Saturday, December 13, 2008

A sad, sad Day....

Lauren Chapin, RIP

For a couple of years there, the most common sight I had of Lauren Chapin, our newspaper's restaurant critic since 2000, was of her head and hand. The one in the photo, I think. They would appear in the doorway of my office long enough for her to pull the door shut. I was, at the time, the second-loudest employee in the features department (with the departure of Hearne Christopher, I can now claim that dubious honor, I guess), and Lauren had the misfortune of being stationed just outside my office.

I had a terrible flashback to that on Tuesday as I was trying to conduct a phone interview. From outside my office I suddenly heard a loud and awful noise, the sound of uncontrollable and unapologetic sobbing. It was my officemate, Lisa Gutierrez, who -- I knew instantly -- had just received some very bad news about Lauren. As everyone on my floor knew, Lauren had been lying in a coma in St. Luke's Hospital after collapsing the day before from an aneurysm wrapped in something known as AVM. I'll admit at times like this, I actually wish I were more in touch with my feelings, like Lisa is. I would've clicked the phone shut and worried about my interview later. Instead, I shut the door.

I came out to find my department in the throes of grief. Two long days passed. Finally, this morning, I read the inevitable news about Lauren's death in today's paper.

And then, I went back and read some of her clips to reconnect one last time with that voice that had spoken so forcefully and beautifully about food (I've reprinted three of them below) ... and that's when the emotions percolated up for me.

A few years ago at a holiday party, we had a long conversation about her childhood, growing up rural like my wife, and the circuitous route she took to daily journalism. Lauren was in her mid-40s when The Star offered her the restaurant assignment, by which time she'd had the opportunity to see the world, see two daughters through their first years and pursue a creative career. All of which, I think, prepared her marvelously for rating the handiwork of culinary artisans, managing childish restaurateurs, and thinking about what few of us ever stop to think about, which is how that concoction on our plate got there.

Along with Jill Silva, our food editor, Lauren turned the Star into one of the nation's foremost advocates of local produce and one of the top food sections anywhere. She published annual guides to community-supported agriculture co-ops that readers could join, and long before it was fashionable was an ardent supporter of whole foods that didn't take a quart of oil to make it to your tabletop.

Lauren was also unusual among well-educated urban critics of cuisine in that she kept, right up to the end, one boot firmly planted in the world she inhabited and formed her most visceral food memories. Often she would take a humdrum piece about seasonal food and, by introducing it with something from her memory bank, would make it special. Like this story about grapes from September 10, 2008. (Warning: Have a Kleenex ready.)

A lot of what I know about driving on gravel, I learned from Arthur.

He was a cousin of sorts, a few times removed, who lived down the road, over the Doherty bridge, past Bean Lake and the Johnson farm (also cousins of some degree) and a few hundred yards before Dinger and Lidia's house (and yes, they were relatives, too). He was a fixture of my childhood, one of a handful of elderly kin who inhabited my world.

You see, Arthur Johnson drove down the middle of the road in his blue, four-door American-made tank of a car, oblivious to any sense of danger to or from oncoming traffic or right lane-left lane regulations. And I learned, mostly by heart-stomping, fish-tailing encounters, to always assume he was coming straight at me from around any blind bend in the road.

Sometimes, if the roads were dry enough and the winds high enough, you could see his trail, dust rising from his back tires like a rolling mushroom cloud. Most times, any of us on the road hugged the far side, careful to maneuver the left tires on the high, loosey-goosey hump of gravel heaped in the center.

Too far to the right and you might end up in the ditch, pulled into a quagmire of loose, tire-sucking dirt. Thanks to Arthur, I learned to be prepared for who - or what - may be just beyond my eyesight.

He was a widower who lost his wife long before I was born and a gardener with a trellised row of Concord grapes - juicy, seeded jelly grapes with thick, dusky skins and squishy, opalescent centers.

One smoldering September day he delivered a bushel basket of those grapes to my mother. She, in turn, transformed the tart fruit into jelly, enough to slather on toast and sandwiches to feed her four children for a year.

I doubt any of us helped with the jelly-making process - squishing the grapes in the colander; measuring out sugar and pectin and boiling the sugared juice until the liquid began to set; ladling the hot, purple goo into sterilized glasses; and processing them in a hot water bath.

I still drive those gravel roads as if Arthur were just around the bend, even though he passed two decades ago. And now I'm the one making grape jelly for children who are as oblivious as I was that some of the life lessons come from just around the bend.

Like any good critic, Lauren was no snob and thoroughly embraced the down-home fare Kansas City is justly celebrated for. (Like me, she preferred Oklahoma Joe's pulled pork.) On August 7 she wrote:

In my book, a diner isn't a diner unless it does real corned beef hash.

Chunks of house-cured corned beef mixed up with bits of potatoes and spices and griddled until the outsides are blissfully browned and crunchy.

Add a couple of eggs, a side of toast or a biscuit, and if you're on the East Coast, maybe a spoonful of baked beans. The eatin' doesn't get much better than that.

Sadly, most of the stuff that passes for hash is pablum - pre-fab, canned stuff not fit to be called hash.

Thank heavens for Ira Auerbach and Jan Imber, owners of Mama's 39th St. Diner. The honest-to-goodness, made-from-scratch hash ($8.99) has made Auerbach, a gravelly voiced Jersey native, a homegrown Food Network star.

Hosted by Guy Fieri, "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives" spent 17 hours filming at Mama's, including the labor-intensive brine-to-griddle process for making the hash.

Auerbach brines a brisket overnight in a spiced salt-water bath, then cooks it over low heat for four hours. For the hash, the staff chops up the corned beef and adds finely diced cooked potatoes and some secret ingredients.

Each order is griddled on the flat top until the surfaces are blissfully browned and crunchy.

But as someone who mainly eats at home (though I do love breakfast at Mama's, and now I know why), I was struck most by Lauren's writing about the pleasures of the edibles in her garden. The genre of writing about food is not one that can be done long-term unless it's infused with passion. People's careers often hang in the balance of what you write; snark, the web's commodity, is simply an inappropriate response. Fortunately, Lauren had deep reserves of passion about food, I think because she had such a hands-on relationship with it in its pre-ingredient stage. October 2007:

My favorite garden spider, leggy, black and yellow, is missing.

The web she'd strung from tomato plant to ironweed to tomatillo and back to tomato plant is asymmetrical and misshapen, evidence that the spider, a fastidious housekeeper, is gone. And the grasshoppers, which all summer chewed and clawed their way through my beans and beets, are silent.

Fall has barely arrived, and I've pulled out most of the straggly, heat-loving crops of summer - the peppers, the eggplants and the beans. But my tomatoes, droopy and wizened from the drought, are still in place. A few green tomatoes, small and hard but edible, are still on the vine, and until I pick the vines clean and the killing frost comes, I can't bear to pull them from their beds.

I like this time in the garden - the quiet, the coolness in the soil, the musky smell of decay, the promise of a respite from the weeding and hoeing and harvest ing. Those green tomatoes are the last thing I'll pick until spring's greens.

Several of Lauren's organs were donated. I don't know what organs they are (besides her heart), nor do I want to. But the thought that any body part that was involved in the sensual intercourse of seeing, smelling and tasting the food of life -- the thought that these parts of Lauren are now in someone else, infusing their broken bodies with that same pleasure, is tremendously comforting.


Restaurant critic Lauren Chapin dies

Lauren Chapin, The Star’s restaurant critic for the last eight years, died Wednesday at St. Luke’s Hospital in Kansas City.

Chapin, who recently turned 50, collapsed while working out on Monday and had been at St. Luke’s since then. Her death was caused by a ruptured aneurysm that developed within an AVM, or arteriovenous malformation, at the base of her brain, family members said.

Brain AVMs, a tangle of abnormal blood vessels, are rare and usually congenital.

Chapin lived in Liberty with her husband, Timothy Finn, The Star’s pop music critic, and their two daughters, Brenna, 16, and Maren, 14.

Chapin’s restaurant columns have appeared in the newspaper’s weekly Preview section and articles and other features ran frequently in the weekly Food section, now FYI/Food.

In 2005, Chapin was a finalist for the James Beard Foundation award for best newspaper columns, the Oscar of food journalism.

“This is a profoundly sad and difficult day at The Star,” the newspaper’s editor, Mike Fannin, said Thursday. “We will miss her talents and surely her amazing spirit. We have lost one of our bright lights. And now, our prayers are with the family.”

Chapin was widely respected in the local food community, and news of her hospitalization and death spread quickly among chefs, restaurant operators and wine purveyors.

In an essay in 2002, Chapin described the “food epiphany” she experienced at the age of 11. She spent the day in the mud pulling potatoes with her siblings, parents and grandparents at the farm in Rushville, Mo., north of Weston, that had been in her family since 1887.

“I made my first deep connection between food and family,” she wrote. “It kindled my passion for food and all its cultural symbolism. It’s what led me to this coveted job as restaurant critic.”

Chapin was the oldest of Loren “Corky” and Rosamond Chapin’s four children. Her brother, John Chapin, of Rushville, and two sisters, Kristan Easter-Brown of Kearney and Robyn Cado of Kansas City, survive, as do her parents, who still live on the farm.

Her father’s job as a mechanic with TWA gave her and her siblings a ticket to see the world. Chapin, who graduated from the University of Missouri, visited China and Japan and one winter break during college back-packed across Europe.

In her journeys she formed a global outlook and well-earned experience in ethnic cuisines of the world.

“Food is about more than sustenance,” she wrote in that essay six years ago. “It is about culture and customs, all those things I learned traveling as I did.”

She often wrote of her travels in her reviews, as when she recalled falling in love with Baileys Irish Cream while studying one year at Oxford University. “One sip of that sweet, smoky, creamy, chocolaty aperitif, and I didn’t feel the English chill anymore. Another sip and I was smitten.”

Finn said his wife was an adventurer: “She just had a real lust for new things and new places and new friends.”

She earned a master’s degree in writing, publishing and literature at Emerson College in Boston, where she also gained practical restaurant-world experience.

Starting in the late 1980s she worked as a freelance photographer. She taught photography at William Jewell College in the mid-1990s and for about 10 years she worked as a freelance photographer alongside The Star’s society editor, Laura Hockaday.

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Hospitalized yet again!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Hi Everyone!

Thanks for tuning in! I need all of you so much and appreciate your love, prayers and support - that gives me the strength to go on! I'm thinking of you especially David Miller! Lets see ... where did this latest adventure start ..., Oh yeah, last week I was having a hard time keeping my pain level under control. I knew I needed to get in to see the doctor, and the soonest I was given an appt. was the following Tuesday with Tammy, Dr. Boyntons Phys. Asst. Tammy is great and she loves seeing my little Saba when I have an appt. Come Monday I was desperate to get in to see the doctor and called the office and was lucky Dr. Boynton had a work in that morning. I didn't know whether the small amount of puffiness under my left eye and the pain in my ear area (that little "flap" above the earlobe was soooo tender - ouch!!!) was being caused by a stubborn infection that wouldn't go away or what! All I knew was I needed help and relief immediately! Dr. Boynton gave me a choice of starting w/oral antibiotics or admitting me to the hospital and getting IV antibiotics which of course would be the quickest way to get things going! Mom had come with me to this appt. and I had my two bears, Saba and Rulon and I have to say say that Tammy stopped by the exam room I was in just to see Saba and she had not met Rulon yet! Most of the doctors staff commented on my darling furry kids! Anyway, back to my story! Mom and I had lunch and I went home, took a shower and packed a bag and headed to Dr.'s Regional to be admitted. Mom had gone home to get her crocheting and stayed with me until Mark was able to get to the hospital after work. So of course the fun began with IV's and blood work - the nurses and lab tech were good - just one try with no problems! Mark stayed w/me very late and finally went home. I was sleeping when I felt something on my neck and I could not believe I was having a bleed! I had not had a bleed since being back from Denver! I immediately pushed the call button for the nurse that got to me right away and I know the amount of blood she saw must have freaked her out. In seconds my entire nightgown was covered in blood and I kept telling her I needed a mirror to pull the dressing off so I could see where the blood was coming from and put pressure right on the area. The nurse called for help and I called Mark - we live a few blocks from the hospital so he was there right away! The nurse kept putting pressure on the area with a towel and that was almost getting that blood in my eye! I finally got the nurses to listen to me and get the mirror I had in my wound care bag. I removed the dressing and a big flow of blood was coming from the top part of the wound. Usually when I have a "bleed" the arterial flow is a thin stream of blood, like the size of the end of a pin. This time it was a thick flow and we know that area had some puss (probably due to the infection, and the area was painful) so since it was a weak spot .... therefore the bleed. Anyway - I held pressure on my face w/a towel until Mark got there and got everything under control. I know the nurses were looking out for my best interest, but one nurse said she wanted Mark to spend the night and move me to ICU where I could be watched better. Well, unfortunately of course, if I'm in ICU there is no where that Mark could sleep - so instead it was decided that I would stay in my room and a nurse was called in to sit next to the bed and watch me all night to make sure I didn't bleed again! By the time all that happened, it was already almost 2am and we all agreed Mark just needed to go home. I know I woke up about 3am and was talking to the nurse (it was a nice male nurse) and I slept some. Every morning Dr. Boynton would check in on me and I kept asking whether the blood test were showing an infection and it just seemed I never really got a definite answer! Mom stayed with me all day and she kept telling me to just rest, I kept yawning and my eyes were tearing from needing sleep, but I kept figeting and felt like crawling out of my skin! The nurse finally had to give me some Xanex, and one dose didn't help - a few hours later she gave me more and I finally slept some. It was decided that after that major bleed (the only one worse has been the one I had in San Antonio over the summer) I needed a transfusion again - 2 units. Of course that meant another IV in the other hand!

I thought of you again David, and how you eased my fear of having my first transfusion! All along this time, I had to keep asking for pain medication because it was just not being controlled! When I was in Colorado during that week I was @ Swedish, I had asked Justin (male nurse) how he was keeping me pain free so I could follow a similar schedule. He was nice enough to write it out completely, along w/drawing a chart and all. I gave a copy of that to the nurse here ... but oh well. The nurses were very nice and I know I'm just a rare case that baffles most medical staff.

Speaking of medical staff, I would periodically call up to CO to ask questions and seek help/answers! Dr. Yakes nurse Julie called and was very sorry to hear I was having a set back. I asked her if this would ever really, really be over for me one day, because I was just not believing it @ this time! I wanted to know whether she felt Dr. Yakes would be able to completely get rid of this AVM! She assured me that Dr. Yakes would be able to help and that he was very pleased with my progress ... and are you ready for this?!? Julie went on to say, that Dr. Yakes felt we were 8O% done! WOW! Now I'm not going to hold him to it - but just hearing a ball park figure of where we're at was wonderful to hear!!! Course once Dr. Yakes is done w/me, then Dr. Snively (Plastic Surgeon) will do his part and I have no idea how many reconstructive surgeries I'll need with him! Going back to Julie though - she felt I should not have had that embolization while I was in CO since I had already gone through so much w/the infection.

Then Rhonda (Dr. Yakes Phy. Asst.) called and we talked about all I had been going through. She felt like I did need to have that embolization, even after having the infection, because it's very important that we keep ahead of this avm and not let it get ahead of us! In all reality, Dr. Yakes would like to see me every 4 weeks (Shalon goes once a month!), but I'm doing good to get there every six weeks because that is when that darned avm reminds me, "I'm Here"! Rhonda agreed that since I was on steroids most of the time I was in the hospital this past time - the combination of the steroids and antibiotics is probably what I needed now. So, she was concerned about stepping on Dr. Boynton's toes, but I assured her he is a fantastic person and I felt he just wanted whatever is best for his patient! When Dr. Boynton wrote the prescription for the steroids, he gave me 10 mg. but I need the wompa steroids @ 20 mgs! Rhonda had already told me she would not be available the next day due to a class or something she needed to take, but she would have Eric, Dr. Yakes other Phy. Asst. call me. Eric is super nice and he did call and he too was concerned about overstepping on Dr. Boynton, but I assured him I felt Dr. Boynton would appreciate their input. Eric ended up calling in the steroids I needed. Dr. Boynton wanted to keep me one more day, but I pleaded to be able to go home! I had already been on the required 3 days of IV antibiotics, so knowing I had steroids too - I was anxious to have IV's and needles out of my arms!!! The lab tech came to take blood @ least 4 times if not more! I kept telling them it's no wonder I need a transfusion, y'all keep taking more of my blood!

Oh! I almost forgot! Wed. after work, Mark had gone to HEB grocery store to get a couple things I had asked for and ran into our friend Pauline Foegelle! She said we had been on her mind and Mark filled her in on where I was. She had invited Mark over for dinner, but Mark thanked her and told Pauline that most of his time was spent w/me in the hospital. When she got home, she told her husband Keith about running into Mark and he too said we had been on his mind. Keith calls me @ the hospital and asked if it was ok to come by and bring us dinner! Wow! Talk about nice! It was a cold night out and I kept telling them it wasn't necessary - but they wouldn't take no for an answer and we are so glad too! It was great seeing them and hearing about how their daughter Mary is doing! I always know how old she is, because she is in our wedding video in a baby carrier a few months old! So, on December 19th we celebrate 16 years of marriage and I want to say Marys birthday is in August or September when she turned 16! Not only did they bring dinner, but cookies, candy and the cutest little stuffed dog in a Santa Suit that plays (or barks) "We Wish You a Merry Christmas"! They really cheered us up just chatting about what all everyone had been doing lately!

Markie Poo Hoo came by to see me - brought a pretty arrangement of carnations in a Christmas sleigh! I told him his hug and kiss was the best medicine ever! He's a doll and right now he is having his own surgery for a deviated septum. Poor kid, can't breathe through his nose! Davis is on his way home from College Station today, so some time this weekend I hope to see both of them! Mom wouldn't let me go to see Markie before surgery since I just got out of the hospital myself.

Celia & Gregs friends The Satoris sent a vase of white carnations with pine and fir. Mom brought me a beautiful and fragrant red rose from her garden, and Greg just stopped by with some goodies for me from the girls @ the office! I got some chocolates and munchies and Saba got 2 outfits and Rulon got one too! Mom & Vicente's friends came by while I was in the hospital, Pam and Gene - Jim knows Gene! Also Helen and Joe Lee also came by with a lovely get well card for me - they are dear friends of the Morins that all spend time playing Mexican Train and just enjoying each others company! Mom Schuman called this afternoon to see how I was doing - that was so sweet! They were heading out to Dianes to see her son Matthews girlfriend graduate from college! I told Mom Schuman maybe she could send a photo or two our way from the event and she was glad I reminded her to take the camera!

So I was finally sprung from Dr.'s Regional by 4pm Thursday - yesterday! Once I got home, I waited for Mark to get home from work - poor guy, he had to go 2 different places to pick up prescriptions, plus the medical supply place I get my wound care supplies since we needed some Tegaderm! I took a shower once he was home and put on some comfy jammies while Mark made a big pot of chili and cornbread to go with it! Unfortunately I couldn't eat too much of it - I have some discomfort on the inside left part of my mouth that hurts with that chili sauce. Darn! Luckily chili freezes well! Both Mom and Celia had brought me good books to read, so last night I felt like I was in heaven ... sleeping in our wonderfully comfortable bed w/my husband next to me, something good to read and NO IV's ANYWHERE! Whew! Am I long winded or what? Well I want y'all to feel like you are right there with me and I love to write! You know before getting that transfusion, I was just dragging and telling Mom that I didn't know how much more I could take! I know when most of you see me I'm upbeat, but I do have my down times and this last hospital visit was definitely one of those times I just felt like it was too hard to be cheerful! That's the reason you won't see but probably one photo (Mark only took 2) and he hasn't had time to download them on to the computer from the camera!

So there's my story folks! I'm feeling better - still not sure why my eye was puffy - I know the avm is blocking my inner ear where maybe the puffiness is coming from fluid build up - even though I have a t-tube in my ear to help w/drainage. I don't know - I just want to be able to keep my pain under control and not have a bleed!!! I really think that bleed was just due to that area being too moist and that avm has a mind of it's own! I do know how blessed I am that not only do I have my immediate family here in town doing all they can for me, but also my brother-in-law Jim has been very supportive and concerned. My in-laws Doris and George have been praying, along with Schumans and friends up in Ohio and Indiana and all over the U.S.! Lots of Fossums (my brother-in-law Greg) are also very concerned, his brothers Mike and Terry and their mom, Pat and some of his family in South Dakota! My moms family in Oregon and Washington and of course all our wonderful friends here! If it weren't for all of you and our faith to give us strength - Mark and I could not do this on our own! We need all your prayers and the combination of medical teams here and in Colorado! Let's look forward to the end of this avm business, ok? Oh! As always - if you have a moment, please keep up with my new BFF Shalon! She has so much interesting information on other AVM-ers, plus all her own adventures! You can get to her web site from mine, or go to - you can read about all her trips to CO and she puts great medical information on there! Plus, as an added bonus - you must visit her new blog site - that is where she has information on other people that have avms and Shalon just always has cute stuff on herself on there. She, like me, also has an amazing husband that is extremely supportive and loves her so much! Joshua is super nice! You know one of the nurses was telling me that Mark looked so tired when he came in one day and they asked him if he wasn't getting enough rest. He responded with, "I can't sleep alone without my wife"! That's why I wanted Dr. Boynton to release me and not keep me that extra day - I needed to get home to my wonderful husband that I missed so much! Ok! I've gone on long enough! Thank you everyone! We love you all!

Mark and Cyndi Schuman

I'll try and post a photo later tonight!

It is a sad day...
We lost one to an AVM....
Lauren Chapin she will be missed.
I have had a bad as well... I would get into it.... but I don't want to boar you....
Leave me a comment and I may tell you.... maby.

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