I see dead people

In looking through WordPress statistics, I note that among my most-read posts are paeans to somewhat famous people (Bruce Gordon and Robert Ruck) I have known.

Bruce Gordon was a graduate of the Art Institute of Chicago. He studied framebuilding with the great Albert Eisentraut and then brought an artist’s eye to the building of bicycle frames and components. He designed one of my bikes (the “Hikari”), though it was built in a factory in Japan. When it was damaged by UPS, I took it to him for repairs so I had a chance to talk with him. He said the repair would cost more than it was worth and I could continue to ride it, as the damage was inconsequential, or I could buy his new bike (the “Rock ‘n’ Road”) which he called a better bike and was built in-house. Thirty two years after that conversation, I’m still riding the Hikari. I rode it today before I wrote this. With wider tires it could handle the off-road portions of the Spanish ride I posted the other day.

Robert Ruck designed and built classical and flamenco guitars. An issue with acoustic guitars is volume – how do you design and construct a guitar that is loud enough to be heard in a concert hall without amplification and still produce a quality tone? Bob experimented with ports in the upper bout and different bracing styles to improve both. I never owned one of his guitars. I knew him because we studied and taught Tai Chi together for years.

The other category near the top is the series of COVID-19 posts. I guess that one is less surprising, as I spent a couple of years on the front lines and then got the disease myself. There are too many of those posts to provide all of the links. If you really want to read them, you can enter “COVID” in the search box and WordPress will take you there. (I just did that and it gave me 16 pages of results. WordPress is a bit liberal and inconsistent when it comes to finding connections. I did the search a second time and the list shrunk to 11 pages with the first hit semi-relevant. The list is not just the posts in which I tagged COVID-19, so I don’t know how WordPress’ algorithm works. I linked to my first post after getting the disease, the post from working in the ICU which generated a bunch of comments including an indirect death threat from an anti-vaxxer, and the one that WordPress tells me was the most-read on the topic.)

The final category that hits near the top are posts in response to/inspired by some other blogger. One could argue that WordPress/the blogging world is a community in print, or a closed loop, or self-referential. Take your pick. Other bloggers inspire me to think about things that I might not otherwise think or write about. (Which makes me think of Matthew Harrison Brady in “Inherit the Wind”: “I do not think about…things I do not think about.”)

Finally, in a sign that I may have too much time on my hands, I found that this blog has been read in 78 countries and all continents except Antarctica. I’m blown away by that. The reach of the internet is phenomenal. If people all over the world are reading the ramblings of a half-fast bicyclist, how far do actually significant words travel? And if you know anyone in Antarctica, ask them to read this so I can add the last continent. Maybe the ISS, too 😉

And that brings us to the end of the year and the first six months of retirement.

Burn off that pie!

This is a beautiful ride through the Spanish countryside. It is shot in HD with good depth of field so you can look at the scenery and read the road signs. I found it closer to reality when I ran it at ¾ speed. Martha didn’t warn me that we’d leave the pavement and ride a very rough road (though that’s obvious from the still you see here, as are the cattle perilously close to the road edge and the dropoffs). Part of me wanted to slow down and pick a line through the rocks and ruts and wish I was on a different bike…but when it’s virtual, you can ride on anything. She also didn’t warn me that I’d have to slow down to pick my way through hikers I met along the way. Eventually you get where you don’t see any more people or vehicles and realize that IRL you’d want to be prepared for fixing flats, making emergency repairs, or changes in weather. Best of all, your trainer doesn’t have to be any smarter than you are and you don’t have to pay a subscription fee.

When you ride virtually, music comes in handy. David Grisman’s “Acoustic Christmas” doesn’t have to be restricted to Christmas – Dawg music is good anytime.

“Yule Struttin'” features Blue Note jazz artists. Some of it is a bit Christmasy for other times of year, but much of it is just good jazz. The best link was taken down. The current link is a bit odd, in that the same piano intro and outro are added to several cuts. If you can get past that, the pieces appear to be intact.

I was remiss in failing to include a photo of the last pie. I didn’t take any, but here are prior photos of Carson Gulley’s Fudge Bottom Pie:

[WordPress has taken to providing daily prompts, which I ignore. Today they asked “Have you ever been in a car accident?” I couldn’t help but comment here that the term “accident” implies something without responsibility. Since many motor vehicle crashes are due to intoxication and/or driver error, I prefer the neutral term “crash”. That is now the preferred term in many hospital trauma departments.]

Christmas Pie

Without a lot of fruit available in the winter in these parts, winter pies are a different animal. Two pies made the cut this year. One has a back story and the other came to me like a Great British Bake-off Technical Challenge, meaning the recipe was incomplete. It took multiple tries to get it where I wanted it.

Riding a bike burns calories. You need to replace them somehow…and you need some other interests in life. Why not bake?

Carson Gulley’s Fudge Bottom Pie

Carson Gulley (1897-1962) was the head chef for the University of Wisconsin from 1926-1954 after being recruited from a northwoods resort. He hosted an early TV cooking show, possibly the first with an African American host. When he was unable to find housing near the university, they built him an on-campus apartment. He eventually integrated a Madison, WI neighborhood after the co-operative association voted to allow him to buy land. It took over 20 years to find a place to build a house. He became active in the NAACP and was instrumental in the eventual passage of a fair housing ordinance.

His fudge bottom pie became legendary and here is the recipe:

Crust – preheat oven to 350 degrees F
1 cup graham cracker crumbs
¼ cup powdered sugar
⅓ cup melted butter (salted butter works fine here)

Mix ingredients together, press into an 8″ pie pan and bake for 5 minutes at 350 degrees (F). Set aside while you make the filling. (The easiest way to make graham cracker crumbs is in a food processor. It takes slightly less than one sleeve of crackers to make a cup.)

2 cups milk
1 cup sugar
2 Tablespoons cornstarch
4 eggs, separated
1 Tablespoon gelatin, softened in ¼ cup cold water (it usually comes in powdered form in the US)
1 ¼ oz baking chocolate (I increase this to 2 oz to make a thicker fudge layer)
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar

Heat milk in double boiler. Blend cornstarch with ½ cup of the sugar. Pour some of the hot milk into the sugar/cornstarch mixture to moisten well, then add it back to the milk in the double boiler. Separate eggs, beat yolks. Add some of the milk mixture to the eggs, beat again, then add this back to the milk mixture on the stove. Cook, stirring constantly, until thick and smooth and it coats the spoon. Add the gelatin, stir in well to remove lumps, remove from heat and allow to cool. (I pour it into a bowl so my double boiler is available for the next step.)

Melt chocolate in double boiler. Add a cup of the hot custard to the chocolate. (I increase this to about 1 ½ cups for a thicker fudge layer.) Remove from heat and allow to cool. When chocolate is cool but not stiff, and the regular custard is cool, beat the egg whites with cream of tartar. When they hold soft peaks, gradually add the remaining ½ cup sugar and beat until stiff. Fold into the cooled plain custard.

Pour the cooled chocolate custard over the crust. Pour the custard/egg white mixture over the top. (It will stand up pretty high.) Refrigerate overnight, or at least several hours. To serve, top with whipped cream (it will now be a towering creation) and grate or shave chocolate on top. (I find a darkish chocolate [50-60% cacao) best, but use your own taste.)

Pumpkin-Pecan Pie with Bourbon Custard Sauce

This is said to have been “inspired by” Paul Prudhomme. I don’t know whose recipe it was. The recipe did not mention crust, nor a baking temperature. After multiple tries and finding the crust burning before the filling set, I tried it as a crustless pie and it worked. It also specifies different sizes of eggs for different parts of the recipe. I ignored that.

If you can’t decide whether to make pumpkin or pecan, or you find pecan pie a bit too sweet, this makes a good combo. And there is nothing like a bit of booze to cut through the sweetness. A cup of coffee wouldn’t hurt, either.

Pumpkin filling
1 cup pumpkin pureé (e.g. canned pumpkin, but you will not need the whole can)
¼ cup brown sugar
2 Tablespoons white sugar
1 egg
1 Tablespoon heavy cream
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter, softened (I find melting works better, as it is hard to blend the softened butter fully)
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
1 pinch of allspice
1 pinch of nutmeg (For those who need precision, try ⅛ tsp of each. If you do much baking, a nutmeg grater is a great purchase and it is easy to grate fresh each time for the best aroma.)

Blend the pumpkin and the sugars. Add the cream, butter, and spices. Beat the egg until frothy and stir in well. Set aside.

Pecan filling
¾ cup white sugar
¾ cup dark corn syrup (or syrup of your choice. I usually use a mix of dark corn syrup and maple syrup. You could use agave or rice syrup, or some light corn syrup in the mix. Use what you have. If you use molasses or sorghum, make sure you mix it with a sweeter syrup.)
2 eggs
1 ½ Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 pinch (⅛ tsp) salt
1 pinch (⅛ tsp) cinnamon
¾ cup pecan pieces (don’t use pecan halves without breaking)

Mix the sugar and syrup. Beat the eggs and add to the sugar mixture. Add remaining ingredients, pecans last.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F

Pour the pumpkin mix into a pie pan and level it. Gently pour the pecan syrup mixture on top. It may bubble over a bit while baking, so a pie drip pan will be helpful (or place pie pan on a cookie sheet). Bake until a knife inserted in filling comes out clean. Check it after 1 ½ hours. I have found 300-325º works best. It may take 1 ¾ hours but always check earlier.

Allow pie to cool while you prepare the custard.

Bourbon custard sauce
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
⅓ cup sugar
1 egg
1 ½ teaspoons hot water
¼ cup heavy cream
¼ cup Bourbon (I discovered Scotch works fine) or other whisky

Melt butter in double boiler over gently simmering water. Beat sugar and egg together and add to the melted butter. Add the water and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture coats the back of a spoon. This takes about 7 minutes and you will wonder what this means until it suddenly becomes obvious. (If the water is boiling furiously you will end up with scrambled eggs instead of custard.) Remove from heat and cool to room temperature. Add cream and whisky. Mix well. Pour the custard over the individual pie slices to serve. You will have leftover custard. The alcohol has not been cooked off, so this will pack a punch. At room temperature this will be thin and pourable. Refrigerated, it will be thick enough to spoon.

A Modest Proposal

…and I don’t mean that in the Swiftian sense. About 30 years ago, I had an idea. I talked with a few people about it and it didn’t go anywhere. I was a bit busy, having just moved halfway across the country, having a new baby, starting school to embark on a new career, and being broke from trying to live on worker’s comp and then short-term disability after a spate of on the job injuries and illness. The specific opportunity is long gone – the two parcels of land I had in mind have become an apartment complex and a city park.

But I still stand by the general idea and two books I read this month brought it back to the foreground. The books were “Every Deep-drawn Breath” by Dr Wes Ely, and “David Couper: Beyond the Badge” by Rob Zaleski.

Ely is a pulmonologist (lung doctor) with a degree in public health. His specialty is critical care and, more specifically, the delirium that arises from how we treat people in intensive care units. He has found life-long cognitive disability arising from what we used to call “ICU psychosis” and which we used to think was normal and temporary. We didn’t really think about or look at the life people were left with – the focus was on keeping them alive at all costs. The unmeasured costs included unemployment and suicide. Families scrambled to care for loved ones who could no longer care for themselves. One of the reasons I became a therapist and not a doctor is that I got to spend time with my patients. Dr. Ely seems to have found a way to spend time with his patients and stay involved in their lives after discharge.

David Couper was a cop. He was chief of police in my hometown for many years, and an early proponent of community policing. He retired from the force to become an Episcopal priest. While at first blush those two professions seem to have nothing in common, he is a man who believes in a life of service and he saw those as two branches along that path. As chief he had posters of Martin Luther King, Jr and Mohandas Gandhi on his office wall. The book is a wide-ranging discussion about his life and thoughts and, like any talk with someone who is old and has been touched by death, alights on the question of how we choose to spend our last days. (In the final interview, he suggests his epitaph might be “Maybe he wasn’t such an asshole after all.”)

Many people, if asked, would say they never want to end up in a “nursing home”. Many of those have difficulty distinguishing between a short-term rehab facility and a long-term care facility. Most of us don’t know the terminology nor the options until life sneaks up on us and leaves us no choice but to talk about it. Getting old, getting sick, dying…those are things we like to ignore for as long as possible – especially if we are the sort that reads bicycling or other fitness blogs.

Care of our youngest and oldest are among the more poorly-paid fields in the United States. (The mean annual income for child care workers was $27,680 per the Bureau of Labor Statistics in May of 2021. For “Personal Care and Service Workers” it is about the same.) We want good child and elder care but we don’t want to pay for it. We’d much rather pay for B-21 bombers (at ~$700 million/each) and F-35 fighters (>$100 million each). Lifetime costs are estimated at $1.3 trillion for the F-35. (Figures from armscontrolcenter.org and airandspaceforces.com). That’s a lot of caregivers.

I came of age personally and professionally in the world of co-operatives – businesses owned jointly by the people who use them. I worked in and managed a grocery co-operative that was owned by and served thousands. I lived in a house jointly owned by half-a-dozen of us who lived there (plus those who had lived there previously and still had shares). I later managed a housing co-operative jointly owned by 79 families. As a limited-equity co-op, owners were guaranteed a modest return on investment when they left, and the cost to buy into the co-op for a new member was kept affordable. Monthly costs were about ⅓ of market rate.

I saw a model of elder care (for those who can afford it) that provided a continuum of care. My mom lived in one of those. She lived in her own 2 bedroom apartment and initially did her own cooking and cleaning. She had the option of meals in a restaurant on site. When she went into a hospital, she could discharge to a rehab center on site until she was ready to return to her apartment. If she couldn’t care for herself in her apartment she could move into assisted living, where she would have her own room and bathroom, with meals and housekeeping services provided. If she needed a higher level of care, she could move into the long-term care facility with round-the-clock care. This all came, of course, with significant cost. To get in you signed a “life lease” for hundreds of thousands of dollars. When you died, your heirs would get a fraction of that and the person taking your place would pay a multiple of that. And then there were the monthly fees. The more services you used, the more you paid.

I envisioned a co-operative model. Lots of us had grown up with the grocery co-op I helped start when I was 21. Lots of us were still in the neighborhood 20 years later when the idea came to me. Most of us still didn’t want to think about getting old. I was weird – I had proposed a pension plan at the co-op in my 20s, when no one else could imagine working there into their 30s or 40s.

I saw this vacant land within easy walking distance of the grocery co-op. What if we bought that land for a co-op? We could build accessible housing (since I’d moved from the co-ops to the building trades to occupational therapy, this was right up my alley). We could build in a continuum of care; or rough out the buildings and develop them as we aged if we couldn’t afford the whole project at once, starting with independent apartments in a co-housing model. We could walk to get our groceries. We could own this jointly and eliminate the profit-motivated middleman.

I talked to a few people who either saw it as a pipe dream or thought it was fine if I could pull it together. The folks who were in a position to pull it together weren’t interested and I wasn’t in a position to pull it together. Now we’re old. Some of my friends pooled their funds for a co-housing community. It seems to be a nice, inter-generational place but has no real services for aging-in-place as far as I know.

So I’m tossing this idea out there to the world at large. When I teach my course in trauma care I toss out several ideas for studies I’d like to see done but am not in a position to do. I offer the ideas to anyone who might want to pursue a doctorate and needs a topic for a dissertation. To the best of my knowledge, no one has done them yet. In that same spirit I offer this to anyone who wants to build a co-operative, continuum-of-care senior housing community. Just let me know if you do it so I can come and visit.