Tuesday, August 21, 2012

6 months...

So, I did get all As.   I got an A in my summer school class, and now I have a pretty decent GPA of 3.84.    And my dad is dying of cancer.

My dad is dying of cancer.


Even typing it out, it doesn't fully click- well it did months ago when he started getting sick and we found out he had lesions in his lungs,  back in June when he went to the ER with chest pain.  They did some scans, which showed tumors on his lungs and liver.   Once he found out he has lesions on his liver as well, I did some googling and looking at my old medical textbooks and deduced he had stage 4 cancer... and no insurance.  I tried to talk to him, begged him to see a doctor, that he needed treatment ASAP.    He said he was fine.      It was beyond frustrating, without treatment he was as good as dead, and there was nothing I could do about it.    So I cried, I bawled as I tried to fall asleep at night, my performance at work because a struggle, as its hard to smile and give a damn about giving awesome customer service to a bunch of rich, snotty orange county people when in the back of my mind is a constant   " Dad is going to die....he is going to die....he is going to die."       Old men who came to buy plants and chat about their grandkids were the worse, their sweetness and pride in their kids would send me running to the bathroom as soon as I had rung them up to cry into an extra shirt and try to get my wits about me.   I started calling in sick some days, I couldnt get out of bed because I had been up half the night crying, grieving for the dreams of things I would never get to do with my dad, or he with his grandkids.    My mother has been sick for years, and is now in a wheelchair, I knew for years she was on borrowed time.    But my dad was strong, patient, and healthy as a horse- until now.   My dad, who is an awesome grandpa to my two little ones- would not get to see them grow up.   In all likelyhood he wouldnt even see me graduate from college now.    It was a very bitter pill to swallow.     What kinda of a sick joke was the universe playing-  to leave me as the caregiver to my disabled mother who keeps limping along,  when my dad has to lose such a sad battle?     Instead of writing my college application essays like I had planned his summer, I planned a funeral.      I made a draft of a eulogy, made a list of pallbearers,  saved the phone numbers of mortuaries and the cemetary his family is buried in.     The only thing worse then planning a funeral for a parent,   is when no one else knows or believes its necessary but you.   I planned my fall schedule to bookend classes on 3 days a week, so if/when things go downhill I was available.    I quit my job, because as the only child it would all come down to me to settle things and be the support for mom and for dad.    (My last day of work was August 10. )   It still angers me, feeling like I had no choice but to walk away from my dream job, a job that took years of school and experience to get, and I had to leave it because I had to go be the hero and save the day.   Mom and dad were still in denial that dad had cancer, they kept insisting it was just maybe an infection that could be treated with drugs and maybe surgery.

Dad finally got into a program at the hospital for uninsured people, but its taken months to get the appointments and tests...I dont know how things were moving so slowly when they knew it was cancer they were dealing with.      Finally on the day we were supposed to find out his prognosis  (August 15)  they said they couldnt tell him because he hadnt had a biopsy yet, they had dropped the ball and no one had remembered to schedule it.     But dad was in a ton of pain, his stomach hard and bloated, his skin and eyes a sick shade of yellow from his liver failing.     Finally the doc said they were sending him to the ER for more scans since he looked and felt so sick.

ER was a nightmare, long story short he finally got a bed in a hallway 12 hours later.   They kept wanting ot send him home with painkillers to follow up with another doctor who wasnt available till next month.  I yelled at the doctor, the nurses, and the surgeon: I would not take my father home to die, they needed to *do something* and I wasnt leaving until they did.   I threatened to sue, to complain, to call the director of the hospital, but I wouldnt not take no for an answer.   It took another 24 hours to get a bed up in the medical unit, along with more scans and tests.  They found a mass in his colon.    For 5 days I waited with dad, slept in the big pink chair that pulls out to a bed.    To kill time I googled videos of colon cancer and tried to explain it in simple terms but have him understand how serious it was.   I couldnt sugar coat it and say everything was going to be fine, but I couldnt just bluntly say he didnt have much time left.   We took walks around the floor, dad in his gown and yellow hospital issue booties, using the IV pole for support.   My cousin is awesome enough to stay with my mom and keep her calm until he gets home, hopefully by next week.

Yesterday (August 20) after me running out of patience with the various doctors who had no answers and repeated excuses for pushing off a surgery he needs for his colon being obstructed, we got the truth from them:   stage 4 colon cancer.   Its metastasized to his liver, lungs,  and some bone in his ribs and pelvis.    He has a large mass thats almost totally blocking up his colon, and another large mass on his liver thats messing with its functioning.        The prognosis:    up to 6 months,   maybe, just maybe, a year if he responds to chemo and they can remove some of the tumors.   But theres no cure for him.   By the time he felt sick and found out it was in his lungs, it was already too late.

Now I've drawn a blank on what to do.  They are going to insert a stent to keep his colon open and avoid surgery, to try and do some chemo and buy him time.     Everyone keeps telling me how strong I am...but I'm not.   I've just already mourned.   a few night ago I held my dad in my arms while he cried, the first time I've ever seen my dad cry, he said he was sorry for not being a better dad, etc.   I told him what I've wanted to tell him for months:  I love you, I'll miss you, and I unconditionally forgive you.

Now I wait.  I've cried, I've given up all that I could to be there, tried to fight for him to get what help there was, said my goodbyes.   Now I guess I just wait.   Next week the fall semester starts and I still have classes to go to, a little boy who starts kindergarden, a girl starting 3rd grade.   I have college transfer applications to work on.  In between my own family and school I will spend as much time with him as I can and try to help as best as I can.  

That is all I can do at this point.  

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Making Progress

2 weeks of school left and I have 4 As and a B that I'm trying to pull up to an A. So far so good. I'm on track to apply to schools next fall, and if I get all As this semester I'll have a 3.83 GPA. I also got the two classes I wanted for summer ( statistics and art history) so I'm planning on acing those and that will bump GPA up a bit. I should be a good position GPA wise when I apply in fall, keeping my fingers crossed! I'm sick in bed again today after my 3rd round of a fever/virus thing. Tristan was sick last week so I thought i got it from him but my professor was sick this weekend too, so maybe its going around? anyhow, I havent forgotten my blog, just been busy with school, I still have a ton of photos to put up and posts on canning to complete and publish. hopefully I'll get caught up this summer!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Citrus Roundup

What I have made so far this year:

Cara Cara Orange Marmalade
Kumquat Marmalade
Key Lime Marmalade
Lime Jam
Tangerine Jelly
Meyer Lemon Jam (no peels, just fruit +juice)
Meyer Lemon Marmalade
Blood Orange Marmalade
Pummelo Marmalade
Sunshine Marmalade ( orange, tangerine, lemon, pummelo)

Candied citrus peels

Candied whole kumquats

Liquers: ( soaking in vodka now)
meyer lemon

Meyer Lemon Curd
Lime Curd
Cara Cara Orange Curd

I love citrus, but now I am ready for some berries and stone fruit. Next coming up is usually Blueberries in May in Temecula, then Cherries (June) in Beaumont and Leaona Valley, Wild Blackberries in July, and Raspberries (July/August) and lots of stone fruits July-September.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Experimenting with Citrus: oberservations so far

*ugh, blood orange marmalade with the whole peel is WAY too bitter, some people may like it but its a bit much for me. It set without pectin very well, but the flavor is not what I wanted. Going to can it and use it to make an asian orange chicken sauce later, oh well. Learn from experience! Next time I'll peel zest off and supreme the fruit before chopping it up.

EDIT: 2nd and 3rd batches turned out way better! theres still a lingering note of bitterness, but its only really noticeable straight from the jar, I don't notice it on toast.

*satsumas make lousy marmalade so far, not enough flavor there after (gently) cooking, and the fruit just stays floating as the little juice sacs, had to mix in some pulp from the murcott tangerines and add some TJs tangerine juice to up the flavor. They are great for eating fresh, but after trying to cut them with a mandoline slicerr the skin separated off instantly ( they are so easy to peel) and there was a whole lot of 'pith' to clean off the fruit before chopping it up and adding it to the thinly sliced peels to simmer.

*Kumquats are a huge pain in the ass to cut up, but they make the most awesome, INTENSE citrus spread, ever! I don't know how a fruit so tiny could have 3-5 seeds in each, makes the food processor or mandoline useless and gives the wrists a ton of exercise cutting them by hand.

*cara caras, limes, and mayer lemons make good "whole fruit" marmalade, whole peel and all (sliced thin with a mandoline) after simmering and leaving to sit overnight so the pectin can dissolve into the juice/water.

EDIT: Huzzah! I realized that letting the fruit/sugar mixture come to a boil for a bit, then let sit overnight (again) seems to fix the floating fruit bits issue.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Citrus marmalade recipe (without added pectin)

I've had alot of people ask me how I make marmalade, so I wanted to write it out. I'll work on adding step by step pictures later. This has worked for me using limes, lemons, kumquats, and cara cara oranges. You could probably also mix any combination of citrus too.

Recipe for (any) citrus marmalade:

Remove zest/peel from fruit with either a vegetable peeler or a citrus tool , scrape away any white pith off the peels, set aside.

Take fruit and using a paring knife cut away any white pith on the outside of the fruit. I then cut the fruit into thin slices that look like wagon wheels. Remove any seeds, set aside ( we can use seeds for pectin later) and remove any tough white core from the center of the segments. Cut wheels into fourths. Cut up enough fruit to give about 4 cups of citrus slices/pieces.

Take reserved zest and slice into thin slices, like little ribbons. You can cut them thicker but I like the peel in thin slices in my marmalade.

In one pan add sliced zest, enough water to cover, and 1/8 teaspoon baking soda, bring to a boil,turn off heat, and let sit for 15 minutes. drain off water, set aside.

To the other pan I add equal parts of the chopped fruit and water. ( about 4c fruit + 4 c water). If you have any seeds from the fruit place tie them up in a piece of cheesecloth or use a muslin teabag to hold them. Add reserved zest slices. Bring all to a low simmer for about 25-30 minutes, or until the fruit segments have fallen apart and the zest slices are soft ( a spoon should cut a piece easily against the side of the pot). Turn off heat, cover, and let sit overnight ( 12-18 hours)

The next day get your jars all clean, hot and ready to fill. Remove bag of fruit seeds ( if using), squeezing hard to get every last bit of pectin out of it. Discard seeds. Stir the fruit, and it should look a bit thickened form the pectin that seeped into the water overnight. You should now have a pot full of about 8c worth of prepared citrus. *Split this into 2 pots* ( I had problems getting it to set when cooked as such a big batch), Measure how much fruit is going into each pot, You should have about 4c in each pot. Add an equal amount of sugar ( 4c) and bring to a boil, and boil until it reaches about 215-220 degrees on a candy thermometer. A test sample on a cold spoon or saucer should firm up, showing you the marmalade is done.

Fill hot jars with marmalade, leaving a 1/4 in head space, add lids and rings, and process in a water bath canner for 10 minutes.

Variations: strawberry lemonade marmalade: before heating 4c citrus fruit + 4c sugar, add 1c finely chopped strawberries. If it doesn't want to gel add another 1/4 of fresh lemon juice.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A new year, a new life- now with more focus!

After over 2 years of not finding time to blog about the little happenings and learnings of my life, here I am again. I've been very addicted to facebook, but those short snippets just don't let me have fun talking photos, showing step by step of recipes I'm trying and analyzing the results. Plus then I can't go back and find the links I've shared very easily. Farmville was fun too, but than it began to represent a cruel irony to me: wasting time on a virtual farm when I could better use the time practicing skills or researching ways of having a real one.

So here I am.

When I last left you guys I was settled in an apartment dealing with my husbands layoff- looking for a job and pondering what to do next. The last few years have been very busy: I've worked in a natural parenting-esque cloth diaper shop, as an agricultural aid for the CDFA looking the the invasive Asian Citrus Psyllid, I've gone back to school to study horticulture, found my groove as a student and worked my way into the honors program and even into Phi Theta Kappa, a national honors society. This year school is partially funded by 2 scholarships and a grant, and currently I have been working at a Garden Center/Nursery as a sales associate for almost a year now and am training to hopefully be a Color Department Lead( Flowers/Veggies/Herbs) someday. I completed my training as a UCCE Master Gardener, have volunteered in trying to get a community garden up and running in my hometown, gave many a talk on veggie gardening, and have made many wonderful friends and contacts with similar interests as me. My two beautiful children are growing up and getting smarter every day, and I am blessed to say I am more in love with my sexy dork of a husband than ever. Life has never been better for me.

But it hasn't all been sugar and sweet peas, in the last 2 1/2 years we've moved 4 times ( various family members, which I am forever thankful), my husband ended up unemployed for over 2 years, our marriage was strained to almost breaking, I had bouts of depression and so much fear and doubt. Life was restless, unsettled. I didn't know how to pull myself out of it, we needed something, anything to just change for the better. Finally, my husband got a job interview out in Missouri, so we flew out to stay with my recently found birthmom in Tulsa,OK so Chris could drive to the interview. That is when the big Blizzard of 2011 hit superbowl week, and we were basically stranded in the snow in the midwest for a few days. During that week I happened to get an email about an application I had put in at a garden center months prior. Chris' interview was cancelled because of the state of emergency the region was in, and after we got home the phone interview didn't pan out well.

My job interview went better then I could have ever hoped for: they hired me.

I had my first full time, more than minimum wage job with an employee owned company that even offered medical insurance. It was my miracle. We could afford to move out of my parents home and sphere of drama to our own apartment where we live now, for almost a year now. We finally had a sense of independence. I've even bought my first real car, a sweet little baby blue car with lots of happy bumper stickers on it. My husband finally got lucky too, as the economy has ever so slowly picked up he stopped the desperate job hunting and started his own consulting gig, which has slowly been picking up steam.

2012 is a year full of promise for me: we're both gainfully employed, in out own little home we work hard for, raising our beautiful children and full of gratitude for our lives now and the lessens we learned along the way. We're slowly working towards a goal of moving to a more rural-ish area where I can have a yard, a garden, and fruit trees again- and maybe even chickens and a dairy goat someday. UC Davis just started a major in Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems- exactly what I love to study but didnt have a term for. I got to visit the campus last year for a transfer student open house and fell *IN LOVE* with the school and the town. My husband loved it too, so if its meant to be I hope they accept my application next Fall.

We've been blessed with wonderful friends along the way who support us emotionally and spiritually. I have awesome professors who have written strong letters of recommendation that helped me land my current job and a few scholarships. I am lucky to be able to still hone my homesteading skills with limited resources by being frugal and bartering canned goods for produce. Whether its saving the green tomatoes off plants being tossed at the nursery, making friend with the farmers market folks for deals on blemished stuff, joining a local CSA, to offering to pick the fruit and prune the trees of neighbors and aquaintences, I find fresh produce to work with.

My best friend has chickens and more eggs than she knows what to do with sometimes, so I buy or trade for eggs from her. A co-worker keeps bees and gave me 2 jars of lovingly raised honey for Christmas. Many generous friends bring me fruit from their trees. I am always giving away stuff I've put up or crafted with my own hands- my mom teases that I can and stockpile food for lean paycheck weeks but give so much of it away I should stop being so generous and save more for myself. That's because the more I give away, the more that comes back to me and my family, and the more I can give to others on tough times too. I've been there, and know how quickly I could end up there again.

We all take care of each other.

2012 is a big year, I'm dropping down from full time work to part time hours to focus on a full class load (19 units) of honors classes, botany, California geography, critical writing and hopefully chemistry. I was elected as an officer of Phi Theta Kappa (PTK) so theres events and work to do there, and some conferences to attend. By next summer I should qualify to take the California Certified Nursery Professinal exam, and if I pass earn the nice CCNP title and pay raise. I should complete my Associates Degree in Spring 2013, and may or may not be transferring somewhere the fall after, thats still in the works. I'm gaining more responsibilities and experience volunteering as a Master Gardener, and now the Master Food Preserver (MFP) program has its own classwork and volunteer requirements. There are lots of events and classes with local groups that have so much I want to learn from them.

I am happy, I am focused, I am driven but most of all I am blessed.

Every night as I fall asleep I meditate on my own little Mantra:

"I am Blessed, I am Loved, and I am Thankful."

Blessed Be.