Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Seventies Souveniers

The seventies called. They'd like back their bold graphics, wicker furniture, earthy color palette, and ultra mod tulip tables and chairs

But most of all, the feel-good decade wants to talk to us about our houseplants. 

^ This grouping came together organically over the last week. I planned almost nothing, but sometimes a lack of intention is for the best. 

Now, not gonna lie. I grew up in the seventies. And I can vouch for which reinterpreted trends are genuine and true, versus those that are inauthentic reinterpretations of the true fashions of the day.

The houseplant thing is totally legit.

^ This earthy-hued rough and rumpled ceramic pot literally screams the seventies. 
Kinda like Joe Cocker. 

And even more so, plants in earthy, free-form hand-thrown pots. Full of hippie style imperfections, as if they had been formed on the commune's pottery wheel.

Back in the day, I had many, many such pots.

My bedroom window was lined with six or seven hanging pots, the trailing greenery transforming my space into a personal Eden. Looked so far out. 

Okay, so maybe IKEA's ubiquitous white ceramic planters and a marble find from the thrift shop are not exactly icons of the seventies. But can't you just feel the eclectic earthiness?

I bought most of my pottery pieces at the Ann Arbor Art Fair. Back in those days, it was a small annual event, tying up an handful of streets on a July weekend, and attended mostly by offbeat creative types.  Prices were low, choices were many, and my mom and I stuck out like a pair of sore thumbs as we boogied up and down the rows of stalls, shopping for treasures. 

Another recent thrift store find, the opening in this smooth white orb is slighly slanted and off-center, which totally speaks of mod and groovy space-age design, as well as Major Tom to Ground Control.

Few of my hanging pots still survive. Actually, at least five made it to the new millenium, safely stored in the attic. But somewhere in the past decade I brought them down and hung them outside, where the elements slowly destroyed them, one at a time. So bogue. 

Alas. I'm pretty sure I still have one of those old pots, returned to a safe hiding place in the garage, hidden for posterity. 

^ Houseplants have fallen in and out of fashion since at least the 1920s, but for me, they will always define mid-century modern. 

Happily, there are also a few groovy relics stashed in the house. A big bowl that has served salads for decades, and a little covered dish for keepsakes. . 

^ Hello, cactus. How do you feel about Three Dog Night?

But even though my little collection of plants and containers are not exact replicas of the lot from my childhood, they definitely capture the heart and soul of my psychedelic seventies. 

^ Well, they might not be hand-thrown pots hanging at my bedroom window, but this little grouping throws me right back to my childhood, every time I walk by the table. 

And that makes me super happy. Can you dig it?

Monday, March 30, 2015

Being Mortal

I read a lot of books, and enjoy most everything I read.

But when I sit indoors on a sunny-ish spring Sunday afternoon to devour a nonfiction title in a 24-hour gulp, then you know it's a good one.

And I'll go one step better than saying Being Mortal is a good book.

For anyone who is alive today and may eventually die, I'd say it's a must-read.

* * * * *

I would describe Being Mortal as a handbook to navigating the end of your life. Written by a surgeon who wrestles with his role in the medical management of sickness and aging, and peppered with his stories of patients and relatives whom he has accompanied to their life's end, the author scares me, shocks me, and stirs me to consider how I will one day face the end of my own.

I know. Sounds really depressing, right?

And while I will honestly admit that some parts are hard to take, the overall message of the book is downright uplifting.

I would paraphrase it like this:
We are each the authors of our own life stories. In today's world, many of us will die a slow, unwinding sort of death, in which modern medicine may try to have the final word. But we can and should make our own choices about how the final years, weeks and hours of our lives will be spent, and with advocacy and support, become the authors of our final destiny.  
Or maybe this is more to the point:
Live your life the way you want, all the way to the end. 
* * * * *

Because of my mom's struggles with Lewy Body Dementia, this book urges me to rethink the way I work to bring quality of life to her remaining years.

And as I've watched my mom face her end-of-life battles, I've definitely been reminded that my turn to face life's end will eventually come. Like many people who watch their parents suffer, my mom's illness can sometimes fill me with fear about my own fate.

Thanks to Being Mortal, I can now trust that there will be a light at the end of my journey, where I used to see only darkness. And any book that can deliver such a soul-satisfying message of peace and hope is a very good read indeed.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Bare Feet

My poor mother.

She has been having quite a bad time of it lately.

Today, after a week in the hospital with a fractured knee cap, Mom found herself in a rehab facility, where she will work on physical therapy for the next week or two. This morning, as a first step toward mobility, she sat upright, moving from the familiar comfort of her bed to a wheel chair.

* * * * *

The broken leg, of course, is not her only challenge. My mom suffers from advanced Lewy Body Dementia, which is a bit different from its more famous cousin, Alzheimer's. Her major symptoms are hallucinations and extreme anxiety, and she takes anti-anxiety medication that helps to calm her fears during the daytime, and improve her sleep at night.

Unfortunately, as part of the transition from hospital to rehab, her medication schedule was interrupted and she missed a day's dose of anti-anxiety meds. Which meant that Mom slept not at all during her first night in rehab. Between the physical exhaustion and the lack of medication, she began the next morning with hallucinations galore and anxiety off the charts.

Not a good start.

Another interesting dimension of Mom's Lewy Body Dementia is that she can rather swiftly and smoothly shift from utter confusion to startling mental clarity. (In contrast, Alzheimer's patients typically struggle with a relatively constant level of foggy thinking.) Although Mom's mental capacity has deteriorated considerably in the past few months, she proves still quite capable of these sudden clear-as-a-bell moments.

* * * * *

So, when she found herself seated in that wheelchair, Mom understandably assumed that she was going somewhere. Her mental powers lasered in on making herself presentable for the journey. First, she insisted on getting dressed in her regular clothes, but when her caregiver explained that there was no way Mom's pants were going to fit over the dressings and braces on her injured leg, Mom accepted that practical reality and settled for a fresh nightgown.

But her shoes were a completely different matter.

Mom was bound and determined to get her shoes on. If this wheelchair was going to take her out into the world beyond her temporary bedroom, she wasn't about to go barefooted. So she insisted to her caregiver, and to me on the phone, that she needed those shoes on and pronto.

But the problem, as her caregiver patiently told her, was that Mom could not bear any weight on that broken knee cap. Even the gentle resistance needed to slide her foot into the shoe would be too much for Mom's fracture to bear; getting the shoe properly settled onto the foot attached to her injured leg was absolutely out of the question.

Mom did not like that answer, and expressed her frustration and confusion in hoarse whispers to her hallucinatory companion. Heartbreaking.

As Mom fumed, her caregiver and I tossed around the idea of putting on just one of her shoes, on the uninjured leg, but decided that strategy would make Mom even more frustrated and confused.

So, as our all-in game plan, her caregiver tried an end run by soothingly explaining to Mom that she didn't need to wear her shoes. They were just going to sit together in the room till lunchtime, and Mom's feet were fine just as they were.

At which point my mom looked down at her caregiver's shoe-covered feet, and said, "Well, if I don't need my shoes, why are you still wearing yours?"

* * * * *

Final score: Caregiver and daughter - 0; Dementia Lady - 1.

Some Kind Of Wonderful

I don't need a whole lotsa money. 
I don't need a big, fine car.
I got everything that a man could want.
I got more than I could ask for.

I don't have to run around
I don't have to stay out all night
'Cause I got me a sweet, a sweet loving woman
And she knows just how to treat me right

Well, my baby, she's alright
Well, my baby's clean out of sight

Don't you know that she's

She's some kind of wonderful
She's some kind of wonderful
Yes she is, she's
She's some kind of wonderful

Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah

This song captures perfectly how I feel about red tulips. They're my kind of wonderful.

* * * * *

 Though when they wrote the lyrics, I suspect Grand Funk Railroad probably had 
some other kind of wonderful in mind. ;)

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Wait For It

Oh, no, you say. 

Here we go again. 
Another story about succulents. 
Thanks but no thanks.


She's posted yet another batch of photos showing plants in pots, you say.


That's the third time this week
All more or less the same.
Ain't nothing so special about today's. 


If those words come close to describing the thoughts that are running through your mind at this moment, friend, prepare for said mind to be blown. 

Behold the tiniest potted succulent known to mankind!

I know.
Cutest thing ever.
Am I right?

You're welcome.

* * * * *

In my opinion, you can never have too many succulents, and you can never have too many stories about succulents. Here are a few to choose from:

Friday, March 27, 2015

Not In My Back Yard

Like any gardener with enough dirt under her fingernails to be worthy of the title, I deeply loathe dandelions. 

Oh sure, they were cute when I was a kid. Flower crowns and bouquets for Mom and mean little games of "Who likes butter?" And then there's the magical moment when you blow on the dried flower head and poof! The tiny parachutes launch themselves and spread their seeds far and wide. 

But now I despise dandelions. Tenacious devils that spread with wild abandon through my gardens and lawn, putting down tap roots that require major excavation. Yet no matter how diligently I pull them out, they pop back up with maddening exuberance. 

I cringe at the very sight of dandelions. 

Unless they are growing in a place that is not my yard. 

I must say that as Ranger and I encounter the first spring blossoms of the common weed along the route of our daily walk, I can appreciate the sunny clusters of bright blossoms. 

And let's be honest. Their golden tones are a perfect foil for my boy's luxurious auburn fur. 

So, dandelions, I guess you're not completely horrible...just as long as you're not in my back yard. 

Thursday, March 26, 2015

I Am Not Alone

On campus at the University of Arizona, this grouping of palm trees always snares my attention.

"Hi, Diane."

The caller ID said my mom was calling, but in fact, it was her caregiver on the line.

"Can you please talk to your mom? She's crying and saying that she is scared of everything and I can't calm her down I asked if she wanted to talk to you and she said yes."

Well. This was a situation with precious few options.

Of course, I would talk to her.

And as the caregiver handed the phone over to my mom, I drew a deep breath and reminded myself to just go with the flow and trust that the right words would come.

Planted in two tightly spaced rows, the palms have grown so close together that they appear almost as one organic being. 

"Hi, Diane."

Yep, No doubt about it, the trembling voice told me that my mom was indeed crying. While her Lewy Body Dementia often causes her extreme levels of anxiety and upsetting hallucinations, she rarely cries. This was very out of character for her.

"Hi, Mom. What's going on?"

"I'm scared. I'm so scared of everything. People here are mean to me. They laugh at me. And my knee is huge and fat. Why? I'm so scared!"

* * * * *

Last week, my mom mysteriously broke her knee cap. No one can figure out exactly how the accident happened, but the five-centimeter fracture speaks for itself. After a surgical procedure on Monday, she is poised for recovery, but this extended stay in the hospital is wreaking havoc on her poor dementia-ravaged mind.

* * * * *

So I began to talk,
to show her sympathy,
to ask questions,
to jog her memory,
to figure out what was going on in her mind,
to reassure her,
and to think of how I might calm the storm and bring her peace.

And as I listened to my mom tell me about her justifiable fears, I did the only thing I could think to do. I told her to hold her caregiver's hand, and to repeat these words over and over with me:

I am not alone.
I am not alone.
I am not alone.

She calmed down almost immediately.

With their tall, ungainly, top-heavy shapes, I imagine that these trees depend on one another's support to stay tall and strong in the high desert winds.

Of course, the stormy seas of dementia continued to toss her about, and her waves of fear came rolling back every few minutes.

But I would say to her, You are not alone.
I would hear her devoted and compassionate caregiver saying, You are not alone.
And I would hear my poor mother, her voice relaxing as she let go of her imagined but very real fears, obediently repeating, I am not alone.

We talked for forty-five minutes. After her dinner, my mom called me back and we went on for another hour. She held her caregiver's hand and we all repeated those words together, again and again.

I am not alone.
I am not alone.
I am not alone.

And during our conversations, I thought to myself how true it is that all of us struggle with feeling alone, and need a reassuring hand to hold.

But those of us without dementia are usually too proud to admit how scared we truly are.

Those who stand alone must find other ways to cope.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Just Right

Everything about the entrance to this charming house feels just right to me as well, and I stopped 
my car on the side of the street to snap this stalkerish picture. So worth it.

On this rainy afternoon, I find myself mulling over the meaning of life, and I see three distinct and mutually-exclusive possibilities:
1. There is no God. This world is nothing more than a cosmic accident and we humans are merely biological coincidence. Our only purpose in life is to reproduce, and we have no deeper duty than to enjoy ourselves according to whatever moral compass we choose. 
2. There is a God who created us and he is a judgmental God. He demands that we obey His rules, and punishes us, both here on earth and in the fires of eternity, for our mistakes. Our life's purpose is to follow His rules in order that He may judge us to be worthy of His love. 
3. There is a God who created us and he is a loving God. He loves us in spite of (or maybe even because of) our flawed human ways, and has endless compassion and forgiveness for our mistakes. We are born to experience life within the freedom and joy of His eternal love, and to try to love others as He loves us. 
Now, I can't definitively prove any of these prospects to be true or false, but I know without a doubt what I choose to believe.

I choose not to live with the empty fatalism of the first premise, nor the fear and shame of the second.

Trusting what my head, my heart and my gut tell me, I choose to live in the light of God's perfect love and do my clumsy human best to share that amazing gift with the people in my life. 

And on this wet Wednesday, that decision feels just right.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Shopping Spree

If you want to see me lose my composure, take me shopping for plants.

^ I'll be honest. As soon as my eyeballs fall upon the trays of  baby succulents and cacti, my self-control evaporates. There's something about the perfect grids of square pots, each holding a precious and perfectly formed miniature plant that melts my heart, and I can think is, I must have them all. 

^ Now, the stated purpose of yesterday's outing to Molbak's was to purchase air plants. Yes, these plants really do take in all their nutrients from the air, and need no soil to survive. And we found them in droves, each one more adorable and surprisingly affordable than the next. 

Technically, I was helping my second-born pick out a couple for purchase; I already own two of these miracle makers and before I saw this display, I did not think I needed any more. But come on. How is three not better than two?

^ Next to the air plant display, I found this. These adorably chubby and superbly colored pots, loaded with their precious green cargo, are backed with magnets, and merrily cling to this deep blue steel drum. How cool is that. I just had to pick up a couple to see how they worked and to feel their pleasing shape in my very own hands. 

I wanted them badly. But I do not have any deep blue steel drums in my home. (At the moment.) And somehow, I just don't think my 1980s almond refrigerator would showcase their awesomeness in quite the same way.

So I put them down and backed slowly away. 

^ Oh, no. Look what I found next.. More baby succs, lime green and silvery green and rosy green-gray, ombre perfection in their tidy columns. 

Want. Want. Want. Want. Want.

^ Kind of obsessed with cactus these days, and I have been drooling for a tall one. These darlings were perfect, but certainly were beyond my price range. Checking their tags would only break my heart. 

But wait, I reasoned with myself. What is too much to pay for such an amazing life form and a gorgeous statement piece? You owe it to yourself to at least look.

So I checked the tag. 

Sixty for the tall, bright green one. Thirty-nine ninety-nine for the blue-green pair on the left. 

I came thisclose to buying one or the other. I can always go back. But for the time being, I forced myself to move on. 

^ Ack!!! More baby succs! Love the slightly kittywampus mish-mash of this tray. Come home with me, babies...I love you all!

^ Starting to suffocate with pent-up purchasing passion, I did the only thing I could think might free me from temptation. 

I looked up.

Darn it. 

Another gorgeous cactus taunted me, this one planted in a huge hanging basket and suspended from the rafters. The interplay of the ruffled green leaves against the geometric lines and gorgeous light of the ceiling sent new waves of desire running from my eyes all the way down to my debit card. 

Thankfully, I do not have any exposed rafters or greenhouse ceilings in my home, so I was able to talk myself out of this beauty. 

Feeling absolutely overwhelmed and worn out from self-control, I began to nudge my daughter and our modest purchases toward the exits. But after just a few steps, my daughter stopped me and said, "Oh, my gosh, check this out!!"

^ Oh, come on. Are you even kidding me? There was a gorgeous saguaro cactus, probably seven feet tall, standing right next to me in all his spiny, pleated and indescribably handsome glory.

I am obsessed with saguaros. I can think of nothing cooler than owning my very own.

Involuntarily, I reached for the price tag. Despite the voice in my head screaming, No, no, no, I needed to know how much this piece of paradise would cost me, because there was no question in my mind that someday, somehow, this amazing creation must be mine.

The tag read, Not For Sale. 

I'm not sure if it was disappointment or relief that flooded through me at that moment, but I found myself paralyzed with desire. Sensing my despair, my daughter dragged me off to the check-out where I bought just three tiny plants for a total of less than $20,

* * * * *

Twenty-four hours later, I have no regrets about my purchases. Sure, they were a bit impulsive and a tiny bit indulgent but no significant financial damage was done.

I am, however, planning a return trip.

Succulents, cacti, air plants and even you big ol' saguaro, beware!

* * * * *

In my opinion, you can never have too many succulents, and you can never have too many stories about succulents. Here are a few to choose from:

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Saturday Spring Satisfaction

Nothing says spring like a Saturday  work project, so here's what I cooked up this weekend:

^ Start with a handful of tiny succulents and a wire planting thingy,.

^ some soil, 

^ and a handful of Spanish moss. 

^ Once the supplies are gathered, swoon over those baby succs again. They kill me with their adorable tiny geometric perfection. 

* * * * *

Now comes the fun part: tuck the moss around the outer edges of the wire contraption, fill in with soil, and smush the plants into place. 

Be firm about it. Just like human babies, those tiny plants are engineered by nature to be sturdier than you might think. And, also like human babes, they like to know who's boss. So feel free to arrange and rearrange to your heart's satisfaction.

Fill in with soil to create a relatively even top surface, tuck a bit more moss here and there, then take the loveliness outside and thoroughly water. 

By the way, this is the fun part, but it is also the messy part. My workspace looked like a mudslide after I was done. 

But the finished product was worth the giant mess. 

^ I hung my creation outside my back door, near one of my herb benches.

Full disclosure here: my patio is still in the throes of post-winter apocalypse, with faded plants, broken stems, weeds and chaos strewn from one end to the next. 

So I took a few minutes to straighten up the immediately surrounding area.

 ^ Nothing says "spring cleaning" like a straight row of freshly washed rocks, am I right?

And yes, I did wash those rocks. With soap. Not even kidding.

^ Still dying over the cuteness. 

^ Two pots of succulents who survived the winter outside. They are a bit bedraggled, but I have faith in their full recovery.

^ Such a simple creation. Inexpensive too.  But all day today, I kept popping my head out the back door to take another peek at this little scene, and smiling with sweet contentment. 

Nothing says spring like a satisfying Saturday project.

Especially when it involves bare feet. 

hanging wire planter | michaels
succulents, soil, moss | home depot
green bench | diy
rocks | nature

* * * * *

In my opinion, you can never have too many succulents, and you can never have too many stories about succulents. Here are a few to choose from:

Friday, March 20, 2015

A Walk With Ranger On The First Day Of Spring

To celebrate the first day of spring, my daughters and I went to the beach.

Now, keep in mind that this is the Pacific Northwest, which means that the wind was cold, the skies were cloudy and a light rain was spitting down. But that's fine. We take the good with the bad around here, and a little "maritime mist," as the euphemism goes, is not going to rain on our parade.

So as we pulled into our parking spot, we came up with a plan to make the most of our visit. The two offspring would head over to the part of the park that affords most picturesque views of ferry, sea and sky, taking not only their own cameras but also my phone to snap up the scene.

Here's what they found:

^ The ferry on its way to Clinton, a comforting and familiar sight to us Puget Sounders.

Care to throw some stones?

Dark, moody, and brooding, am I right? 

Welcome to spring in Mukilteo.

While my second- and fourth-born were busy taking photos, I had a different mission. My part of the deal was to snap good ol' Ranger onto his leash, head over to the clump of beach dunes, and give my boy a chance to stretch his red, furry legs. 

Sounds so simple, am I right?

Let me give you a reality check.

Ranger is a natural-born hunter. He was created to follow scents, and when he finds himself in an area that is well-traveled by birds and/or dogs, he goes wild with excitement. Rather than strolling along at an even pace, like most dogs on a walk, Ranger rushes frantically along the path, nose hovering an inch above the ground, until he finds some scent that catches his Irish fancy. Then he SLAMS on the brakes, screeching to a halt at the desired location, and investigates for all he is worth.

At this point, it's no use trying to coax him to move on. Lord knows I've tried, but his is not how a canine hunter works. I can yank and tug and issue commands till I wear myself out, but Ranger cannot be persuaded to move on. My only option is to wait until, according to some unseen instinct that regulates his curiosity, he suddenly tires of the spot and abruptly switches back into overdrive, and careening down the path he goes.

This is why I ordinarily walk Ranger on a thirty-foot lead. I personally am not a hunter, and I have no desire to stop and start a hundred times over during the course of the average stroll. Weird human that I am, I like to walk at an even pace. So we have reached a compromise: the long lead allows him to do his thing and me to do mine, and we are both entirely pleased with the arrangement.

Except on this occasion, I forgot the long leash at home. 

So imagine, as Ranger alternately stopped and stampeded his way along the path, I was clutching the end of his very short leash. As he rushed ahead, my arm certainly must have stretched several centimeters beyond normal, fingertips numb from the pressure of his eighty pounds of fury crashing ahead.

It was a bit like trying to put a leash on one of the bulls from Pamplona.

And about every five steps, my boy would abruptly freeze in his footsteps for a sniff, and I all but stumbled over the top of him, Then I was left to cool my jets in the wicked wet wind until the little darling was ready to move on. 

In this ungainly and totally annoying fashion, Ranger and I made our way down his favorite stretch of scrub grass, Just as we turned to head back, my daughters caught up with us, done with their mission and ready to retreat to the warm, dry car. 

Then, this happened. 

^ Ranger Streicher, dog extraordinaire. 

Adorable beyond words, am I right?

All is forgiven, Ranger. I'll walk you any day.

Even on your short leash.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Spring Petals

I often share stories about my mom's journey through dementia. As best we can tell, she suffers from Lewy Body Dementia, and her main symptoms are aggressive visual hallucinations, unmanageable anxiety, and a deep sense of paranoia and anger. She feels bitterly betrayed by life, and honestly, I don't blame her.

I mention less often that my mother-in-law also struggles with dementia. I think she has Alzheimer's but to tell you the honest truth, I am so caught up in my mother's daily battles that I know precious little about my mother-in-law's challenges.

But according to a recent report from my husband, she believes she is happily living in 1944, watching her favorite old movies and looking at cute photos of kitties. Her grasp of reality is quietly, gently. slipping away and while surely she has her moments of confusion and frustration, my mother-in-law is mostly living in a sweet dream.

It's a well-known fact that dementia takes many forms, but the contrast between my two mothers' illnesses is startling. For my mom, dementia is a winter blizzard that rolls in, black storm clouds at night, a swirling mass of icy cold that drives its misery into every crack and crevice until there is no place of safety or protection from the storm.

My mother-in-law's dementia is more like a slender branch of pink cherry blossoms, tender and pale in the weak spring sun, innocently doing its best to survive in this dangerous, difficult world.

And while it's impossible for me to compare their experiences, or decide which fate is better or worse, I am glad that my gentle mother-in-law is living among the spring petals.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

A Field Of Daffodils

Spring has officially arrived in Washington. 

How do I know?

Because the Skagit Valley has burst into bloom.

The world-famous tulip crop is still in buds, and awaiting a few more days of sunshine before it explodes in magnificent color. But the daffodils are happily setting the stage.

^ While the commonplace bright yellow daffodils pose an undeniable charm, I have always been partial to their paler sisters. These beauties, with their creamy petals and delicate yellow cups, are my absolute favorite and I was beside myself when we stumbled onto this field full of heaven.

^ The afternoon sun illuminates their fanciful faces and plays up every graceful fold and fluttery petal. I snapped many, many photos like this one. 

 ^ My daughters and I wandered contentedly through the field, mesmerized not only by the flowers but the soft breeze, calls of birds, and warm sunshine on our pale winter skin.

^ Flowers reflected in the muddy puddles make special springtime magic.

^ Though the mud between the rows made for treacherous footing, I can think of few finer springtime pastimes that strolling through a field of daffodils.