Sunday, January 31, 2010

Happy Birthday, Granny!

My maternal grandmother was born on this date in 1914. Wow, it's overwhelming to think of all the things this lady has witnessed. She used to drive “the team” of horses into town as a girl. She worked in a bomber plant during WWII.
Ging was a tremendously determined woman. Divorced twice, she supported herself while raising three children. When she made up her mind to do something, there was no changing it.
Always practical, Ging's love was expressed subtly. You could count on her; she was steady. If you needed something, she was there. She would be there in a crisis; whether or not anything needed to be done. She was there just because she knew you wanted her there. And, if she loved you, she was going to feed you!
My granny was beyond capable. There was no thought of not being able to do something – you just did it, because it needed to be done. She never wasted time questioning whether or not she was able. Someone in the family once expressed uncertainty about her driving a car with a manual transmission and she snorted that she had driven a Model T!
Ging had strong convictions about helping people who needed help. She visited sick people. She helped an elderly couple with their laundry for years before they passed away. She bought whatever was being sold for fundraisers. She helped take care of people who were dying. She gave rides to people without cars. She gave generously to the church. She donated blood faithfully until the Red Cross told her she was too old to give, which she thought was dumb.
Ging and I had regular pursuits when we were together. We played Scrabble. A lot. For 30 years. We went to fish fries on Lenten Fridays for years; I don't know if we liked the fish as much as the ride and checking out all the different churches and Veterans' Posts. We learned that the churches have the best desserts, but the posts have beer. We went to church suppers – fund-raising roast beef dinners, Fat Tuesday pancake dinners, spaghetti dinner benefits, you name it. We bought the raffle tickets – for money, for quilts, it never mattered. It wasn't about the prize, anyway; for Ging, it was about the donation.
Ging was of a generation that ignored a lot of problems; people were comfortable with denial. She was formed by that value but, she didn't always adhere to it. She rarely brought up the tough subjects but, if you did, she spoke openly and comfortably, as if she were discussing the weather.
My sister and I stayed with my grandma often. When we were little and visited her in the evenings, I would pretend to be asleep; when it was time to go, my grandma would tell Mom, “Aww, let them sleep. They can stay here.” I'm sure everyone knew I was faking it, but they all went along. In the morning, she gave us toast sprinkled with cinnamon sugar and Hi-C. She thought that, “Kids NEED candy!”
In the summer, when school was out, Mom went to work and my sister and I had the days to ourselves. Until Ging got there, that is. She would come over to make sure that the drapes were opened (she had a thing about that) and that we weren't sitting around in our pajamas. It was important to her to be doing something, whether or not it was productive. She didn't want us sitting around watching TV!
Ging was unbelievably healthy and never looked her age. She and I went to Hawaii when I was 19 and she was 69; everyone thought she was my mother. She swung a leg over her riding lawnmower and mowed the grass until her late 80's and never stopped driving her car. At 94, she was light on her feet, and kind of pranced when she walked. Her hair was mostly still brown. Her skin was wrinkled, but not deeply. Her feet looked like those of a 35-year old woman; they were still cute! She had great legs. She was very curious and would tromp through high grass, across snow, or on ice just to see what someone was doing. She did not stop.
Until the diagnosis of lung cancer. Two weeks prior, my husband had died of the same thing, so it really slammed our family. Ging had volunteered with cancer patients for nearly 20 years after her sister died from cancer and had seen some horrible things. She was too old to be considered for any treatment. Within a year, Ging decided to die. Literally. There was no physical reason for her to be laying in a hospital bed in her living room, dying, but there she was. Countless times, I had heard her say, "When I leave this house, it will be feet first!" That is exactly what happened, too. I believe that she simply decided not to tackle lung cancer. I miss her terribly, but that was a really good decision.
A few years before she passed away, I asked Ging what the best time of her life had been. She thought and decided that it was when she retired, when she did whatever she wanted. I thought of her life at that time: how much we were involved in it, her volunteering, her having regular dinner dates with her friends. It does seem like a happy time.
The love of a grandparent is unlike any other. It's as strong as parental love, without the expectations. God, I miss her . . .
This is Ging's wind chime. It came from Maine and sounds like a buoy. It hangs from a tree right outside my bedroom and when it rings, I hope it's her saying, “H'llo!”

Friday, January 29, 2010

Strike Out Strokes

As strokes go, Mom’s was serious. The neurologist said they are like real estate: it’s all about location, location, location. And hers wasn’t in the best place – right side, about two inches above and one inch behind her ear. Apparently, that’s a part of the brain, which now has died, that previously controlled numerous motor skills.
At first, she couldn’t move her left side much at all, her speech was badly muffled and she almost couldn’t see anything on her left side until it was directly in front of her eye.
Of course, just surviving is a big step, since many people don’t. A classmate of mine didn’t survive a stroke, just a couple years ago. She died at the age of 43, as thin as a rail, as she always had been.
Another skill commonly impacted is the ability to swallow. The throat muscles don’t work properly and what is swallowed can go into the lungs, which is a pneumonia risk. Mom had a feeding tube and nothing to drink for days. It was very demoralizing and she was depressed. It’s not easy on those who love the victim, either.
She did exercises and had electrical stimulation and this condition slowly improved. First she could have applesauce, then soft foods, then thickened liquids. But, when that tube came out is when she regained her spirit; that psychological improvement was the start of her physical improvement.
As rehab goes, Mom’s has been remarkable. She gets up on her own, gets dressed, showers, gets her breakfast, and, judging from some of her recent comments, pokes around my house! She hasn’t driven, and we don’t know if she will regain enough peripheral vision to do so. My sister is still doing all the cooking, although she can certainly get herself a previously-prepared meal.
So, Mom’s in pretty good shape. This is uncommon in diabetic stroke victims, yet she is. She still has to work on speech, regaining strength in her left hand and occupational therapy. But, overall, she has recovered remarkably well. Both luck and hard work have contributed to it.


Do you sometimes just KNOW that you’re supposed to learn from an experience?
I had dinner at a friend’s last night. She is west of here, so I drove about 30 miles into a beautiful sunset. At 70 mph, I was driving with the window down, snapping pics of the sky. I got a few nice ones.
This morning, as I ran around collecting the garbage, feeding the cats, taking Mom’s little dog out and giving him his meds, I was stressed about how much I had to do. I was worried about being late to work, getting Mom’s breakfast setting on the table, getting the litter boxes cleaned, blah, blah, blah.
When I dropped the garbage, this vision is what lay before me - the lavenders and the pinks and the grays. This is one of the prettiest sunrises I’ve seen in ages.
This was taken right at the end of my driveway. And, despite how I enjoyed last night's sunset, I could have missed this, worrying about what had to get done.
It wouldn’t be the first time that I’ve overlooked the blessings right under my nose. It makes me think about how lucky I am to have a reason to set the table. Thanks, Mom, for giving me that.
I want to enjoy my tasks, not just get through them. Gotta work on that . . .

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Dwarfy? (It only sounds politically incorrect . . .)

Mom’s not a morning person. “I don’t like talking in the morning; I’m crabby.”
I lived with her for 18 years before and I don’t remember that at all! I remember her listening to music in the morning. Greeting us with breakfast. Cracking a raw egg for our big black cat, Licorice. Giggling with her carpool friends.
I think she was happy, but she claims she’s always been like this. I think that living alone for a long time may contribute to that. You get used to your own routine in solitude and a change seems like an intrusion.
What I’ve found is that she doesn’t mind talking in the morning, but she doesn’t want ME to talk. I get it! Mom is really funny when she’s crabby, because she makes no effort to hide it. It’s hysterical, really; she even laughs in the midst of her crabbiness.
(She sometimes refers to “crabby” as “dwarfy.” This is in reference to the time that she and I were on a plane to Portland, ME. She was sitting next to a crabby guy and wanted to make me aware of it, but didn’t want to be overheard. She, instead, told me that he was like one of the 7 dwarfs. I guess she was hoping that I was the only one within earshot who would get it.)

Home Improvements

I love the new garage! Well, it’s the same garage, but it feels different. The overhead door makes the old place seem more modern and normal.
I’ve become accustomed to things around the house that aren’t particularly convenient, just because that’s the way they are. But, I’m getting used to the convenience much more quickly!
I had another access door added on the opposite side of the garage, too. This created the only northern access about midway along the 90' length of the house/garage. I don’t have to walk all the way around the house or garage anymore! Since I recently had a clothesline installed back there, it will be much easier for me to keep one of my “green” resolutions this spring.
I can see how people go overboard on home improvement and spend more on upgrades than they can realize on returns. It’s addictive!
Note the little wooden "tunnel" on the outside of the left slider door in the "before" pic. That's how the stray cats got into their home, my garage. I had to make another one elsewhere in the garage. Yes, I actually cut a hole in the garage for the stray cats. I might be a half a bubble off!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Mama's Here!

She's in! Whew, I'm glad she finally made it!
The move, itself, will probably go on for weeks, as she finds that she needs things. The house is a disaster! Everything is crammed into two rooms and I can't find my keys.
When sis and I returned with the final load, my aunt brought stuffed shells and spinach pie over for dinner for us. What a fun first meal for everyone!
Now, we can get settled and see how our routines will work themselves out. We won't actually know until I get back to work, but there's still so much to be done. I have three weeks to get comfortable with material for a class that I'm instructing for the first time, so I'm going to be rather distracted for a while. This is for a project I've considered for a long time and I've been working on it for two years, so I really need to focus (not my strong suit).
Luckliy, my sister is planning to come over while I'm working to “help Mom with eating.” That means that she will make sure she's not living on cereal and ice cream . . . Mom calls my sister “Sarge,” because she's a tad bossy. It's the perfect nickname for her!
The pic shows Mom's bed and, next to it, the air horn in case she needs to wake me up at night. I'm a deep sleeper. Note the (unfocused) acorn-shaped ceiling fan pull I found for her!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Thanks, Sis!

My sister is the best person to have around when things have to be done. She really has an uncanny ability to view an entire situation and identify the individual tasks that need to get done. She’d be a great project manager. She’s good at delegation, too! (Ahem . . .)
My sister is an artist. She has an artist’s temperament and faces the usual artist’s challenges – little commercial success and lean finances. Yet, she remains committed to her art.
So, in addition to her natural strengths in tackling projects, and an affinity for helping when people need her, she’s often available to do just that. When my husband was sick, she took him to treatments and sat with him in the afternoons. She was there when he was dying, too, administering morphine shots and coordinating his care providers. She did the same for my grandma, before she passed away.
Sissy likes to pitch in and get her hands dirty, too. She helped me remove the asphalt shingle siding (aka “ghetto brick”) from my house. If I plant a garden and find that I’m too busy to tend to it, she’ll be there. She has painted my entire house, from top to bottom. She likes to do things for people.
But, being a caregiver for people whom she cares about is one of her greatest strengths. Over and over, I’ve seen my sister pack up her dog, grab some clean clothes, go to someone’s aid, and stay there until her work is done. Thank God, this time it’s improvement and independence, and not death, that marks that completion.
Sis moved into Mom’s house when she was released from rehab. She’s been coaxing, bullying, teasing and nagging Mom into following her exercise regimen, practicing her speech, moving the dreaded, springed clothespins from one place to another. In the hospital, when Mom was nearly immobile, my sister moved her limbs around the bed. She followed her into her therapy sessions in the rehab facility, encouraging her. For the last three weeks, she’s been feeding Mom nutritious, healthy meals, monitoring all of her vital levels, getting her to appointments, taking her dog to the vet and keeping her car maintained.
Her efforts are visible. Mom has more endurance than I’ve seen in probably ten years. She’s happy, sleeping at night and up and dressed at a decent hour. She has fun perusing the grocery ads, since my sister will make her any dish, regardless of its intricacy. Mom’s even trying to talk her into being the “family cook.” (Maybe she knows exactly what she’s in for when she moves to my house!)
My sis has taken fabulous care of Mom. Kudos to her!

How Many?!?

This is Mama Kitty. A number of years ago, she showed up at the house pregnant and was just the sweetest, most affectionate cat. She proudly showed her new kittens to my husband and me and then turned into the beast from hell.
She was the most protective mother cat I’ve ever seen. She tore you up just for looking at her or her kittens; I wore a coat and gloves into “her” room just to feed her. It was so bad that I planned to put her down after her kittens were weaned and adopted.
Then, she attacked my husband, who promptly threw her against the wall. She LOVED him after that incident. Seriously, he could reach down and grab a kitten with no problem from that time forward; she just sat there purring.
Then my sister started making me feel guilty for talking about putting her down. She would talk to me through the cat, saying things like, “Aw, I wish you didn’t have to die . . .” Sigh.
So, she stayed. But, I’m the only one she likes. None of the other 4 cats in the house. Not many people who come in. Although she tolerates my sister, who saved her, she occasionally attacks her, too. But, she reserves a special, intense dislike for my mom, her soon-to-be roommate. Because Mom can’t stand Mama Kitty.
Mom thinks my sister should have kept quiet and let me put Mama Kitty down. Mom would still like to put her down and threatens to do so every time she sees her. And, now, they will be together for 10 hours a day while I’m at work. Uh, oh. I asked Mom last night to promise not to hurt her. She said, “Death doesn’t have to hurt.”
Okay, then. This isn’t gonna be easy.
Again, I have 5 cats in the house. With 3 regulars and a few drop-in strays in the garage. Mom is coming with 2 more cats and a dog.
I don’t know how this will work. But, I’m sure it will be an adventure!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

This Weekend!

Mom's move is on for this weekend! It’s still temporary, lasting through her therapy. That could be for months, though, so she'll be with me for now.
I have this beautiful, old brass bed that I bought years ago for a guestroom. Mom has requested it for her room, which makes me really happy! I want it to be cozy and special for her, so I’ve been out shopping. I can’t believe how nervous I am; it feels like I’m auditioning for something!
Meals will be a problem, since I don’t cook. My sister is spoiling her now with wholesome, tasty meals that are time-consuming to prepare; she’s a great cook. What a culture shock that will be!
Here’s the same shot after the drywall is completed, plus one of the Corion sink. I wish I had a “before” pic; it’s a drastic difference. I love it!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Maybe Not

Hmm, this will be a practice in patience. There's no certainty about what will happen now. Mom has settled very comfortably back at her own place and thinks she may just want to stay there!
Well, I got a new bathroom, anyway . . .
Actually, she is moving in, but doesn't know how long it will last. She will soon graduate from rehab (OT, PT, Speech) at home to being an outpatient. Since I'm closer to the facility and have rides lined up for her, she'll stay with me. I think it's much easier for her to face a situation that's impermanent; she's pretty non-commital right now. Who can blame her?
Yesterday was her first time alone for an extended period of time. My sister and I went to dinner and a concert last night, so she didn't even have phone contact! She's more comfortable with this than we are . . .
On a lighter note, Vivaldi's Four Seasons was fabulous and the new bathroom is wonderful! I'm off to paint it, now.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


I live in a ramshackle old bungalow where my husband’s parents raised 10 kids on a 30-acre farm. I now have an acre and the house, which would take a year’s salary to bring up to code. But, I love this place; I’m less than a quarter mile from a major metropolitan area, yet there are deer wandering through the yard. It’s private, there’s room for a garden, and I can have bonfires.
Right now, the house is a disaster. I cleaned out what will be Mom’s bedroom and the utility room. I still need to figure out where all that stuff goes! On top of that, I’m having the bathroom redone to make it more accessible. Once you get so far, you might as well do it all, so the whole bathroom will be new. It will take a couple weeks for it to be done.
No tub or shower for two weeks?!? Luckily, I am a landlord with one empty apartment. I bought that rental mostly for its beautiful old cast iron bathtub on a pedestal. I recently had it refinished, never expecting to be the one to break it in. After bathing in a bucket for 4 days, it was a lovely soak!
The big, sliding barn-type doors will be removed from the garage and replaced with an overhead door. It would be much easier for her to push a button than to slide one of these!
The condition of the house is a step down for Mom, but this place is so much more accessible than her house. I know that she will want to have the whole house redone all at once, but I’m a little-by-little kind of person.
Poor Mom!

Friday, January 8, 2010

My New Roomie

Mom is a retired nurse. Scratch that – she’s a perpetual nurse; just come over when you’re sick to have it proven. I admire the way she always knew what she wanted to be, worked for it, and then became it.
She says that she wanted to be married to a farmer and have a dozen kids. I suspect that desire may be a wistful development long after a contrary life was cemented for her. Yet, she was pretty successful with her Plan B.
Divorced when I was a baby, she became a single mother of two. By chance, she had been raised by a twice-divorced, single mother of three. (This independence thing isn’t difficult to trace . . .)
Since retirement, Mom’s become pretty reclusive. Physical limitations are a big part of this, but I’d say (and she would deny) that it’s largely by choice, too. She’s always had a rebellious, anti-social streak.
Living with me will be a big change for Mom, too. She does what she wants. More accurately, she doesn’t do what she doesn’t want. She lets her dog walk on the table and lick her ice cream cones. She stays in her nightgown all day. She says, “Leave me the hell alone!” when she’s tired of my company.
A few years ago, Mom broke her foot. She needed help. She wanted help. My sister and I both asked her to move to our homes, but she wouldn’t hear of it. She did pretty well with facing with the emotional aspect of needing help, but had no intention of making any changes to her life to get it. Crazy, but I understand. It’s your house, your routine, your schedule, your stuff, your decisions. Just because it’s safe doesn’t mean it will work for you emotionally.
Now, after a stroke last month, she’s comfortable saying that she’ll move in with me “for a while.”
I’m comfortable with that, too.

A New Life

I’m conflicted between my typically-American love of rugged individualism (think Marlboro Man without the lung cancer) and a deep, pestering belief that it doesn’t make sense.
Aging allows us to witness the long-term impacts of various lifestyles; one of my conclusions is that the Western way of life isn’t that effective – for individuals, for families or for society. Yet, here I am, fully embracing it.
I like to go my own way. I don’t have children and my life’s partner was an easy-going nice guy who wanted only to make me happy. Consequently, I’ve been free to cater to my every whim. I’d set off for some adventure at the drop of a hat, sometimes with someone, sometimes not. I’ve amassed a grand collection of treasured experiences that I wouldn’t trade for anything.
Yet, I think I’m a better person when I focus on somebody else’s happiness. In the larger scheme, I think mankind is better under those circumstances. But, I haven’t finished my degree, walked the Great Wall, or been to Morocco yet . . . See the conflict?
The culture of India is intriguing. It makes sense to me to have the daily influence and guidance of your grandparents and parents, regardless how old you are. One of the happiest people I’ve met was an Indian lady who lived with her in-laws in an arranged marriage.
Yes, my life and and my interpretations of what life should be are in conflict. . . But now I’ve been given the perfect opportunity to align my intellectual ideals with my real life: Mom is moving in with me!