Thursday, March 21, 2013

Brother's Birthday

Last week my youngest brother turned 22. Every year on Joe's birthday, I feel especially grateful that he is alive, because when he was 14, we almost lost him. He got hit by a car while crossing the street and suffered a severe traumatic brain injury. He was in a coma for a month, and even after he woke up, had to do months of intensive therapy to walk and talk again. I wrote a bit about the whole situation last year on his 21st birthday and also shared some news articles from that time.

Maybe it seems strange to talk about his brain injury after almost seven and a half years, but the thing is, he still has it and he is still changing and healing. His personality, medical concerns, and struggles are different every few months. Occasionally my friends will ask, "How's your brother?" which I appreciate for that exact reason- it's always changing! But it's a hard question to answer. There is no standard for which to measure his "progress". Where is he trying to get to? For someone whose brain damage was so severe that neurologists said he might be unresponsive and in a wheelchair for the rest of his life, isn't anything more than that a success? Is the goal for him to live independently, or just be happy? Brain injury is not like a disease that can be medicated, or a tumor that can be removed. It is a permanent, elusive issue that science and modern medicine still grapple with.

But there is definitely a lot of good to share, even in the last year. Like any young man going from 21 to 22, he has matured noticeably. He is waaaaaay more appropriate with women. He writes little essays about what makes life worthwhile. He has worked at the same golf store successfully for two years, originally placed in a mentored employment program through Children's Hospital. He still has frequent seizures, though most the time they are mild and he can feel them coming, and lay down and call for immediate help (usually our parents).

Of course, there are still hard and terrifying moments. He is not always treated kindly by strangers or acquaintances. He can be very confrontational with authority figures and law enforcement and is often on the verge of getting himself into trouble. Also, while his seizures have become more frequent but less severe, he will occasionally have a really bad one. A few months back we were at my mom's house for my niece's 4th birthday party, and a bunch of little kids were playing in the backyard on the sunny day. Joe started having a seizure.... and it just went on, and on, and on. My parents, sister, and I were huddled around him, waiting for it to stop, desperately looking at each other's faces for the point when long was too long. It was like the air went stale and music had stopped. Joe's nose started turning purple and he seemed too far away and wasn't coming back to us. "Yeah, now is time to call the paramedics," we agreed. It was the most terrifying moments I've felt in years, like I was falling. I felt absolutely sick watching a seizure last so long.

I went out front to meet the ambulance, and by the time they got to him, he was in a weird half-seizing/half-agitated state that I have never seen before. He was thrashing and fighting some invisible force. They ended up taking him to Northwest Hospital and heavily sedating him before running all sorts of tests. They never concluded what had triggered such a massive seizure, so they sent him home and said that they had given him enough drugs to sedate a small elephant, and that he probably wouldn't be able to walk for awhile. However, in typical Joe fashion, he defied usual medical expectations and walked bleary-eyed up and down the stairs to his room.

The end of that summer, when Joe came out of his coma, I remember thinking it was like a rebirth. He had to learn to walk and talk again. He had to be completely taken care of and then slowly get more independence. He was literally like a new person. Different body, voice, personality. For a long time after the accident, I used to call his cell phone just to listen to the voice mail recorded message. It was his old voice, my only chance to hear it, and I missed it. I sometimes wonder what he would be like right now without a brain injury, if the accident had never happened to that teenage boy just trying to cross the street. I wonder, but not for too long. I mostly try to celebrate the wonderful Joe that is still here with us.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Food, Gardens, Shows

It's March. It's March! We are getting an unusual warm front and it feels like spring is really on the way. But before I get all excited about spring, I have to mention a few cool events from the past couple weeks.

First, there was Valentine's Day dinner. My honey and I went downtown to the Hand of God Wines tasting room where they have a dining room for special events. Dinner was an amazing 10-course meal paired with their own red wine as well as some outside white wines and prosecco. Some things we ate: fava bean and cauliflower puree with ceviche scallops, Belgian endives with fennel salmon vodka gravlax, wilted lemon spinach with Malbec and honey drunken figs, bay leaf, cinnamon, and peppercorn.
(Next three photos by Matt Freedman)

It was catered by James Beard award-winning chef Tiberio, who also happens to be my friend and neighbor. He won the James Beard award for his dessert Decadent Crunch Crush and Dolce Mocha. I've eaten with Tiberio enough that he remembered I have an allergy to tree nuts. The dessert is made with hazelnuts, but for this dinner he made a special batch of his amazing dessert with peanuts instead, just for me. It was hands-down the sweetest gesture any one could have done for me on Valentine's Day.
Then that weekend, I went to a surprise birthday party for my cousin in Woodinville. Her sister drove over from Idaho, her two brothers flew in from Austin, and her partner did a stellar job keeping it all a secret, so it was quite the awesome surprise. They are all some of my favorite cousins, plus there were sparkly props and accessories, and lots of cute little kids, making for a great party.
The kids ran around the yard and played while the adults assembled hand-made pizzas and a big salad. Every one came inside just in time for a huge rain storm that turned to hail.
In the evening, I went to my first show at FRED Wildlife Refuge on Capitol Hill. Aptly named  Fhysical Graffiti, the show was an energetic, unique performance of music, dance, group aerials, and video projections.
The next day I finally had the chance to try happy hour at Toulouse Petit which is hailed as one of the top ten Happy Hours in the nation. This elegant cajun/creole restaurant serves up dishes such as rustic duck and pisachio terrine, mussels with saffron and mustard, fried catfish with remoulade, buttermilk-fried chicken bites with tasso-black pepper gravy, spicy lamb sliders, and cajun boudin blanc to name a few. Everything we tried was really really good, though we left feeling a little heavy with all the oil. Then we strolled across the Seattle Center to Chihuly Garden and Glass to see the collection of his art displayed indoor and out.

The following week the Northwest Flower and Garden Show opened at the Convention Center. Being the 25th (silver) anniversary of the show, the theme this year was the Silver Screen. The landscaper I used to work for designed one of the display gardens- A Star Wars, Ewok village-themed edible forest. It was awesome. Apparently the judges of the show thought so too because it won a gold medal!
Besides the beautiful show gardens and multitude of vendors, the show offers all sorts of lectures. I was lucky enough to get to see Amy Stewart speak, aka the Drunken Botanist. Her book by the same title just came out, and she also has an info-packed website. The blurb about the book: "[she] explores the dizzying array of herbs, flowers, trees, fruits, and fungi that humans have, through ingenuity, inspiration, and sheer desperation, contrived to transform into alcohol."

She passed around various plants, talked about tinctures and infusions, and made a couple cocktails. I also got the brilliant idea from her of specifically planting a cocktail garden. Why have I never thought of that before?! So this summer if you come over to my house, I might not have zucchini or tomatoes or carrots, but I will mix you up a fabulous craft cocktail with fresh herbs. Yep, priorities.