Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Absence makes the heart grow fonder...

I've not been writing much lately, for which I apologise (I am making a big assumption that anyone actually cares if I write or not, but I'm quite cosy in my dillusion...) There has been a whole lot of stuff going on round here, none of which I can write about. Partly because it's not mine to discuss, and partly because sometimes the words are a struggle- it can just seem too much.

What I can tell you about is Thanksgiving. Our first proper American holiday, which was quite exciting. More exciting than that, we actually had people to spend it with. I'm not sure how much I've written about my LA friend, but I have one. She's funny, whip-smart and cooler than me. I met her through a blog post about women who follow their partners' jobs around the country/world. We have been enjoying 'fun-employment' together. Most importantly, she is an amazing cook, so when the invitation came to go and join her partner and her for Thanksgiving dinner, I jumped at it.

Thanksgiving dinner and left over turkey sandwiches. yum yum yum. source

We ate proper turkey dinner. perfectly cooked turkey, smashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, stuffing, pecan pie. Being in California, we had Kale, a vegetable I had only seen on Pintrest up til now... I made Cranachan since we had to inject something a little Scottish into it, and everyone drank wine and watched the american football and listened to the stories of their friend who was very LA- the type who talks about their work in the movie industry and engages in the type of self promotion that makes British toes curl. 

It was nice, we didn't sit round a table and discuss what we were thankful for or anything cheesy like that, for which my British-ness is very grateful, but it felt so nice to realise we are actually settling down here, building a life. And for that, I am very thankful.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

I can cook! (or, the yummiest beans you'll ever eat)

If you know me well at all, you are thinking: "oh God, she can't cook, why is she lying?"

Being a housewife (there's no point in pretending, that's just what I am) means that if I want to eat before 8pm, and I usually do, I have to make dinner. Husband gets in too late for me to wait for him to make something. We were really conscious how fat we could potentially get living in the US but miraculously, neither of us have put ANY weight on, mostly because you get sick of junk food eventually, but also because I started really caring about cooking.* I really wanted to try and make something bean-based as a way to get better carbs than the usual pasta, potatoes and bread.**

The bean recipe is really easy and I can totally account for its full-proof-ness (that is totally a word...)

Image by Scott Bauer, for the Agricultural Research Service, USDA

Martha Stewart's Pinto Beans
'Adapted' somewhat from Martha Stewart Living magazine, Nov 2012

400g Pinto Beans
'Stock' veggies- I used a couple of carrots, celery, a few cloves of garlic and half a large onion
Olive oil
4 teaspoons of salt

1. Soak the beans (I didn't know how to do this either, but Martha says either put them in a bowl of water in the fridge overnight, or just boil them for one minute, then take them off the heat and let them sit, covered, for an hour. I used the quick method, obviously, and it worked.) Don't drain the water they soak in. 
2. Add your 'stock' veggies.
3. Add water to cover the beans by about 3 inches, add a splash of olive oil and the salt, then simmer until soft (but not falling apart.) Martha says 30-45 minutes, I call bullshit. Mine took an hour at least.

Done! Then you have tasty tasty beans to do with as you wish. I froze mine in little tupperware tubs and then just stick them in things as I want. We've eaten them in a tomato type dish, and then at the weekend I made this- the most amazing white chilli soup recipe ever. The beans were perfect in it. I think Tacos with these instead of refried beans are next on the agenda. 

One day, when I have mentally recovered enough, I shall tell the story of the time I made Nigella's Chilli Jam. It's still too soon. 

*Still eat super noodles some nights, I'm not going to lie.
**I no longer can eat rice thanks to a dose of food poisoning two years ago. I don't really miss it to be honest, I was never really a fan and I cannot cook it properly. Seriously, it always turns out crap.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Learning from tragedy

There's a page I have followed for the last few weeks on Facebook, updated by a family who have a little boy named Caden. He's 6 and they live just outside Glasgow. Caden went from being a bit unwell to having Meningococcal Septicaemia in a few hours. He has been in Intensive Care at Yorkhill hospital for the last 3 weeks. Caden has lost both his legs and one of his arms to this disease. His body only functions when he is pumped full of drugs, and when machines and technology do almost all of the work. He is as sick as it is possible to be. His dad posts updates every day of how he is doing, how his brothers are coping, of what it is like to feel the depths of pain and heights of elation every single day.

His dad is so eloquent, explains his pain and vulnerability in terms that break your heart and make you want to read more simultaneously. I cry at his updates most days. One of the most incredible things about Caden's dad's posts, aside from his astonishing strength, is the insight he is able to give into how families feel when they are at the bedside in hospital. For nurses, this is an astonishingly frank lesson in how we work with our families.

I have seen parents cope with a child in hospital in hundreds of different ways. Some get angry and shout and blame someone (usually the GP), some cry relentlessly, some are grey, detached and silent (for some reason I worry about them the most), some are cheerful and practical until a reasonable time approaches for them to fall apart. I have never really been able to understand, only offer whatever comfort I could (9 times out of 10 this involves a hug, then babysitting long enough to let them get a cup of tea in peace). Caden's family have granted us access into the mindset of the family of a seriously ill child, to understand what is required of us and how we should go about it. 

I feel like these posts signpost how to be a better nurse. To listen, to show kindness and love to my patients, to be calm and chatty and sociable but understand when a family needs silence. To treat my patient like their child- an individual with a history and a future. To be unshakable when all around is crumbling. It seems like such a herculean task but I know nurses (and support workers and domestics and students) who do this everyday. I want to be someone who can provide excellent care to a family, no matter how dark the journey.

I shall continue to say a prayer for Caden, his family and his amazing team at Yorkhill each day. They desperately need it.

UPDATE- sadly Caden passed away in his parents' arms on the 20th November. All thoughts with his family, friends and the staff who will have grown to love him in his time at Yorkhill.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Politics as the personal...

Back in the olden days, when I was a politics student, I became obsessed with the American partisan politics. I came to university off the back of Bush winning the electoral college and Gore winning the popular vote. We were living in policy dictated by September 11th. It was an incredibly interesting time to watch the US. It was all too easy to lambast Bush for having the diplomacy skills of a warthog, to call the Right-Wing 'crazy' and generally feel a bit smug. 

I wrote my dissertation on the American Right. I'd spent a lot of time in Texas in a house that ran Fox News in the background constantly. It was fascinating. It was also more than a little scary to listen to the views of people I otherwise liked and respected, especially when it came to those less fortunate than themselves. I was horrified by the casual way they referred to the death penalty, the uninsured and the vulnerable.

Now I live here, it is safe to say I am hardcore liberal. I find it hilarious that we have a bumper-sticker on our car supporting a man who sits CONSIDERABLY right of the Tories, but here I am. I even made a (very small) contribution to the Democratic Party. The majority of my friends (throughout the world) think just like me. We are people who believe in high taxation, strong government and equality at all costs. Some of my friends are the complete opposite. One of the biggest issues America now faces is trying to repair the damage extremely partisan  (and long. Good God has it been long) campaigning has done. After being so vicious during the race, how on earth do you sit down and compromise on big decisions? With a mixed house, senate and president, compromise is essential for tackling big issues that are rapidly approaching.

I heard a bit of last week's 'This American Life' whilst in the car, and they were discussing a family ripped apart by politics- two sisters who could no longer speak to each other. The conservative sister said something that shocked me: "I think liberals are selfish, because they don't want to bother themselves to help anyone, they just want the government to do it." You could have knocked me over with a feather. I never would have thought someone thought that about us. I realised I thought the complete opposite. I have always viewed conservatives as selfish- unwilling to lose a penny of their own money to help other people, thinking that poverty, violence, poor health and disadvantage are the problem of those who suffer them. I thought that they would only help people in a way that didn't inconvenience them more than they wanted. 

The pundit then challenged the woman, he said "Try presuming no-one is actually selfish." It challenged me too. It made me want to engage in better conversations with people with different views than mine. To understand without trying to persuade. This is perhaps the single biggest challenge facing the US right now. To understand, without trying to persuade. 

It's hard. I have 'unfollowed' someone on Twitter I know in real life during this election. Their views annoyed me, but beyond that their dialogue was personal and offensive (not to me specifically, just about liberals in general). Is that someone I could talk to without trying to change their mind? Maybe not about politics, but I hope I can change their mind about us liberal types...

Monday, 5 November 2012

The old college try...

The start of this story goes that I am still somewhat under the weather. I have a GP appointment using our seriously swanky health insurance tomorrow. When you don't feel 100%, the thought of driving to Pasadena for an american football game doesn't really appeal. 

We went and it was fun. Up til now, my experiences of american sports have been baseball-based. I love the baseball. I love going to a Dodgers game and seeing the ordinary people who live in LA, not the plastic, orange people or the students who take themselves too seriously (I'm looking at you, UCLA Law. Every single one of you I've encountered is kind of a douche.) Instead, it's the working class, people who do everyday jobs in an everyday manner. The baseball is a friendly, funny crowd who don't take anything too seriously. You drink a beer and eat hot dogs and shout at the umpires. There are always hundreds of children in the crowd, little girls with blue ribbons in their hair and boys who run around with oversized mitts on their hands.

Dodgers v Rockies, September 2012

The football was nothing like this. The Rose Bowl, where UCLA play, is 45 minutes (on a good day) away from the campus. You are expected to drive in the afternoon, 'tailgate' (eat BBQ and drink) until the game starts at night. The car park was a golf course. A golf course covered in broken glass and burnt patches by the time we arrived at 7pm. We missed the first touchdown walking from the 18th hole back to the stadium- it was so far away. I was tired by the time we got there. Everyone was WASTED. I don't think I can overstate this enough. There were pools of vomit all around the stadium. Automatically this felt more like home- as any Edinburgh resident can attest to, it's not really Sunday morning unless you're dodging vomit puddles. People screamed and shouted. Middle aged men with battered baseball caps high-fived one another, made mad hand actions and downed more beers. It was brilliant. The Arizona fans shouted and sang and argued with the UCLA fans that surrounded them in some drunken, good natured banter.

The RoseBowl. Image courtesy of husband's instagram
Then it was half time and I was cold and tired and not feeling very good. UCLA were winning by miles. We watched the marching band and flag girls and cheerleaders perform their half-time show for a little while then started the half hour hike back to the car. I'd go back, but I'll definitely need a beer or four.