Wednesday, December 26, 2012

O Holy Night

I had a good visit with Mom last Sunday. She was in the Special Care Unit dining room when I arrived, sitting in a wheelchair. When I asked, the nurse said Mom has had trouble standing for the last few days so they're using the pulley system again to move her in and out of bed (she needed the same thing last year after her hospital stay). It looks like a hammock that gets hooked to a bedside crane (for lack of a better word); lifts her from bed to wheelchair, and from wheelchair to bed without the struggle of finding her balance. I was sad to hear she isn't standing on her own, but she didn't seem phased by it.

The nurse told me Mom had been bathed earlier in the day. She said that Dad visited but he walked in the bedroom (she lowered her voice), "just as we were pulling off her pants!" Mom laughed hysterically. I said, "Good thing it was Daddy!" That nurse is so funny. She always includes Mom as co-conspirator in her jokes.

I rolled Mom's chair into the visiting room (the one with the birds) and we sang Christmas carols for an hour. So lovely.

While I was flipping through the hymnal looking for our next song, Mom started humming God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen all by herself (a very upbeat rendition).

It was surreal to be singing about peace on earth, silent nights, and joy to the world. But sitting next to Mom in a nursing home didn't make the lyrics seem less true. Singing those words with her linked this Christmas to every other Christmas we've celebrated as a family. At the very least, the songs comforted me. "Tidings of comfort and joy" didn't spring to my mind on their own.

I asked Mom what she pictured when she sang (the look on her face was so pensive as she hummed). I couldn't understand her answer. I told her I pictured Grandpa at the piano, Sunday School Christmas programs as a little person, choir rehearsals, singing with the cousins accompanied by mandolins, and carolers at the front door.

I said a prayer with her before I left. It's easier to pray when she's in the room. She wasn't emotional, just seemed her happy self. I am SO THANKFUL. I needed that more than she did.

My friend Cami asked recently, "How can you make the holidays truly consecrated, held apart from the average workaday business to acknowledge how sacred life is?"

For me, it was singing Christmas carols with Mom.

Peace on earth, goodwill to men.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Letter to My Twelve Year Old Self

Dear Age 12 Emily,

I'm writing to tell you a few strategies for handling the things that upset you. "Stress" is a hard thing to explain and isn't usually something kids are taught how to handle. But you are already familiar with feeling overwhelmed, fluttery in your stomach, nervous, and worried. I want to help you deal with those feelings.

Anxiety is a little like a mosquito bite. The more attention you give it, the more bothersome it becomes. Mom tells you to slap a bug bite (let it sting) and then leave it alone. Don't scratch it. With anxiety, it’s the same thing: give it your best shot, then leave it be.

Instead of a slap, the way to change your focus is to do something to distract yourself. It could be something active or something restful. Anything that takes your mind off whatever it is that's making you feel crazy. Take a bath. Give yourself a pedicure. Read a good story. Do some arts and crafts. Play with a pet (Droopy always likes attention). Do a chore. Write a letter. Practice piano. Bake something. Take a walk. Say a short prayer. Ask a brother or sister to play a game with you (they’d love it, even if you feel kind of annoyed. You’ll be glad later).

When you pull eyelashes or hair, you get tunnel vision. What you need is the opposite, something that makes you look up, notice the horizon, see what the sun or the moon or the clouds are doing. Watch for shooting stars.

That super-focused state when you're fiddling with hair is kind of like bellows on the wood stove fire. You’d think oxygen would extinguish flame (like blowing out a candle) but it actually feeds it. In fact, a fire with NO air goes out. Stop feeding your anxiety by giving it so much TLC.

If I was with you today, I’d French-braid your hair. I’d scratch your back. I'd give you a bear hug. I’d ask for your help making a collage from magazine pages. We could try fancy new cursive signatures (you’ll need to get really good at the letter U). I’d whisper to you that life is less about good behavior and more about enjoying yourself: fewer polite smiles and more belly laughs. Less silent observing and more Broadway show tunes, with choreography.

You already hear it a lot, but maybe coming from me it will mean something: stop worrying about what people might think of you. The reality is that everybody makes snap judgments and everyone also changes their minds. You can’t control what other people think. You can only do your best to say and do things that make you proud, happy, and confident. Don’t be afraid of growing up with a lot of regrets. So far, the only regret is all the time spent worrying about this kind of thing.
I love you. Your life is full of great things and you are ready to appreciate them ALL.


Age 31 Emily

This letter was prompted by a recent conversation with my counselor, addressing my current anxiety and compulsive behavior. Expressing compassion for the young version of me who invented coping mechanisms has been powerful.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Anne Lamott and Three Essential Prayers

Help, Thanks, Wow: Three Essential Survival Prayers

Hot off the press, Anne Lamott's latest book is about prayer. It's small, barely over 100 pages, but every sentence packs a punch. It's one of those rare finds that churns me up inside, makes me weepy and a little uncomfortable, but also makes me feel like flinging myself forward into the wild and reassuring message like a kid launching a belly flop onto a pile of hot, clean laundry on Mom and Dad's bed. To say is "strikes a chord" doesn't quite capture it.

Favorite passages so far:
Imagining God can be so different from wishful thinking, if your spiritual experiences change your behavior over time. Have you become more generous, which is the ultimate healing? Or more patient, which is a close second? Did your world become bigger and juicier and more tender? Have you become ever so slightly kinder to yourself? This is how you tell [pg 21].
Domestic pain can be searing, and it is usually what does us in. It's almost indigestible: death, divorce, old age, drugs; brain damaged children, violence, senility, unfaithfulness. Good luck with figuring it out. It unfolds you, and you experience it, and it is so horrible and endless that you could almost give up a dozen times. But grace can be the experience of a second wind, when even though what you want is clarity and resolution, what you get is stamina and poignancy and the strength to hang on [pg 47, emphasis mine].

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Auntie Em's Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

I love baking. Especially in the fall, when it gets dark early. The kitchen warms up with the oven and the smell of cinnamon makes the whole house feel cozy.

I've tweaked the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook version by adding more spices (nobody wants to eat a bland oatmeal cookie). I use a heaping teaspoon of cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg (and sometimes ginger).

Fresh ground nutmeg is my new favorite.


Auntie Em's Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

3/4 cup (softened) butter
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 heaping tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 3/4 cup flour
1 cup raisins or currants
2 cups old fashioned rolled oats

Beat butter till light and airy. Add brown sugar and granulated sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and spices. Once combined, add eggs and vanilla. Add flour, then stir in oats and raisins with a wooden spoon (it'll be too thick for the egg beater).

Bake at 375 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes (I take them out of the oven before they turn brown so they stay soft).

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Halloween 2012

On Halloween, my running group got together for our regular track workout. Even though it was pouring down rain, I wore a costume. If you're wondering how to make exercise more enjoyable, I highly recommend dress-up.

If it's a dark and stormy night and you're with fun-loving friends, all the better.

I was DRENCHED when I got home. But so happy.

Soggy feet, sideways rain, mud, cold, wind and darkness don't sound like the features of an enjoyable evening. But I had a blast. 

I'm learning that physical exertion is only part of the equation: regularly scheduled FUN is essential to my health.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Doubt + Belief

Faith is a bird in my cupped hands.

One wing represents doubt: all my questions, uncertainty, unmet expectations, pain.

The other tiny wing represents belief: family, love, friendship, beauty, prayer.

Both wings are necessary to fly.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

It's getting harder to look on the bright side

I found out this weekend that my mom is on new medication for hallucinations. Apparently, she is convinced there is a man (or men) trying to harm her. I think it’s happening at night exclusively, most likely while she’s sleeping. Dad doesn’t think Mom is in any danger, but trying to convince her that she is OK just agitates her.

It’s hard not to think of Alzheimer’s as a powerful opponent, one that is winning. The normal progression of aging is already a hard reality, but Alzheimer’s seems aggressive, malicious, and systematic. It's been a year (this week) since Mom moved into the nursing home. These hallucinations are the first signs of distress we've seen. She's seemed bored and exhausted and sad in the last year, but the fear and distrust are new.

When Dad told the nursing staff how upset Mom was, they had to do an investigation, including a police interview to get a statement (she doesn’t speak in sentences anymore, so I can’t imagine it was very informative; how extra scary for her). The nursing home made changes so that she is seated with women for meals and only female caregivers work with her.

The nurses thought she might have another bladder infection. When they did some tests, they determined she is also diabetic.


I visited Mom on Saturday morning, but she was so drowsy from the meds, she was barely responsive. She had spilled breakfast all down the front of her and had over-easy egg on both hands, up to her wrists. An uneaten portion was on the floor. The nurses were busy with the louder residents, so I asked for a wash cloth and cleaned Mom's hands, rubbing the dried yolk from her knuckles and between her fingers.

I kept smiling and telling her it was good to see her, but there was no recognition in her eyes. She tried to say something, but I couldn't understand what it was. I cleaned her gently, like a baby, but she squirmed and grimaced and said “Ow!” as I rubbed the warm, soapy washcloth on her hands. I reassured her as best I could, and felt like an actress using a cheerful voice in such an UNcheerful setting. The other women at Mom’s table eyed me suspiciously and silently.

Once Mom was cleaned up, a nurse had to help her walk down the hall to the visiting room. Mom clutched a walker and the nurse put a thick canvas belt around her waist to help guide her. I tried to coax her along, “You’re doing great Mom, follow me!” But she didn’t look past the handles of the walker and kept veering slowly to her left, into the wall.

The nurse was so sweet. “Come on Vicki, you’ve got to be a strong Vicki!” and teased her about her driving skills. Not so much as a chuckle from Mom. It took all her concentration to move one foot after another. She resisted, unsure of her footing, and was visibly concerned. It felt like it took forever to get into the visiting room. The nurse sat her down in a white wicker chair with a thick cushion. I pulled another chair up close so I could face her.

I tried to show Mom pictures of her new grand baby, but she couldn’t focus on the little poster I made. Her eyes wandered past the images each time I tried to point out the faces, but she still made approving sounds, knowing how to respond when asked, “Isn’t he cute?” I took pictures of her holding baby Clive's photo, but I'm too protective to share them. She doesn't look like herself (hopefully the nurse is right, and this stupor will pass as she gets used to the medicine).

To distract us both from my awkward attempt to "introduce" Mom and Clive via photographs, I took pictures of the birds who live in the visiting room. They make sweet chattering sounds while we visit, and it's comforting. Thank you birds, for giving me something to appreciate.

I hung my hand made poster outside Mom's room.

I wonder how diabetes fits into all this confusion. Maybe her blood sugar has been affected by her prescriptions.

One of the worst things about Alzheimer's Disease is not knowing the cause. It's like a double whammy of grief and confusion. How did this happen? Were there factors leading up to Mom's diagnosis that we should have recognized, so all this could have been prevented?

There are a lot of theories I've heard, but they just feed my sense of paranoia. I worry about aluminum in deodorant. Mercury in dental work. Scratched Teflon cookware. Lack of vitamin B.

It feels like treading water on the open sea, holding on to an ice floe that keeps shrinking.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Nephew #2

He's here!

Baby Clive was born on Wednesday. 

I am so proud of my sister and brother in law. They are awesome parents. 

Life is good. 

Friday, September 14, 2012

Good things to do in Summer (2012 edition)

Celebrate 31st birthday with your favorite people

Wear a hot pink sombrero
Girls' night out with adorable friends (mojitos and live jazz a must)
Visit the park with nephew #1


Attend baby showers for pregnant sister and nephew #2

Celebrate Dad's 60th birthday with a family work party and surprise dinner with friends


Visit Mom and make her laugh
Take a week-long vacation with Hubbins for home-improvement projects

Attend a family wedding in a rose garden.

Share bouquets from the garden

Bake a raspberry pie with sister
Sew decorations and gifts for nephew #2 to stay busy while waiting to meet him!