Friday, October 31, 2014

I Love Halloween



I love Halloween.

I love the wild excitement of children out in the untamed autumn night, bold against the darkness in their carefully chosen costumes, trusting in the kindness of friends and neighbors who answer their calls of "Trick or treat!" with candies and smiles and warm wishes.

I love the anticipation of young parents, thrilled to see their babies becoming children, safely shepherding them out into the dark to teach them the ritual and share in the magic.

I love the enthusiasm of my fellow stay-at-homers. As our children grow and eagerly take to the streets alone, we turn our energy to preparing a festive (and just a tiny bit scary) doorstep, filling a basket with treats,and welcoming with protection and care each adorable group of princesses and robots, animals and aliens.

Halloween is an evening of adventure and dress-ups, community spirit and sweet treats. I adore its simplicity, novelty, and old-fashioned values of innocence and trust.

And while I am well aware that other adults have concerns about devil worship, evil spirits, stranger danger, and sugar comas, my opinion stands quite unchanged.

I love Halloween.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Ten Things To Do In A Tucson Hotel


1. Jump back and forth between the too-hot hot tub and the freezing cold pool. Who knew refreshment could be so challenging?

2. Fall asleep for a few minutes in the middle of watching Snowpiercer, then wake up and realize that the dream you were having was way less weird than the actual movie. 

3. Eat a bag of red licorice every night in bed. For three nights in a row. No regrets.


4. Go barefoot. Outdoors. In October. Let that warmth soak deep into your chilly bones, because it's the last you will have for some time.

5. Race your companions down the full length of the third floor corridor, and try not to scream with laughter.

6. Hang out the "Do not disturb" sign so you can sleep till ten a.m.


7. Revel in the crisp white cotton bed linens. Hog the pillows.

8. Crank the A/C to 62° with no apologies. 

9. Fill the mini fridge with odds and ends of take-out food and leftovers from restaurant meals, so there are plenty of options for midnight snacks.


10. Lounge by the pool and bask under a sky full of puffy white desert clouds. Don't worry about putting on sunscreen - you'll die of heat stroke long before you have a chance to get sunburned. 

* * * * * 

And here's one more bonus tip:

11. When you've run out of amusements at the hotel, head over to the Super Target on Oracle and wander for hours. The possibilities over there are truly endless.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Here In Tucson

One of the lovely and unexpected by-products of my visits to see my mom in Michigan is a perfect opportunity to visit my youngest daughter at school in Arizona.

Every time I come to campus, I take a photo of these three trees against the corner of this building. I just think the pairing is lovely. 

I am a super budget-conscious air traveler. I will fly at any crazy time of day, and switch planes at any random city, as long as it saves a few dollars. Toward that objective, I've found that the cheapest way to get to Detroit is through Phoenix.

I know. That makes no geographic sense whatsoever.

During my college days at beautiful Michigan State University, I was madly in love with the ivy-covered Gothic architecture. While this campus has a decidedly different vibe, I love the parallels between brick buildings and twining vine. 

But I'm not complaining. Because I've realized that for no extra airfare dollars, I can hop off my homeward-bound plane in Phoenix, rent a car to drive to nearby Tucson, and spend a lovely weekend with my fourth-born who goes to school at University of Arizona.

Palm trees. Yum.

That's what I call a win/win.

Walking back and forth between parking garage and dormitory. It was a lot hotter than it looks. 

During my most recent trip to the desert, my eldest daughter flew down from Seattle and joined us.  

Love that architectural detailing, and the cool shade of this north-facing portico.

What bliss to drop down into the warmth and intense light of the Arizona desert. After a week of hardscrabble weather in Great Lakes territory, ninety degrees and sunny felt like heaven. 

And you know, just to mix it up, on the other side of the street, we have modern minimalism, a colorful fleet of bikes, and that sassy little palm.

Our agenda was pleasantly relaxing. After a few months of being trapped on campus without a car, my baby wanted nothing more than to spend a few hours wandering the aisles of the closest Target, eat at some off-campus restaurants, and sprawl her 5'11" frame across a spacious double bed. 

Not her dorm. But a darn cute building.

And while I understand her enthusiasm for a much-deserved change of scene, I also treasure the time I spent with her on campus. It's so fun to see how she has made herself at home in this unfamiliar (to me) and faraway place, and I take comfort in watching the easy way she handles herself here. 

My bookends: fourth-born and first-born. 
You can tell by their outfits who has become accustomed to the ninety degree heat. 

As much as I miss my youngest when she is away at school, and despise every single one of the 1500 miles that separates us, I must say, I love with equal energy the moments that we have together, here in Tucson.

Yay!

A Perfect Start



When I showed up at my mother's door, bleary eyed from an eleven-hour cross-country trip and keyed up with anxiety over what state she might be in, I was in for a shock. 

My dementia-addled mother greeted me with a cherry hello and informed me that a fresh batch of lemon poppy seed muffins was due out of the oven any minute. In the meantime, she suggested, why not sit down and enjoy a glass of cool water? 

Wow. Very thoughtful, Mom. 

As I opened the cupboard to help myself to a glass, my eyes fell upon a pretty sight. There on the counter stood the bright red serving bowl I had given her for her recent birthday. And with her characteristic style, Mom had filled it with a pleasing array of fruit. Two apples, two oranges and three bananas - artfully displayed and bursting with color. 

Even though I am a realist about my mom's dementia, and I knew we were facing some big challenges during this trip, I have to say that I was knocked off my feet by her welcome. 

My visit was off to a perfect start. 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Tricky Treats

A conversation from inside my head:

Hey, wanna make a deal? If you do some cleaning in the family room this weekend, you can buy yourself a treat to spruce up the space. 

Yay! I love treats. What exactly do I have to clean?

Oh, you know, just sort through that horrifying accumulation of flotsam and jetsam that has built up over the past few decades, including:
  • A landslide of greeting cards, notes and letters
  • Our sizable and well-loved but rarely-used collection of VHS and DVD movies
  • Several generations of family photos, albums, and memorabilia 
  • Books, books, books, books, and books. And more books. 

Ughhh.That sounds like a lot of work.What exactly can I buy as my treat?

Anything you want. As long as it's under forty bucks.


^ Three days later, after many scary hours of sorting and stacking, editing and eliminating, I was the proud owner of a (mostly) clutter-free family room and this new plant. Scoring the last perfectly-sized fiddle leaf fig at Home Depot for $13 and a stylish pre-owned basket at Value Village for a mere $5, my reward package came in at less than half of the total budget. 


^ So when I met up with this gem of a plate today for the pittance of 99 cents, I snatched it up in a heartbeat. The colors and design are so totally me it's ridiculous, and by gosh, I earned it.

* * * * * 

This is how I motivate myself to stay on top of the never-ending clutter-cutting tasks that come with managing a busy home. I trick myself into doing these jobs through the promise of some tempting treats, and the results are always satisfyingly sweet.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Helping With Honey

"Diane. Come here a minute."

Hmm. Red alert.

Though my mom has beckoned me thousands of times in my life, I've come to recognize the new and special meaning behind this exact phrasing.

Mom is in dementia mode.

"Coming," I called as I ran down the stairs and into her bedroom. She was just stepping out of her closet, and I noticed immediately the quirky smile on her face and the disconnected look in her eyes.

Uh oh. Definitely dementia mode.

I took a deep breath, buckled my mental seat belt, and tossed off my usual, "What's up?" as casually as possible.

"Do you know who I am?" she asked, clearly testing me.

"Sure, I do. But you tell me. Who are you?"

Conspiratorially, she leaned close and whispered, "I'm Clara Minnie Marie Belz Lewis."

Oops. That's my grandmother's name.

"Yes, she's your mother." I affirmed, carefully sliding the conversation back toward reality.

"Oh that's right, that's right! I'm the mother. I'm the grandmother." She was thinking deeply now, gently touching her chest as she reminded herself of each identity.

"So what's your name? Tell me," I asked.

Leaning even closer, she agreeably whispered to me her full name.

"Yes, that's right. That's who you are," I concurred. "But why are we whispering?"

"So Honey can't hear us."

"Who's Honey?"

* * * * *

For the next hour, my mom lay on her couch and calmly explained to me exactly what has been going on inside her mind. This is what she said.
For the last few years, someone else has been living inside me. Inside my body. Inside these clothes. 
Her name is Honey and she's a stupid fool. When Honey was growing up, her mother washed clothes in the river to make ends meet. But Honey has two sisters and five brothers so the family was always very poor.  She has no education, she's never held a good job. That's why she has no money. 
So when Honey heard there were a lot of older people in this town who had money, she came here to take advantage of someone. She moved in with me a long time ago, and even she's always promising me that she's going to skedaddle, she never goes.   
Honey is an asshole. She plays tricks on me, like hiding my shoes or my glasses, and then she laughs at me. She whines and complains about everything - my food, my clothes, my books - and I tell her to leave if she doesn't like it. But she just won't go!
And sometimes, Honey pretends to be me. But she is a fake. She doesn't know my kids' names. She doesn't know my grandchildren's names. But I do. The real me knows everyone's names. So that's why I have to whisper them. I don't want Honey to hear, because then she will know their names and can pretend to be the real me. 
As I listened to these revelations, my mind was exploding with new thoughts and ideas.

On the one hand, this explanation was super helpful. My intuitions had told me that my mom was experiencing her demented thoughts as a different person, and I often find my mom engaged in a dialogue that sounds like she was talking to another person that only she could see. This story definitely confirmed that my mom was using the identity of Honey to express - and to contain - her dementia.

At the same time, I was heartbroken. I can't imagine how confusing and scary it must be to feel that someone else is living inside your skin, and my mom's emotional pain and frustration were palpable. If I let myself, I could weep for a hundred years just to think of it.

However, pragmatist that I am, I knew that I could not let my own emotions surface in the moment. I needed to figure out how to respond to all this.

My first instinct was to protest. There's no one in this house, Mom, except you and me. You are safe here. I won't let anyone come in and bother you.

But then I realized that statement simply wasn't true. Though Honey is not a physical presence, the truth is that Mom's mental security has indeed been breached. In a nonliteral but very real way, an intruder named Alzheimer's is harassing her and refusing to go. And I can do nothing to stop it.

So in a flash, I completely reversed direction.
I think it's very nice of you to let Honey live here. She doesn't have anyone else to take care of her, and you are generous to let her stay. But this is your house, and you are the boss. I think Honey needs to follow your rules.
Mom agreed.

 * * * * *

So for the rest of my visit, when I would encounter my mom having a spirited session of self-talk, I'd ask, "What's going on? Is Honey giving you problems?"

And every time, Mom would say, "Yes!" and go on to explain exactly what Honey was doing wrong.

I would listen, and then suggest a phrase or two that might make Honey straighten up.

To watch my mom repeat those words back to her invisible Honey, as she looked right at the place where Honey was apparently standing, sent chills down my spine.

But the process seems to work. And now that I'm back home, we often talk on the phone about Honey. When I ask, Mom tells me about Honey's bad behavior, and then I suggest what she might say to get Honey back in line.

This, I realize, is a tiny finger in the dike that my mom has built to hold back the mighty seas of dementia. But for now, this is all either one of us can think to do with this monstrous problem.

For now, helping with Honey will have to be enough.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Facing Fall

Today was a red-letter, no-holds-barred, drippy, dreary, Pacific Northwest-kinda rainy fall day.

And despite the chilly wet winds and rolling dark clouds, I cheerfully slipped into my socks and Birkenstocks, and took my darling Ranger for his walk.


^ Here in the PNW, Birkenstocks are an all-weather shoe, worn with socks (or in my case, cozy footies) when the mercury drops a bit. Don't judge. 


^ To suit his evolutionary purposes as a hunter, Ranger's fur is genetically engineered to repel rain. From an overhead angle, he looks damp but not drowned.

^ On closer inspection, one can make out his double-layered coat's clever ability to wick the water away through his long and sleek outer fur, which leaves the lighter colored downy undercoat dry and fluffy. And that's how my boy stays warm in a downpour like today's. 

Now normally, at this time of year, I am whining and fussing about the change of seasons, depressed about the deepening gloom and longing for an endless summer.

But this year, I am embracing fall in all its decaying glory. So weird. I hardly know myself.

If you push me for an explanation, I'd say that this year, for the first time in a long, long time, I got plenty of warm, sunny summer. 
  • In mid-May, I hopped a plane to sunny Arizona and fetched my baby from college.
  • Within a day of our return, I flew off to Asia and spent seven sweaty weeks in the tropics.
  • I returned home by mid-July to soak up one of the sunniest Seattle summers on record. 
  • Capping off the sunshine season, I made one more trip to Tucson last weekend to enjoy the desert heat and even spend a few hedonistic hours lounging by the pool.
So bring it on, autumn. My cup of summer has been filled to the brim and I'm ready to face whatever you've got.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Roots


far left | my maternal grandmother's birth certificate

top left | my mother and her sister, about four and six years old
top right | my maternal grandparents and their firstborn, my aunt
bottom left | my great-grandparents on their wedding day
bottom right | my maternal grandparents' marriage certificate

far right | my great-grandparents' marriage certificate

This little gathering of family memorabilia hangs in the bedroom at my mom's house where I sleep. Each morning, as I walk back and forth between my closet and my bathroom, I pass this arrangement several times and often find that it preoccupies my thoughts. 

These are just a few of the people who came before me, who invested their entire lives in mine. 

They remind me of who I am and what I stand for.

Their silent voices ring forward through the years, anchoring me in their past and encouraging me on toward my future. 

I feel their support, guidance and overwhelming love.

And I think how nice it is to be reminded of my roots. 

Coming Home


My mom still lives in the sleepy little Michigan town where I grew up.

Within an hour's drive of Detroit and mere minutes from Ann Arbor, yet surrounded by lakes, rivers and infinite woods, our tiny berg was a perfect mash-up of metropolitan convenience and country charm. 


Times, however, have changed. Since my formative years, suburban sprawl has come to my hometown in a major way. 

Of course, I've been back to visit countless times over the years, and I've kept up with the transformation. On one hand, I'm glad to see the place prosper and grow.


But I must admit that there are times when I feel homesick for the way my hometown used to be.

I miss the wide open spaces.
I miss the untamed forests.
I miss the place that it used to be.
I miss the way my childhood stomping grounds used to make me feel.

Wild and free.


Now, there's no way to un-build all the new neighborhoods, un-pave the exponentially expanded parking lots, or de-yuppify the countless trendy restaurants and taverns that line Main Street in this new millennium.

But I have found a respite.


Dirt roads.

Much to my surprise, many of the old unpaved roads that criss-crossed the countryside back in the day and brought countless adventures to my youth still exist in their pure form. Sure, the busiest sections have been paved over, the more treacherous curves straightened out, and there are an awful lot of McMansions tucked here and there among the trees, massive subdivisions hiding just barely out of sight.

But last week, as I explored those good old backwoods trails, I discovered something pretty cool. If I squint my eyes and hide my iPhone, I feel almost as if I have been swept back through the decades to the hometown that I knew and loved. The place that made me who I am today. 


Wild and free.

That's how I feel when I'm driving on my hometown dirt roads. And that's when I feel like I've truly come home. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Wishes


During my week-long visit with my mom, I found myself making wishes.

I wish my mom did not have dementia.
I wish her brain was completely healthy.
I wish her thoughts were unfuddled and her memories clear.
I wish she was living out her golden years with comfort and serenity, clear in her sense of who she is and what her life has been.
I wish my mom was whole again.

Sadly, I know that my wishes cannot come true, at least not in this lifetime. And I am learning to make my peace with that.

During the same week, my mom had just one wish.

My mom wished for a homemade peanut butter cookie.

And happily, I was able to make her wish come true.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

My Own Life

Not gonna lie. When I am staying with my mom, she works me like a dog. 

Wait. If Ranger's life is any indication, dogs live a life of utter leisure. Better pick another metaphor. 

Let's say she keeps me as busy as a bee in a field full of clover. For example, every evening, Mom gives me marching orders and critiques my progress as I am:

Cooking her dinner, 
Preparing her plate, 
Pouring her milk,  
Buttering her bread, 
Clearing her plate,
Washing the dishes,
Cleaning the kitchen, 
Taking out the trash. 

There often seems to be no end to the directions and demands, and last night, as I dragged four heavy bags of garbage out of the garage and into a rainy drizzle, I felt like I was twelve years old again. In wordless resentment, I recalled the frustration of feeling out of control, of forcing myself to unwillingly submit to a bossy parent, of knowing that my life didn't truly belong to me yet.  I dreamed, in those days, of all the things I hoped to someday become - college graduate, homeowner, wife, mother, adventurer, and all-around satisfied human being. I had no desire to help my mom with her life; I craved my own life. 

The rain pitter-pattered on my back as I double-checked the knot on each wet bag and carefully piled them in a big black heap by the street. Upon completing my task, I straightened up and saw this. 


Holy moly, what a sunset! Though rainclouds filled the sky overhead, off to the west, the gloom thinned and the setting sun brought the distant horizon alive with color. As I paused to admire the scene, a series of thoughts flashed through my mind 

West. The sun sets in the west. 

When I was a girl, "out west" was a magical idea. During my childhood years, I never got any further than Colorado, but the west represented an unknown, untamed frontier of unimaginable adventure, and a land of unlimited possibility. This vague notion of a place filled me with dreams.

Now, the west is my home. On the far edge of this continent, all my girlhood dreams for the future have come true. Granted, I graduated college and got married here in Great Lakes country,  but most of my adult life has happened in the west.

My four daughters were born and raised in the west.

I found my dream house in the west, and made it into a home. 

My amazing students and awesome friends share my life in the west. 

My adventures around the world always lead me back to the west. 

The west represents the life I have made for myself, a life that makes me happy and proud and satisfied indeed. 

Suddenly, the weight of those childish resentments flew off my shoulders and as the raindrops fell lightly against my face, I saw my mom's demands in a whole new light. 

So you know what I did? I marched back into the house, and asked my mom what else I could do. Because now that I have my own life, I am perfectly happy to help out with hers. 

Mom's Makeovers

Though she would surely protest that her tastes are humble and plain, my mom has always had a knack for decorating her home. In the years of raising her family on a single income, she didn't always have a lot of money to work with. But Mom has been DIYing since the days when sewing, sanding, and making from scratch were just part of a good day"s work, and she always found a way to make the best of what she had on hand.

In the golden years of her life, Mom sold our old lakeside home and moved to a brand spanking new condo in town.  As a part of that transition, she set aside a nice budget to surround herself with lovely things, and this new place has been practically picture perfect since Day One. 

However, Mom is also a classic tweaker. Like most decor mavens, she's continually rearranging artwork, swapping out seasonal elements, and bringing in new treasures to freshen up the mix. That updating energy has been part of her decor style all her life and continues to this very day. 

So it is with great curiosity that I've watched her home evolve over these past months, as her dementia has taken a firmer foothold in her brain. Each time I pull up her drive to begin a new visit, I take a deep breath, wondering if her chaotic mindset has finally begun to reflect itself in her home. 

The answer is a most definite no. Take a look at these freshly revamped scenes from my mother's house and see for yourself


^  Last August, Mom decided to restyle her living room mantel. She brought the art in from another space, and added the pewter candlesticks with the coordinating candles in a deep rich red. The ivy on the right, she pointed out, repeats the cascading effect of the planted window boxes in the framed street scene. And her new purchase, the rustic red oversize pitcher on the hearth, completes the Tuscan mood. 


^ A few years back, my youngest brother got Mom hooked up with a wall-mounted TV and so began her challenge of creating an interesting vignette that complements but does not fight the big black box. Starting with a pair of mid-century walnut dressers to ground the arrangement, she recently added two black-framed seasonal prints to relate to the TV, and layered in a carefully chosen handful of flowers, framed family photos, seasonal knick-knacks and an antique tea set. Oh, and on football Saturdays, she brings out that small hand-carved wooden M (for University of Michigan!), created by one of my brothers as a teen, to bring special luck to the gridiron. 


^ Back at the lake house, my mom filled this old plant stand with red geraniums and plopped it out on our shady back deck. When she moved to her new place, the stand was stashed in the basement and almost forgotten. But this last winter, when my mom noticed the new wave of succulent mania sweeping through her local mega-market, she carried it upstairs and brought it back to life. Within a few weeks of careful purchases including the plants, containers, and little gardener dude at the top, whom she adores, this look was complete. 


^ Last spring, after years of wrestling to grow annuals on her hot deck, Mom picked up these self-watering railing-mounted planter boxes. Simple, smart, and  styled with yellow marigolds and blue alyssum (which had worn out by September)), and accompanied by a pot of pink geranium, these boxes brought spunk to her view from summer right into fall. 


^ A field of red poppies on green stems, bright and bold ar the front and fading to gentle pinks and peaches to create the illusion of depth. My mom saw this oversize painting in a catalog last fall and fell in love. Though there are several small groupings of art clustered around her dining table, my mom chose to highlight this piece on a wall all its own. The effect is magical. 

* * * * *

I'll be the first to admit that my mom's decor may not be everyone's cup of tea. Heck, sometimes it's not even my cup of tea. But for a woman who daily struggles to dress herself or even remember where she is, I'd say my mom's makeovers show remarkable clarity and cohesion of mind. 

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to help Mom decide on the perfect spot for her new Christmas pillow. Isn't it adorable?!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Swinging Sticks


She was walking up this hill as I was driving down. 

From the beginning, I felt like I was dreaming. My car purred quietly as I wound around the narrow dirt roads of the neighborhood where I grew up. Alone, I was lost in blissful childhood memories spent exploring this lakeside paradise.

But the instant I laid eyes on her, my mood snapped from dreamy to surreal. A little girl, maybe seven years old, with tousled blonde hair walked up the hill toward me in a pair of muddy boots. Like a true country girl, she claimed the very center of the lane and skipped over to the grassy edge only when my car came close. 

I could tell she was an adventurer. She walked with easy confidence, at a relaxed yet purposeful pace. With shoulders back and head held high, she was obviously drinking in the nuances of the scene with all her senses. She carried a nice big stick. 

And she was alone. Happily, contentedly, comfortably alone. 

I felt like I had been struck by a bolt of lightning. 

I felt like I had fallen through a wormhole. 

I felt like I had traveled back through the mists of time to the years of my own childhood. 

Because I felt like I was looking at myself. 

For an instant, I thought of stopping and talking to her. I wanted to tell her that I used to live here when I was her age. I wanted her to know that I carried sticks and wore muddy boots and looked for adventures, just like her. I wanted to ask her to show me her favorite trees, her favorite hide-outs, her favorite secrets. 

But I knew that if she really was like me, that would be way too much attention from a strange adult. Too many questions. Too many invasions into a private world of dreams. 

So I just drove slowly past her, squeezing my car against the tree branches on the right side of the lane so that she had plenty of room to swing her stick.

Friday, October 10, 2014

With The Windows Down


If ever a photo captured the true nature of a soul and the pure joy of a moment, it is this one.

Taken probably five years ago, and recently rediscovered in a dark corner of my Dropbox, this shot captures six-ish-year-old Ranger riding in the backseat of our Toyota Yaris. With his head completely out of the wide-open window,  fur blown back in a river of red, his expression reveals the ecstasy of scent and sensation he must be feeling. 

Thank you, dear Ranger, for reminding me to breathe deep, to savor every moment for what it's worth, and to always, always, ride with the windows down. 
 
* * * * *

Photo credit to Tessa, who knows exactly when to snap the shutter. 

Luna In The Leaves


This is Luna.

He is a straightforward cat.

Well. Except for the fact that at first, we thought he was a girl.

He turned out to be a boy.

But that's fine. We had already decided to call him Luna, which is kind of a girly name, but we figured he could handle it.

Luna is cool like that.

Once the runt of an abandoned litter, Luna makes up for his still-delicate stature with an easy calm and relaxed confidence that makes me smile. His silky black body moves fluidly, with the grace that only the most nimble of cats can possess.

He is the kind of cat who slips out the door each day and sails off over the back fence for a life that we know nothing about. He comes back at his own discretion, eats with wild abandon, then curls up wherever he darn well pleases for a good hard nap.

Two or three times, he has returned home with some mysterious wounds. We have no idea what kind of mischief our Luna may have found, but he takes his troubles in stride. He may lay low for a day or two, but soon enough he is back in his routine, no worse for wear.

Luna, it has been said, is a cat's cat. So true. He loves us, his people, with warm affection. But the heart and soul of his life is spent out in the suburban jungle, as if he were a tiny black panther.

The other day, I was quite surprised to discover Luna uncharacteristically lounging in the middle of the front yard, relaxed yet highly attentive to the sights and sounds of his territory. I loved catching this rare glimpse into our boy's mostly private outdoor life, and cherish this little scene of Luna in the leaves.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Dream Daily


One of the really lovely things about the evening sunset is that it gives me a moment, every 24 hours, 
to pause, 
to reflect,
to wonder,
to imagine the possibilities of how life could be different. 

Watching the sky fill with light as the sun slips to horizon is the perfect time for me to dream daily, and I try to take full advantage of that miracle. 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

During


Cleaning out a linen closet sounds like a deceptively easy task.

First, just grab out all the armloads of 
mismatched sheets, 
abandoned afghans, 
teddy bear pillow cases, 
and One Direction decorative throws,

and toss them somewhere to be sorted. 

Eventually.

Scrub down the interior walls and shelves with a good lick and a promise.

Then put back neatly folded, color-coordinated towels and bed linens in perfect stacks and call it an OCD day.

Easy, right?


Well, my friends, I'm here to burst a few bubbles. 

I'll be honest. Sorting through my piles of reorganization rejects has been a nightmare. Sure, it's easy to see what is no longer useful or attractive enough to make the cut to Linen Closet 2.0. But does that mean I'm emotionally prepared to throw away these treasured items of comfort and love that tell the story of my daughters' childhood? 

Ha.

Stocking the shelves with a meticulously curated set of back-up towels and bed linens is a jigsaw puzzle exercise in piecing together what we have with what we need. 

And since the list of what we need is lengthy, my financial limitations dictate that this linen closet is not going to get restocked overnight. I've had to sort out a multi-month budget for slowly buying what I need, and a few choice emergencies - like, oh, the broken display on my phone last weekend - have already necessitated some significant reworking of the financial plan.



 But already, I've come a long way from this ugly 'before' mess. Stay turned for further progress.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Free Form Art


lunch at school
deconstructed butterfly
rainy day 
in my purse

(top row to bottom, left to right)


Today, for the first time in a long time, I coaxed myself to lay aside all the typical daily distractions and chores in order to sit down and paint.

Using drawing pencils, Sumi ink, black watercolor, and some leftover bits of watercolor paper, I played around with basic geometric shapes, layering designs and combining elements as the inspiration struck. No plan or forethought whatsoever.

While that approach may sound mindless and easy, it's actually somewhat terrifying for an artist to let go of expectations and simply allow the work to evolve. Not every swing of the bat will be a home run, metaphorically speaking, but that's exactly the point.

To practice living in the moment and to invite the creative spirits to run wild - these are the sweet rewards of free form art.

Friday, October 3, 2014

We Won 2-1

To live is so startling it leaves little time for anything else. -Emily Dickinson

While Dominick defends the goal down field, his Northwest University teammates are on the move.

Today,

I went to a soccer game

At an unfamiliar college

To cheer on the goal-keeper

A 21-year-old student from Jamaica

Whom I met a month ago

And have since come to know and love like a son.

As I sat under the blue skies of this perfect autumn day, watching Dominick make his leaps and catches and deflections to help win the game, you better believe that I was pinching myself. Because never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine that life could be so full of mysteriously sweet surprises.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Daily Battles

Just after 5 a.m. this morning, my phone began to explode with notifications. My hand reflexively groped under my pillow to locate the noisy beast as my sleep-deprived mind wrestled to make sense of what was happening. Squinting through one barely-opened eye, I saw that my brothers were firing messages back and forth in our three-way group text.

Uh oh. Not good. My brain tried to force itself out of hibernation as I slid open the message and began to read.

The police were at my mother's house. She had called 911, reporting intruders in her home, but upon arrival, the officers found nothing. Concerned about my mother's well-being, they contacted my eldest brother to report.

Suddenly, I was wide awake.

A wave of worry and the accompanying blast of adrenalin shot through me.

My stomach turned over as I pieced together what must have happened.

Mirrors are a special challenge for my mom; most of the time, she understands that she's looking at a image of herself. But at times, she sees her reflection as a stranger, or even an enemy.


Hallucinations again. As my mom's dementia has worsened, her mental abilities have polarized into two distinct extremes. Sometimes, her faculties are strong, and she is surprisingly capable of clear and logical thought. At other times, especially when she is anxious or angry, her addled mind takes over and she becomes extremely confused, to the point of not knowing how to dress herself or even where she is.

In order to handle this strange polarity, Mom has developed a coping mechanism. Identifying herself as the logical, reasonable person she has always been, she responds to the bewildered thoughts within her mind as though they belong to someone else. Oftentimes, she hallucinates and experiences her confused thoughts as uninvited guests who lurk around her home and torment her. So while this isn't the first time my mom has told us about these visitors of hers, this is definitely the first time the police have arrived on the scene and called one of us to follow up.

Another slip in the ugly decline of dementia.

In my mother's master bath, a counter-to-ceiling mirror fills one long wall so that the entire room is captured in its reflection. As she moves in and around the room, my mom often catches a fleeting glimpse of herself and imagines she is seeing an intruder wearing her clothes. 


More text messages were ringing in from the Eastern Time Zone. Already on his way to work, my youngest brother called Mom first, hoping to find out more about what was going on. I lay in bed, wide awake but with my eyes shut tight against this ugly reality, waiting for my turn to talk.

Ten long minutes later, I placed my call. She picked up on the third ring, with a breezy, "Good morning, Diane!"

No one knows a mother better than her daughter. From those five syllables, I knew exactly what she was up to. Her slightly slurred, almost drunken-sounding speech told me unequivocally that she was still hallucinating and confused, but her forced cheeriness revealed her intention to fool me.

We traded pleasantries, as we do each day in our regular morning call, but in a notable departure from our usual routine, I asked, "So, what's going on?"

Three times I asked that question.

And three times she tried to play me. "Nothing," she said.

Three times in a row.

I paused and waited, not sure how to break through her stonewalling.

Sometimes, Mom will stand directly in front of the mirror and talk to herself. Eventually, I hear the slurring quality move into her voice, and realize that her interpretation of the image has shifted. The monologue changes as she talks not to herself anymore, but to the "stranger" she sees in the mirror.


But finally Mom caved in. "You would not believe what's going on around here!" she burst out.

I listened as she told me that an impostor had broken into the house and was pretending to be her. But my mom knew that this woman was a phony, because when the strange woman looked at the photos of my mom's children and grandchildren displayed around the room, she didn't know their names.

"Of course, that can't me," reasoned my mom. "I know everyone's names!"

I subtly quizzed her and sure enough, her memory was perfectly intact.

I've learned from experience that directly confronting my mom about her confusion does not work. As tempting as it might be to simply tell Mom that she is imagining things, this approach only deepens her anxiety. A more useful strategy, I've discovered, is to show empathy and ask questions, in order to learn more about her view of reality.

"Who would do this to you?" I wondered. "Who would play such a mean trick on you?"

"I don't know!" she anguished, clearly relieved that I believed her.

"Can you let me talk to her?" I experimented, not knowing where this would lead.

"Yes!" Without skipping a beat, I heard my mom say to the imaginary impostor, "Here, Diane wants to talk to you."

In that instant, the clouds of confusion in her troubled mind parted, and reality shone through. Before I had a chance to respond, my mother said to me, clearly and calmly, "See? It's me."

And I didn't know what to say.

* * * * *

One morning, in a fit of frustration and anger, my mom slammed a dresser drawer and brought the heavy oak-framed mirror balanced atop the chest of drawers tumbling to the floor. Thankfully, she was not hurt, but to be on the safe side, my brother moved the mirror to the basement. We are all much happier that it's gone.


Before I began this walk with my mother, I thought of Alzheimer's as a disease of misplaced reading glasses and idle-minded forgetfulness, with perhaps a few frightening episodes of unsupervised wandering around the block. I knew that Alzheimer's ends in death, and I imagined that its victims gradually and gently passed into a misty twilight where they experienced the end of this life and the beginning of the next.

And for some, that may be what Alzheimer's is like.

But for my mom, this disease is a fight. As the shadows of Alzheimer's-driven anger and anxiety, hallucination and paranoia creep stealthily across her mind, my mom pushes back with all her might. Trying to quell her confused thoughts, struggling to bring logic to her imagined fears, my mom uses every ounce of her dwindling powers of reason to make sense of what is happening to her and to find a way to cope.

I know this is a fight that we will ultimately lose. But for now, I am honored to help my mom with her daily battles.

Update: Dementia professionals later diagnosed my mother with not Alzheimer's but Lewy Body Dementia, which explains the different symptoms and progression of her disease.