’s still getting some enjoyment out of life.  It’s a fine line right now, so as long as it’s not blatantly obvious, I’m holding out… but that time is coming.  There’s only so much I can do, and I think I’ve pretty much hit my limits. 😦

I’ve been extremely irritated at comments to news stories on various online sites and publications. So many people are so heartless and cruel.  Or pathologically immature and even psychopathic.  Responding that they’re ‘happy’ about an article where five people were made homeless by a fire that destroyed their home? How do people get that way?  Who dropped them on their head?  Or burned them?  And then there are the other ‘less’ disturbing posts that are just plain nasty and/or cruel.  Or ignorant.  I’m actually very thankful I don’t know those people or have to spend any IRL time with them.  A click of the back button takes them out of my life.

The onslaught of horrible stories that are on the news constantly is also a major bummer. I feel really badly for those folks and what they’re going through, but what good does it do anybody to have it dissected in the media for days to weeks on end?  I’ve been a crime survivor of a high profile case (before the 24/7 media, back in 1987).  It wasn’t helpful to see it on TV for days or see the newspaper coverage over and over.  The people who knew about it, and were my actual friends/family already knew what happened, and face it: most people really don’t want to know about real life horrors that happen to other people.  Or they don’t know what to do with the information, at least to the persons’ face. Behind their back, the chatter won’t stop. If people would have just asked me straight out what happened, or even if I wanted to talk about it would have been much  more helpful than days of media coverage  (without any input from me- I was an object).  I had one ‘different’ neighbor that responded to meeting me with “I never thought I’d meet you ! ”  Really?  Meeting someone who has been raped and beaten was a life goal?  Step away from the strange one !

I’m extremely disgusted with my weight, and have my food diary set up to start on January first. I don’t want to look like this on my 50th birthday next November.  I don’t want to be grotesque and repulsive going into the last third to half of my life. I have to restrict food. I’ve tried the ‘normal’ calorie amounts I’ve been given from the doctor and diabetic dietician, and that doesn’t work…so I’ve got to go lower. I can’t do much exercise because of the issue with passing out when my heart rate goes up or I get overheated, and my knees and spine issues.  So the calories have to go.  A slippery slope for me, so I’ve got to be careful- but I have to DO something beyond what I’ve been doing.  I didn’t look like this before chemo… and I want to lose any remnants of those days.

Losing weight will also save me some time before having to have my left knee replaced (I had the right one done in late 2006, and it was a very unpleasant experience with some complications and ‘dull’ response time by the doc and nurses to a bladder infection). I had to go to a rehab place for the medically defective. It was a good rehab facility- great care, but set up where people stayed in their rooms like a hospital between therapies (no common area), and since I was infective, I was in a private room- not a horrible thing, but friggin’ isolated. It’s not like there was a big risk of someone coming into contact with my pee.   My left knee has unrepaired, and questionably healed ACL and medial meniscus tears, done when I turned over in bed back in 2009- about a week before my closest friend from here in this town died suddenly (following several complications from a KNEE replacement). She’d moved to a different state to be closer to one of her daughters, but we were in contact by phone daily, even when she was in the hospital or rehab.  I was supposed to have the left knee replacement done, but then got leukemia and everything was put on hold to survive that.  Been a weird few years.

I’m frustrated that I don’t feel that people understand why I’m like I am.  I’ve got diagnoses that people haven’t heard of.  I ‘look’ like I’m capable of working, and I miss being a nurse SO much- but too much standing or walking, and the whole heat/heart rate thing = one unconscious middle-aged RN.  I’ve been an RN for nearly 28 years.  I’ve been on disability for 8 years.  But I still keep my license, because I still AM an RN.  I worked hard for that thing.  And I loved working with it…  And those days are done.  When people ask me what I’m doing to get back to work, it hurts- there isn’t anything that can be done by me or anyone else. Some things CAN’T BE FIXED !  SO those perky, blessed-to-be-clueless people need to shut up and go target someone who has some stuff going on that is treatable. I’ve been dealing with much of this since 1996- and worked until 2004- I held out as long as I could.  I fought to keep working.  QUIT asking me if I’m going back to work. NO, I can’t !

I was raised in an evangelical church, and am a born again Christian, without some of the judgmental drama that can go with those two things.  I hate the passive ‘I’ll pray for you’ stuff- prayer is wonderful, and I do it often, but if someone wants to help, some action would be really amazing ! Prayer is about as passive as a person can get and rationalize to themselves that they’re ‘doing’ something– and while I do believe in prayer and that it is a very positive and powerful thing (and pray for people on the news all of the time since I can’t do anything else), it’s not the be-all end-all answer to really being of use to someone.  It’s definitely better than nothing, but it really doesn’t show much in terms of actively supporting and helping someone. Sometimes it’s all people CAN do- and that’s appreciated.  But remember the ‘faith without works is dead’?  I’ve sensed a lot of dead.  I wish I could do more for others, and feel guilty about that.  Not like I know many people around here to be available for… back in the home where my heart is, I could be more useful, even if I’m not that physically ‘able’… I could drive someone to the store, or appointments.  I could water plants when they were gone, or change out cat litter. I couldn’t walk dogs or watch kids… but I’d do what I could.

I’ve contacted my ‘old’ church (from when I grew up and it was an amazingly positive experience) to find out about women’s Bible studies and other things in the past, and have been essentially blown off. I guess I’m not good enough for the ‘elite’ evangelicals anymore. My checkbook may not be deep enough or something.  I’ve tried again, and will hear back after the 31st when the contact person returns. I had really looked forward to going back there when I moved back from Texas.  I found it to be cold and a bit pretentious.  If someone can’t go back to the church they grew up in, where should they go?  Where is the ‘real’ message in that?   It hurt.  There were some really nice ladies (who I’ve known since I was a kid) who invited me to a type of ‘grief’ group, but I don’t want to sit and talk about dead family.  If that works for them, I’m really glad they have somewhere that feels right for their grieving process.  My mom is dead. Sitting in a room with folks who need that type of support doesn’t work for me.  I guess if I want to connect with anybody there, I have to be bummed out.  Not something I’m interested in.  I’m hoping the Bible study that starts on January 9th will work out- otherwise, I’m done trying to get back in to the church I grew up in. It shouldn’t be a ‘project’ just to find somewhere to fit in there.  The singles group wasn’t my bag – I want some ‘study’ group type thing.  🙂

Anyway, that’s a bit of what’s rattling through my head today.  I’m a little less grumpy now.

The Legendary Swedish Christmas Parties of My Youth

My mom had friends who wanted their sons to marry me so they could get an invite to our Swedish family Christmas parties.  When I was a kid, they were THE family party to look forward to every year.  My paternal grandmother had  a dozen siblings, and while not all of them were in the Chicago area (or even in the United States- or alive), most were at least within driving distance.  They rotated whose home hosted the dysfunctional chaos, er…uh, party. In those days, it wasn’t a potluck- the hostess did all of the cooking.  That in itself was a major undertaking. Add 50-60 people in various ages and stages of sobriety to the mix, and it was a big deal!  I loved it!   One year, dad was anxious about driving in the bad weather… he’d heard about some folks who had skidded off of the highway (not the bazillion who got through).  Mom and I started bawling.  Dad ended up taking the plunge, probably wanting to risk ending up in a ditch vs. dealing with being blamed for ruining Christmas that year.  We got there and home just fine.

My dad’s parents both came over on a boat from Sweden in the early 1920’s.  They were on separate trips, but left from the same place in Sweden (Goteborg), and on the same ship (Drottningholm), though different years. Grandpa thought that anything was a party; he had a great time en route to a whole new life in America ( and later, just mowing the lawn). Grandma wasn’t as fortunate on the trip. Her many siblings were of some comfort, but at Ellis Island, they ‘lost’ one of their sisters in the fray and later found her at the hospital on Ellis Island.  She later was taken back to Sweden for medical reasons, and died as a young adult. On the train from NYC to Chicago, somebody (not family) slit their own throat in the train bathroom and they had to watch blood flow down the aisle of the train.  They were young- some just kids.  And they were terrified. Nobody spoke English. But they all brought their ethnic cooking and holiday customs with them.  All of the various great aunts and uncles, and assorted cousins of parents, second cousins, first cousins once removed, and so on all reaped the benefits of those celebrations.

The Christmas Eve celebrations began in late afternoon at someone’s home.  The women of the generation that came over on the boats were generally involved in helping with the final cooking and food prep, and getting the table filled with food that was served buffet (or smorgasbord) style.  The ‘middle’ generation (those born in the United States to those who came over on the boats) were busy getting caught up on the year’s events….and drinking glögg (more on that in a minute). The youngest generation were running amok. There were basically two ‘sets’ of ages to this third group. I was in the  younger group.  The older group was 3-12 years older than I was (give or take a couple of years).  We just had fun and enjoyed seeing each other.

 

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Christmas Eve 1932…. my dad was about 4 months old.

Before getting to that smorgasbord, there was a tradition of making a sort of semi-sedate conga line, everyone holding the waist of the person ahead of them, and making a chain throughout the house, moving to the song ‘Nu År Det Jul Igen’ (It’s Christmas Time Again).  It was mandatory. Only one person really knew the words to the whole song (one of grandma’s sister-in-laws), and the rest of us mostly mumbled to the tune.  It is a catchy little number!  If anybody has seen the movie ‘Fannie and Alexander’, it’s in there. And the song itself is  on YouTube.

The smorgasbord  was a precursor to the high protein diet craze. Most carbohydrates had a rough time getting on that table. There was always ham (and for the host family, ham for days in various incarnations), Bondost (Swedish farmer cheese with caraway seeds), ‘korv’ (pork and potato boiled sausage), pickled herring, sylta (think ground veal jello- not my favorite), Swedish meatballs (a very special recipe that I still make),  lingonberries (tiny Swedish cranberry-like fruit), and the other permitted carbs: hardtack (thick rye cracker) and limpa (Swedish rye bread), some baked brown beans that are like ‘regular’ baked beans (I hated them, and still do), a green lime and pear jello mold (another ‘I’ll pass’ item), and boiled potatoes. Must have boiled potatoes.  Carbohydrates were more like condiments than a food group for the holiday dinner…except for the cookies later in the evening.  It was an amazing meal that I looked forward to every year.

At midnight, lutefisk was served (with more boiled potatoes, a cream sauce, and nutmeg).  There are many jokes about lutefisk, and for good reason.  It’s cod that has been soaked in lye, and then dried (to preserve it back in the days before refrigeration or freezers for long journeys on ships, or just because; during the winter, living near the Arctic Circle made for some iffy fishing opportunities). Lye is the same stuff used to make soap, oven cleaners, and drain opener. The fish had to be rinsed in water for days (water changed daily) to be sure it didn’t create an opening between the esophagus and neck when someone ate it as the lye ate through the person.  Sounds yummy, eh?  It was/is so popular in Scandanavian circles that it is sold in plastic bags, packed in some of that final stage of rinse water, ready to heat and eat!  Once boiled, the texture is similar to gelatinized rubber bands. With fish flavor. Strong fish flavor. Are you hungry now?   I haven’t had the stuff for decades, but I did eat it as a kid.  Those who have read some of my other posts know that my food intake was very restricted when I was a kid; I’d eat just about anything when I was turned loose at the Christmas party. Except the cloyingly sweet baked beans, and that green jello mold. Not going near those.  Had to save room for cookies 🙂

For those who don’t know about glögg, it is a mixture of brandy, port wine, some ‘warm’ spices, orange rind, almonds (had to have one in the bottom of each cup, or some horrible Scandinavian evils would find their way to the unlucky imbiber) and Everclear…or basically the kerosene of drinkable alcohol. To make it so that it wasn’t a form of euthanasia, it had to be ignited to burn off some of the alcohol.  That just meant that more was consumed.  There were some bonafide alcoholics in this family.  For the most part, they just got rowdy and loved everything ! I don’t remember any mean drunks… and for a long time I didn’t even realize why Santa didn’t show up until 2-3 a.m..  One of the first generation had to sober up enough to dole out the presents in a Santa suit, and it had to be one of the older generation, as the middle generation had kids who would miss a parent during the gift opening.  Us kids would be dozing off, and jerking ourselves awake when we realized that we were still waiting for Santa to show up. They were long nights ! But the sort of dysfunction that made for amazing memories 🙂

The glögg did have some unpleasant effects; one year a neighbor of the host and hostess knocked on the door to inquire as to the identity of the person who was face planted in the snow pile out front, with his arse in the air…my dad and one of his cousins went and fished out Cousin B from the pile of snow in the front yard… Good times !

Eventually, someone would come stumbling down the stairs shouting ‘Ho, ho, ho’ and laughing in a jolly manner. All of us kids would suddenly perk up.  Often, someone was walking closely with ‘Claus, and I now wonder if it was for stability should ‘Claus start having trouble with his balance and gravity.  To me, it was the start of an amazing thing. It fascinated me that whatever I flagged in the JCPenney Christmas toy catalog  at grandma and grandpa J’s house would show up from Santa !  (I was the only grandchild of my paternal grandparents).  Grandma seemed to have some direct connections to the North Pole. (And Grandma J never told Santa I needed socks or undies). Imagine 6 of us ‘younger’ kids and 4-5 (depending on the age cut-off) of the ‘older’ kids all opening gifts at one time, in their respective ‘groups’ of families. Gift wrap, bows, and boxes would be coming down blizzard style. It truly was a magical time, especially when we were younger.  Looking back at the old photos, it’s obvious who was stuffed into the Santa suit; as children, we were mesmerized to be in the presence of the ‘real’ Santa Claus.

Every year was fun. It was a holiday that was steeped in ethnic traditions that made it special, and unlike anything I’d see on TV or heard friends talk about. The real reason for the season was sprinkled into the evening at some point, but Jesus’ birth was not the main focus of the celebration.  My parents and I always celebrated church Christmas events, so I was very aware of the meaning of Christmas; the Swedish party was the heritage part of the season.  I loved those parties. We still have smaller versions of the old days, with family who is in town (or at least nearby), and some years, those who have moved away will join in. Now it’s a potluck, which makes it nice to be able to contribute, and not as horrible on the hostess.  I’ve been limited in actually being at the parties due to the heat intolerance with the dysautonomia, but with the ice vest I now have, I’ve at least been able to go to the last part of the evening  It’s much earlier in the evening  than it was when I was a kid, and the glögg is enjoyed in moderation (I can’t drink at all for medication reasons).  I make the meatballs to send with my dad- same recipe that we had at the old parties. The ‘dance’ before eating is still done.

It’s still a very special part of the holidays, and wonderful to remember the ‘old days’. So many are no longer alive, but thanks to those decades of  incredible family parties, they are still there in spirit.

Swedish Christmas Eve, and my cousin's last Christmas…

Swedish Christmas Eve, and my cousin’s last Christmas…

Edit:  Christmas Eve 2013 was bittersweet… while the old traditions were still there, and our heritage was celebrated in familiar ways, it was the last Christmas for one of my cousins, who had been battling cancer since the summer.  At Christmas, I was still hoping things would be OK eventually, but I was also concerned about some new things she told me about.  She lost her fierce battle on March 2, 2014.   Her mother (dad’s first cousin) died later in 2014.   She was the hostess of the Christmas Eve parties for many, many years.

And, in 2016… it will be much different this year without dad.   SO much family history was tied up in the Swedish Christmas Eve party…. and it will be missed.   I’m so thankful for the incredible memories.  ❤