February 22, 2016

Some days I feel like a hamster on a wheel, running madly and getting nowhere.

Or more likely, a hamster clinging helplessly to the outside of the wheel, at it whirls madly out of control. I’ve had a regular parade in my head, led by the Doubt Yourself Revival. The Beat Yourself Up rhythm section has been rockin’, playing in a You’re Running Outta Time beat. Sigh. Nobody can run me through the wringer like I can. Guilt is something my brother says I shouldn’t feel, but there’s no escaping it. I don’t see the last fourteen months as ‘I gave it my best’-rather that I gave out before the finish line. I hate not to finish something I’ve started. I have what may be my final appointment with the plastic surgeon. Everything seems to be healing well. There’s still a bit of swelling, but I think the results are pretty good. It may be time to get a fitting, and find out what size I’ve become. I’ve gone well over six months without wearing a bra, and sister, I’m not so sure I ever want to wear one again. In this case, letting myself go is a good thing.

I’m going to have to call the supervisor for the caregivers this morning and cancel the visit for today. I made this appointment thinking Kevin would be off, but he is overseeing the laying of new carpets at the hotels. My appointment is for before the aide is due to come-I will have to leave around eleven am to get there in time. Kevin is going to try to get the carpet layers started and go along, but we’ll see. At the very least I will have Mom and the dogs along for the trip. It’s a busy week for appointments, Mom sees the oral surgeon on Wednesday, and I finally get to see my pain specialist on Thursday. By the end of next week, Mom should have her new teeth. Her cataract surgery isn’t until May. She continues to go back to her room and sleep whenever there’s nothing going on. Which is most of the time, we’re pretty boring people. The last few days, we’ve had a preview of premium stations on tv, so I’ve been trying to catch some movies that I haven’t seen. There’s not much appeal in that for Mom, since she can’t see. I spend a lot of time, every day, pondering the problem of finding appropriate activities for Mom-going over the pros and cons endlessly, and winding up doing nothing at all. The sheer weight of her need is sometimes suffocating. I stand in the midst of that tempest, just wishing it would stop. Mom is showing classic signs of depression-with lack of appetite, wanting to sleep all the time, and little interest in doing things. I’ve been trying to spend more time with her, especially around meals. I want so much to talk this move over with her, but she will hear none of it.

I just went out to get my second cup of coffee, and half the pot is gone. Mom has taken to pouring her coffee over the sink. It saves us from having to clean up the flood on the counters and floor, and usually I would just shrug this off. But this is our last pot of coffee until tonight, when the shopping gets done. She can’t have had more than one cup, which means the rest has gone down the sink. So, the remainder I now have in here, with me. I’ll go out and giver her periodic refills, but rationing has now gone into effect. You just don’t mess with my java supply. I’m sure I will hear the complaints about how they, the mysterious yet ubiquitous they, should know better than to run out of something so essential. In truth, they just didn’t feel like going in to the store, and we’re not going to fire them for that. As hard as it is, I’m going to have to stop dragging my feet on moving Mom. The pressure that my husband is enduring has developed a short fuse, and he needs someplace to find peace. Home should be that place.

It has always been our habit to create a space of peace and calm with our home. You need a place to escape from the everyday madness. A hidden pocket of reflective beauty in the chaos, protecting you from the storms of life. A place to restore your balance and regenerate enough to fight another day. This week we are going to have a lot of sunshine, promising the advent of spring. By the fourth day, the yard just might be dried out enough to mow. It will certainly need it by then. Four days of sunshine seem to produce four times the growth of grass, which already threatens to cover branches waiting to snap a mower blade. The presence of storm debris berates me to clean it up, even though the threat of more storms still exists. Spring, that tumultuous siren. There are buds and early blooms, and the verdant green belies the dry conditions of the summer before. Jonquils and crocus are making their appearance in the garden, and the tree that I began sculpting into a topiary piece beckons once again. It will be of great help to me to be able to get outside again, as I’m sure the doggies would agree. As much as I love what the mists and rain bring us, I look forward to seeing blue skies again. The sun may burn the gloominess from this house, shedding light on solutions instead of problems. At least, that is my hope.


June 25, 2015


I’ve tossed and turned since one am, and now at three, I’m up.

There are a few things, I suppose, that cause one to reluctantly rise at the hour usually reserved for nightmares. As a child, nightmares woke me often, until I learned to control them. And still there is a nameless fear lurking in the shadows at that hour, keeping us huddled under the covers, unwilling to test the darkness for what may be waiting there. It is the hour when we are most likely to question ourselves, our lives, our longings, our fears… It is sometimes when we make hard decisions, and face difficult truths. However, it was not bad dreams or a guilty conscience that robbed me of my sleep, but unrelenting pain. Most times I can push the pain to the back of my mind, and go about my business. This past week, though, it has been…insistent. Of course, since I am up, questioning myself seems the thing to do. It’s the same old problem-how to keep Mom entertained so that she’s not so lonely. My guilt over this is so pervasive that I avoid spending time with her at all, sometimes. When I have a million other things to do, (not to mention the things I would like to do) it annoys me to have to sit and watch her nap. She really just wants someone to be there with her, talking at her without requiring replies, so that she knows she’s not alone. No longer satisfied to simply be among what’s happening, she wants to be firmly at the center of all the attention. And honestly, I can’t blame her. She has always taken a supporting role, it’s her last chance to play the lead. After so many years of sacrifice she’s earned a little selfishness. I realize, too, that being a little selfish myself now and then is not just OK, but necessary. I believe that all of these things will ease in the future, I am going to take full advantage of the services we can get through Medicaid for Mom. I’m not sure how else I will be able to handle things after surgery.

I’ve managed to fritter away my time again this morning, with dark musings and mindless wandering through the internet. I’ll admit I spent some time nuzzling the soft spot behind Einsteins’ ear, as well. He groans, and resettles himself when I do it, but I think he likes it. He’s gained weight and is finally grown into his feet. I take him in for a booster shot today, and it will be interesting to see how much he has gained since the last visit. And it will be a good test of the Thundershirt, even though this time I will be with him. Then, sometime today, our visitors will arrive. The excitement of two other dogs to play with will make Einie forget the Vet entirely. Now, I could sleep. I think my muse has already departed for the land of nod. I believe I’ll follow.

June 3, 2015


Today should be the last day of rain, although it seems in no hurry to leave.

It’s a good thing Einie is an island dog, he seems impervious to wet. At least I don’t have to coax him out to go potty. He was such an angel this morning-he knows that I feed the cats first thing, and he stayed back while I did it, confident in the knowledge that he gets to lick the dishes after. He let Theo come in undisturbed for his morning loves, and leave without chasing him. And Theo tolerates the dog right next to him for the duration of his visit. The morning bathroom and evening bed rituals are a sort of DMZ, honored by both parties. Any other time, chasing, hissing, and paw slapping are the norm. Yesterday, after only a couple of days of sporadic training, he learned to ‘gimme five’. Next we’ll learn ‘up high’. He never liked ‘shake’, for reasons known only to him. Maybe he’s too hip. I don’t know if he’s just the best dog ever, or if my sight is clouded with love, but I think he’s amazing-especially at his tender age. He’s been having a wonderful time with all the family here. Today will be fun, my niece will be leaving later, but first we are going to head to the beach for a while. I will finally be able to take Einstein for a proper beach run. Tomorrow, he will meet his cousin Olga, and I’m counting on her to run him to happy exhaustion. She will be coming with my nephew. I haven’t seen him since he got married last year. Olga is another mutt of questionable heritage, and just the right size for Einie to play with. Olga is probably the most intelligent dog I’ve ever met, and extremely high energy. Bike trips with my nephew have made her incredibly strong, too…she can run all the way here from Port Townsend, at least fifteen miles. And the muscle in her noggin’ is just as agile. He’s done an impressive job of training her, and she’s a joy to have around.

Looks like it will be an interesting day as well. It’s only five am, and Mom is already up. I didn’t fill her thermos last night, so she’s probably going to come roust me out of here soon. I just hope she doesn’t wake my niece up, who’s sleeping in the living room. She needs her rest, she has a long drive today. Mom has been on her game for the visit, chattering away like a little bird. It worries me when I watch my sister with her, only because I’m afraid that she hopes this window in Moms’ cognition is a sign of overall improvement, and not the temporary state that it likely is. I saw this happen so many times in Hospice. Many people, as they get close to death have a window of time, usually a day or less, when they can be very lucid and aware. Even people who have been in a comatose state can do this. Families often take this as a sign that they are getting better. By concentrating on that, they can lose a precious opportunity. I would always tell people to take full advantage of that time, because the sands are running out. It is the perfect time to say all the things you thought you wouldn’t have a chance to, a time to say farewell, a time for one last I love you. Now, this period of time for Mom is not at that more terminal stage. But instead of breathing a sigh of relief and thinking things will stay better, I know that she will slip back into the clouds of confusion. She may have other periods of lucid thinking, but she will never come back, not all the way.

I hate to see the dawning of hope in my sisters’ eyes, knowing this. Of all of us, Moms’ passing will be hardest on her, and made even more difficult if she’s in denial. It is always so difficult, when you would spare someone you love the pain that you know is both necessary and inevitable, but you cannot. I think instead of shielding our loved ones from pain, we would serve them better by teaching them to deal with it, how to endure and survive. Don’t avoid the fall, learn how to get back up. I felt I needed to be a little blunt with her when I told her to just enjoy being able to talk to Mom again, because she would not be this way at the next reunion. With as many changes as Mom has gone through in the last five months, a year will make a big difference. And when we wish that she would live forever, we must recognize the selfishness of that. Is our wish for her benefit, or simply because we can’t stand the thought of losing her? Is it the reminder of our own mortality that causes us to cling so desperately? Learning to let go of someone you love is a difficult but necessary thing. Oftentimes, I have seen people go through unnecessary suffering, trying to hang on for someone who can’t stand to let them go. Some people need to hear that it’s OK to go. Some wait for someone to arrive before they can let go, and some wait for everyone to leave. Birth and death are two of the most miraculous events we will experience. We should not celebrate one and hide the other, and we should be doing everything we can to enable and ease their journey, not to lay our own burdens and insecurities on them.

I did not intend for this narrative to take such a dark turn in such a joyous time. For today I will concentrate on building the sand castles, not on the tide that will erase them. Life is both temporary and enduring, and I suppose that’s how we are able to go on. In the end, although our own life is finite, life itself continues. The miracle of our improbable existence is a marvel, we should celebrate that. And so, today I will endeavor to appreciate every fleeting moment. and I hope you understand, reader, when I tell  you that I wish you both joy and pain.

May 25, 2015


It only took an hour to settle the puppy back down this morning.

The cats are beginning to venture out into the open more, and they’ve decided that no mere dog is going to stand between them and breakfast. Now every time the dog settles, Theo will come meow at the door, setting him off again. Yesterday I did the unthinkable. I was feeling so lousy that after breakfast I left Mom up alone and went back to bed. I told her to come get me if she needed anything, and despite the guilt I felt I collapsed for a couple of hours. She was fine, of course, with her audible book and coffee. But it was pure luck that there wasn’t a spill or breakage…I have the nagging feeling that when I’m not looking she will fall and break a hip or something, and I will wear Negligence like a neon sign across my forehead. Nothing like a little guilty paranoia in the morning… It meant missing Church again, too. Even though Kevin isn’t usually around for it, he quickly tired of the audio book and spent the afternoon finding movies to watch. Mom has gotten into this thing where she will turn on her book even if the TV is on. She can hear the book and tune out the television, but that’s not so easy for us to do. Kevin mostly turns the TV on to have background noise while he works from home. The demands on his time are 24/7. Trying to run a modern hotel in a historic building has some unique challenges. I continued to be useless through the afternoon, and my sweet man dove into the pile of laundry. It is a rare day that I don’t get a post out, but yesterday was one of them. It will mean more time in the office today, and I still have little energy. I have the reunion for motivation, but my body’s stuck in idle.

I’m being forced out into the open, and I don’t much like it. It’s only five-thirty. My time. The cat is making it impossible to keep the puppy in the bathroom with me, and coming out into the office wakes Mom up-she’s checked the time on her talking clock three times in as many minutes. And it’s loud. As a parent, I usually found a way to silence the more annoying toys, I wonder if the batteries need to run out. And now she’s doing her other favorite game, open the door to look outside. She will continue with the minor annoyances until she gets what she wants, which is breakfast. My mood has already soured for the day. I have to figure out a way to preserve my time to write...and now the puppy is eating my desk. Sigh. Next up will be a spill of coffee, I’m willing to lay money on it. I’m going to have to stop now, and try to think my way out of this dilemma. And the time is…two minutes since the last time you checked, Mom.

May 24, 2015


The days are piling up behind us like drifts of fallen leaves.

It’s been five months since Mom came back home. It seems much longer, and yet the mere blink of an eye at the same time. It doesn’t seem that long since we got a new bunch of audio books for Mom, either, but I’m already tired of listening to them over and over. I think Mom is too, although she usually sleeps through it. Some of the people who read these are interpreting the writing differently than I would, leaving me with a sense of dissonance. A bad reading can make good dialog seem stilted and clumsy. And someone should tell these guys that it’s not necessary to use a falsetto voice when speaking as a female character, or sound like Tony Soprano as the bad guy. Those are tools for reading to children. Tone, emphasis and timing can convey it better. If you are doing it right, the listener forgets the speaker and gets lost in the story itself. When I was in junior high, I took a speech class. The speech I chose was called The Button. My sister had done it the year before me, and I think I may have taken the class just so I could do that speech. We used to rehearse it in the outhouse…but that’s another story. The speech was the story of a man slowly losing his sanity while imprisoned in a dark cell. To keep his wits, he takes a button off of his shirt and throws it over and over, trying to map the dimensions of his prison, as he mentally recounts his crime. It’s a good tension builder as his guilt slowly overwhelms him. The speech ends with a bloodcurdling scream, and I always loved to give it at the end of the day, when the judges were a bit sleepy and unfocused. This tactic got me to finals, but once there, a judge who was not thrilled by the wake up call disqualified me because I was acting, not speaking. Oh, well. Not one of them, however, dinged me for being unbelievable as a girl narrating a mans’ story, and that is my point. Of all the reactions you can get from people, one of my favorites is- “What the-” Keep them guessing and leave them speechless. Sometimes, the more they disapprove, the more fun I have. Up until one of my episodes of randomness, I seem like a perfectly normal grandmother of twelve, which makes the surprise even better. Every time I hear, “Jennifer!” in that shocked tone, I have to smile. Remember me now?

Mom will be seeing her regular doctor and her eye doctor this week. It will be interesting to hear his take on the cognitive changes. I think I’m going to have to write a letter to her doctor explaining the changes, so that she’s not embarrassed. I can’t really talk in front of her these days. It’s been a really bad week for pain and hot flashes. Diaphoresis (sweating) has made me lose electrolytes at an alarming rate, setting off muscle spasms that lay me out. Pain and fatigue have forced me to do things at the last minute, (though it feels like laziness) which makes it all worse. Less than a week to go, I have to start packing by Thursday, and Wednesday Mom and I both have appointments. The whirlwind of three days of festivities followed by five days of reunion will seem like mere seconds when they are gone. But the time preparing for it seems like a tough climb on loose scree. Well, Mom is up so the day starts now. I so wish I could go back to bed for a couple of hours…

May 15, 2015


It was a night of muscle cramps and sweaty restlessness.

I went to bed feeling guilty, because Mom’s bed got wetted right at bedtime, and there was no way to get her sheets done last night. It was more than likely Theo who was the culprit, not Mom, and he managed to miss the chux and wet it all the way through. We covered the bottom with a soft blanket and managed to find something to cover her up with…and called it a night. I half expected to find her up this morning at four, but all’s quiet, so far. It goes against the grain to leave things like that, but I only have two sets of sheets for her bed, and one was already in the laundry. At least she wasn’t laying on, or covered by, wet linens. If we hadn’t bought the mattress protector, her bed would have been ruined by now. I am rather at a loss as to how to solve the potty wars at this point. I have a spray that’s supposed to keep cats from marking, but it doesn’t seem to work in this case. Even as I write this, my mind keeps going back to the central, salient point…I left my mother in a wet bed. No, the wet linens aren’t on her, or under her, but they’re still in there, screaming neglect. I almost wish she would get up early, so I could get those sheets and wash away my complicity in the crime. Poor, beleaguered Mom, dealing with confusion and memory loss, unsure of something she may or may not have done…and no good way to prove otherwise. If I could get her to wear the briefs, we could prove to her definitively who was doing it, but she still refuses to wear one, when the time comes. And at this point, even if she did put one on at night, I suspect she wouldn’t be above taking it off once she was alone, and then putting it back on when she got up. I am certain that more than half of the puddles have been hers, but there is no way to prove it to her. Continuously putting the issue front and center, even just in my mind, projects an attitude of doubt in her abilities, and I don’t want her to feel I don’t believe in her. I need to find a balance between support and worry, keeping my doubts to myself and only showing the love and admiration that I honestly feel, but probably don’t say enough. I need to remind myself of what I always tell my doctors-don’t look at me as a problem, but a challenge.

And I, am going to meet that challenge…with chaos. I may finally have a line on a puppy. See, I figure I have enough life left for one more puppy. I have my fingers crossed. He’s medium size, and of questionable lineage, which is exactly what I wanted. Maybe it’s because I’m a mutt myself, but also, mixed breeds tend to be smarter and healthier than inbreds. (Which is a better descriptive than purebred.) He’s wire-haired and tricolored, and if he’s as cute as the pictures suggest, I’m already in love. Maybe I can train him to keep the cats out of Mom’s room… I could use another plate cleaner around here, and Mom drops enough scraps at the table now to keep a Hoover happy. He is high energy and apparently has some separation anxiety, so the folks who have him now are having problems with chewing and destruction  when they are gone from home. I am home most of the time, and I could take him with us most places in Port Townsend. I have never agreed with crating a dog all day. I have the time to properly house train him. A Joni Mitchell song comes to mind-

My analyst told me

That I was right out of my head

He said I’d need treatment

But I’m not that easily led, he said

I was the type that was most inclined

When out of his sight, to be out of my mind

And he thought I was nuts

No more ifs or ands or buts.

It will more than likely be WWIII around here for awhile, so questioning my sanity seems reasonable at this point. But sometimes, you have to color outside the lines. Here is my thinking. If you are faced with an insurmountable obstacle, approach it from a different angle. Introducing another family member at this point will be a distraction, to say the least. I’m betting that the war between Mom and the cats will be forgotten in the face of this new threat, and hopefully we can hit the reset button. Unfortunately, Mom has developed a real dislike for the cats, (and it’s mutual) so perhaps she will bond to the puppy, as an ally. And the cats…well, I’m pretty sure they will lose the soft weight that they have put on. They need more exercise, anyway. Eventually, things will settle, and harmony will reign…in my dreams. But there are even more benefits to having a dog around. He will have to go outside, so maybe I can get Mom up and out in the fresh air during the day, maybe even get her to walk a little bit. And it wouldn’t hurt Kevin or I to walk him every day, either. It would give us a reason to get the exercise we all need. Dogs are engaging, especially puppies, and can entertain Mom when I’m busy. Dogs are always begging for attention, and that might do her some good. Animals have always been therapeutic to me, I’m hoping the puppy can do that for Mom. Maybe I just don’t want to have the time to worry about everything else.

I cannot imagine living without animals. They have always been an integral part of my life. I generally like animals better than humans. And as long as I can remember animals have mostly accepted me. Aside from the encounters with rabies shots and being stomped on by several horses, I’m fine. I had two series of rabies shots before I was two years old, and even at that age, I understood that being bitten was really my own fault. The first time, I tripped over the neighbors’ dog while he was eating and he took it out on my face, the scars from which I still carry. The second time, I decided to play tug-of-war with a feral cat…and a piece of liver. And the horses-well, I once had the dubious distinction of being the youngest horse thief in Colorado. When I was six, I had a six-foot length of rope that I could make into a hackamore in nothing flat. If I found a horse that was willing, that was all the permission I needed. It was horses who taught me to ride. And being raw and sore from riding bareback, I seldom got spanked for it. So worth it. After a while, folks knew to wait for the trail riders to return before they reported a stolen horse. I don’t know how many times my mom had to call the police to find me after I had followed someones’ dog home. There I would be, snuggled up with some hairy beast under a ‘Beware of the Dog” sign. couldn’t read signs, but I could read animals. With all of what you would think would have been traumatic experiences, I have never been afraid of an animal, without cause. Before we came back to Washington, my husband and I raised exotic animals, We had ferrets, fish, birds, an iguana…we love the unusual. But as we are aging, we have to take the animals into consideration. When a person who has a dog or cat passes away, usually a home can be found for them. But with exotics…their fate would likely be more dire. I couldn’t bear the thought of my beloved friends being sent to a shelter, where their chances of survival would be slim. I am at an age where statistically, I have another twenty, twenty-five years left, tops. And with what I’ve put my body through, I expect it to be somewhat less. Myself, my husband, the kitties, and hopefully the puppy, will all hit old age around the same time. That’s the plan, anyway. Of course, plan is a four letter word that spells funny, in some circles.