Friday, November 26, 2010

Thanksgiving at the lake.

This was our first Thanksgiving in "The Lakehouse". We hosted my husband's family and my sister-in-law's in-laws, for a total of fifteen adults and three children. Thank goodness our open-floorplan home provided plenty of space for both sitting around the table together enjoying the incredible array of food everyone made and lounging in tryptophan splendor afterwards. I am still full today.

The planning started last Friday night when we invited my sister-in-law, Libby, her family and inlaws to dinner. I made shrimp and grits for the first time. I almost screwed up the grits. Who can mess up grits you ask? Well, when you switch the volume of grits to water, it's easy. Luckily for me, my husband, Larry, saved them with lots of milk and butter. They actually were great. But, the true accomplishment was the shrimp dish. I found a Bobby Flay recipe on-line along with a "Gullah" recipe. I just recently found out about the Gullah culture on the South Carolina coast. The first freed-slaves from West Africa put down roots in Beaufort, near Charleston. They founded their own culture, Gullah, and have their own language.

I combined the best of both these recipes and added my own touches: good Applewood-smoked bacon and Andoille sausage, onion, roasted red peppers, chopped tomato(peeled and seeded so Libby could eat it), lemon juice, butter, shrimp and scallops. It was just delicious and my southern-born relatives raved about it. Yes, bloggers, a Yankee can cook Southern.

Anyway, Libby, her sister-in-law, Mary Pat, her husband, Ed, and I sat around the table after dinner and planned our Thanksgiving menu. Larry and I had already picked up a frozen turkey and honey, spiral-cut ham, so we just added the fixin's and who would make them. Oh, yes, we planned desserts as well. The result yesterday, was a mountain of food that almost made us feel guilty for all the starving children in the world our parents threatened us with if we didn't clean our plates as children ourselves. I learned that this threat has no geographic boundaries. Parents were the same everywhere. Are we still doing this one? I'm certainly not. I gave myself permission to not clean my plate and throw food away years ago. It felt bad at first, but I found myself defending it yesterday when little Amanda wanted permission to throw leftover desserts away with her paper plate. "If you take it, you have to eat it", was what her mother told her. I intervened, and said Amanda could go right ahead and throw it away. I also encouraged her mother to let it go.

The sad part of our day was that Libby, who is terminally ill with appendix cancer that has taken over her digestive organs, got impacted again and doubled over in pain. When she gets like this, there is no pain medication at home that will relieve it, so she was admitted to the hospital two days before Thanksgiving. It was very difficult to go ahead with our holiday celebration without her, but we took turns visiting before and after the day. And, we recorded the day on a video camera that Larry and I took to the hospital last night, so she could hear the songs we sang to Joe's guitar after dinner, and all the good wishes we sent her all day long. She and I sang along to the songs in her hospital room and she was much better. We heard from her brother's wife that in the morning, she was very emotionally upset. The first words out of her mouth when she was admitted to the hospital were, "I don't want to ruin Thanksgving!" I assured her she wouldn't and she didn't.

Before dinner, when the food was ready, we all stood around the kitchen holding hands while I said "the Blessing". I became overwhelmed with emotion as I began, and Mary Pat put her arm around my should for support while I continued to thank God for all our blessings. I asked for help for Libby and thanked Him for the time he gave us with her. Her brother, Billy (Larry's brother too), was also diagnosed with kidney cancer the same day Libby was admitted to the hospital this week. But, he learned that they detected it early and he could consider that "Divine intervention" must have come into play. The timing of his pain attack from gallstones, the lack of patients in the hospital at that particular moment, the area of the ER in which he received his examination all combined to mean he got the additional xray and tests he needed to find his kidney tumor. If the doctors and nurses were busier, they wouldn't have done them at all he was told. So, he should be okay if there are no surprises when they operate on December 15th. Kidney cancer cannot be treated with chemotherapy or radiation, so surgery is his only option. I prayed for him too.

When I was done, several people had tears in their eyes, but we all laughed and hunkered down to the tables joined end-to-end to make room for everyone and their heaping full plates. It was a wonderful meal and a wonderful day. Plus, we were blessed with a gloriously sunny day with temperatures in the low 70's. That in itself was a huge blessing. Thank you, God.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Back at the lake.

It's been a month since we last came to The Lakehouse for my sister-in-law, Libby's, birthday weekend. Since then, the mice have had a field day! The first thing I cleaned was poop off all the kitchen counters and the stove. It wasn't as bad as I've seen in the past, but melted mouse poop is the pits. Then I went into the renovated bathroom to find they pulled much of the woven bathmat cords out. I wonder where their beds are? Haven't found any yet, but you can be sure they are hiding somewhere in the house. Spider poop isn't bad this time, and otherwise, the house is in good shape.

We learned a week before coming here from Larry's brother, Bill, that our power was out. When he and Karan walked in the house after checking to make sure their pontoon boat was still secure, they could have sworn something died in the house. After searching for a carcass, they opened the refrigerator and gagged at the horrid smell. Bill said the once frozen chicken and other meat left in the freezer was liquid. They cleaned everything out of the fridge, after having to go buy trash bags because, of course, we were out. I left a note on my refrigerator magnet pad that we needed more trash bags and 9V batteries for the smoke alarms. Figures. I didn't have time to replenish before leaving the last time.

Once the refrigerator was empty, they hauled everything off to the dump and Karan did a wonderful job cleaning it out. It hasn't been that clean in years! They unplugged it and left the doors open as well as all the windows and ceiling fans to try and air the house out. In two days, Bill said he came back and the smell was gone. When we arrived, I wouldn't have known anything happened because there was no smell from this catastrophe at all. I am very grateful to them both for handling this incident for us.

The power company was very responsive and sent a crew to the house (on a Sunday) within an hour. Bill and Karan had just returned from dumping the refrigerator contents when they came upon the crew on their way out. The crew said vines had grown into the transformer and shorted it out. A road crew would be dispatched the next day to really clear away the vines. This crew merely cleared enough to get the power back on. It has been very warm here, apparently, and the power must have been out for three weeks. We have security cameras on the house, and when Larry couldn't see them, he just assumed his latest effort to make the router not change the IP address in a power outage didn't work again. Next time, we'll make a call to have someone check the house before weeks go by. Maintaining a house remotely is not easy.

Larry and I are both exhausted. I have been feeling a little down and very cranky. I am also feeling a little guilty for doing absolutely nothing except food shop so far this week. I know we deserve the rest and I'm pushing those little devil voices away while I rest on my hammock in seventy-five degree weather reading the lastest book by Richard Castle, Naked Heat. Larry is plunked in front of the TV, but I have to be outside with only birdsong in the background. Well, there are also hammering noises from construction around the lake. Sound travels on the water.

I didn't feel well yesterday. My stomach has been upset. Probably from all the overeating I've done lately. So I never left the couch. Today I got up, took a shower, and went for a walk around this country neighborhood with Jackson and Mattie Grace on their leashes. It felt good to get out and move. But, my mood didn't change. I stayed outside, away from my husband (to protect him from my awful mood), and feel better now that I've had a little lunch.

Tonight, we'll try a restaurant I read about in "South Carolina Living" magazine in Columbia called "Mac's on Main". The recommended dishes are shrimp and grits as well as peach cobbler for dessert. The owner, Mac, is also a jazz performer who is known to hop up on stage and play for the patrons. I hope he does tonight. I would love to hear some live jazz and eat "low country" cooking. Should be fun.

I also read about a Gullah cultural festival in Beaufort that intrigues me. Unfortunately, the ride is two hours fifty minutes one way, and after driving nine hundred fifty-four miles to get here just a couple of days ago, I'm not interested in driving that far so soon. Apparently, on St. Helena Island in Beaufort, near Charleston, is the site of the first freed slave school and the origination of the Gullah culture with its own language. Slaves mostly from Sierre Leone in West Africa and Native Americans mixed to create their own culture. I find this fascinating.

Actually, I am learning a lot more about the Civil War era living here in SC than I was taught in Massachusetts. Larry's family was actually displaced and rampaged by Union solders here. My sister-in-law, Libby, took me to Magnolia Plantation near Charleston several years ago, and I walked through Antebellum houses for the first time. I had never heard that word before. It was very interesting to see how slaves lived in those days. I remain intrigued to learn more as time goes by.

But, a trip to the low-country will have to wait for another time. Instead, Libby and I will go to the Christmas craft festival at the State Fairgrounds this weekend. It is my favorite craft festival. There are hundreds of vendors in several buildings and I always find good stuff there. I'm looking forward to spending some quality time with Libby as well. We'll stay as long as she has the energy.

She just got out of the hospital last week because she was impacted above her stomach peg and was in pain. Her oncologist has told her he has done everything he can for her. We'll see if she will continue with chemotherapy when she goes back to see him on Monday. He is trying to control her bad headaches right now with Lyrica. Her insurance company is still giving her a hard time about approving treatment and drugs to fight her cancer. This fact still amazes me. She only has one "last ditch' option available, and nobody thinks it will do much to help her: internal warm chemo wash at Duke University. She had this when they first removed the majority of her tumors, and the beginning is usually when this treatment works best. The trouble with her condition is that the surgeon was not able to remove all her "paint splatter" tumors, so they keep growing and spreading. They are mucinous tumors that are also difficult to see in a CAT scan. We will enjoy whatever time we can get with her for as long as we can.

Spending time with her is the majority of the reason we are here this month. We'll spend Thanksgiving here and return to Massachusetts on December 3rd. It is supposed to cool off a bit at the end of the week. Maybe a fire in the fireplace will be in order soon. The Lakehouse has a great fireplace.