Monday, March 7, 2016

Brother's 10 Birthdays with Brain Injury

Joe's birthday 2013
It's a strange thing to commemorate. But when my brother Joe turns another year older, I can't help but think back to how we almost lost him, and feel especially grateful that he's here. Today is the tenth birthday he has celebrated since getting hit by a car as a pedestrian when he was 14 and suffering a severe traumatic brain injury. A couple Seattle Times articles from that time are still online, like this one from two weeks after the accident: "Young crusader struck in Shoreline." At that point he was still in a coma in the Pediatric ICU at Harborview.

Though Green has been upgraded from critical to serious condition, doctors don't know what his future holds.
"Outcome is quality of life, not if you live or you die," said Dr. Randy Chesnut, director of neurotrauma at Harborview. "We know the extent of it, but we don't know the long-term consequences."
Green isn't following commands or interacting with people, but Chesnut hopes within a year he will be able to tell the full extent of the boy's injuries.
"We can't fix the brain; now it's up to him," Chesnut said. "He'll be a different person."
Joe in the PICU at Harborview, July 2005
Then, one month after he was hit, he started to wake up: "Hit-run victim, 14, opens eyes after nearly month in coma."

At that point, we had absolutely no idea what kind of recovery to expect. It was three weeks after waking up before he said his first word, and then it was months and months of rehabilitational therapies, including an intensive residential program at Children's Hospital, before he could walk or talk. Considering he had to relearn those basics during most of what would have been his freshman year of high school, it's pretty remarkable that he was able to graduate high school just a year late.

Doctors told us that with brain injuries, the most healing that happens in the first two years. My parents were diligent during that time to keep him in therapies and make as much progress as possible, and that intentionality continued long after the first couple years. Ten years later, I think he is still healing, learning, and improving.

He has come such a long way, and is extremely high functioning and independent. He is not able to live alone at this point, but takes care of himself physically, does his laundry, prepares food, and gets around by walking or bus. He is a sweet and gentle man, and still loves kids and animals as much as before his accident. He likes hanging out with his nieces and nephews, and enjoys making things with his hands, like carving the names of friends and family in wood to give as gifts.
In terms of his cognitive function, the biggest deficit is his short-term memory. Here's an example: A couple months ago we had a cold snap. I rent a mother-in-law unit from my parents (where Joe also lives), and came outside one morning on my way to work to find my car windows scraped of the frost. I looked around in confusion at the other parked cars, all with frosty windows. But mine were clear. Not knowing who did it, I sent a group text to my mom, stepdad, and Joe saying, "Thanks to whoever scraped my windows!" Joe texted back, "No problem! Have a good day." Then my mom texted me separately, "What? That was me! LOL! We'll let him think that though. :)" We were both cracking up.

But of course, issues with short-term memory cause more than amusing mix-ups. He might lose necessary items, forget he already bought something, or not follow through with something important.
Medically, the most debilitating result of the brain injury is his seizure disorder. For patients with traumatic brain injury, it's common to have seizures in the first couple years, as the brain is healing and forming new neuropathways. For Joe, his seizures have become more and more frequent. He takes medication which definitely helps--if he misses a pill, he will almost surely have a seizure. He is incredibly conscientious about NOT missing his pills. Even if we are going to the store together at 7:30, just running down the street, he'll look at the clock and make sure, "How long will we be gone? Should I bring my 9:00 pills?"

Even with taking the medication correctly, he still has seizures, sometimes multiple times in a week. I have no idea how many seizures I've been with Joe through-- maybe 30 or 40? They are incredibly common, and yet always frightening. I don't know how my parents do it. There is a constant vigilance required to be prepared and calm when something happens, but of course are always going to be taken by surprise or in a less-than-ideal circumstance.
Last summer the family was at Seabrook for a cousin's wedding. The night before was a huge group dinner in the warm night air, and I had a few glasses of wine over the course of the evening. My mom had gotten tired and gone back to the house, but the rest of us were still hanging out. I came into the host's house from the deck just as Joe began having a seizure and cousins were helping lower him safely to the ground. I bolted back outside through the thick crowd to find my stepdad. By the time we got back up the stairs to Joe, he should have been coming out of the seizure, but wasn't.

Larry looked up at me, "Can you get mom and tell her to bring the car?" We didn't have cell phone service, and who knew how long it would take for the nearest ambulance to get to this unpopulated stretch of coast. If Joe needed to go to the hospital, we'd have to drive him. Suddenly feeling stone-cold sober, I took off into the dark in high-heeled boots to run across the town of Seabrook. My mom and I drove back to the party, and thankfully the seizure had ended and Joe was stable by then. But the memory of the night is visceral for me; everything is okay until it isn't.

I used to take Joe hiking, but about half of the time he had a seizure on the trail and it was just too stressful. One time we were serveral miles back at Wallace Falls and I had no phone signal. Luckily it was a small seizure and he came out of it quickly and was able to walk shortly after. But what if it hadn't broken? What if he hadn't been able to walk out? What if he had gotten an injury as a result of a seizure? It was too much to think about.
This past New Year's Eve I was getting ready to go to a friend's wedding reception. I carefully applied makeup and twisted my hair into an updo--two things I rarely do. Appetizers and mingling were already underway and I was running late; I at least wanted to get there by 8:30 p.m. for the toast.

Just as I was about to change into a dress and heels, I heard shouting next door. It was a loud, grunting, "AH...AH! AH...AH!" I ran in my parents' house to find the front door ajar and Joe lying on the wood floor in the kitchen, seizing. Or rather, just finishing a seizure and in a very agitated postictal state, thrashing wildly. I sat cross-legged and put his head in my lap to protect his head from banging on the ground. I called my mom with shaking hands. It was everything I could do to keep Joe contained with one hand, and I could barely do it. "Mom, I think you should call the paramedics--I have to hang up now because I need both hands!"

Joe is a stocky, strong guy. He is about 7 inches taller than me and 70 pounds heavier. And the postictal state can bring out an almost superhuman strength. There have been times when we've called the paramedics and it's taken eight of them to get him secured to a stretcher to take him to the hospital.

It was physically everything I could do to keep him contained and safe in those minutes before the paramedics arrived. He would arch his back and kick his feet and slam me into the dishwasher, so hard that I was worried it would break the dishwasher door. His convulsive bursts were wracking my body and my lower back was aching. I knew I was okay and that he would be okay, but the violence of the constant physical assault was so shocking to my body that tears came to my eyes before I even realized it. It was scary trying to care for someone else while not knowing where the boundaries were of caring for myself.

Finally his convulsions started to slow just as I heard the sirens and saw flashing lights through the front window. After talking about Joe's condition, a paramedic looked at me and asked, "Are you okay?" I nodded and headed back home, my hair a mess around my shoulders, and my makeup in a black streak on my cheeks.
It's been 10 years now. We have gotten used to the new Joe. About once every six months I get an absolutely sick, sinking feeling when I think about him, indescribably angry and sad about how the accident changed him. I think about how much an average person his age might struggle to make friends, date, feel connection to others, find meaningful work, and develop an identity. And I can't even imagine how exponentially more difficult it must be for him.

But that feeling passes and I know I have to live in the moment. The accident happened, and for all the ways it has been difficult and changed our family, there is much to celebrate. Perhaps most of all, Joe is thankful for his life and still sees it as a blessing. He is grateful to be alive, even if it looks different than we may have imagined a decade ago. And I think that constitutes a very happy birthday.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Valentine Friends

I'm fairly neutral about Valentine's Day. For about a decade, as a floral designer, the holiday meant a frenetic seasonal rush at a flower shop. Now that those days have passed, what I end up doing is a toss up. I like that people can interpret the day however they want and do whatever sounds fun and romantic. What's wrong with a day all about love, indulgence, and showing appreciation and admiration? This year, as a single lady, I want to express my appreciation for some of my most beloved friends.
I've known Will since middle school, and we became close friends when we lived together for a year and a half in college. In those days he'd bake up a storm, and after morning classes we'd sit on the front porch together, drinking tea and eating homemade pear-cardamom bread, dissecting all of life's questions and talking for hours.

We don't have those long hours together anymore, but our friendship has evolved into something I could have never foreseen: writing and editing support. I've edited his writing projects and he has edited mine. It's pretty sweet to connect in a new way after decades of friendship and I'm so grateful to have him in my life.
I met Lindsey in high school English when I hadn't done my homework to come up with a topic proposal for History Day. I sat down by her about two minutes before the bell rang, feeling desperate. "Do you have a research idea? Can you add my name to your proposal and we'll do a partner project?" Thanks to her saying yes, we became great friends and created a rockin' dramatic presentation on Gandhi and India's independence movement that made us regional champions and took us to the state finals.

These days, Lindsey lives in Austin, but I talk to her as much as any friend in Seattle. I save my funniest, most outlandish stories from the week, with the goal of cracking her up on the phone as much as possible. She just got engaged, but is still the staunchest supporter of single ladies. "I went to look at wedding venues," she tells me. "This one at an old mill has a ton of walking trails on the river-- so many spots for my single friends to make out!"
Alex is a friend that I've barely seen throughout the past decade, but we both ended up living in the same neighborhood last year. We rebooted our friendship last summer when I took a week off to go backpacking, and all my friends were working. I has fine with going alone, but luckily Alex had some time off mid-week, and we spent three days backpacking in Mount Rainier National Park together. He was such a fun, easy-going, stellar outdoor buddy. Since then, we've started running together regularly, even early on Sunday mornings and even in the pouring winter rain. He's a great listener and strikes that wonderful balance between goofy and sincere.
Alice is my role model for being a good friend even while really busy and even in a relationship. I know it's hard to maintain close friendships in the flurry of modern, urban life, and especially in a new, exciting relationship. Many people drop off the radar, but somehow Alice is always there. She is a medical resident who often works 70-80 hours a week, and still finds time for canoe crabbing adventures, meeting at the climbing gym, making dinner together, teaching me to brew beer, or sending me random texts like, "Hey, come over for Swiss chard pancakes!"
Do you have friends you love who you are especially thankful for today?

Saturday, January 30, 2016

My Top 10 of 2015

In 2015 I wrote less on this blog than any other year since I started it in 2007. I have good excuses: I write full time! And I am working on a side writing project! But there were great things that happened last year that I want to share--better late than never. Here's a quick rundown of some of my favorite moments.

10. Spring trip to Mexico
My phone disappeared while in Mexico, and I lost almost all of my photos from that trip. But otherwise it was an amazing time-- I got to volunteer for a UN food security organization in the rural mountainous region of northern Puebla, and then attend the wedding of a dear friend.
Church in Ahuacatlan, Sierra Norte de Puebla

Traditional dress wedding
Boda de traje tipico

9. Visiting Denali National Park, Alaska
I was 100 miles back in the park, staying in a cabin, with opportunities to hike, bike, and canoe practically out the front door. Early in the week I had my first handful of grizzly bear sighting from afar, and later in the week almost walked into one. My friend and I were hiking, talking, and watching our feet, and by the time we saw the bear through the blueberry bushes, we were about 30 feet away. It was absolutely terrifying for a moment, but clearly I lived to tell the tale.
View from Polychrome Pass
A rare, clear view of the mountain

8. Hanging with nieces and nephews
I now have 7 nieces, 3 nephews, and 2 more on the way. They are all ridiculously sweet and fun kids, from the oldest who is almost 15 to the youngest who just turned 1.

7. Sister's Wedding
Besides the wedding in Mexico, I went to two in Washington and one in California. The first was my older sister's in Bellingham. This one was unique because in addition to making the bouquets, it was my first time officiating! I became a "reverend" online about eight years ago, but haven't had the chance to officiate yet. It was really special for me to play that role for my sister and awesome brother-in-law.

6. Cousin's Wedding
The next wedding was my cousin's out at Seabrook on the Washington coast. It's basically a small manufactured village, and a great spot for big family gatherings. We walked to other relative's houses, rode bikes, went to the park, played on the beach, cooked big meals together, and generally had a blast.
Playing with nieces on the beach
Putting together the bridal bouquet. Photo by Lisa S.
Thriller dance at the reception. Photo by Lisa S.

5. Friend's Wedding
Bless California, where you can have completely outdoor weddings and dance well into the night with the addition of a light sweater. I spent three days at the wedding venue in a neat ranch-turned-resort outside of Ukiah.
Outdoor reception set up

Day after the wedding to relax
4. Backpacking with Mom
This was our second annual mother-daughter backpacking trip. For almost never having backpacked, my mom is an awesome buddy. She's easy-going, appreciative of little things, not picky, and really loves being outside. This new tradition is going to continue as long as humanly possible.

View of Mount Baker from tarn below Park Butte

3. Three Fingers Lookout
I did a lot of hiking this year, but the highlight was in October when I did Three Fingers. You know it's serious trail when you have to bike 10 miles just to get to the trailhead, then hike, cross a glacier, scramble, and climb vertical ladders.
See the white speck up there on the middle peak?
Yeah, that's the lookout.
Sunrise from the lookout.
3 ladders at the end to reach the lookout.
Just a 1,000 foot drop to the glacier below.

2. The 10-Week Challenge
During the fall I did a 10-week fitness program offered through a local gym. It consisted of:

- Doing 50 workouts in 10 weeks
- Following meal guidelines and tracking everything I ate in an online tracker, in general cutting out sugar, alcohol, fruit, and wheat
- Doing fitness tests and body composition check at the beginning and end of the program

It was truly life changing. I got stronger, fitter, and just felt better. I thought that I already had pretty healthy eating habits, but this took my awareness to a whole new level of committing to cooking whole foods, at home, from scratch, for every meal.
After a bootcamp class

1. A personal writing project
I have been busy writing on a side project. I'm keeping the details under wraps for now, but I'm really excited about it and excited to share later this year.
Writing retreat on San Juan Island

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Figgy Pudding

Years back it struck me how demanding the last verse is in "We Wish You a Merry Christmas." They are adamant about getting figgy pudding and are not leaving until they get some.

Earlier in December, a coworker sent an email alerting us of traffic closures downtown due to the Great Figgy Pudding Caroling Competition. It wasn't until that moment that I consciously realized that I had no idea what figgy pudding was. Not long after, NPR echoed the thought in this article from The Salt, 'Oh, Bring Us Some ... ' Wait. What Is Figgy Pudding?

I decided it was high time I made some. While the article shares a recipe that looks pretty traditional, I wasn't excited that it called for mutton fat, raisins, lighting the cake on fire, or aging it for weeks. So I kept searching, and came across this recipe for Warm Sticky Figgy Pudding and liked the look of it better.

Photo from Food Network recipe
I'm happy to report it was delicious. It calls for baking in ramekins which worked great, though you might be able to bake it in a cake pan and cut into squares for easier serving. It's called "pudding" in the British sense, meaning dessert, and it's really more of a sweet bread. The dates make it really moist, and it would be fabulous in a loaf pan and sliced, as you would zucchini or banana bread.

But the warm sauce and whipped cream elevate it to a decadent place fit for holiday indulgence. The only adjustment I would recommend would be to half the sauce recipe. It's pretty sweet so a little bit goes a long way, and there is no way you would use all the sauce for that amount of cake. Enjoy!

Monday, November 30, 2015

Fall Mushroom Hunting

I have always wanted to learn more about mushrooms and do my own foraging. I'm out tromping around in the woods most autumn weekends anyway, so I figure if I can find some delicious wild food, all the better. This year, that dream started to materialize when I hiked with a knowledgeable buddy and then took a class.

It started in the North Cascades. We were on a long, rainy hike when we stumbled upon a lion's mane mushroom-- huge, toothy, firm, and heavy from the downpour. It smelled like a mix of sweet cream and the forest floor. It was the size of my head and just finding one felt like a jackpot. But then we started seeing more, and couldn't resist hauling out several.
That night we cooked some of the lion's mane with dinner, adding it to lamb carnitas. The rest of the week I was on a serious mission to use them up: sautéed with bacon, added into lasagna, folded into a frittata, and simmered in Tom Kha soup.
A couple weeks later, in the central Cascades on another hike, we found chanterelles and hedgehogs. The hedgehogs don't have gills but rather little teeth under the cap. It might not come as a surprise that they are in the same family as the lion's mane with all their glorious toothiness.
And what better way to round out October than to go to a Halloween party and find a couple dressed as mushrooms? My ID skills are limited, but between my burgeoning familiarity and their meticulous costuming, I had no doubt: "You guys are chanterelles!"
In November I took my mushroom studies indoors to an all-day class offered by the Puget Sound Mycological Society. Their Mushroom Hunting 101 class covered ID skills, foraging best practices, toxicology, cooking with mushrooms, and non-edible mushroom uses. It was a really comprehensive course that I would recommend to anyone. Of course, there is so much to learn that we barely scratched the surface, but I think it gave me a good foundation.

Huge array of local mushrooms
brought in by the students
In the recent NY Time article Sex, Death and Mushrooms, the author talks about finding the elusive Cauliflower mushroom. Right around the same time, my friend found one locally and shared the bounty. It looks similar in size to the lion's mane, but with thicker waves that make it resemble egg noodles or coral.
Cauliflower mushroom. Image from here.
I had no idea what to do with it, but a quick Google search revealed that it could indeed be treated just like egg noodles. So I followed this chili garlic egg noodles recipe, sautéing the mushroom instead of boiling noodles, and ate the whole mushroom in one tasty sitting.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Willing to Slow it Down

It was a busy spring. I was working full-time, going to school (evening certificate program), volunteering several places, plus I moved into a new place and went to Mexico in the same month. I love having a full life, but I don't like always being busy.

Hanging on Lake Washington

I've come across articles about our cultural obsession with being busy and wearing it like a badge of honor, such Busy is a sickness and Disease of being busy. In the latter, author Omid Safi writes, "Tell me you remember you are still a human being, not just a human doing. Tell me you’re more than just a machine, checking off items from your to-do list. Have that conversation, that glance, that touch. Be a healing conversation, one filled with grace and presence."

Sometime I feel too much like a human doing. A big part of that was being in school, and always having classes and homework. I loved the editing certificate program, but man! it's great to be done.
Homemade cake for our last day of editing class

Cocktail: Rye with- wait for it- reduced Rainier beer
simple syrup. Weird, but delicious.
I haven't had any epic adventures yet this summer, but that's okay with me. Bigger trips are coming up (very!) soon, and so far it's been rejuvenating to have the time to hang with family, especially my nieces and nephews, cook meals from scratch, and get good sleep.
Don't get me wrong-- I've been doing more than just hanging out. I've been playing outside, but just trying not to over-plan or rush from one thing to another.

Bike ride and golden raspberries
Downtown view from the Seattle Great Wheel
Hiking Mailbox Peak
Evening sailing, cider, and swimming in Lake Union
Niece helps me water my deck plants 

Friend's family goats. I really want goats.
How do you find the balance between exploring all the wonderful things there are to do in this world, and not overdoing it?