Monday, August 30, 2010

Day After Day

Each day it is harder and harder to visit Mom and Dad. Dad is eager for me to arrive in the late afternoon and stay until 6:00 when they eat dinner. He says visiting later helps him with Mom. He watches her like a hawk and she is always restless, anxious and truly scared during these hours. Today she was in bad shape. Her chest hurt, she called for Jesus to help her, she couldn't swallow Tylonel tablets and then as we sat in the living room with CNN on the big flat screen , she fussed with the Velcro tab on her walker and 'attended to' the copy of National Geographic that the pocket holds. That magazine went in and out of the pocket at least ten times in an hour. I'd help her close the pocket with the Velcro tab and reassure her that all is OK. She says things to Dad that are way off the wall and he either cannot hear her or answers her quite factually instead of saying, "Yes, yes" to just about anything.
I left as they say down to supper. I was in a snit, irritated and sad. It is so hard to be there. I tell them what all the family is doing in fewer than 10 minutes and then I make conversation or respond to Mom's verbal wanderings. It helps me hang on longer if I type everything she says on my keyboard. Have word documents for most of my days there. I used to crochet a lot when I visited a year or two ago. One has to remain continuously engaged, but there is really nothing meaningful to say. It takes energy. I feel for Dad who sits there loyally day after day after day watching mom, telling her she looks beautiful. He does nothing but look out for her. That is love and loyalty.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Comfort Food

Made my way to Chinook's again last even and ordered and ate total comfort food after a very full day of family. Comfort food at Chinook's would be a gin martini, a smoked salmon pot pie and a hot fudge sundae, in that order.
Made me realize how emotion laden these days in Seattle can become. Mom gets very restless in the late afternoons and twice Dad told me he was grateful I was there. Mom's face becomes anxious, she wants to get up from her chair, yet has no idea where she'd like to walk, cannot get coherent phrases out and nothing is quite right for her. Dad watches her like a hawk, seeing every nuance and is tired of being 'watchful.'
Spent the morning with Caroline and kids. Lulu had a ballet class, sort of a parent open-house class that was fun to watch, but all through the exercises there was attrition as the little dancers left the center of the studio to sit on their mom's laps.
It seemed all too much for at least a third of the class. Lulu was among those who found 'something' too much. The teacher called for a ballet 'rest time'. I suspect it's something she does in every class and they all seemed to need it.
Both Charlie and Lulu seemed on edge. I put it down to yesterday's full moon. We sat at the Shell station for almost 30 minutes until they decided their mom really meant it when she asked them to put their seat belts on. I remember back in the day when I drove a car pool with six kids (Hansens, Camfields and Stouts) to the University of Houston Laboratory nursery school and often, the six got way too crazy in the back seats. I'd stop the car, turn off the radio, which invariably was playing Steely Dan, or at least, that is what I remember. We'd sit on the side of the road until they were quiet.
So, yesterday was draining. A lot of emotions stirring inside me. When I left Mom and Dad at 6:00 p.m. as they sat down to dinner, I was off to Value Village to donate more stuff that Kate and I sorted through and then I ventured into Value Village and was there over an hour filling my cart with assorted dishes, children's books and books for myself. I know what this random shopping is about. Decompressing from the day. But it wasn't over yet. At 8:00 p.m., I departed with purchases and sped toward Chinook's for the pleasant high of a martini and all that comfort food.

My Sister is Staying Ahead of the Wave

My sister had a birthday yesterday and this morning, while reading Twitter updates, I found one from her saying "The wave, the wave, the wave. I got the wave for my birthday." I followed her tiny url and found David Wight Glass Art,, and indeed, this glass maker creates glass waves. The size of paper weights or, in Kate's case, almost a foot tall. Lovely. What a perfect gift. Someone was thinking and got it just right.

OMG, the bits and pieces that I pick up about my family on Twitter and Facebook. We sure do pick up information about our loved ones in different ways than we did just several years ago. Just read an article from last Sunday's NYT Week In Review telling us that college freshman don't wear watches any more. They use their phones as timepieces. They seldom use email either, preferring social networks or instant-messaging or cellphone text messages, "to which their friends are more likely to reply quickly,"says the NYT.

Americans in general are talking less even on their cell phones. I know that my daughter Caroline rarely speaks on any phone, yet uses it moment to moment for all kinds of tasks, most of which connect her with other human beings. The NYT op-ed piece goes on to say that 'an unscheduled call from people other than family members,is often regarded as a rude intrusion.

Furthermore, "broad swaths of the blogosphere lie fallow, abandoned...a sign of adaptive behavior. Much of the communication on personal blogs, where people wrote and posted pictures of themselves, their children and their pets, was about 'sociability' and has shifted to networks like Facebook," say John Kelly, lead scientitst at Morningside Analytics,"...but professional blogs, meant for public consumption, and focused on subjects like politics, economics and news, are thriving."

My sister Kate and I have talked with one another a lot more our blogs, what they mean, why we write them and where they're taking us. Ours are both write 'personal blogs' and I suspect it's simply good practice for writing the books in our heads that will be read on Kindle and or some future, evermore innovative screen. My sister and I are writers and documenters and she's a poet too. Kate is attempting with each post to stay 'Ahead of the Wave.' Something other than two blogs will come of all this writing that we do. It may or may not be between two hard bound covers.

My sister Kate and I have talked with one another a lot more our blogs, what they mean, why we write them and where they're taking us. Ours are both 'personal blogs' and I suspect it's simply good practice for writing the books in our heads that will be read someday on Kindle and or on some future, evermore innovative screen. My sister and I are writers and documenters (and she's a poet too). Kate attempts with each post to stay 'Ahead of the Wave.' Something other than two blogs will come of all this writing that we do. It may or may not be between two hard bound covers.

As for this thing about the very young not wearing watches. I suspect that soon our phones will become so miniaturized that they may be on our wrists and we simply speak into them. No more two handed texting. We'll be a bit like Dick Tracy. Who, they'll ask, is Dick Tracy. We will nod knowingly.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Who Reads My Blog?

It is always interesting to look through my blog stats and see not only who's been reading Rockbridge Times, but what they read or download, which links they follow and where in the world they actually live. Do they log on every day, lots of time each day or every week or so?

Today, I found a reader who clicked on to Rockbridge Times from a link on 'A Baby Boomer's Life After Fifty.' This baby boomer blogger was one of the terrific women I met in New York at the BlogHer conference. Fun to read her blog and also fun to see that she linked to mine and that someone new found it. That's the real joy of linking. Offers lots of opportunities for reading and jumping from blog to blog, website to website. It's a good way to get to know like minded people.

But back to blog stats. The blogger behind 'One Woman's Life in Maine' reads my blog regularly and offers good comments. Adds another dimension if you click on comments every so often to read what others are saying. I believe the lady in Maine found me through my sister's blog 'Ahead of the Wave.' By the way, I don't visit that lady in Maine's blog often enough. She's written a lovely post on 'Eat, Pray, Love'. Have you all seen the movie yet? Read the book? I haven't done either yet, but both are on my list. I digress.

I have quite a few readers right here in Houston who aren't bloggers at all, plenty of family readers in the Pacific Northwest, several in and around New York and one devoted reader in Santa Fe. The rest are spread out across the country. As I said, stats are interesting and it's good to know this stuff. Who's reading my blog and how often do they read it?

The post that brings the most readers to Rockbridge Times via search engines is the one I wrote about Huma Abedin, Hillary Clinton's personal assistant during her campaign for the presidency. You never know where the hits will come from. I just keep on posting for the sheer pleasure of writing.

More Family Visits and One Martini

It's been two days since I've posted. Need a decent Internet connection and it's uncertain at best here in Mom and Dad's house. My connection, borrowed as it is, is not strong enough to add photos to this post. Need a wifi connection in a coffee shop or I need to be at my sister's or daughters' houses. I'll be lucky if I can publish this. This is all digression.
Early last evening after I'd visited Mom and Dad and then Caroline, Charlie and Lulu and then Jeanne, Dan, Kelan and Lauren, I made my way across the Ballard Bridge straight to Chinook's. I took a seat in the bar over looking a multitude of fishing boats and pleasure crafts, ordered a gin martini with two olives and a pot of steamed mussels and sat there for almost an hour, perfectly happy.
Returned home near dark and fell into bed to read a little more of Francoise Gilot's 'Life With Picasso.' Then slept through a night that I remember as filled with very nice dreams. This morning, I worked an hour or two on the first draft of the vignettes I am stringing together for the memoir group of which I'm a member. I have a week to complete this draft and give it some order. What I really need to do is print everything out, lay the pages on the floor and literally cut and paste it into some sort of ordered narrative. It's been fun to write and I've gotten some good and funny feedback from the group already.
Went on to spend the afternoon with Mom and Dad. A hairdresser came to the adult family home about 3:00 and finally we got Mom's hair cut the way she wore it several years ago. I brought photos of her and as the hairdresser said after he gave her a new cut, "She's now in the 21st century." I couldn't agree more. Kate and I have been saying she looked a bit like a British barrister of late. He cut her hair short on the sides and around the back of her neck and it took ten years off her age. Nothing like a good haircut.
I left Mom and Dad watching an 'I Love Raymond' rerun and decided to dash into DSW for a look at boots. Thinking of fall already and what kinds of boots will go with those silk pants that I wear five days out of seven. Of course, I found some. Found some sexy heels too.
Kate came over for supper. Consisted of sliced tomatoes and cucumbers with fresh basil, artisan bread and sweet butter with cranberries and orange peel, all from the farmer's market plus a can of Progresso lentil soup to which I added green salsa.
Then we tackled another set of dresser drawers and I have bags more to donate to Value Village. All clothes that will never be worn by Mom or anyone in this family ever again. I think we'll take a look at the buffet before Labor Day weekend and see if there are things that grandchildren might want. We can set stuff out on the dining room table and see what interests them. My sister wrote a terrific blog post on our first foray into the closets in this house. We're saving the good stuff. That would be tucked away birthday cards from Dad to Mom, special jewelry buried among stockings and tons of bras with worn elastic.
Perhaps after this purging, I can do a better job with my own drawers, my own closet and every closet in my house. If I died tomorrow, my daughters would have an unbelievably hard job going through their mother's 'things.' God help them, whenever. This is a reminder for me to go through my stuff, drawer by drawer by drawer. And those boxes in the closets? They should definitely be pared down too.
Tomorrow morning I'm out early to see Lulu's ballet recital. After that, who knows?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Tuesday Family Times

Another big day in Seattle. This morning Kate and I sorted through a closet at Mom and Dad's house, filling bags with shoes that may be 15 and 20 years old and will never be worn again, slacks that not fit in years, turtlenecks with stains and tears, ties that Dad has already said he does not want, belts that will never again go around Mom's waist. Mom is a great saver. Dad always wanted to clear things out. He'd be pleased with what we accomplished today. Mom would never let us hear the end of it. We took a lot of photographs and were filled with nostalgia from moment to moment.
We found the set of missing keys to Dad's car in a purse that Mom carried to Merrill Gardens four years ago. It's four years ago this month that we moved our parents into assisted living in Queen Anne. And we've moved them three more times as their needs increased and their physical capabilities lessen. It's been a very long and arduous four years for all of us, parents and siblings. None of it has been easy. Who knew? Who knew anything at all?
Kate and I worked for over two hours this morning in that one closet and that is about the limit, especially with a Benedryl coursing through my system. House dust got me five minutes into the task. Stopped for a double shot Americano on my way to see Mom and Dad.
Our task this afternoon was to draft a letter to friends who've been in touch with them via letters and cards since the Christmas holidays. Dad talked about what he'd like to say and I transcribed directly into a word document.
Mom talked about many things as we worked, but few of her words were related to the letter itself. I've begun transcribing what she says as she says it and am finding that there is a theme of late among all the sentences that drift off or end with colloquialisms and filler phrases. Mom would speak, doze off and then begin her narrative again. I managed a rough draft of the letter to friends before Dad went off to his room for a nap.
Later in the afternoon, caregivers got all the folks outside on this beautiful day for a cook-out. They called it a barbecue, but being from Texas I would not call what they were preparing a real barbecue. Just really nice grilled shish-kabobs. Everyone seemed to be wearing brimmed straw hats from the house so I got Dad's straw summer hat from his closet shelf and he looked quite dashing.
Left them just after 4:00 and headed to Caroline and Steve's to see the other two grandchildren for the first time. Charlie and Lulu were in the midst of an early supper and I managed to eat a few of their tater tots, miniature meat balls and even some green garden peas.
That was it for supper. Made Charlie laugh when I put my hand out for green peas.
They are well and growing, growing. Lulu took me on a walk around the block and we picked a few blackberries from a neighbor's bushes, smelled lavender and generally had a nice time together.
These four children are so self-possessed and sure of their place in the world. That would be the result of good parenting and plenty of opportunities for learning. Hurray for my daughters and their spouses.
By the way, Caroline and the kids chose a new small orange kitty for their household today. He's really cute. Our family sure likes orange cats.
So now I am over at Jeanne's using her wifi. Got locked out of Caroline's and she couldn't remember her password and was reading bedtime stories to her kids. Need to get back to the house soon as it's 9:30 and tomorrow is another days of visits. All of a sudden I am really, really tired.
Oh, one last thing. Kelan and Lauren were busy this afternoon with a LemonAID stand for Pakistan and they'll be at it in front their house again tomorrow in the early evening. Their socially conscious parents are raising socially conscious children.

A Sibling Visit

Yesterday I spent about four afternoon hours at Mom and Dad's. Kate arrived in the middle of the visit and one of the first things she did was get Dad's hearing aids so he could participate in our conversation. He doesn't wear them on the weekends as he doesn't think the weekend caregivers put them in his ears as well as the caregiver who's there Monday through Friday. Kate was on it.
I'd have never thought of it. She'd ask Dad if he could hear and Mom, who's eyes were closed, would answer 'yes.' We got the giggles. Finally Mom did indeed dose off and Kate left for home. Dad and I walked around the garden and he got to smell the roses.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Sylvan Beach

This story is worth a mouse click on the link. Nothing to do with my trip to Seattle, but came across the link on Facebook. Spending time on Facebook means I need to stop everything and go to bed. And read that paperback book "Life With Picasso" by Francoise Gilot which I brought from Houston and am loving. Onward to bed and book.

Beach At the Bottom of Discovery Park

Today is Monday and what a beautiful day it has been. I told Dad yesterday that I'd not be visiting today because I planned a walk with Jeanne and the kids down to the beach below the bluff in Discovery Park. Slept late, ate steel cut oats covered with fruit and maple syrup and met Jeanne at 11:00 so we could go to the paint store and get samples of the Pacific Northwest's Devine paint colors for her living and dining rooms.
It was low tide around noon and so we headed for the beach right after we picked up Kelan and Lauren from day camp at 12:30. Off we went, the four of us on foot all the way from the Discovery Park Visitor's Center on the loop trail to the cut off for the stair steps down to the beach. Jeanne and I figured out the walk there was about two miles which makes our return to the car another two miles with plenty of uphill walking.
We sure got our exercise today and the kids were troopers. We kept urging them along and as they'd done the walk several weeks ago, there were no surprises for either of them. We'll all sleep well tonight.
The beach is lovely and the sun was brilliant. We could see Mount Rainier to the south as well as the Olympic Mountains to the west across the water.
Wasn't long before the tide was fully in so no walking way out to tidal pools, but I'd say the afternoon still rated an A.
Caroline and family have been out of town, but they're all back today, so I'll get to see Charlie Bean and Lulu Bell tomorrow evening for the first time this trip. In the morning, Kate and I plan to tackle one or more of Mom's closets at the house. There is tons of stuff she will never wear or use again and we've decided to go at this slowly over time. Whenever we do clear the house, I can say that it will be a tremendous job, filled with emotion and hard work.
Tomorrow afternoon, I'll see Mom and Dad and work with Dad transcribing a 'family letter' in response to all the cards and notes they've received since Christmas. Kate and I are dividing up the labor. I'll write the letter with Dad and add a photo or two and she will address and mail them. Thankfully, we are both happy with our chosen part of the process.
This is my fourth day in Seattle and it seems I've been here much longer. Can't tell you how wonderful the weather is. Invigorating, to put it mildly. Just makes me happy to be outside. Love crossing the Ballard Bridge, seeing all the fishing and private boats too. And all the glimpses of blue water. The air is clear and if the sun keeps showing itself in the afternoons and early evenings, those blackberries should have enough sugar in them by next week.
So, here's some more of this day in pictures.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Houston Underrated

I knew it was true. Houston is the most underrated city in this country. We've never been able to give ourselves an identity. Is it because of our sprawl which makes all the good stuff harder to find? Who knows? But the editors of Sherman's Travel have called it out. We are simply under appreciated and yes, we do have the goods.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Late Summer in Seattle

I flew to the Pacific Northwest yesterday and I have to say it's perfectly beautiful here. Crisp air, blue skies, pockets of real quiet with no traffic sounds, no leaf blowers, chain saws, ambulances, trains. Realize how very noisy Houston is. All the time. And of course, it's hot as Hades there now.
I'm in Seattle to see family. Four generations of near and dear family. Very old parents who've both celebrated their 93d birthdays this year, two daughters and husbands, four grandchildren, my sister and her family. That's a lot of visiting.
But I've got over two weeks. In the cab ride from the airport yesterday, I began to relax into it all. Family is family and I am very glad to be here. It was cold in bed last night and I was wishing for a blanket but was too asleep and dreaming to get up and get one. That won't happen tonight. Intend to pile on the blankets.
This morning I went for a walk in Discovery Park and once again, I feel it a luxury to have this park to walk in every day. Took a container so I could pick blackberries. There are plenty, but they are not altogether ready yet. Just ripening.
The blackberries need a week or two more of warm sun to be at their peak. It took me over forty minutes to fill a smallish container to take to Dad and Mom. After my walk in the park, I wandered through Magnolia's Farmer's Market and bought organic beets, tomatoes, purslane, rhubarb and two jars of honey, one of which is loaded with habenero chilies. I left the cheese kurd and kale behind for next week.
I've seen Jeanne, Dan and the kids twice already. Yesterday the kids modeled the clothes they will wear to a wedding next weekend. They move so quickly and constantly that focus is next to nil without a flash. Had a really early supper with them at 5:30 after I left Mom and Dad.
Now I'm here at Kate and Denny's. He's the chef in this branch of the family and tonight we ate chicken soaked in coconut milk and grilled on skewers and gado gado, which is veggies with peanut sauce. Really, really good peanut sauce.
Caroline and Steve and kids are out of town this weekend - and sick too. Need to get back to the house and call it a day. Another walk in the park is first on the agenda for Sunday morning. Can't get any better than that.
My days will be filled to the brim.

Saturday Afternoon in Seattle

I am sitting here with Mom in the living room of the adult family home in which she and Dad are living. Mom is perusing today’s NYT, but I don’t think she is actually reading much. Looks as if she now wants to get up from her chair, so I’ve handed her another section of the paper. She’s looking at the pictures. A few moments pass and again, she’d like to get out of her chair and deposit sections of the paper under another resident’s chair. From her raspy breathing, I’d say the snort of asthma medicine she was given half hour ago didn’t really work.

We try a walk outside and get fewer than 20 feet from the door. The air is clear and there are potted flowers everywhere. Lovely, but Mom hurts too much to go on. Every step hurts her back, hurts everything, she says, and is near tears. I hold the heavy belt around her waist very carefully as she turns 180 degrees and we head back to the open door.

Dad’s up from his nap. He allowed himself a nap because I am here for the full afternoon and he feels Mom will be ‘looked after’. Not that she isn’t looked after, but he feels responsible and she is indeed restless, always. Dad is all smiles because he’s rested. A caregiver turns on the TV. Only one resident is interested in this cycle of CNN news. I watch news flashes at the bottom of the screen.

"There is a lightening fire in Yellowstone. Israel and Palestinians will resume talks. Louisiana opens some areas to crabbing. Biden says Democrats will keep the House and Senate."

Mail arrives. Dad tucks the letter from Vice President Joe Biden in the fold of his chair. There’s a second envelope for Mom. Dad is bent on opening Mom's envelope, but she says he’s too slow. She says she’ll open it. The envelope and letter opener are very slowly transferred from his hand to hers.

Actually, it takes her awhile to open the envelope. It’s another piece of junk mail from a pharmaceutical company touting Humira, a drug used to reduce signs and symptoms of moderate to severe rheumatoid arthritis. The act of opening this envelope has taken over five minutes and Mom doesn't really look at the brochure. She sets it aside. With help from a caregiver, Mom does indeed rise from her chair and I assume she’s on her way to the bathroom.

Dad tells me he is not wearing his hearing aids which means I have to enunciate carefully, leave a silent space between each word and speak more loudly or with a lower pitch. Dad doesn’t wear hearing aids on weekends because he doesn’t think the weekend caregivers put them in his ears as well as his Monday-Friday caregiver does.

Today, I brought him several more photo albums filled with family pictures from the 1970s. He is immersed in them now and Mom’s head is tipped forward. She has finally fallen into a nap. CNN is giving an update on Iraq.

"We are leaving a country that has had elections, but is not able to come up with a prime minister in five months time. Will that Sunni, Shitite tension return?" The commentator laments, "Sad as we end our phase there, we can not look at a stable government. Is Iran the winner here?" CNN is filling time with opinions. I look again at the bottom of the screen.

"Egyptian authorities recover stolen Van Gogh painting. Failed bomb attempt in Somalia."

The afternoon wears on. The sun outside is brilliant. Caregivers bring an afternoon snack of canned mixed fruit. Mom eats every bit of hers. Dad is more interested in the photo albums. The other residents are either napping or dozing. CNN is giving us coverage about the proposed new Muslim community center/mosque near Ground Zero and interviewing Tom DeLay. The mosque location is fine with me. Tom DeLay’s exoneration is nuts. I live in Texas. I know this decision is nuts.

I’ve been listening to CNN for an hour now and there’s no word about the floods in Pakistan. Why not? What’s the world doing about this tsunami of flood waters? Not enough yet, it seems or we’d be hearing more about these efforts. At least, we'd be hearing about it on CNN. Anderson Cooper would be on site. Is he on his way?

Dad and I walk in the garden and I pick a stalk of lavender for him to smell. Honey bees are feasting. We walk past yellow roses and we smell their sweetness. Dad makes this walk twice a day with a caregiver. Years ago he walked three miles in Discovery Park early every morning. Knew every trail, every walker. Picked blackberries by the thousands there every summer.

I’ve had about enough of this afternoon. Is it the news or lack of it or is it about my very old parents? Is it about my inability to do anything, anything at all about either the situation in Pakistan or Mom and Dad's quality of life situation at 93? I fear the answer is yes to both.