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Olio...Otherwise Known as This and That


"Olio" fills a need, a crossword puzzle need, seeming to appear several times a week in various puzzles. Definitions, aka clues, vary a bit, but pretty much boil down to a mixture of sorts, a hodgepodge. (God, I love the sound of that word...hodgepodge.)

And, that's my life these past few days, a wonderful crazy hodgepodge of substituting in Spanish classes (I know almost no Spanish, just in case you might be wondering.) to middle school classrooms to attending preschool graduations.

Just to let you know, there's not a whole lot of difference between preschool kids and middle school kids, aside from their respective sizes. Nearly everything else is the same, including their answers when you inquire, "Just what in the world were you thinking?"

As my fingers cause the computer's keys to go clickety clack, the gorgeous weather outside keeps distracting me. Bright blue skies, no humidity (Insert happy dance here.), puffy white clouds, breezes. My kind of day, pure and simple. I've got today and tomorrow before re-entry into middle school, during the last week of school, no less, and even better, the last few whole days. Can you say, "Crowd Control?"

We attended Twit#2's preschool graduation Tuesday morning. Now, I confess, I've definitely got mixed feelings about these sort of things.

On the one hand, they kind of remind of the every kid gets a trophy deal, just as long as you show up. It used to be that you just moved along the grades, from one to the next. No big deal, just the natural progression of things. Most likely you celebrated with an in school, in the classroom party, but no pomp and circumstance took place,except for high school.

But - full disclosure here - this involved Twit#2, and my God, he's cute. Adorable. Funny. Clever. Creative.

Yep, he's my grandson, and I love  him to pieces. A bit overwhelmed by the 80 some kids involved, let alone all the adults watching from the bleachers and snapping away, he never the less rocked that cap and the getting of his diploma.

At the same time, the cynical part of me got to thinking about all the money being made - from those who sold the caps, to the stores providing balloons, cakes, streamers, and such.

And then my mind would flip back to all that these tots mastered over the past 9 months: learning to stand in line, to wait their turn, to realizing that they could not always be first. Friends got made, songs sung, complete with appropriate actions, and more.

 For Twit#2, a special reason to smile; he'd succeeded in a "regular" classroom, whatever that might be. No small feat for a kid who struggled with transitions, with learning to read social cues and this idea of personal space. All the hours of work at home and in an earlier special preschool paid off in spades.

So, yeah, I know that he doesn't get this, at least not in a way any 5 year old could explain, but we - parents, grandparents, teachers, and more - knew. A special reason to celebrate, a bonus in a way.

And, maybe, I thought, we needed to celebrate more. Maybe all of us need to celebrate the everyday miracles in our lives. We get far too hung up on what's wrong at the moment, and not what's right.

I'm still conflicted, still find the cap a bit much, the huge program a bit much. I think that working at something shouldn't need a huge reward. I don't think that every time you succeed at something a reward, a pat on the back, needs to happen.

Yes, they need to happen, but not every time.  Maybe less of the big trappings.

Most of all, this recognition needs to come from inside us; we shouldn't need the external trappings each time we do something. Being in the classroom as much as I am, I hear, far too often, "What do I get?" Parents email that I needed to be giving out more stickers, more goodies of one kind or another. I've had too many kids that wouldn't work unless they could see something in it for them.

Somewhere along the way, we've lost the notion of simply doing something because it needed done.

But, darn, these little ones were just too cute, too precious.

Full disclosure: I enjoyed it all, every bit of it, down to the fact that Twit#2 is so big for his age, that the cap needed to be worn at a decidedly jaunty angle.

Yep, an olio of thoughts here, a hodge podge, and I go back and forth with my feelings about it all.

Maybe celebrations need to be part of the everyday routine, but with less hoop-la.

I don't know; my thoughts really are mixed up, really are a hodge podge, and they seem to go back and forth with alarming frequency.

What I do know, is that I loved it, that I'm glad I got to be a part of it.

So, congrats to you, Twit#2; you're one awesome kid!


Of Coffee Pots and Journaling


I'm sitting here in my art studio, sipping the last cup of coffee from this morning's pot, savoring it, and just thinking about creativity's ebb and flows.

It's a battered old thing, this pot. Near as I can figure, with a bit of help from Google and Etsy, it's going on 60 some years old. Nearly as old as I am, and both of us dinged up a bit, but still going strong.

Some years ago, as we packed up Dad's home, I rescued this poor baby from the pots and pans' cupboard, beneath the built in stove. I hadn't seen it used in years; Mom, then Dad had moved onto its more modern relatives, but being the Depression babies that they were, had hung onto it, "just in case."

I carried it home to Virginia, not really thinking I'd being making coffee from up, and for a long time, it just sat in my kitchen, making me smile with the memories of the past.

Just for grins and giggles, as he says, Phil decided to experiment with it one day, and it's been pressed into service ever since. If we're not in a hurry, it's put to work. There's something about watching the brown liquid begin to perk and bubble with a sound all its own. A rich aroma works its way through the kitchen and up the stairs, telling me as one of the grands puts it, that it's sunny time.

Maybe it's my imagination, but the coffee is richer and deeper somehow, and if I'm not careful the first sip or two can scald my tongue.

I've been in some sort of creative funk lately. It's not that I don't have ideas; I do, and there are lots of them. But my energy went missing, and other than perusing the net, and getting lost in its rabbit holes, I've simply been reading the kinds of books that don't make you think, or playing Suduku and Solitare.

Yesterday, I decided that enough was enough, and I pushed myself to pick up the paintbrush, acknowledge the crankies, and just get started, not putting any great importance on the outcome.


I've never been a believer of making my journals just pretty images, of somehow sending out the message that everything is just hunky dory. And, I figured that maybe if I acknowledged it...not bemoaning or wailing about it...just simple acknowledgement, that I could move past this bit.

I can't really describe just how good and right it felt to play with the paint colors, images from magazines, and to just cut and glue. Therapy, indeed.

I had to laugh when I found the image of the girl; she's just so perfect. If I had gone looking for her, she never would have appeared. I just started putting down marks, paint, etc. letting the page become what it needed to be. I altered the cut out images, making them more my own. I didn't fret about wonky letters. I just kept going, and the more I did, the better I felt.

To, make a bad pun, more than the coffee is perking. Ideas are stirring, stories asking to be written, a photography class to be planned.

Sometimes, I just need to begin. The rest usually follows.

For Love of Violets


I remember standing in that tiny funky upstairs hallway by the bathroom door. Tucked along a tiny wall stood my mother's ancient Singer, long since closed up, another victim of her cancer. On top of the machine rested a few straggly plants, including one of her beloved African violets.

My mother had a green thumb that rivaled any one's. She couldn't kill a plant if she tried...and she did try it with her huge collection of poinsettias, tossing them onto the edge of the woods. They bloomed merrily throughout the year, mocking her efforts.

But her African violets - they claimed top honors, flowers delicately colored, velvet leaves soft to the touch.

Dad wandered by, looked at me, and said, "Take them, please. What I haven't killed already, I will. Your mother will be heartbroken."

Both my sisters declined the offer of the plants. I sighed, knowing that I could probably manage everything but the violet.

African violets defeated me, going to their certain deaths, no matter how hard I tried. I read up on them, found the perfect locations with just the right light. I whispered to them, encouraging them to grow.

And they hung their heads in despair and just died.

Reluctantly, I packed the poor thing up, apologizing all the way home.

I just wanted to cry, certain that I'd be the one to kill off the last remaining violet.

So, I talked to my mother, telling her that we both knew I killed violets, and that if she wanted this to be a legacy of some sorts, she had to do her bit.

She did. Between the two of us her violet eventually needed re-potting, and it took everything in me to pull that poor baby out and put her into a new and larger pot. Somehow, we both survived, and she makes me smile each time I enter my studio.

It's been nearly 11 years now, and she's outgrown this pot, clearly showing me that I need to bite the bullet, divide her up, and place her into a few pots, since she's just about managed to divide herself.

I'm working up to it, and I think that when we return from the beach later this week, I'll get it done.

Are you with me, Mom? We've got a job to get done.


Trying for Normal


Last week, well the last several weeks, spun us up, down, and sideways. Last week, though, created the biggest impact. In the space of 48 hours, family members ended up in the ER twice, and then landed in the hospital for surgery.

And, Phil and I ended up trying to create a sense of normal.

I'm not sure what normal constitutes, other than it's always changing. Things you never expected to happen or be doing suddenly become your everyday. You cope even though you're running ragged, sleep deprived, and don't have much of a clue about what's happening next.

You just cope.

I've often read that "normal is just a setting on your dryer." Guess what folks, normal doesn't exist on my dryer. I can see high, medium, and delicate, but not normal. So, it goes.

Right now, I've got carpet freshener sprinkled through out the house, and I can hear the washer chugging. The aforementioned dryer hums along nicely, tumbling blankets and towels. I've wiped down the kitchen, unloaded the dishwasher, and now, I'm sitting here trying to put the chaos of last week into words.

I'm so grateful for "normal."

Even more so, I'm grateful that I have people in my life that know they can lean on Phil and me, and, we can lean on them.

As one of my children and a spouse dealt with emergency rooms and hospital horrors, Phil and I stepped in, along with others to create a safe, loving spot for our grandson, affectionately known as Twit #2.

I started to type that because of his special needs, Twit #2 does much better when things play out in a routine he knows. But, you know what? Don't we all?

Because our lives our so closely connected, Phil and I know this little boy's routine fairly well. So, even with his mom and dad out of the picture, he felt safe, loved, and nurtured.

On Monday night, Phil stepped in alone, and spent the night with this little one. They played, talked, built things, talked some more....well, Twit #2 talked and Phil listened! Dinner got made and eaten; books were read before bedtime. Toys got picked up and stowed away in their places. Then, Grandpa curled up on the couch, and waited for the "kids" to get home.

Wednesday brought the second trip to the ER, and eventually a hospital stay with surgery. I began twit duty on my own, and then Phil joined me. We played, talked, put away toys, and fed our twit. Pizza got ordered and eaten; bedtime stories got read.

A phone call came, and I agreed to stay the night so our "kids" could stay together at the hospital for support. I sent Phil packing, to go home and sleep. Phil offered to come back with pjs and a change of clothes, but I've fallen asleep in my clothes many a time, and overall, I was pretty clean!

I wasn't sure how/when I'd get back to my own home, but I knew it would happen eventually, and nothing else mattered much.

I curled into bed, figuring out how to concoct a sort of night light, left the bedroom door ajar in order to listed for the twit, should he awake. Bob, the cat, perched herself on the edge of the bed, bewildered at seeing me in her mom's place. None of us, it seemed, operated on "normal."

Bob did make out the best; when else all failed, we fed her. She in turn, tried her best to convince us that we'd underfed her and she needed more. Sometimes it worked; sometimes, not. Truthfully, we knew we probably were overfeeding her, but Bob is one one persistent soul and VERY mouthy.

You know, I'm not even sure I have the above days right. I'm sitting here trying to remember Friday; I know we had our twit again on Saturday, along with twit number 1. Couch cushions got upended to become a fort. Train tracks got laid out, right at the bottom of the steps, of course. Grandpa got both boys outside for awhile, and the driveway and rocks got painted. Some trees got painted as well. Grandpa watched the two of them run to the paint, load up, and then run to the tree. Back and forth, back and forth, and not at all efficient.

Grandpa nearly suggested moving the paint closer to the tree, but stopped himself in time, realizing a lot of energy was getting spent. Energy that would not be coming back inside with the boys!

Hospital release dates kept shifting, and along with loving our twit, we acted as listeners, just there to take in information that needed to be shared - food gone missing, food that when it arrived came complete with a fly in the soup. Nurses who didn't seem to care, not even acknowledging their presence, let alone listen to and answers questions along with nurses that bent over backwards to reassure and get some food to the patient. The arrival at the second hospital thinking you were having a consult about the next step and then being prepped for a surgery you didn't expect to have, didn't quite know why you were having it, and just generally being thrown for a loop you didn't need to be riding.

We listened, not having answers, but answers weren't expected. Emotions just needed to be released and acknowledged, and that we could do.

Our patient came home Saturday night, and a bit of normalcy got restored  for him. Twit number 1 went home Sunday morning, and Phil and I decided to replenish the groceries.

Our house looked like a tornado had touched down. Laundry screamed from the upstairs basked. We looked at each other and said, "Nope."

We decided to go adulting at a favorite winery. The winery wasn't going to be open much longer, but it would be enough to restore a bit of relaxation. A glass of one of our favorite wines for each of us, and a plate of meats, cheeses, and other goodies to be shared. We sat, talked, munched, and sipped while looking out over vineyards just coming to life.

I'm almost afraid to say it, but "normal" might just happen this week. By the end of today, my house will be more or less straightened, and laundry will be mostly done. (Is laundry ever really done?)

I have snail mail to create, writing to do, and photos to take.

At some point in our future, "normal" will be upended again. It doesn't matter; we'll get done what needs to be done.

We'll all be tired and out of sorts.

But, we'll do it all with love, simply because we love.

Lessons from the Milkman


“Wake up, Paula. Wake up now!” my mother insisted.

Pulling my covers over my head, I burrowed down into the warmth of my twin bed. Across the room, I could hear Denise stirring.

“Come on, girl. Wake up,” Mom insisted, adding a few pokes for good measure. “Your father’s running late, and he needs your help.”

Yanking my covers completely down to the bottom of my bed, she turned toward my sister to repeat the process.

Wake up. Wake up. Wake up!

Swinging my legs, I sat up, trying to blink myself awake. An ungodly bright and harsh light filled my room, but the sun had yet to make an appearance outside. My sister, Denise, and I made eye contact, shrugged our shoulders at each other. Like it or not, it was time to get up.

Blindly pulling on our clothes, not much caring if they matched or not, we grabbed our sweaters for that extra bit of warmth needed during these predawn hours.

Stumbling downstairs for a few extra moments of sleep on the sofa, we listened for the rumbling that signaled Dad’s milk truck climbing Cabbage Hill. Too tired to chat, anticipation and pleasure built in each of us. We got to help Dad!

It didn’t take long; a low steady hum of an engine began to make itself known. Steadily growing, sounds of truck doors and milk bottles rattling and mixing in some sort of strange cacophony, the noise seemed to fill the morning.

By now, completely awake, Denise and I sat up, grinned, and headed out the side door.

Smiling at Dad, we hopped into the truck, each claiming our side. We knew to grab onto something tightly, and we swayed and rocked as Dad backed out the driveway, and headed up our hill.

Through the open doors of the milk truck, we watched the world wake up. Bird song, faint at first, began to swell. Stars blinked their good mornings, and soft whispers of pink and orange crept into the sky. A few house lights blinked on here and there, while neighborhood dogs patrolling their territory warned us not to intrude. We soaked in the magic, each of us silent, listening to Dad as he spoke.

“Early morning, watching the world wake up, is a gift. Almost everyone is asleep now, and we have it all to ourselves. Isn’t it beautiful?” Learn to enjoy the silence; you don’t need to fill it.

Behind us seemed to be a million glass milk bottles of all sizes packed into wire or wooden crates, the odor of milk filling the air. Some bottles wore orange caps, others wore green. We tried to remember which denoted homogenized and which one meant pasteurized. Packages of Land’o’Lakes butter and some sour cream and Half and Half completed the stock. I loved the Indian woman on the Land’o’Lakes Butter; she seemed so beautiful and mysterious to me. I wanted to be her when I grew up.

"Early morning, watching the world wake up is a gift. Almost everyone is asleep now, and we have it all to ourselves. Isn't it beautiful? Learn the enjoy the silence; you don't need to fill it with noise."

A brain in my head…looking back, I realize my dad thought differently than most men of his time. In the early 1960s, most expected girls to grow up to be homemakers and didn’t much focus on higher learning, other than a means to grab a husband.

But dad’s girls, well they had brains in their head, and by God, he expected us to use them. And, girl or boy, it didn’t matter. Girls could carry milk bottles as well as any boy. I don’t know if any other driver pressed their kids into duty, but I do know that all four of us willingly took our turns helping.

Rumbling into a neighborhood, Dad shouted his instructions over the clamor of clanging bottles. He seemed to know each customer’s normal order by heart.

“Paula, grab two large greens and one small orange. Denise, you’ll need a large orange and a container of Half and Half.”

Stopping the truck in the middle of the road – no one else was up and about in this tiny rural one red light town – he’d point to the respective homes, and off we’d go, cradling our precious cargoes in our arms. Climbing the steps to old fashioned railed porches, we’d look for the square silver metal container, red lettering stating it to be the property of Highland Dairies.

Opening the lid, lowering the glass bottles carefully, being sure to check for a note that might change the order, we’d deposit the bottles ever so carefully and scamper quickly back to the truck.

But, every now and then, catastrophe struck. We’d lose our grip on a bottle and watch it explode onto the sidewalk, strewing glass and milk everywhere.
Stunned into immobility, we didn’t know where to look. Had we woken up someone sound asleep in the comfort of their bed? What would Dad say? Were we going to get yelled at?

My disappointment in myself made the tears roll down my cheeks. I had let my dad down.

Dad sprang into action, hopped out of the truck. Handing us a replacement bottle, and sending us on our way, he’d clear out the glass.

It’s okay to break a few milk bottles, girls. No big deal; it’s glass and milk. The world is not coming to an end. Don’t make a big problem out of a small one. Now, let’s go and make this happen.

Scrambling back into the truck, we took up our stations, and with a roar, we’d take off while Dad issued instructions. Sometimes, other than the appropriate colors and sizes of milk, notes would be added about family pets. We needed to know which ones were all bark, and which ones, given a chance, would be delighted to take a chunk out of us.

But it was the geese that terrified us. As we pulled into a local farm, the geese appeared out of nowhere. Swarms of geese, honking, raising themselves up their full height, staking out their territory like a New York City gang. Clearly, we didn’t wear the right colors, and those geese meant to take us out.

“Now, watch,” said Dad. Grabbing a pencil, he extended it toward the geese. Hissing loudly, the gang leader leaned forward and snapped that pencil in half.
“If he can do it to a pencil, think about your fingers, girls. Don’t pet the geese. Don’t go near the geese, ok?”

“Now, I’ll distract the geese, and you go out the other door to deliver the milk. These guys may be vicious, but they aren’t smart.”

I think we rivaled Olympic athletes on that delivery, but Dad’s strategy worked. In record time, we made back into the truck, and Dad drove us to safety.

Always know your customers, your audience. Some folks are all bark and no bite. Some will take you down in a heartbeat. Know what to expect, have a plan, and take the appropriate action.

By now, we had it down to a rhythm, hopping in and out of the truck, making our deliveries. As the sun peeked through the clouds, and the world began to stir, a few folks would greet us at the door to take their milk in for breakfast. Dad would yell a greeting, and sometimes, step out briefly to say hello and tell a few jokes. Laughter rose, smiles bloomed, and people fussed over us, as Dad beamed.

Sometimes, the delivery was to a small store or restaurant. Working as a team, we’d all troop in, drop off the milk, and quite often, get a treat. Dad greeted each customer – homeowner or business owner – with the same kindness and respect.

Never ever be too busy to say hello. Never miss the chance to make someone smile and laugh. Most of all, girls, don’t look down on anybody because you think they might be less than you. We’re all humans, and we all deserve respect. Remember that, even if you forget everything else I tell you.

And, as the rest of the world began their day in earnest, ours began to end. Balancing ourselves without thought as we rode, talking with Dad in earnest now, we moved into the rest of our day. Dad navigated the streets easily, standing as he drove, and impressing us no end. I can still see that pencil tucked behind his ear.

With an empty truck, we headed toward the dairy, rolling through Pennsylvania countryside dotted with cows and steers. With the midmorning sun on our faces and the wind in our hair, life was so good. The dairy lay nestled among the hills, sprawling low, long, and white, and signaled a successful ending to our route.

We retrieved the car and headed home, each of us hoping for a nap. Dad always thanked us, telling us that he could not have done it without us, and I know our chests puffed up with pride.

I’m proud of you, girls. Look at what we accomplished today, and all because we worked as a team. We did our jobs, and we did them well. What I couldn’t do by myself, got done because of our teamwork. Thank you.

I learned these lessons over 50 years ago, and they stand the test of time. As I move through my days, dad’s voice tumbles through my mind, and I can so clearly see his facial expressions – that raised eyebrow when he couldn’t believe something or the other I’d done, or not done. I can see the twinkle in his eye and his ever ready smile. And, I remember his lessons, always told in the form of a story, and usually a funny one at that.

Somewhere in the early 1980s, the dairy closed its doors. Most people picked up milk at the local supermarket, along with their other groceries. Glass bottles gave way to waxed cardboard and plastic. Dad found a job at a local printing place, working until his retirement.

As always, he took pride in what he did, showing us all the ins and outs and how each machine worked.

When we closed up his home, I found an old milk crate tucked away in the corner of his closet. I grinned, thinking about the race car he had built me out of old milk crates. I drove that car standing up – just like dad - until it fell apart, pulling it up to the corner, and then hurtling full speed to the end of our one way street, and then turning left to continue down our neighbor’s drive.

We had to time it just right, driving it as far as we could go but jumping off right before the car crashed into the neighbor’s garage door. No brakes, you know!

And, if mom happened to be sitting on our front porch, sipping her coffee – well, I heard an oft repeated lecture letting me know that I’d be the death of her. I had that lecture down pat, because as soon as she went back inside, I did it all over again.

I took that crate home with me, and I see it each time I come down the stairs. I’ve scouted out old Highland Dairy glass bottles and tucked them here and there throughout my house. Pieces of my dad live everywhere, both physically and in my mind. His presence seems to envelop me in a warm hug (“Never, ever, turn down a chance for a hug. Grab all the hugs you can.”), and his laughter fills my heart.

Looking back, I know this experience couldn’t happen today, not in this world of ours. Too many safety regulations, too many prying eyes and voices that might shout child abuse of some sort. No seat belts, no official seats for that matter. Open truck doors that let in the sights and sounds of early morning magic, as we rode a sort of roller coaster through the streets of a sleepy town.

But, magic happened. Lifelong lessons got learned. Memories got made.

And, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.


Note: The above photo was taken in the late dad right after finishing his daily run; my son, Corey; and my mom. Great memories!



Alex with legos

I need

to be with someone who accepts me just the way I am

and  loves me still.


I need

to spend the whole day

just doing not much of anything with this person

 giggling, laughing, being silly

doing what strikes our fancy at the moment

not even needing to leave the house


I need

to know I'll have this person's

complete and utter attention

promising to do the same for him

entering into his world completely

learning lessons hidden in play

forging connections

unbroken by time


And, I think, that this is what love means,

or at least, partly so.

A Demented Reality

  Jan16 067 copy

Four hours up, four hours back, if the traffic gods wished us well. I looked at Phil as we walked toward the entrance and asked, “Which Dad do you think we’ll find today?”

He shrugged, smiled, and replied that hopefully Dad would be somewhat aware, but we both knew it’d be foolish to place bets on the matter, since so many days found dad locked in silence or sleeping.

The low slung red bricked building sprawled across the grounds. We stopped for a minute, to catch our breath at what might be to come, and to rest our eyes on the aged trees which seemed to stand guard.

I winced just a bit; my dad would most likely never see those trees. I don’t remember the last time he got outside, this man that loved being in the open air. Tucked away in this nursing home, confined to a wheelchair, he lives in his imagination and memories now.

A receptionist buzzed us inside into the brightly lit lobby, huge glass windows allowing the light to stream in and offering a tantalizing peek at the outdoors. Despite the scattered easy chairs, brightly colored artwork, and the piano, no one could deny that this was a nursing home.

Wrinkled faces of every nationality stared at us. A few souls smiled their greeting; another few stared in curiosity, watching our every move, hoping to escape to the outside world. Others swayed softly in their wheelchairs, humming to themselves, locked in a world we could only begin to imagine. Visitors wore a mix of worried, sad faces and their best game day smiles, determined to be cheerful.

We signed in – names, times, and destination. Grabbing our visitors’ badges and punching in the elevator code, we waited for the doors to open, and for the car that would carry us to a place where dementia reigned. Making idle conversation and trying to avoid the heaviness in our stomachs, not knowing what our visit would bring.

The elevator bell chimed; the car shuddered to a stop and we entered along with a few aides and staff. In silence, the car ascended heavily and slowly, seeming to not want to make this journey either. Another chime and the doors creaked open in protest.
Phil and I exited to an overwhelming smell of disinfectant, medicines, and elderly bodies. Most had a smile for us; some waited eagerly for the elevator doors to open, headed for the lobby and companionship.

We walked a short distance, and then Phil hit the buzzer to signal our arrival on 2 North. Pushing the door open, we slid through it quickly, knowing that almost always, someone waited to flee the ward.

Stopping for a minute, we scanned the area, not sure where we’d find Dad. By the desk? In his room? Maybe in the dining room. Just another puzzle to be solved.

“There he is,” I whispered. “Over there, around the corner from the desk.” Somewhere nearby, a voice shrieked over and over again in protest, as an aide gently tried to remove her “baby,” a dilapidated stuffed animal, no longer recognizable. Another raised voice urged Bill to please sit down. Nurses engaged in conversation with concerned adult children.

We made our way over, skirting around walkers and in between wheelchairs. By now, some of 2N’s residents recognized us; others never would, no matter how often we visited. I bent over, touched Dad’s silver hair, said hello, hoping to bring him into now.
“Hi, Dad, how goes it?”

Slowly raising his head, soft brown eyes blank, he stared at us for a moment. Then, with a bit of a smile, he answered, “Oh, pretty good., pretty good.”
“That’s great, Dad. We’re doing pretty well ourselves.”

Silence. It would be the first of many periods of silence as I’d struggle with what to say to him. How do you make conversation with someone you love when that someone really isn’t present?

So, I just begin to talk, catching him up on what I’ve been doing. I chat away about Alex and Dominic, maybe tell him how the garden is doing.
The words really didn’t matter, and Dad often stares off into the distance. I’m not sure he even hears me, but I plow on any way, hoping that maybe a small snippet reaches him somehow.

Phil finds two empty chairs and pulls them over. I grabbed Dad’s hand, and hold it, stroking gently. He may not process the words, but touch remains a pleasure. I think he longs to be touched.
Dementia both gives and takes. He’s lost the gift of stories and laughter, but he’s able to say “I love you,” now, something he never could do when the world would pronounce him sane.

Today is a good day, dad being aware enough to make conversation, loony as it might be with stories of him and his brother walking the family cow a distance of 60 miles or so, and then back home again. He then threw in a story of six children. Whoops! As far as I knew, only 4 of us existed.

A passing aide grinned and remarked that my father seemed to have been quite something in his youth, and that he really got around. Uh, could we skip those stories, please?

No matter, I know he loves us well. By today’s standards, he could almost be considered an absentee father. He worked hard to provide, because that’s what his generation did, work. Rarely less than two jobs, sometimes three, he was determined to give what we needed.

He made sure to show us the world, because as he explained it, there was just so much to see. We’d get to the beach several times a summer, the six of us crammed into a tiny travel trailer, dining on hot dogs and chicken noodle soup. Each Sunday, we’d pile into the car, and he’d laughing call out that he got a window, and off we’d go, exploring.

I’m grateful today is a good day, because there are so many bad days – when his sleep and stillness make me catch my breath in dread. I hesitantly touch him, fearing I’ve lost him forever.

Dad’s rambling now, his voice softly slurred amid the cacophony of 2N’s staff and patients. He fidgets in his wheelchair a bit, trying to get comfortable.
Suddenly, his eyes brighten and he whispers, “They’re at it again.”

I look up, trying to figure out who “they” are. Are they even real or just living in Dad’s mind? And, if they are real, what are they up to?
Suddenly, all 3 of us grin, even as Phil and I scoot our chairs back, along with dad’s wheelchair. We need to clear a path, because they’re coming, hell bent for leather as Dad would say.

Two wizened and very elderly frail women, slumped over in wheelchairs, each propelling herself down the corridor, jockeying to be first. They roll along at a pace which could never be called speedy, but quickly enough to do some damage. Neither means to give an inch.
“You bitch!” one screams. “I was first. Now, get the hell out of my way.”

“Take that,” yells her antagonist while inching her chair over close enough to land a punch. The intent is clear; the execution poor.

Today’s featherweight match has begun.

“Damn you, bitch. I’m gonna call my lawyer.”

“Go right ahead, slut. I’m first and that’s that.”

Dad’s grinning, and Phil and I bend our heads to hide our laughter. We’re fighting to give these feisty women the respect we owe them, determined never to mock any of this floor’s inhabitants.

Two aides rushed over to separate the combatants, whose wheelchairs are locked together. The furious patients continue to rain feeble blows on and hurl insults at each other.

Trying to calm them down, the aides make sure to move the ladies in such a way that neither can claim victory.
I spin in my chair, grinning at Dad, who grins back.

Suddenly, I hear Phil telling me to grab my purse. Uh-oh, the resident klepto is streaking down the corridor, heading my way with her eyes firmly fixed on my purse. As I kick it under my chair, I hear an aide’s voice imploring Bill to please sit down before he hurts himself.
Still grinning at Dad, I block a very lovely and very determined sari clad Indian woman from her spoils. She begins to hurl insults at me, making it clear that she does not take defeat lightly.

All the while, our two prize fighters’ voices clearly carry the length of their corridor, each protesting that the other started it, and to please let her at her nemesis.

Phil looks at me, silently laughing, and whispers that this would make a terrific reality show, but that no one would ever buy that these things truly happen. I nod my agreement, noticing that dad’s eyes are closing and his breathing is deepening. Nap time seems to be in order.

Letting the aides know, we wheel him into his room, and for a few minutes we just sit. I rub his hands and whisper that I love him. He nods his head, and whispers back “I love you, too.”

2N seems quieter now; even the warring old ladies’ voices silent. Bill must have finally sat down to his aide’s relief. I can see the klepto disappearing into her room with a few pieces of treasure, an aide close behind to reclaim the loot. Her “baby” back in her arms, another old woman croons a lullaby.

Phil bends over the desk and whispers a request for the code needed to exit the locked doors. An aide walks over with us, distracting a lurking resident with conversation.

We exit without the resident making her planned escape. As the door closes behind us, I hear her informing the aide that “This place is nothing but a prison.” I send a silent thank you upwards that Dad didn’t understand just where he lived now.

Once again, we hit the code for the elevator and then ride it down to the lobby. Turning in our passes and signing out, we say our good-byes and thank yous. The desk attendant unlocks the doors.

Outside, I gulp in the fresh air and let go of the insanity still lurking inside.

I can hear my dad telling me over and over that he wants to die in the house in which he was born. I hear him tell me that he hopes to never be one of those poor souls locked inside a nursing home, saying that he’d rather be dead, thank you.

I try to take comfort in the fact that he’s safe and well taken care of. He’s treated with respect and dignity, even when he explodes in anger, not understanding what’s happening at the moment. In his mind, he’s somewhere else completely, living a life he’ll tell you is “pretty good,” and that he’s doing “pretty well for an old fart.”

So, these visits evoke so much inside me – fear, helplessness, and longings for the dad I once knew.

They’re difficult, but I make them because I love him. I will always love this man who gave me life, gave me belief in myself, and reinforced in me over and over again, that I had a brain in my head, and I could do almost anything I wanted to do.
Four hours up, four hours back for a visit that lasted just under an hour. I can tell you that each and every minute was worth it.

A Snow Globe World

Jan16 047

"The very fact of snow is such an amazement." - Roger Ebert

I've just said my goodbyes to Twit #1, and silence fills my house. Gone are the shrieks from spotting the first flakes come tumbling down. The piles of snow gear - hats, mittens, pants, boots, and more - have vanished. Things are settling back to normal, and I really do miss my guy.

Ebert nailed it, snow is indeed such an amazement, especially when seen through the eyes of a 7 year old boy. And, the retired teacher in me stills delights in snow days.

I'm blessed, I know. I didn't have animals to feed, other than one contented fat gray feline, I didn't need to be anywhere, most especially work. The furnace continued to heat our home, and the power - thank you, God, - remained on. At night, we indulged in a fire, watching the flames dance, and listening to their snap, crackle, pop.

Jan16 082

He built forts, both inside and out. Couch cushions pulled down with nests of blankets from which to watch tv. Toy helicopters buzzed through my dining room, while he and his dad partnered up to shoot it down, while Sheba (that fat cat mentioned earlier) watched in amazement. Superheroes came to rest here, there, and everywhere, and in the true spirit of snow days, I ignored them all. Snow crusted clothing tumbled through the washer and dryer on a regular basis. He checked in with mommy via cell phone and filled her in on all the doings.

Jan16 090

Snow angels dotted the landscape, and he wielded a large yellow shovel with sheer determination, giggling at the results...snow flying through the air, sometimes landing right back on him. Red cheeked with Rudolph's glowing nose, he denied being cold and begged to stay out longer. And, so we did, both of us shivering but happy, knowing hot chocolate and warm blankets waited inside.

It's been magical, these past 3 days in our snow globe world.

I wouldn't mind doing it all over again!



Around the Learning Curve and Down the Rabbit Hole

Self portrati 2d

Self Portraiture as Medicine: Day 2

Yesterday, Catherine Just asked us to think of a relationship we're currently in, whether it's with ourselves or someone else, and then to explore it using mind mapping and journaling. We dove into thesauruses and dictionaries, identifying some key emotions. The assignment? Create a self portrait that illustrates the relationship and emotions involved.

For the past few weeks, I've done a great deal of thinking and writing about family and self, the expectations involved, the roles played, and the falling apart of family. So, mind mapping? Check! Journaling? Check!

Create the self portrait? Not so easy to make that check mark, and here's where I began to navigate a series of learning curves that would defy an experienced race car driver, and with each learning curve, I tumbled down the rabbit hole with Alice, a  disorienting, chaotic, and confusing trip for sure, uttering words not fit for polite company, and experimenting with permutations and combinations of photos and apps.

There's a whole lot going on in this self portrait - tunnels, eggshells, and me. I bounced among 3, 4, or more apps, and today's assignment brings more to come, only this time involving the mysteries of self timers, release cables, and more on my Canon DSLR.

Navigating family relationships involves walking on eggshells, and I have a completely different thought about how to portray my feelings here. It's much simpler in appearance, but I would have needed actual eggshells and have had to clean up one hell of a mess. I also need to learn all that business mentioned above with the Canon. So, for now, I'll tuck that idea away, start saving egg shells, and learn what I need to learn.

Right now, for different reasons, I feel like I'm moving through a tunnel at full speed but with lights bouncing in my eyes. I'm trying to stay in my own lane, as directed, but obviously not completely successfully. Yet, I see the green light, and green means go, baby, go. The more this family situation hangs over me, and it's all hung over me for years now, a decade even, it's time to move on it. Past time.

So, again, am I completely happy with the portrait? No, but simply because I still have that other idea in mind, and it needs to be explored. But, you know what? I do like it. It's completely different than what's in my head, but I like it. It tells my story, so, yes, I can make that check mark. Again, I'm not there yet, but I'm farther along than yesterday.

Just for grins and giggles, here are the photos that came together:


Self portrait 2a

plus this:

Self portrait 2b

equaled this:

Self portrait 2c

This is where most of the swearing occurred, learning to do some masking and erasing so that I didn't have a face full of egg shells! You can still see some rough edges here; they got cleaned up later. I did all of this using my iphone; I took the photos using my phone, and worked with various apps, the one here being Image Blender.

I then added this shot, from a recent trip through the Chesapeake Tunnel portion of the Bay/Bridge Tunnel:

Self portrait 2e

As I went back and forth, I kept fine tuning with Snapseed, Phototoaster, and Mextures. I still have an incredible amount to learn; these apps are such powerful little tools.

And, ta da, as my grands would say, I had a finished project.

Now, it's on to today's assignment, where I need to create a "virtual" world; I get to play dress up!

Oh, yeah, got some reading, studying, etc. to do. Time to go down another rabbit hole...


Great Expectations - Christmas Style


For so many years, at about this time, my inner Martha Steward would surface.

She couldn't help herself, really. Christmas lurked everywhere. In fact it had been lurking since early fall, if not sooner, in a few places.

Magazine articles promised magic, as did Pinterest. They both made it look so easy.

And, in addition, I inherited my mom's great expectations as well. Christmas meant production time, including an immaculate house (no easy feat with 4 children), an elaborate meal to be eaten early (Said children had no desire to eat - c'mon, new toys beckoned!), and relatives to visit afterward, while dressed in our very best. (Which meant, of course, we had to leave those toys behind.) Looking back, I wonder how much my mom enjoyed Christmas. Part of me suspects not much, and that she was glad to see it over and done with.

So, I don't have sugar plums dancing through my head. Instead, I have expectations. Or, at least I did.

Because you see, I am questioning most of them - questioning how much joy they bring, because for me, Christmas should bring joy.

I began shedding these expectations when my now adult kids were small. To my mother's horror, out went the blankety blank huge meal, which like me, my kids just wanted over and done with as well. We treated ourselves to steaks on the grill (Yes, even during a blizzard.) Raising 3 kids on an enlisted guy's salary very rarely included steaks, so yeah, dinner became a treat. I didn't have a planned time; when the kids began making hungry noises, Phil commenced grilling.

So, I  began to think about exactly what did bring joy; what is it about Christmas that makes me smile, and so far, I've come up with this:

  • the smell of a fresh tree
  • twinkling lights
  • candlelight
  • carols - but not too early!
  • child made decorations
  • spice drops in a candy dish
  • chilling out with family
  • decorating the dining room table
  • collections of santas and penguins
  • cookies, especially sugar cookies, pitzelles, and Italian filled cookies
  • eating when we feel like it
  • beautiful wrapping
  • manger scense
  • an amaryllis coming into bloom
  • giving the twits money to drop in the Salvation Army bucket
  • creating family photo albums with the year's memories

So much of the list appeals to the artist in me - the colors, the textures, and the smells of the season, and some of it just doesn't get done. Especially those beautifully wrapped gifts. Those wrappings are lost on 5 and 7 year old boys. They would never dream of stopping to oooh and ahhh over how I wrapped their gifts. Nope, they simply want to know the fastest way to get the paper off the presents. So, I choose a few people who I know will love it as much as I do, and their presents get the 5 Star treatment.

My husband, thank the good Lord, takes care of the cookies. Cooking and baking are his thing, his claim to fame. I just eat them. (I eat a lot of them!)

My twits (grandsons) will help to decorate the tree, and we'll make chains and snow globes this weekend, none of it up to Martha's standards, but far more precious to me than what Martha creates.

I'm beginning to downsize the decorations; each year some get given away. I don't want the trappings of Christmas to consume my life; I need time to make the memories.

Memory making commences this weekend; it will be messy.

It will be glorious!