working mother support group

I recently had a new co-worker spend part of a day shadowing me on the job. As we were in the car together headed to do a home visit, we began talking about our lives, and found we had so much in common. We are both working full time, supporting husbands who are in school with a major career change and we are both parents of young children.

In short, we are both exhausted, and relieved to find someone else who is in the same situation. It was pretty nice to be able to talk about it with someone who understands. As we talked about the juggling we do on a daily basis, my co-worker said, “sometimes I think about my mother, who was a stay-at-home mom. So much has changed, and my life is so much different than hers was.” I had to agree. My mother worked part time as we were growing up so I’m sure she felt some of the stress that I do. Still, my dad always carried the insurance, brought home the paycheck and spent most of his day at work. I fill that role in my family now. I talked with my co-worker about mommy guilt, about trying to get children up and out the door early in the morning so they can get to daycare and you can get to work on time, about financial stress and trying to balance job responsibilities and family responsibilities. This is hard work, and I feel like I don’t have many other women in my life that I can observe to see how they do it. My upbringing had me surrounded by traditional stay at home moms with husbands who work. When that has been the model you have grown up with, and you find yourself living a life very different from that, it’s hard. It takes major flexibility. It takes reinvention of gender roles. It takes a lot of love, and patience, and time to settle into a routine that works. It takes even more of all of this when you are living far away from your family, with no natural support built in to help when things get really stressful.

For a long time I struggled with this, and I have to admit I still do, at times. I don’t like how frantically busy I feel all the time, but I’m getting used to it. When I start to feel overwhelmed by my life, I hold my head up and say, I am supporting my family. I am providing health insurance, and money to pay the bills. I have a job that provides me with good, meaningful work. I have a wonderful husband who is studying hard to get a degree he really wants. He cooks me delicious meals and takes on the lion’s share of the parenting. I have a happy, healthy daughter who is shuttled between home and preschool and somehow she will survive, even though she is in full time daycare. I may not be able to do all the canning, homesteading, crafting and homemaking I thought I would do, but that’s okay. 

This conversation with my co-worker got me thinking…I need more of these kind of women in my life. It helps so much to talk about what we deal with on a daily basis and how we survive. Any of my readers (oh, the hordes of readers I have! all, what, 10 of you?) know of any such support group? Do you have any tips/words of wisdom to offer?

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sample day-in-the-life

In case you are wondering what I do all day….

Today I drove into work at 8 am and got my assignment for the day. I spent half an hour calling patients and scheduling visits. I left the office around 9 am and drove to my first patient’s home (over 30 miles, an hour drive). This lady has chronic heart and lung disease, had a stroke a few years ago, is oxygen-dependent, and is a diabetic. She still smokes and is trying to quit. Her husband smokes too, and they will try to quit together. They have both done this before, and they told me at one point they had successfully quit for 7 years and then started smoking again. I tell them that quitting smoking is very hard, and I recommend they call the tobacco quitline for tips. I try to encourage them, knowing that it’s going to be an uphill battle.

Drove 5 miles to my second patient’s home. He just got out of the hospital with a GI bleed. He also has chronic heart and lung disease. He is now on 7 liters of oxygen continuously and is very weak. He has a lump in his arm that appears to be a phlebitis from an IV infusion while hospitalized. He has lost 3 pounds while in the hospital and he is starting to look more like a hospice patient. He is constipated (of course–there’s always a constipated patient, every day).  I call his physician to report on his status and get orders for medications. I leave thinking that this man is pretty fragile, and may end up back in the hospital soon.

I get a call at the end of my second visit that my schedule has changed. I was supposed to see a patient who is coming home from the hospital on a new IV medication. The company supplying the medicine won’t be able to get it to her until late today, so she is going to an outpatient infusion center for today’s dose, and I will go to see her tomorrow instead, to teach her caregivers how to do it in the home setting. Instead, I am headed to see a patient with dementia who lives in a boarding home and who was just discharged from the hospital after an admission for abdominal pain, a bowel infection, dehydration and renal failure. I arrive at the home and find that the patient has very advanced dementia and she won’t let me touch her. She doesn’t understand why I’m there and she just sits there and shakes her head “no” at me. I call her son, who is half an hour away. He says he’s coming, and to wait. I sit and wait with her, and review the paperwork from the hospital. The boarding home staff tell me she refuses to eat fairly often, and is also refusing personal care. When the son arrives, I tell him that home health is not going to be successful with his mother due to her dementia, and that forcing her to do it will just make her more agitated. I tell him, gently, that maybe he needs to consider palliative/comfort/hospice care, if he wants to prevent his mother from going to the hospital all the time with dehydration. He is calm when I tell him this but seems uncertain what to do. I call the patient’s doctor’s office to let them know about my visit today.

In the middle of the day I get a call on my cell phone from the police department (!–not a usual part of my day). They have been called to a patient’s home due to a domestic disturbance, and the patient told the police to call me, his home health nurse. This patient has mental health issues, and is a diabetic, and is still living independently. I had to make a referral to Adult Protective Services two weeks ago because his  home environment is unsafe and he can’t manage his own care. Today the patient is asking to go to the ER (he goes to the ER multiple times per week). I call APS again, and talk to his case worker, and beg him to please prioritize this case, as this man is escalating and needs help, fast. The patient tells me he is finally ready to move to assisted living and I am glad to hear this–he really, really needs more help than he is getting right now. The APS caseworker says he will go visit the home later today and see if he can fast-track getting the patient into an assisted living home.

I get to my last patient of the day, a woman who is home from the hospital following a heart attack. When I arrive at the home, her husband tells me they have applied for low-income housing. They live in a mobile home and are both in poor health and he says he wants to move to a place where he doesn’t have to shovel snow. He tells me that low-income housing still means they have to pay $500-$600 per month, and they can’t afford that. His wife tells me they go to the food pantry weekly and she has just applied for food stamps. I offer them the assistance of our social worker, to see if she can help them with resources. I call the doctor to request an order for a social work evaluation.

End of the day, back to the office. I have traveled about 100 miles today and worked 8.5 hours. I did get a short lunch break which was nice. I realize that my day has been more social work than nursing, really, but that’s home health for you. I get a test call at 4:15 pm reminding me that I’m on call tonight. I will keep my cell phone close from 5 pm to 8 am. There is a possibility I’ll be called in the middle of the night for a death visit–we have a hospice patient very close to dying. Tomorrow is another day…

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The weekend of beans

Saturday morning, go to your local farmer’s market. Buy some dry beans, and try to find an interesting variety you’ve never heard before (mine were Vermont Cranberry). Also buy some local bacon, nitrate-free. Go home, and before you go to bed that night, pour two cups of beans into a large pot, and cover with water. Look at how pretty the beans are. Take a picture, and post it to Instagram. Laugh at yourself, because you’ve become one of those annoying people that post food pictures all the time. Thankfully you have friends that love food, too, so they like it anyway.

beans, soaking

The next morning, pour off the soaking water. Add fresh water and heat the beans to boiling. Pour them into a dutch oven with 1/4 lb bacon, salt and pepper, a tablespoon of mustard, an onion and 1/3 cup maple syrup (I used this recipe, with a few alterations–wet mustard instead of dry, didn’t have Grade B maple syrup, only did 2 cups of beans rather than 2 1/4). Slide them into a 300 degree oven, and wait. Wait for many, many hours. Stir the beans, and add water as needed. Taste them. They will be ready in about 6 hours, and they will taste of smoke, and sweet, and earth.

I recently read “Maine Cooking: Old-Time Secrets,” a really wonderful book of food essays by Robert P. Tristam Coffin. If you love reading about regional/local food, I encourage you to find this book and read it. This man loves food and was raised on a saltwater farm in Maine. His mother cooked huge feasts of local food for their family, and he writes so eloquently about the food you almost feel like you are there. Here he is, writing about the traditional Saturday evening bean supper.

“So, for seven hours. You must stand guard in the kitchen and tend to your cosmic work. Pay no attention to the husband or boys of the family who suddenly acquire good manners as the sun gets low and golden toward the end of the day. Let them pinch in with hunger. Mount guard. Feed your beans. So the seven old planets are fed and the stars kept oiled and running in their orbits.

The last time you take off the lid, you leave it off for good. And with a fork you dredge up the chunk of pork, bring it to the surface where it can crust over and brown. Close the oven. Let the fire sink low, and let the unlidded beans brown.  You will have to be a strong character and resist the fragrance now, flowing out like a fragrance from heaven. For the uncovered beans will permeate the kitchen, the house, the neighborhood, the town. People will stop on the street, under the crescent moon or the early evening stars and water will come to their mouths, and tears, even to their eyes. Hardened criminals will become as little children, stop by your house, and well up with forgotten goodness in their beings. People–perfect strangers–will think suddenly they ought to come in and call on you. Resist them all. Lock the kitchen door, if need be. Though hunger grips you and shakes you like a leaf, sit still, ward the closed door of the stove, even to the end of the eighth hour.

When you fling wide the door at last, the beans will be brown as a heap of October acorns, and the pork singed the hue of ripe old mahogany. Dish up the beans now. Bring in the steaming cylinder of brown bread. Call in the family. Untie the small boys. Call the neighbors. Call in strangers and criminals crowding there at your gate. Invite the world! For it is the hour of humanity. It is the Saturday evening hour, the hour that puts the pinnacle on the whole week. The hour of old New England prayer. Threshold to Sunday, the day of peace. The gateway to heaven. The best meal of all New England’s best.”

baked beans are not very pretty

We live on a private dirt road, so there are no neighbors to invite, but I assure you the fragrance here is mouth-watering. And it’s Sunday night, not Saturday, but still, you are all invited, of course, any time.

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You may be a home health/hospice nurse if…

You find yourself saying to a patient, “I’d recommend that you check your blood sugar first thing in the morning, before you smoke marijuana. You should have a clear mind to complete the task.”

When at a patient’s home, you point to the ceiling, where there are tiles falling out and insulation visible, and ask the patient, “what’s going on there?” He answers, “oh, squirrels.”

A few weeks ago you walked into a home and shortly after arriving, the patient’s girlfriend exclaimed, “oh! The dog has a needle.” And yes, the patient had dropped the needle from checking his blood sugar on the floor, and the dog was carrying it around in his mouth. Thankfully it was found before something bad happened.

After a hospice patient dies, you find yourself with the family members, disposing of the liquid morphine. You ask for something to pour it into, like coffee grounds or kitty litter. There isn’t any of either in this home, but someone offers potting soil. As you are pouring it in and mixing it around, you start to laugh with the family about a science experiment. Maybe we should plant something in this soil and see what happens, how it grows! There is a dead woman in the next room, and here you are pouring narcotics into a bucket of dirt.

You can predict someone’s death, usually within a few days. This knowledge kind of scares you but so far you are usually right. The dying process in the last two weeks is pretty predictable. You know the smell of death, and the sound of the death rattle, and the feel of someone’s skin after they die. In a culture so removed from death, this is a rare thing, and you realize you are developing skills that few people have.

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Not quite forgotten

Feeling the need to write again but not sure this is the right forum. I guess I’ll give it a go anyway.

It has been years, friends, and much has happened. We now live in Orono, Maine, in a beautiful little (rented) cottage on a lake. My husband is halfway through his second year of a master’s program at UMaine. I continue working as a home health nurse. My daughter is three and a half years old.

I still cook whenever I can, but these days that’s only on my days off, like today. Today I dropped my daughter off at preschool, voted, and came home. Trying to avoid the political storm that is online, I decided to spend time in the kitchen. I made blueberry frozen yogurt, pumpkin chocolate chip cake, and have plans for a lentil/sausage/kale soup for dinner tonight. 

I’ve been mulling over the best way to use this blog or to get rid of it all together. It’s easy to be on facebook. It’s harder to compose a blog entry, take pictures, upload them and publish a post. I do appreciate good blogs out there and think that I probably don’t have the time and necessary skills to make me a good blogger. Still, I think I enjoy sharing words and food in this setting, so will try to keep up a little more here. I also have been pondering how to share stories from my job. There are so many interesting people and situations that I find myself in on a daily basis through my work, and I think it would be fun to share a little more of that with friends and family. What do you all think?

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I’m menno, he’s gourmet

I don’t have much time to blog these days.  I am back to work full time as of a month ago.  That leaves three hours after work every night to spend time with Miriam before she goes to bed.  Thankfully I can focus on her during that time, because I’m not doing much cooking since my husband is now a full-time stay at home dad!  This is a GREAT arrangement.  He knows what makes me happy, so he has been cooking incredible locally-sourced gourmet meals for me every night.  He takes Miriam to the farmer’s market every Wednesday, and we spend the following week eating up all the good vegetables and local beef we buy there.   A few recent hits have been this chicken and beet dish (I actually like beets, when they are grated, and beet greens are delicious), and this beef and arugula dish (it’s so good we’ve been having it once a week).  Roasted vegetables have been a recent hit–locally grown potatoes, carrots, onions, and beets, tossed with olive oil, dried rosemary, salt and pepper, and roasted in a 450 degree oven until nicely browned.  Miriam even eats beets cooked this way!

On the weekends, I do my share of the cooking.  I’m making bread and yogurt now, to help save a little money.  Miriam eats toast for breakfast and yogurt for lunch almost every day, so we’re going through a lot of both things.  I like taking yogurt for an afternoon snack at work, with a piece of fruit.  I’m making the yogurt in my crockpot which is so Mennonite of me, I know (Mennonites love crockpots, although they use them for potlucks–I think it would be hilarious to bring a crockpot full of yogurt to a potluck!).  🙂  The bread recipe is Hearty Grain Bread from Recipes from the Old Mill (another Mennonite cookbook!).  I slice it and put it in the freezer, and pull out one or two pieces at a time for toast and sandwiches.  It has sunflower seeds, bulgur, wheat bran, oats, and whole wheat flour in it, so I know that it’s good stuff.

Fall is almost here.  The air is a bit chilly, and the fall colors are just starting.  We made cranberry muffins and an apple tart this past weekend.  The cranberries we picked ourselves and the apples are Alaska grown (tiny things, but tasty).  I’m not dreading winter, actually.  I feel more prepared this year.  I feel like I’m settling into a good routine which will keep me going.  How are you preparing for winter, and what keeps you going?

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all the blog posts I keep meaning to write

There’s one potential blog post in my head about what makes a good green salad.  I’m really picky about salads.  Basically, you need fresh, local greens (spinach, mesclun, arugula are my faves), and then you need fruit, nuts, cheese and maybe a vegetable or two.  I like strawberries, green onions, walnuts and goat cheese.  I also like chopped pear, walnut, dried cranberries and goat cheese.  Green salads should be carefully composed so the flavors and textures go well together.  I can’t stand a green salad that is: lettuce, carrot, broccoli, tomato, any vegetable in the fridge.  Yuck.  All the veggies are bitter and the flavors do not mix at all.  I am excited to be eating good salad again now that we have fresh, local greens.

I’ve also been wanting to write about what Miriam is eating these days.  She’s growing fast and eating mostly table foods.  For breakfast she eats Cheerios, toast, and fruit (strawberries, cherries).  Lunch is usually yogurt, with more fruit (peaches, pineapple) and some kind of grain (more Cheerios, maybe some crackers).  Dinner is usually green peas (she LOVES these and will eat maybe half a cup every day), chunks of cheese, fruit, maybe some leftover roast chicken.  She will eat rice and pasta.  She occasionally will eat potatoes and carrots and broccoli, if I happen to be cooking some for dinner.  I probably don’t feed her enough whole grains, and she gets a lot more fruit than vegetables (a reflection of how her parents eat!).  Still, I am amazed at how much she can eat.  Today she ate two pieces of toast while at the babysitter’s!  For a thirteen month old baby who weighs 17 lbs, that’s pretty good.

And then there’s the blog post about salmon being in season here, now that it’s late June!  Yum.  I’ve been buying it once a week at the market, even though I should wait until we go dipnetting next month and then we can eat our own.  But I’m impatient, and the fresh stuff is so good and beautiful.  Tonight we had Copper River Red Salmon with this sauce.

And then a blog post about eating steak.  I have been craving red meat recently, and have gotten in the habit of buying steak once a week (usually I buy whatever cut is on sale).  It’s fun to try new ways to cook it.  Yesterday we had this salad which was easy and delicious.  We also have had this steak with balsamic pan sauce, which is good.  I have some guilt about eating steak–it’s not that good for you, and has a large carbon footprint.  But it tastes so good….

Speaking of guilt, there’s another blog post in the making about how much guilt I have over our grocery bill.  The aforementioned weekly steak and salmon (plus, of course, wine to go with each) and the weekly farmer’s market haul add up to a not insignificant sum.  I love to eat good things, and good things cost money.  I try to make deals in my head–I don’t buy expensive lattes every day, I don’t spend much money on clothes, make-up, or shoes, I usually pack my lunch–but honestly, I could probably use a little restraint, and splurge on the good stuff more like once a month instead of once a week.  My husband likes to indulge me, so he doesn’t help (he also likes to eat steak and salmon weekly so he’s not complaining!).  I also have guilt about becoming a wino–being raised in a family of teetotalers makes me think there’s something wrong if you have wine several times a week with meals.  In France they do it all the time, though, right?  I need to move to France.  They spend a lot of money on food, and don’t feel guilty about it.  They also go to the market almost every day, which is what we’ve been doing lately.  Lots of small grocery trips add up to a bigger grocery bill.

And finally, the blog post about how I don’t blog enough, and I’m despairing that I’ll never really be a good blogger.  Oh well. Now and then I like to share about what I’m cooking and eating, and I don’t have the time or energy to make this into a world-class food blog with gorgeous photos and regular updates two to three times a week.  I still want to work on improving my food photography.  I have to learn some patience so I can stop and take a picture before eating!

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