Sunday, December 21, 2008

Light Perpetual

Mom died peacefully at Capital Hospice in Arlington, VA yesterday afternoon. We sat at her bedside Friday night, told her we loved her, said our good-byes. We think she knew we were there. We are deeply grateful to the staff and volunteers at Capital Hospice for the loving care they gave her in her final hours.

Rest eternal grant to her, O Lord:
And let light perpetual shine upon her.

Friday, December 19, 2008

And Then She Was Gone

Yesterday the ambulance came at noon and took Mom to the hospice's inpatient center. For nearly a week, she'd been in severe pain from a fall. She'd also become increasingly agitated, constantly trying to get out of bed despite extreme weakness. Her voice became like a little girl's. She spoke barely above a whisper; her wishes made no sense. When in bed, she wanted to be in her chair. Once in her chair, she wanted to go back to bed. She fell the other night while trying to get out of bed. Phil and I found her crumpled and shivering on the floor at 4 AM.

Yesterday, during the hospice nurse's visit, Mom was determined to get out of bed. Carol said, "Stay in bed, Sweetie." "I will," Mom would say, but within seconds she'd start struggling again.

Carol thought Mom might be experiencing "terminal agitation." When a couple of doses of morphine and Haloperidol failed to calm Mom, Carol suggested a short stay at the inpatient center. If Mom's agitation is indeed a sign that the end is near, then the Haloperidol might help her let go and pass away. If her agitation is due to pain or infection, the hospice center will treat the underlying condition and send her back to us.

It happened so suddenly. Binta, the home health care aide, was also here yesterday morning. She stripped the bed, cleaned Mom up, put her in a fresh nightie, and got her into her hooded winter coat for the ambulance ride. She also combed Mom's long hair and plaited it into a single braid. Mom looked so sweet. Still, it was sad to see her on that bright yellow gurney all ready to go, her hair in a braid. How furious she would have been about that hairdo just a month ago.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Ball Is in My Court

The hospice nurse just called. She had spoken with the doctor who suggested that I "might want" to take Mom to the Emergency Room to have her wrist x-rayed for a possible hairline fracture. I don't want. Not after the awful experience we had when I took her to the Emergency Room on November 16th.

We arrived at 2 PM. Mom was in her bathrobe and so lethargic that she could hardly sit upright on her chair. "Triage" seemed to think that everyone else's problems were more serious, so we waited and waited. Finally, I dared to ask why all these other people were being seen ahead of my 99-year-old mother. I got a starchy, professional response: "Patients are seen in order of the urgency of their complaints." Didn't look to me as if anyone was bleeding to death from a gunshot wound. Everyone else seemed cheerful and ambulatory, even the guy who had been poked in the eye.

Finally, around 4, we were admitted to the Inner Sanctum. They drew Mom's blood and did an EKG. They put her on an IV, but as she got rehydrated, she got antsy. Tearing at the wires and tubes, she asked, "Why am I here?" "What are we waiting for?" Finally I approached the attending physician. She was wearing purple scrubs and rhinestone-studded high heels. The shoes irritated me.

"What are we waiting for?"

She turned poisonous eyes away from the computer screen for a moment and replied icily, "I am waiting for the results of the urinalysis."

"But you haven't done one yet."

"We most certainly did!" she snapped. She grabbed a printout and hurriedly scanned it. "Um, we seem to have missed that. Well, someone will be right in."

A nurse placed Mom on the bedpan and left. Forty minutes later, I went looking for her. She apologized for forgetting all about Mom, but Mom had been unable to urinate in any case. A technician came in to catheterize her. After several unsuccessful attempts, she called in a nurse to help. The ghouls finally got their specimen, which they sent to the lab.

Around 10:15, the doctor breezed back in. Ignoring me, she delivered a speech to Mom, who blinked at her uncomprehendingly. "Well, my dear," she proclaimed grandly, " I am sending you home. I am giving you a prescription for an antibiotic, which you can have your pharmacist fill tomorrow. I want you to see your regular doctor first thing in the morning."

We were home by 11 PM. Mom fell into bed, exhausted. I don't want to return to the Emergency Room. The hospice nurse says it's my call. The ball is in my court.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Another Bad Fall

Mom fell again on Saturday. As usual, she was trying to get around without the hated walker, and the inevitable happened. Her wrist is hideously swollen and her tiny arm is black and blue to the elbow. The pain must be excrutiating. When the hospice nurse asked her to rate the pain on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the worst pain imaginable, she said "9" without hesitation. She's now on morphine.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Two Thousand and One

Last night I heard Mom muttering, "Two thousand and one. Two thousand and one."

"What about two thousand and one, Mom?" I asked.

"That's how old I will be in April, " she replied.

"Independent" and feisty one day, lost in a fog the next.

Last weekend the Grand Dame of Independent Living was back in residence. She informed Phil that it was past time to feed Ramsey and Violet, because "those dogs are starving." She instructed me to wash her favorite slacks in cold water. I was to stop "babying" her because she has always "done for herself." This she said while shakily pouring boiling water into a cup for instant coffee. Finally, I was to take "that thing (walker) out of here." She did not need it. How many other 99-year-old women did I know who could get around as well as she? About that fall a week ago when she banged her head on a protruding corner and made half her face black-and-blue? It was nothing. I should stop making a mountain out of a, out of a . . .

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

He Makes Me Laugh

Andrew, our 6-year-old grandson, recently informed me that "nobody can count to 100."

"I can, " I said, "but it's boring."

Pause. Then Andrew asked, "Is there a shortcut?"

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Our Friend, David

Two and a half years ago, on the weekend of July 4th, our friend David woke and found himself unable to speak. Within days, he was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. A month later, he and his girlfriend of many years attended our daughter's wedding. David wore a straw brimmed hat to cover the scar from his surgery. His wife-to-be said that he looked like the "perfect Southern gentleman."

Another surgery followed that October. He never really recovered his ability to speak, but, despite his difficulties with communicating, we knew that David was still there behind his impish grin. The next spring he and M were married. They both quit working. He took an "extended leave of absence" because the work he loved had become impossible, and she retired, in order to care for him. On December 4th, M called to tell us that David had died at home early that morning.

We'll never forget David. He was a bit eccentric and very opinionated. Even as a young man, he affected the persona of an irascible curmudgeon. He professed to live by three rules:

1) Never buy a house.
2) Never get married.
3) Never have children.

His friends were surprised and delighted when he broke rules one and two.

He was fun to be with. For years, before he and M began celebrating holidays with her grown-up children, he would usually spend Thanksgiving with our family. He'd have us all roaring with laughter at the stories he'd tell, such as the merry chase that ensued on Christmas morning at his cousin's house when a gift piglet escaped from its box under the tree.

Until his widowed mother moved in with him in her 90's, he would fly home during holidays and at other times to be with her. One October, after he'd just returned from a visit, I asked how she was doing.

"Oh, she's fine, now that she knows that her furnace wasn't stolen."

"Why'd she think it was stolen?"

"She went down in the basement and it wasn't where she thought it should be."

"So what made her realize that it wasn't stolen?"

"Well, it came ON."

He pronounced "on" like "own," being from Alabama. During our last visit with him in July, we saw a photo of his grandfather in his Confederate Army uniform, sitting tall astride a horse. We saw a portrait of his father, a pilot in the first World War. David's grandfather--but perhaps it was his father-- spent a brief time in jail for refusing to pay some kind of tax or fine. This sounds like something David would have done.

He worked in the same office as my husband. They disagreed on most things political. When my husband bemoaned the loss of habitat for the spotted owl, David would have none of it. "So what if it becomes extinct?" he said. "Science can always breed something better than the spotted owl." Their disagreements rarely got in the way of their discussions.

David loved classical music. He had a huge collection of CDs, which he kept scattered all over the floor of his living room. Another friend, who meticulously catalogued and organized his own enormous collection, was aghast at David's indifference to order. "But what happens when you want to compare one guy's performance with another?" (This was the kind of music lovers they were.) "Oh," said David, "I just paw through the stuff on the floor, and if I don't find what I'm looking for, I always find something else I'm just as happy to listen to."

This was our David. We loved him, and now he is gone.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Joey Survives Thanksgiving

Joey was an unwanted mutt (a beagle-mix, also called a "rabbit dog" by the local Amish ) who belonged to a neighbor of Phil's dad in rural Knox County, Ohio. When Dad learned that Joey had ended up at the pound, he offered to spring him if we would take him. (Dad had several dogs and was feeding about 56 outdoor cats on a limited income.) At first, I said no way. We already had a standard schnauzer, a pug, two teen-agers, and a cat. Ten minutes later, I relented. Phil called Dad, who rushed to the pound for an eleventh-hour rescue. Joey was scheduled to be put down that morning.

Joey never forgot his hard-scrabble puppyhood, when his owner often neglected to feed him. Even after he moved in with us, he seemed forever ravenous. We've always roasted two turkeys: one for our church's community Thanksgiving dinner and one for us. One Thanksgiving morning over twenty years ago, Phil was carving the church turkey while Joey stood under the table, wolfing down anything that fell and begging for more. I had just seen an article in the paper about dogs being rushed to the vet after eating too much Thanksgiving turkey. Some even die. I cautioned Phil to go easy on the handouts.

A little later I found a mound of frothy vomit on the carpet. Joey looked fine, but I thought, "Uh-oh, this dog's in trouble." I was wickedly busy. I knew that a trip to the emergency vet would take up the rest of the day, so I decided to keep an eye on Joey but say nothing to Phil for the time being.

Now where was that bag of mini-marshmallows for the sweet potatoes? I looked high and low. I finally found the ripped-open bag under the desk minus the marshmallows.

Joey survived Thanksgiving and we survived Thanksgiving without marshmallows on the sweet potatoes.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Sled Ride

This is the first poem I've written in a long time. Reader, she married him.


Two tiny girls,
capped and mittened,
snug in a baby's sled,
Mother's boots squeaking
in the crisp, new snow
as she pulled us along,
down the hill
and through the park,
across the creaky wooden bridge.

The stream trickled slowly
as water stood freezing in the pond.
Bare branches rattled in the ice-blue sky,
clutching at winter as if to hold it close.

Spring was stirring in our mother's frozen heart.
Who was this man we didn't know?
Her smile was warm as April,
her laughter, dazzling as crystals.
Who was this man out walking in the snow?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Requiem for a Gravy Separator

Thanksgiving is coming and the turkey's dripping fat.

We used to have the best gravy separator ever. In addition to a spout, this one featured a trap door on the bottom. You slid the trap door open to drain the broth and shut it when only the grease was left. One day it developed a hairline crack. It is now one of my grandson's favorite bathtub toys.

How I miss it. The ones with just spouts don't do it for me. No matter how deftly you try to pour the broth--(and no one has ever called me deft)--some grease comes along for the ride. I have scoured the internet for a replacement. How many times have I been lured to a site by promises of "the best gravy separator ever" only to be disappointed with the same old, same old. Spouts, spouts, and more spouts. Spouts up high, spouts down low, spouts with stoppers.


Saturday, November 22, 2008

Wonders Unceasing

I would have never thought of requesting hospice care for Mom if a friend hadn't suggested it. At 5 AM on Wednesday morning, I impulsively contacted Capital Hospice on line. Shortly after 9 AM, a hospice rep called and set up a next-day appointment for a nurse to visit and make an assessment. The nurse spent two hours talking with me. She also had a brief chat with Mom. By Thursday evening, the hospice had contacted Mom's doctor, who certified her need for in-home hospice care. From now on, someone will be walking beside us, holding our hands, as we take this last journey together.

We can't afford to have our dryer go all funny on us at a time like this. Two weeks ago, the dryer refused to start. The repairman replaced a couple of cracked knobs for $120:

1) knobs, $10 each;
2) "customer education", $100.

This week, with norovirus raging through the household and all, the dryer quit again. Sometimes it would start, but sometimes it would refuse, emitting an ominous "znnnnnk". Another repairman, same company. No, it wasn't a faulty starter. The motor was cutting off. He took the dryer apart and vacuumed out half a bucketful of lint. Eleven years' worth. He thought we'd probably need a new dryer within a year. (The super-long venting duct, the make-do we had to resort to when we built Mom's addition, has shortened the dryer's life.) He returned our shop-vac to its shelf, reassembled the dryer, and said, "Nah, I'm not going to charge you for this. Now you enjoy your weekend and have a happy Thanksgiving."

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Hotel California

Mom thinks that we are living in California.

Today she asked, "Have you ever considered going east?"

"Oh, yes, " I said. "Many times."

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

An Old Friend Remembers

The other day Mom's friend, Barbara, called. After handing the phone over to Mom, I heard her say, "Well, I'm fine, but everyone else here is crazy!"

It 's been a difficult week. Mom was unable to do much of anything for herself, but she was angry at me for, among other things, getting her breakfast. She tried to make coffee by spooning lots of instant coffee crystals into her electric teakettle. It boiled over, flooding the counter and spattering the wall.

"Why are you treating me like I was 12 years old?"

"Who ARE you? 'My daughter, Cynthia?' I don't have a daughter named Cynthia."

"Don't make me that toast again. (A favorite standby for years.) It was awful."

We spent 8 and 1/2 hours in the Emergency Room on Sunday. I'll probably write more about that later, because it was a horrendous experience. I know that Emergency Rooms everywhere are under fire and that what happened to Mom was probably typical. Still, this was no way to treat sick people, let alone an elderly woman. They got a few things right: they gave her fluids by IV and prescribed an antibiotic for her urinary tract infection and her abcessed tooth.

Another old friend of Mom's called yesterday. Mom has a coterie of younger friends who have kept in touch over the years. Ellen began her teaching career at the elementary school where Mom was principal. Ellen and the other teachers--all women--referred to Mom as "our pretty principal." To call her "pretty" doesn't capture the quiet, dark beauty she had as a young woman. Small, delicate features were set off by a mass of wavy black hair. Ellen told me that Mom broke many hearts. One suitor even offered Mom a diamond engagement ring. After she turned him down, he kept it in a safe deposit box, hoping that someday she'd change her mind.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Worst Day of My Life

As a teen-ager, our older daughter used to frequently moan, "This is the worst day of my life!" Today it's my turn. The whole family has come down with norovirus, so we are awash in---never mind. I have chills and a pounding headache.

So far, Mom hasn't caught the bug. Knock on wood. It's a dangerous illness for infants and the elderly, because of dehydration. As if this weren't enough, I took Mom to the dentist yesterday because she was complaining of pain. Looks like she has an abcessed tooth. She's scheduled for a root canal on Monday.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Fishes of Illinois

The other day a second-hand booksale was held at my husband's workplace. As he browsed the tables, he heard a couple of folks chuckling. One of them said, "Who would ever buy this one--FISHES OF ILLINOIS." The Tree Hugger perked up his ears. The big, fat book was immediately snapped up by the senior-citizen in the worn-out jeans.

Yesterday morning, he told me why he loves his new book. "This book is full of all these wonderful fishes. Each one is unique in its way and there are so many of them. Why should we have to go down to South America to find interesting and beautiful fishes for our aquariums when there are all these wonderful fishes right here in our very own streams. But they belong in the wild, not captured. Who knows what pollution and development are doing to them? It makes me sad."

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Mom Takes a Walk

Mom slipped into 90-proof dementia sometime during the past two weeks. She used to say something wacky just once a week. Then it became twice a week. Then . . . well, you get the picture.

Binta came on Tuesday and Thursday this week. Mom declared her a "lovely woman." Whew!

I thought that Mom would be so tired after four hours of paid companionship that she would nap after Binta left at 2 PM until I arrived with our grandson. Nope!! Fortunately, Phil arrived home early on Thursday, at 5:15. Mom was halfway down the driveway, leaning on her cane and talking with a passerby--a saint out walking her dog--about calling the police. She said she did not know any of "those people" who live in "that house." She had gotten past the deadbolt, propped the storm door open, and sallied forth in search of help. Mom recognized Phil after he mentioned my name and our wedding 46 years ago in Meadville. She returned to the house willingly. He found Georgie, her cat, wedged tightly under Mom's furnace in the garage. Georgie emerged when he called her.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Feast of All Saints (aka "All Hallows") November 2nd

First lesson. Revelation 7: They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.

Psalm 34: Fear the Lord, you that are his saints, for those who fear him lack nothing. The young lions lack and suffer hunger, but those who seek the Lord lack nothing that is good.

Second lesson. 1 John 3: See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.

Gospel. Matthew 5. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.

Sermon: Through Word and Sacrament, God changes us. God’s power changes us—broken and sinful people—into symbols of faith and hope for a broken world. When the eucharist is ended and we go out of the doors of this place, our true ministries begin. Out there, in the world, where we live and work and play—there is where the faith of the saints becomes a visible sign to the world of God’s love.

Do we ever get it right? No. Not on this side of eternity. We stumble along, trying to follow the examples of the saints who have gone before us. As the apostle John writes, “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed.” So we are not yet what we are going to be. Yet even now, as God’s beloved children, our faith is a sign to the world. We are the saints of God, and we know we are the saints of God. Not perfect saints. Not finished saints. Not all that we are meant to be. Not all that we are going to be. But saints, made in the Imago Dei—the image of God.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Morning in America

I listened to McCain's gracious concession speech last night, but I could not stay awake to hear Obama, happy as I am about the outcome of the election. Who will ever forget where they were at 11 PM on November 4, 2008?

Now it's morning in America, literally. I've been up for an hour, because I couldn't sleep. Things are not going well with Mom. Yesterday was Sunday to her. She was ready for breakfast at 7 PM on Election NIght.

On Monday, I took her for a blood test to rule out the possibility that something other than old age is driving her dementia. After her blood was drawn, I said, "Now we can go home." She snarled, "I don't have a home!"

Yesterday Mom finally lost her long-running argument against having a home health aide come in. She can no longer be left alone all day Tuesdays and Thursdays, while I am away taking care of Nathaniel, our eight-month-old grandson. Taking care of him is something I will not, cannot, give up. He makes me laugh.

Last July, I listened to unreason, when Mom proclaimed, "I don't need any help! I won't pay a penny to have some woman come in and just sit around." (BTW, she has a long-term health care insurance policy that will pay for some clearly-defined services in return for the thousands of dollars she's paid in premiums.) When Binta arrived last summer from Family and Nursing Care, Mom regaled her with examples of "how I get along without any help from anyone, including 'that one' there." When I meekly suggested that Binta could help with her laundry and changing her bed, Mom snapped, "I don't WANT or NEED help with that. You know I have my own way of doing things!" I gave up and sent the aide away. Yesterday Binta was back. She will be here from 10 AM to 2 PM two days a week. Rather than telling Mom that a companion has been hired to look after her, I told her that I was having someone come in to help me with "a project." Mom seems OK with that.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Day 2008

Arriving at 6:30 AM, I saw
a lady in MY place,
up smack-dab
against the schoolhouse door,
camped out on a folding chair, no less.
The line stretched round the school to the dumpster.
When the millipede finally lurched forward,
I lost my balance for a moment.
"Steady, there," said a neighbor.
By 7:15, we were halfway to the door.
Helicopters clattered overhead,
while birds on wires
observed our strange, flightless flock.
Inside the schoolhouse gym, long lines
wound back and forth.
Signs in English and Spanish
advised and admonished.
I voted at 8 AM.
I have a sticker to prove it.
"I voted, Yo Vote," it says.

Monday, November 3, 2008

I Want to Go Home!

I thought we had a pleasant afternoon yesterday. I found Mom's misplaced eyeglasses (wrapped in paper towels under a damp towel in a drawer), heated my neck wrap in the microwave to warm her cold fingers, got her vaporizer going for the winter, brought her a doll-sized chicken dinner to enjoy while the Mormon Tabernacle Choir made lovely music on TV. I even gave her the cupcake I'd brought home from church for myself. "Thank you, Honey," she said.

At 7 PM, I found her talking angrily to Phil in the family room. "I want to go home!" she announced.
"Mom, this IS your home," I said.
'This was NEVER my home. I want to be taken home now! If I could drive, I would leave this place tonight." Her coat, gloves, and purse were waiting on a chair in her sitting room.

We talked with her for over half an hour. It's the same-old same-old. She's worried about having to sell her "house," which is really not her house at all, but just a couple of rooms in the house that belongs to Phil and me.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Sad Old Lady

Poor Mom. I just peeked in at her. It is 2:30 on a lovely autumn afternoon. She's at her dressing table, rolling her hair up in a bun, still in her bathrobe. At least she's up. When I went in around noon, she was still in bed. I said, "Mom, are you going to sleep all day?"

"What reason do I have for getting up?" she replied, listlessly.

"Don't you feel well?"

"I feel fine."

"Then maybe you should get up."

"I'll think about it."

A little later, Phil found her still in bed. She said, "I feel like staying in bed all day."

Phil replied, "I think you'll feel better if you get up."

Lately she's been talking a lot about being all alone, without a home, without a family. Her parents and siblings are all gone. She seems to miss them the most these days. She rarely mentions my dad, to whom she was married for 13 years, until his death in a plane crash in 1962. She feels lost, sad, and lonely. She seems to have forgotten how and why she ended up living with us.

Phil's Aunt Cele lived to be 102. She remained cheerful and upbeat, even after a heart attack and other signs of increasing fragility. During a visit near the end of her life, she remarked, matter of factly, "You know, Philly, sometimes you can live too long."

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Out of the Mouths of Babes in the Woods

The Tree Hugger and I just got back from a long weekend at our cabin in Knox County, Ohio. Our daughter, son-in-law, and 6-year-old grandson were also there.

One afternoon Phil and Andrew, our grandson, were returning from a walk to the river. Violet, Andrew's dog, ran ahead, disappearing into the tall weeds. Seeing the weeds waving back and forth, Phil said, "That might be a wild animal! Maybe even a tiger!"

"No," replied Andrew, "that's only Violet."

Phil asked, "Are you sure? Does Violet have orange and black stripes?"

"Does a tiger wear 'bells'?" retorted Andrew, referring to Violet's tags.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

An Unsubmissive Cat

My inspiration for this cat-tale comes from a favorite blog, "Ruth's Visions and Revisions". Ruth wrote about her schnoodle's allowing her to clean his ears, even though he hates, hates, HATES it.

After Phil's dad died in 1983, we inherited Orville and Reuben, two of Dad's 56 cats. Orville, reclusive and shy, looked exactly like a Kliban cat and spent his days impersonating a meatloaf. Reuben was all charm, although he was only slightly better looking than Bloom County's "Bill the Cat."

Came a day when Reuben needed an antibiotic. We were new at this. We filled the dropper with bright pink medicine. I took Reuben tenderly in my arms and Phil dosed him. Wow, so easy! The next time, Reuben fled through the cat door as soon as he saw the bottle. Fortunately, he forgot the reason for his flight. He ran around the side of the house and appeared a moment or two later at the back door. We welcomed him in and shot the pink stuff into his snaggle-toothed mouth. After that, he turned into a vicious clawing machine. Did I mention that he was a polydactyl, with paws like catcher's mitts, and lethal claws on all those extra toes? We now had to close off all means of escape and take him by stealth. He would attempt his getaway as soon as he saw doors being closed.

We made Reuben finish his medicine. After all, when it comes to dealing with a headstrong cat, you must be a Man, not a Mouse! Reuben was a healthy cat who lived until age 15. I don't remember ever having to medicate him again, which was probably a good thing.

Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost

First Lesson. Exodus 33: (Moses said to the Lord), (. . . " yet You have said, 'I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.' Now if I have found favor in your sight, show me your ways, so that I may know you and find favor in your sight. Consider also that this nation is your people."

Psalm 99: The Lord is King; let the people tremble; he is enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth shake. The Lord is great in Zion; he is high above all peoples.

Second Lesson. 1 Thessalonians 1: For the people of those regions (Macedonia and Achaia, among others) report about us what kind of welcome we (Paul, Sylcanus, and TImothy) had among you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead--Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath that is coming.

Gospel. Matthew 22: Then (Jesus) said to (the Pharisees), "Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emporer's, and to God the things that are God's."

From the Prayers of the People: We pray for the welfare of the world. Help us to remember our brothers and sisters who live on less than one dollar a day; the thousands of children who die every month from malaria, HIV/AIDS and other diseases, those who die needlessly for lack of good medical facilities. We remember before you those who are homeless or hungry in our community. Help us to treat them the way your Son Jesus would treat them, without enabling them, but with dignity.

From the sermon: When you and I . . . claim that place of being God’s beloved, we say that we belong to God. Not 5% of me. Not 10% of me. Not even 50% of me. 100% of me belongs to God. All of me. All of you. When we know who we are and Whose we are, we will live out of a deep place of love, grace and abundance. So today, I invite you to remember that you are an icon of the God who created you, who loves you, who sustains you all the days of your life. Today, begin to claim your identity as God’s beloved. And then act like it.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Foggy Day

Mom seems more confused and anxious than ever. Barbara, her former neighbor, who will stay here this weekend while we're away, says that Mom has asked her to drive her to Pittsburgh, "where my lawyers are." Mom has just one lawyer, and she is in Meadville.

I listened to Mom for a long time yesterday, trying to allay her worries. Mom is afraid that when she loses her sight completely, she will have to move to Wesbury, a continuous-care facility in Meadville. She plans to call Peg, a volunteer she knows from Wesbury, to find out what Wesbury is like now, but, oh dear, maybe Peg no longer volunteers there. (Mom volunteered at Wesbury for over 20 years.)

She thinks she must put "this house" on the market, but feels overwhelmed by the task. She wishes that her brother, Cliff, were still alive, because "Cliff always took care of these things for me." (He may have given occasional advice, but Mom competently managed her own affairs for more than 20 years of widowhood.)

She lives with us, in her own little suite of rooms, and yet she says, "I don't have a home of my own anymore." None of this makes sense, of course. Although I assured her that she will live in our house for the rest of her days, I am not sure that she believes or trusts the messenger. I am not a "blood relative." I'm just a step-daughter.

Friday, October 17, 2008

October Song

Two nights ago we got a phone call from George's son in Britt, Ontario. He told us that his 93-year-old father had just passed away. Another one gone from Mom's old gang. My dad's best friend, Warren, once had a cabin on a tiny island on Georgian Bay where he went bass fishing each summer. George operated the marina in Britt, where Warren kept his boat. I have photos of both Mom and Papa proudly displaying plump, glistening bass.

All day yesterday, before Mom's shampoo appointment, I dreaded telling her. She and George had corresponded during the past year or so, after I found George's home address by sending a letter to the marina. George printed all but his most recent notes by hand. Two weeks ago, his daughter penned a note for him from the hospital, where he had just had a couple of toes removed. He seemed to be his usual cheerful, chatty self otherwise.

When I finally told Mom, it turns out she already knew! She said, and this seems remarkable to me, "When he wrote about his toes, I knew he didn't have long."

Why remarkable? Because all day long she had been in a densest of fogs. "Mom, have you been drinking your water?"

"Maybe not so much."

"How did you find out about George?"

"Because two men were in my room talking when the phone rang, and one of them told me." (They would have both been Phil.) "Where are we going again today?"

"To get your hair washed."

"What day is it again?"


At a stoplight on the way to the beauty salon:

"What state are we in?"

"What do you mean?"

"Here! Where are we now? What state?"


She looked at me in disbelief. "Maryland!? How did we get here?"

"You moved here from Meadville nine years ago."

"What happened to the house?"

"The one in Meadville?"

"Yes, my house on Maple Lane."

"You sold it."

"Why did I sell it?"

"You said it had gotten too big for you."

Long silence. Then:

"After we moved to Maryland, where did we live at first?"

"In the house we're in now. That's the only place you've lived since you moved down here."

We arrived at the salon, which is in the owner's Victorian house.

"I'll just leave my cane in the car."

"No, Mom. Remember that high step from the sidewalk to the porch?"

She tottered along, cane and purse in one hand with me steering her by her other arm. We passed under a trellis, where she steadied herself by grabbing the climbing rose bush. "Ow!"

Samantha and Peggy were waiting. She no longer says, crossly, "Those girls don't know how to do my hair!" She enjoys her visit. The "girls" make a fuss over her. Samantha warms the vial of "hot oil treatment" Mom brings with her and shampoos her long silver hair. Peggy lovingly dries it and rolls it up in a bun. They hug her when we leave.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Y2K Catfood

Recently I read about the role that Y2K played in the current economic crisis. Apparently, the Fed was afraid that Y2K could lock up the markets, so they injected extra liquidity into the system to prevent chaos in case all the computers in the country went kablooey when the millennium arrived. Turns out that nothing much happened when the calendar flipped over except the usual hangovers, but the extra liquidity remained in the money supply, helping to inflate the speculative bubble that finally burst nearly 10 years later.

Y2K weighed on Mom's mind that hot summer's day in 1999 when I drove her and Sadie, her cat, from Meadville to their new home with us in Maryland. In addition to a caged cat on tranquilizers, the car was carrying at least five table lamps ("I won't know which one I want until I try them out. You can find places in your house for the ones I can't use.") and four dozen cans of Fancy Feast.

A few days after Mom settled in, we went to the supermarket. Mom stocked up on groceries, including another four dozen cans of cat food. "Mom," I said, "You already brought 4 dozen cans with you from Meadville. Why are you buying more?"

"Oh, that other is my supply of Y2K catfood."

"Y2K catfood?"

"Yes, when New Year's comes and everything shuts down, people will understand what's happening, but animals won't. How will I explain to my poor cat that the cat food factory has shut down?"

Feast of Saint Francis: 21st Sunday after Pentecost

First lesson. Genesis 1: God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every land. And God saw that it was good.

Psalm 148: Praise the Lord from the earth, you sea-monsters and all deeps;
Fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling His command!

From the liturgy, before the Blessing of the Animals:

And now, O Lord, we name before you this day those creatures of your making who have returned to you, but who are lost to us now in death--those whom we name before you now, either aloud or in the silence of our hearts. We thank you for the time they shared and enriched our lives, and we entrust them back into the arms of your everlasting love, through our Saviour Jesus CHrist, in whom all that is lost in death is restored to life and in whose Name we pray.

From the sermon: Saint Francis said, "Preach the Gospel at all times. If necessary, use words."

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Serpents of the Lord

Tomorrow we will have the Blessing of the Animals at our church. I think we'd better leave the pitbull at home. Years ago, we took Arlo, our beagle, to the Blessing. In his excitement, he lifted his leg on our daughter's shoe. Meanwhile, my husband, the Tree Hugger, found something in the service bulletin that delighted him.

"Wow, this is great!" he exclaimed. "I never thought I'd come to church and see something like this!"

"Like what?"

"It says, 'Rejoice, you serpents of the Lord.' I just love that!"

"Phil," I said, "That's servants, not serpents."

"Oh," he said, clearly disappointed.

Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

First Lesson. Exodus 17: But the (Israelites) thirsted (in the wilderness) for water; and the people complained to Moses and said, "Why did you bring us out of Egypt to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?"

Psalm 78: (The Lord) split hard rocks in the wilderness and gave them drink as from the great deep.

Second Lesson. Philippians 2: Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.

Gospel. Matthew 21. Truly I (Jesus) tell you (chief priests and elders), the tax collectors and the prostitutes are dong into the kingdom of God ahead of you.

From the sermon: The way of the cross is narrow. The traffic on that road will never be heavy. Humility can look suspiciously like a codependent doormat. Servanthood can look suspiciously like a disingenuous political move. Christian unity may look good in idealistic theory. But in reality, Christian unity is not very neat or tidy. So how can we possibly work out what Paul calls “salvation with fear and trembling” when it looks impossible? We can’t really—at least not all by ourselves. We must depend upon divine help, praying that God will guide us, step by step, day by day, along that narrow road to the cross.

Favorite words from the Great Thanksgiving: At your command all things came to be: the vast expanse of interstellar space, galaxies, suns, the planets in their courses, and this fragile earth, our island home.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Stalled Stallion Makes Beeline for Stable

Thirty-five years ago, the family was visiting Phil's parents, who had retired to their non-working "farm" in Knox County, Ohio. Our daughters, then about 9 and 6, went horseback riding with their dad. I dropped them off at the riding stable and went shopping, being spectacularly allergic to horses. They were still on the trail when I returned to pick them up. The teen-aged stable girl said, accusingly, as if this had to be the rider's fault, "Loser's back!"

"What do you mean, he's back?"

"He came back! Loser came back! Your daughter must have gotten off during the ride." I had a sudden vision of her FALLING off.

Then our older daughter appeared, on foot. No broken bones. This small denizen of the Washington, DC suburbs explained, "He stopped to eat leaves and when I tried to make him go, he turned around and tried to bite my foot!"

He sounded like a pretty wild horse for a young, inexperienced rider. "For heaven's sake, why'd you put her on Loser in the first place?"

The girl shot me a look of disgust. "His name is LUTHER!" she informed me.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

On the Dole

Mom is 99 and no longer as sharp as she used to be. Conversations meander this way and that. Her train of thought frequently jumps the track. Sometimes I can't fathom her reasoning.

A standing item on her shopping list is Dole fruit cups. Two weeks ago, on a whim, I brought home fruit cups with "gel."

"Don't get those again. They're awful, " she said.

Yesterday, we were making out her shopping list. "Get me those fruit cups, both kinds."

"What do you mean, both kinds? 'Tropical fruit' and 'fruit salad'?"

"No, I want one with the stuff in it."

"You don't mean the gel?"

"Yes, the gel."

"But you said you didn't like the kind with the gel."

"I don't, but maybe they've improved it."

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

First Lesson. Jonah 3: But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the bush so that it withered. When the sun rose, God prepared a sultry east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint and asked that he might die. He said, "It is better for me to die than to live." But God said to Jonah, "Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?" And he said, "Yes, angry enough to die."

Psalm 145: The LORD is gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger and of great kindness.

Second Lesson. Philippians 1: Only live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I (Paul) come and see you (new church at Philippi) or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, and are in no way intimidated by your opponents (folks opposed to Paul?).

Gospel. Matthew 20: "But (the landowner) replied to (the day laborer), "Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?"

Today, the Tree Hugger made a rare appearance at church. We, along with 25 other couples married 25 years or longer, were given a special blessing by our priest, Mother Sheila. (Phil and I celebrated 46 years together on July 14th.)

Today's sermon dealt with not letting yourself be consumed by anger. I've always gotten angry because things aren't fair. Advice to self: Forget about fairness. Aint gonna happen. Move on.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Whole Damn Dessert

I visited Mom one summer when she was in her 60's, about the age I am now. Mom wanted me to go with her to visit Edna, her older sister, who lived 90 miles away.

Aunt Edna was a pill. When we told her we were coming, she said irritably, "Don't expect me to give you lunch. I have nothing in the house!"

Mom replied, "We don't expect lunch, but we'll bring you a nice dessert."

Mom made a concoction typical of the 1970's: instant pudding on a graham-cracker crust, topped with a cloud of Cool Whip.

Aunt Edna and I were chatting in the living room while Mom was in the kitchen, getting ready to serve the dessert. "You don't suppose she's going to give a piece to Helen Ferguson, do you?" Aunt Edna asked. Helen had been Edna's next door neighbor for at least 40 years. Aunt Edna was always feuding with someone. She hadn't spoken to Helen for months because of an incident involving a dog and some dug-up tulips.

Before I could answer, Mom flew into the room in righteous fury, a Cool Whip-laden spatula in hand. She shook it at her sister furiously. "If I want to give the whole damn dessert to Helen Ferguson, I will!" she raged, and flew back to the kitchen before Aunt Edna could say a word.

There was a moment of stunned silence. Aunt Edna turned to me and arched her eyebrows. "Well!" she exclaimed.

Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost

TAKEAWAYS" will be posts for writing down words heard on Sunday at St. Philip's Episcopal Church that struck me as profound, interesting, odd, chilling, or even funny. They will be taken from the appointed readings for the day as well as the sermon. The complete sermon can be found at You can also click on "Good News in the Wilderness" on my blogroll.

First Lesson. Exodus 14: "Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. Israel saw the great work that the Lord did against the Egyptians. So the people feared the Lord and believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses."

Psalm 114: What ailed you, O sea, that you fled? O Jordan, that you turned back? You mountains, that you skipped like rams? you little hills like young sheep?

Second Lesson. Romans 14: "Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables."

Gospel. Matthew 18: "And in his anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart."

Sermon: "Forgiveness. Not a moment. A process. Of course some people reduce it to simplistic terms. 'I’m sorry.' 'That’s okay.' Liar, liar, pants on fire. How many times do we say 'I’m sorry,' but don’t really mean it. Or we respond, 'That’s okay' when it is not. And sometimes we never really get to forgiveness."

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Seven years ago today . . .

Where was I on 9/11?

I was working for an agency of the federal government in suburban Washington. Suddenly someone yelled, "Turn on the TV!" We watched in horror as the second plane crashed into the tower. By 9:15 AM, the place shut down and we were all sent home.

Because of long-standing security concerns, the facility was already walled off with cement barriers. The gates, meant to keep the bad guys out, now became frustrating bottlenecks. The exit process was grimly quiet and orderly, but we felt like sitting ducks. Getting out of that parking lot took forever.

The last person to learn of the attack was our friend and my husband's co-worker, David. He was still at home that morning, because he had to take his mother to the doctor. As usual, he had not turned on his old black-and-white TV.

The doctor's office called. "We're closing the building. You'll have to reschedule."

David assumed they must have had a water-main break. He puttered around all morning, finally leaving for work about noon. He turned on his car radio and heard ". . .worse than Pearl Harbor." That certainly sounded ominous, but he still hadn't a clue. When he reached the agency, he found all the gates closed but one.

The guard asked, "Are you essential personnel?"

"Heck, no," said David. "What's going on?"

The guard told him. David turned around and went home.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008


This morning I drove our grandson to kindergarten at his new school for the first time. I was in a sea of rush-hour traffic, trying to keep the car in one piece as I weasled my way from the far left lane on Maryland 198 to the far right in order to turn onto northbound U.S. Route 1. Once on Route 1, I moved quickly, with traffic roaring up behind me, to secure a place in the left lane to make another turn.

Suddenly I was confronted with a guy traveling south in MY lane on roller skates!! He popped up out of nowhere, cruising along as casually as you please, VERY close to my left fender. This, despite the presence of a side walk to his right. He's lucky HE'S still in one piece. I honked and yelled, "Don't DO that!" In my rear-view mirror, I saw him clamber up onto the sidewalk, the turkey.

Then I muttered, "Creep-o-maniac!" I don't know where that came from, but my grandson thought it was a cool new word.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Last Primrose of Summer?

Two weeks ago, the Tree Hugger predicted that our last evening primrose would bloom that night. Although the plant is gradually going dormant, it bloomed last night and looks as if it has a few more blooms to go. Meanwhile, the hummingbirds visit the feeders constantly, getting ready for their arduous trip to Mexico.

Monarch butterfllies winter in Mexico as well. I had hoped to capture a photo of the enormous Joe Pye weed in our backyard laden with butterflies. Unfortunately, we've seen hardly a single butterfly this year. The Joe Pye weed will soon be past its prime. I was so concerned about the absence of butterflies that I've joined in order to find out why. A woman in suburban northern VIrginia thought that our cooler-than-usual spring and extensive spraying were probably to blame. So sad.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Whoa is Me!

If I weren't seriously allergic to horses, I would jump on one and gallop off to the four winds. Just sitting on a horse causes me to wheeze, sneeze, and weep, so scratch that idea.

I am weary of tangled, non-sequitur exchanges. Mom is fiercely protective of the laundry room, even though she has forgotten how to operate both the washer and dryer. She still wants to fold our laundry, which is fine with me, except that she can't manage kingsize sheets and bluejeans. She also seems to think I need her permission to use my own machine.

"What's in the machine? Why are you washing today?" she'll demand, with fire in her eye.

This week, I tossed a net bag full of her panty hose into a load of our wash. Draped them over her basket to dry. A little later, I found them arrayed across the stop of the recliner in our family room.

"These are your stockings," she announced. "I found them on my basket."

"They're not mine, Mom. They're yours. See, they're 'control top'. They're not mine."

"Well, they're certainly not mine, so they MUST be yours."

"Mom, I haven't worn pantyhose since Easter. They're yours."

She shook her head doubtfully and left them on the chair. The next day, she said, "I was awake half the night worrying about those stockings. Who could be coming in to use our machine?"

Yesterday I had all the carpets in the house steam-cleaned. Violet, our daughter's dog, who comes here week-days for Doggy Day Care, has a delicate stomach. Our livingroom carpet looked awful. It was all besplotched with a year's worth of spot-cleaned doggy vomit and worse. I finally decided that Violet probably can't tolerate the afternoon snack of sliced American cheese that Mom hands out. A couple of days ago, I asked Mom to stop giving the dogs cheese and bought her a bag of "Beggin' Strips" to give them instead.

Later, she summoned me.

"Why did you buy me two of these?" she asked, pointing to the bag of snacks.

"Two of what?"

She shook her head impatiently at my stupidity, opened her cupboard, and triumphantly produced an unopened jar of instant coffee, which she set down beside the snack bag.

"Mom, those are two different things. That's your Maxwell House."

"You mean Maxwell House is now making dog snacks?"

"No. I got you those snacks because I don't want you giving cheese to Violet anymore. It makes her vomit."

She had a new, irritating mannerism. After I "spout off" about something, she makes a silent "O" with her mouth and shakes her head "yes," as if humoring an ill-tempered grouch.

After the carpet cleaners left, the Tree Hugger, the Grandson, and I went to the Baltimore Aquarium for the afternoon. Back home, I found a huge puddle of watery vomit on the newly-cleaned carpet.

"Mom, did you give Violet a slice of cheese this afternoon?"

"Of course I did. You know how she loves cheese. I always give both dogs cheese in the afternoon."

"But that's why I got you the 'Beggin' Strips', Cheese makes Violet sick."

"You told me that Ramsey was the one who gets sick."

Later on, I found the "Beggin' Strips" on our kitchen counter. As with the pantyhose left on the chair, this means, "These are not mine, so they must be yours."

Just as I settled down with my book before bedtime, her door opened. "What's this?" she demanded.

"It's your Polident for Partials."

"Look what I found inside the box." She showed me the last two Polident tablets in the box, still in their foil wrappers.

"Well, those packets say 'Polident/partials'. What's wrong with them?"

"Well, they're not the same. Why can't they just leave things alone!"

I went to the closet where I keep her extras. Several months ago I ordered a half dozen boxes of Polident for Partials for her. She's gone through half of them. None of the remaining boxes says "New" or "Improved" or "Now with Green Tea Anti-Oxidants!"

I don't know. I don't know. I just don't know.

Friday, August 22, 2008

WAY Too Much Fun with Hearing Loss

Next Wednesday I go to see about a new hearing aid, to replace the one that didn't survive the spin cycle. I can't wait.

I had an OMG moment when I thought I heard them say, "Condoleeza Rice has died in Poland." Actually, she had just ARRIVED in Poland.

Then there were Goya's pagans, as in "He composed a series of pieces inspired by Goya's pagans."
Make that "Goya's paintings."

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Uncle Dan's Clocks

In his later years, one of Phil's uncles liked to take his collection of old clocks to weekend flea markets. It didn't really matter to Uncle Dan whether he sold a clock or not. He just liked to get out and meet people.

One day a customer asked Uncle Dan how much he wanted for the whole collection. Uncle Dan wasn't really interested in selling, so he named an outrageously high price. SOLD! To Uncle Dan's surprise, the customer pulled a wad of money from his pocket and paid cash on the spot.

No one knows if the loss of his clocks had anything to do with it, but within a year, Uncle Dan was dead.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

A Sunday Afternoon in Late Summer

It's a beautiful Sunday afternoon, sunny and warm, with low humidity. Mom and her cat, Georgie, are lounging on their screened porch. Mom asked me, "Is your mother at home today?"

I re-read Mom the letter she got this week from her 95-year-old friend in Canada. His family operates a marina on Georgian Bay. He wrote that his son, while weeding the flower bed, was startled to see a black bear mosey by. The bear paid him no heed. A black bear has been sighted around here in recent weeks as well. He ambled through nearby Anne Arundel County and ended up in Arbutus, a suburb of Baltimore, where he was shot with a tranquilizing dart. This bear has been borne away to an "undisclosed location" in western Maryland.

Summer is a-going out. The shadows are longer, the afternoon sun not quite as bright. Brown-leafed black-eyed susans are giving way to goldenrod. Phil says our last evening primrose will bloom tonight.

Mom told Phil the other day that she'll be gone in another six months. We went this week to have her hair washed, even though "those girls don't know how to do my hair." She brings a vial of hot-oil treatment with her to the salon. Should I order more? We have enough for just three or four more monthly visits.

Tomorrow I am taking her to the dentist. When we leave, the receptionist will make an appointment for February. Will Mom still be around then?

A 90-day supply of her heart pills just arrived by mail.
I find myself asking, "Will this prescription have to be refilled?"

Friday, August 15, 2008

Even More Fun with Hearing Loss

I'm not even going to tell you how I killed my hearing aid. Let's just say that it got wet.
It's been two days now. I fed it a new battery, but it wasn't interested. It's angry, and still playing dead.
At least I hope it's only playing. I'd buy it candy and flowers, but I think our affair may be over.

The next available appointment with the audiologist is August 27th. That's a long time to be without my friend.

Sometimes well-meaning people gush, "You're so lucky! My father needs aids in both ears!"

All I can say is, "Now, think about that for a moment." OK, I need only one hearing aid, but it's because I am completely deaf in the other ear. How did this happen? We think I lost the hearing in my right ear at age 3, when I had spinal meningitis. I am not complaining. I survived meningitis and the hearing in the left ear was good enough for me to get by for many years without help.

The audiologist doubts that meningitis was the culprit. He says that meningitis usually inflicts equal damage on both ears.

My first memory of being affected by my hearing loss was choosing a desk at the back of the room on my very first day of school and having my dad say, "No, you have to sit up front." Another effect is never knowing where sounds are coming from. Everything seems to originate on the left, whether it's an approaching fire truck or a friend trying to get my attention in the supermarket. I'll turn to try and locate my friend , who's laughing and saying, "Over here! Over here!" Even with a hearing aid, I miss punch lines, because people's voices tend to fall at the end of a sentence. Meetings can be a nightmare, because I understand speech better when I can look at the speaker. Someone's talking, but where are they?

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Virgin Boom Magazine

I got a phone call yesterday from a man mumbling about "virgin-(unintelligible) renewal."

"Sorry, " I said, "I'm waiting for an important phone call. I can't talk to you now," and hung up.

Today someone else called to talk some more about virgins.

"Hello, ma'am, I'm calling about the renewal of your subscription to 'Virgin-Boom' magazine."

Me, in my coldest, haughtiest tone: "I am sure that I don't subscribe to any such publication."

"Well, ma'am, according to our records, your subscription to 'Birds and Blooms' is about to expire."

Thursday, July 31, 2008

What's next? A honeymoon reality show?

On 96.3FM, I heard them say, "Have your honeymoon at TV Village in Las Vegas."

They really said, "Have your honeymoon at Tahiti Village--"

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Bird at the Beach

Last week, Phil and I each spent half the week at the beach with our daughter, son-in-law, and 5-year-old grandson. I went from Saturday until Tuesday, while Phil stayed home with Mom, and then we switched.

One evening, at the picnic tables outside the Dairy Queen in Lewes, DE., they met up with a biker wearing a blue-and-yellow macaw on his shoulder, just like a pirate. Our grandson was thrilled. Our son-in-law asked, "Does she wear a helmet too?"

The biker, who was feeding the parrot sips of his "Blizzard" with a straw, replied, "If you can get her to wear a helmet, I'll shake your hand." He said his parrot rides with him to motorcycle rallies, perched on the handlebar behind the windscreen.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

This Endless War

I heard him say, "It doesn't take an Iraqi scientist to figure out that Bush got back to Maliki about his comment on Obama's plan to get out of Iraq."

What he actually said was, "It doesn't take a rocket scientist . . . ."

Friday, July 18, 2008

Sister Love

I was touched by my sister's offer to fly in from Chicago to stay with Mom for an extended weekend. Barbara never really knew Mom. My sister and I grew up in different homes. Our parents divorced when I was 6 and she was 4. I lived with our dad's parents (Grammy and Grampy) until Papa married Mom when I was 10. Barbara moved to Florida with Mother and her new husband. They had three daughters, half-sisters to Barbara and me.

During Barbara's occasional visits when we were kids, Mom was cool and distant. She made no attempt to hide her dislike of Mother and Grandmother. She disapproved of Mother for "having all those kids." All Barbara knows is that Mom has become demanding, demented, and cantankerous. She knows that I am overwhelmed and she has offered to come. If this isn't love, I don't know what is.

I won't take her up on her offer at this time. I've already made arrangements for the other Barbara, Mom's former neighbor, to return in early September so that Phil and I can get away. But there may come a time when I will take my sister up on her offer.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

What Day Is It?

Yesterday around 11 AM, the screechy little-girl voice summoned me from the computer room.

Mom was wearing her "not-getting-my-due" face.
"Where have you been? Why didn't you get me up me this morning?"

"Why should I have gotten you up?"

"We have hair appointments today at one o' clock!"

"No, we don't, Mom. That's next Friday."


Around 4:45 PM, the screechy little-girl voice sounded again. This time she handed me her TV remote.

"It's almost time for Charles Stanley."

"I don't think so, Mom."

"Yes, it is. He comes on at five o' clock."

"But his program is on Saturday. Today is Friday."

"Oh, that's right."

I think I had something akin to a "nervous breakdown" this month. Mom was driving me nuts and I was yelling at her too much. I could tell that she was worried about me. Heck, I was worried about me. Yelling at her is elder abuse, pure and simple. There's no excuse for it, except that I was overtired, worried about leaving her alone, angry at her blindness to my needs and frustrated by her resistance to hiring outside help.

We have a dear friend who is 10 or 15 years younger than my husband and me. He worked with Phil until he was forced to retire after being diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. For years, as the only child of an ancient, reclusive mother, he dutifully flew to Alabama to spend holidays and vacations with her. Later, when the Interstate took their family home, she moved into the new house they bought together up here. When I'd ask him how she was doing, he would cheerfully say, "Almost time to call Dr. Kervorkian."

"David!" I would chide, but he would be grinning at the rise he had managed to get out of me.

I'd ask him what she did all day while he was at work. "Watches TV."

I knew he'd never watched TV when he lived alone, so I asked, "So you got cable?"

"Naaah. Why? There's nobody at home up there."


I'd ask him if he had hired a companion for her.

"Naaah. Why? She doesn't want one. She's either watching TV or taking a nap."

"But what if she falls and breaks her hip?"

"Old ladies fall. If she falls, she falls."

She never fell, but bronchitis finally took her away. Some months later, he became fatally ill himself. That's life for you.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Losing It Again and Again

Last night I went to sleep at 10 PM and woke at midnight. I knew it was hopeless, so I got up.

I realize I am losing it with Mom. I thought that hiring a visiting caregiver was the answer. Yesterday, the caregiver came for her initial visit. After watching Mom struggling to understand the aide's heavily accented English, I began to doubt that this caregiver was the right match for a hard-of-hearing old lady. I'll call today and cancel next week's trial visits.

The woman who used to stay overnight when we went away on long weekends still visits once a week just to chat with Mom. She brings ice cream and listens. I pay her $20 per visit. Maybe that's all we need for now. That, plus two or three phones calls a day from me to Mom when I'm down in College Park taking care of my grandson. I always hate to call, because Mom tends to drift into meandering discussions about what the cat had for breakfast. But if I have to do it to get peace of mind, I'll do it.

Thursday, July 10, 2008


The caregiver arrived today.

"How much?" demanded Mom, as soon as Binta was introduced. She couldn't believe $18.00 per hour for a minimum of four hours per day. "I'm certainly NOT going to pay THAT!"

I said I would pay, because the help was really for me. I get anxious on Tuesdays and Thursdays, when I'm at my daughter's house all day, taking care of 4-month-old Nathaniel.

Mom said, "Well, then, that's your problem, not mine. If you're anxious, you should see a psychiatrist."

Mom held court during the caregiver's short visit. She told Binta how much I had been yelling lately. She mentioned that she was once a school teacher. She insisted she could take care of herself. When I suggested that Binta could help Mom change her sheets, because I've seen her struggle with the blanket and spread, she snapped, "I don't WANT help with that!"

The caregiver's accent may pose a problem. Binta's from Sierra Leone. At first, I thought she was saying she was from "C.U.O."

Mom agreed to a trial run: the caregiver will come on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons next week. She beamed farewell at the woman, then turned to me. "And I don't want to hear ANY moaning and groaning next Thursday night about how anxious you are."



I remember this expression from the summer I spent in Chicago, working at Beacon House, a settlement house on Ashland Avenue on Chicago's South Side. We were a group of middle-class, white kids, from the College of Wooster, who spent the summer of 1961 helping to run a recreation program for kids from the "Projects."

"Wuffindo?" was the way the kids said, "What are you fitting to do?"

I don't remember too much about the kids, except that they were cute. And hungry. When a suburban church invited a group of Beacon House kids to a picnic, I think all of us white folks were shocked at the ferocity with which the kids elbowed each other aside to attack the laid-out food. How were we to know that they were half-starved? "Diane," a teen-ager from "the projects" who had been hired as an aide, invited me home for dinner one night. She and her brother lived with their thin, worn-out grandmother. Dinner was Wonder Bread, Kool-Aid, and a large can of creamed corn.

Society had failed these kids. When a teen-age boy wrote "Duck" in signing out a basketball, I asked, "Which one of you is 'Duck?'" "That's me, 'Duke'!" boasted a tall, handsome lad.

Weekends we spent out in the safe, air-conditioned suburbs, away from the trouble and danger of the "long, hot summer." We were farmed out to Presbyterian families. I remember one lady who lived in a pastel house with a large collection of music boxes. My favorite was a flower pot in which bees buzzed furiously around the fake flowers to the tune of the Colonel Bogie March. Her son and husband didn't bother to change out of their greasy clothes for Sunday dinner. (They ran an auto shop.) When the lady brought foil-wrapped baked potatoes to her formally-set table, Son and Husband lobbed them gleefully at the guests.

At another home on another weekend, the hostess had every meal catered, including breakfast and lunch.

Why am I telling you this? Because I'm thankful I had a stepmother like Mom, difficult as things have been between us lately. She was the one who told my overprotective dad and grandparents that I needed go away for the summer. My dad was especially difficult to win over, because he wanted me to stay home to help care for Grampy, who was recovering from a stroke. But Mom went to bat for me and I went to Chicago.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Curtains for Mom

A few weeks ago, Mom asked, "Who were those people who came in and stole my drapes?"

"What drapes? You don't have drapes."

"Yes, I do. Those things on top of the windows."

"Oh, those are called 'toppers.'"

"Well, whatever they're called, somebody stole them."

"No one stole your toppers. Those are the same ones you always had. "

"No, these are different.'

"How are they different?"

'They're of much better quality than the ones they stole."

Friday, July 4, 2008


Today is Independence Day, a day for picnics and fireworks.

Next week we'll have more fireworks, without the picnic. Day by day, Mom's prized "independence" is slipping away. On July 10th, a professional caregiver will come to meet her. I'm hiring this person for four hours per day, two afternoons a week. I can't leave Mom alone for extended periods, yet I've got things I want and need to do, such as grocery shopping or helping out with our grandsons. During the past month, I've found myself waking up at 3 AM, unable to go back to sleep, and getting more irritable. Both are sure signs of burnout.

Whenever I've suggested hiring outside help, Mom's thrown a fit, angrily denying that she needs any help at all. She'll say, "Well, this helper can just sit out in YOUR living room. She's NOT coming in here! I don't need any help." Last week, after a particularly trying day, I said, meanly, "Mom, if we keep on like this, you'll have to move into a home." (She's threatened to move out more than once. "I should never have left Meadville," she'll lament.)

Icily: "WHY would I move into a home?"

"Because I can't take care of you anymore."

"But you DON'T take care of me. What do you ever do for me? I take care of myself."

Yesterday, I took her to see Debbie, her nurse practitioner. She had been campaigning to see Debbie for weeks because "I want to ask her why I have to take all these pills."

Debbie said, "What pills are you talking about? You certainly can't stop taking your heart pills."

"Yes, I know I need those."

"And you've been taking Valium since 1975. It wouldn't be good to stop now."

"Oh, I DEFINITELY need those for my nerves."

"For a woman of 99, you're not taking very many pills."

Then Mom zeroed in on the real issue.

"I don't want Cynthia doling out my pills to me. I can manage them myself."

Debbie looked at me. I shook my head. I had started dispensing her pills last November, when her mind got foggy from a bad cold. She'd take a pill, then reach for another five minutes later. I'd find pills on the carpet, in the kitty litter, scattered around on her bedside table.

Debbie said, "Let's just leave things as they are. This way, you'll never run out, because your daughter can call me before you need a refill."

Mom didn't like this reply, but she couldn't think of anything to say.

Mom looks good on paper. If she tried to claim benefits under her long-term-care insurance policy, she'd probably be denied. To qualify, she'd require help with the "tasks of daily living," such as dressing, bathing, and feeding yourself. She does all these things pretty well. Today is one of her "good days." She exudes competence, doing a load of laundry and defrosting her mini-refrigerator But it's a pseudo-competence. She had to ask me once again how to turn on the washer. It'll be the same with the dryer. She propped open the door to defrost her refrigerator, but left the motor running.

I'm afraid of this 93-pound woman, this former school teacher. I'm scared to tell her who's coming next Thursday.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Mom On Line

We now share a "party line" with Mom. Those of you over 60 know what I'm talking about.

When Mom moved in nine years ago, we had two phone lines. We had a dial-up modem, so "Mom's line" was also the modem line. She never understood why "her" phone also rang on the two-line phone in our kitchen, while "our" phone never rang on the one-line phone in her room. She always assumed that all calls were for us, even when the incoming call was on her line. She'd say to her friends, "I always let THEM answer the phone."

Last summer we changed internet service providers. We no longer needed that second line, although we kept it for awhile out of inertia. When our answer machine recently died, I decided to get "Home Voice Mail" from Verizon. However, Home Voice Mail was not available if you had two phone lines. Something about "rollover" and "hunting." So we got rid of the second line.

Mom was pretty mad at first. Her line was dead for four or five days until a helpful neighbor rewired her phone jack, putting her on our line. "My phone hasn't rung for two weeks, " she complained, peevishly. Now the woman who never used to answer the phone answers it constantly. "What? Who do you want? Who? Sorry, you must have the wrong number." Mom gets just one regular phone call a week, from her old neighbor, Barbara, who calls on Tuesday afternoons. I've told Mom to just let the phone ring, unless she was expecting a call, so that Home Voice Mail would record the message if I could not answer the phone. Such knowledge is too wonderful for her.

During the days of Arlo, our beagle, we had an expression: "You might as well talk to the beagle." When it comes to Mom and these new-fangled telephone services, you might as well.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Something Just Clicked

For years I've wondered how my husband could stand to watch so much TV. 'Anything that flickers" is the way he puts it. Talking heads, screaming heads, murder, mayhem, baseball, basketball, boxing, football, golf, hockey, Dog Whisperer, Meerkat Manor, and sometimes even the insufferable Bill O'Reilly. He lounges on the couch, remote in hand, click-click-clicking away. Sometimes I'm passing through the room when a fleeting image catches my interest. A frantic-looking woman will be saying, "--but when our dog dug up that skull in the back yard, we--" CLICK!

"Phil! Get that back! I wanna see that!"

"Wha--? Huh? Sorry." Click, click, click.

But the segment has already ended. "Even the toughest grass stains come out with --"

I can no longer point fingers at him. We've had our new computer for nearly a year. I've discovered blogging and now spend WAY too much time click-click-clicking away on the keyboard. Is there a 12-step program for blogaholics?

Friday, June 20, 2008

Losing It

This morning I lost it.

I hadn't slept well. I'd been awake since 3 AM. At 8 AM, Mom shuffled out of her room to complain, for the hundredth time this year, that something was wrong with her sliding door. Georgie, the cat, wanted to go out on the porch, but the door was stuck. Phil went in to open the door. He tried to explain, for the hundredth time, how the latch worked. I went in just in time to hear her say to him, --"and I don't need a lecture from YOU on how to open my door!" Well, I lost it. I screamed like a crazy woman. "I don't want to hear another word about that door! NOT ONE WORD!"

Mom is losing it too. Later, as I was driving her to the salon for a shampoo, she asked, "What ever became of that little girl who was living with Gram and Gramp when I married your father?" That little girl was me. It seemed futile to try to explain that to her, so I just told her that the girl was my cousin, Elaine. Mom said, "Of course. I knew that."

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Hissy Fits Are Tiresome in Very Old Ladies

Monday morning I was at the dentist's for one and a half hours, having prep work done for two new crowns. When I got home, numb from chin to eyeball, Mom was in our family room, rocking in the big brown recliner, hands folded, with that aggrieved expression on her face.

"WELL! Where have YOU been? Two cancelled appointments in a row with Debbie! (Debbie is her nurse practitioner.) First, Friday and now today! No one around here ever tells me anything."

"Mom," I said, "you're the one who wanted to cancel your appointment on Friday because you were too tired."

"I know. I know. I just never dreamed you would cancel my Monday appointment too," she replied indignantly."

"But you never had an appointment today. The swelling in your feet went away by itself by Friday, so I didn't make another appointment."

"Well, if I were still in Meadville, I would be seeing Dr. Thomas every six months. He was so good about that. Better than Debbie. The girls would call and say it was time to come in."

"You saw Debbie in January. You don't have to go back until July."

"But if I were in Meadville--"

"OK. OK. I'll get you an appointment with Debbie, but there's a lot going on already this week. On Friday, you have an appointment for a shampoo and set."

There was nothing more she could say, so she trundled off to her room to check on the cat. Later, she came back out and said, "I guess we can put off my appointment with Debbie this week. Can I have some ice cream?"

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Another Crazy Conversation

This weekend our younger daughter, Becky, came to visit. Her husband, Tom, is on tour in Hawaii with the army band. She brought along our 3-month-old grandson, Nathaniel, plus a breast pump, bottles, frozen packets of breast milk, back-up formula "just in case," the baby's stroller, his floor gym, diapers, bibs, and numerous little outfits. She also lugged in a cat carrier containing one (1) cat, Clarence, plus cat food, a litter box, litter. The last to come in was Sophie, the enormous brindle mutt who belongs to Tom. Ramsey, Becky's lovable Baltimore street dog, has been residing temporarily with us since February.

Late yesterday afternoon, Mom came out during Charles Stanley's weekly TV sermon.
"Mom," I said, "You're missing your program."
"Oh, I don't care about that," she replied, waving her hand dismissively. "I'm worried sick. I couldn't sleep this afternoon. Who are those two big dogs and why are they here?"
"Mom, you know who they are. One of them is Ramsey. The other one is Sophie. You've met Sophie."
"Oh, I know who Ramsey is," she replied, crossly. "Just tell me who those two big dogs are."
"Mom, there are just two dogs here. Ramsey and Sophie."
She shook her head in disbelief. She gave up and went back in to listen to the rest of the sermon.

Later, when Phil and Becky were in the family room with Nathaniel, she came out to question them some more about the two big dogs.

Friday, June 13, 2008

The Tree Hugger Speaks

I was shocked when my husband, gazing out the window, asked, "Do you think those girls with white undersides are grade school?"

What he actually said was, "Do you think those squirrels with white undersides are gray squirrels?"

Saturday, June 7, 2008

A Busy Day

Mom had a very busy day yesterday. In addition to washing and changing the sheets on her bed, she decided, early in the morning, to defrost her mini-refrigerator. Usually she asks for help with this job, but yesterday she decided to attempt it on her own. After switching off her refrigerator, she promptly forgot all about it. The melting ice soon filled the shallow tray under the freezer compartment. When she tried to empty the overflowing tray, she spilled the water, soaking the carpet.

I have noticed something new about her. She's a little more nonchalant these days after years of worrying and fretting over every little thing. Perhaps chronic low-level anxiety is why a doctor put her on valium over 30 years ago. In any case, she usually has to have things just so. A year ago, she would have been in a tizzy over the wet carpet. This time, she merely said, "Oh, it'll dry in a day or two."

She has been uncharacteristically stoic about recent major losses. When she accidently threw out her wedding and engagement rings in February, she "was awake all night" after first discovering their loss. After a day or two, it was, "Oh, well." Similarly, I thought she'd grieve deeply when Arlo, our beagle, had to be put to sleep. She surprised me. The woman who's always claimed an extraordinary love of animals, the woman who sobbed over the death of her cat, Sadie, just a year ago, the woman who spent every day for the past nine years with Arlo at her feet, appears to miss him not at all.

Springs of Compassion

One of my favorite blogs, MY PERSONAL LENS, has a quote today by George Washington Carver, reminding me to be compassionate with my frail, elderly and often cantankerous old mother because someday I will be frail, old, and cantankerous myself.

I am a caretaker whose springs of compassion threaten to run dry. Mom is 99, and will have lived with us for 9 years come August. A friend e-mailed me a "thought for the day" a few weeks ago that I did not take as intended. It advised a woman to live in such a way that, when she gets out of bed every day, the devil says, "Oh, hell! She's awake." I immediately thought, "That's just the way I feel when I see the light on under Mom's door in the morning."

These days she's a combination of fogginess and demandingness.

"I need you to call Debbie (her nurse-practitioner) and ask her why I have to take all these pills." (She's been taking these pills for the last 30 years. She forgets how angrily she rejected Debbie's suggestion that she could get along without her daily valium and nightly sleeping pill.)

"I need you to take me to get my hair washed today."

I know Mom is bored, lonely, and depressed. Macular degeneration has robbed her of the ability to read or even watch television. She listens to, rather than watches, her two favorite televangelists. She used to receive books-on- tape from the library, but has lost interest in those as well. This one's voice is too high. That one's voice is too low. This book is boring. That book has too many swear words. She says she "doesn't have time to sit around and listen to stories." I suspect that she can no longer follow a complicated story line.

Conversation can be a challenge. "What was that terrible noise at two in the morning?" she asked recently.

"I don't know. We didn't hear anything."

"You didn't? That noise lifted me right up out of my bed! I opened the door but you were nowhere to be seen. It was the same noise I heard two or three years ago in the middle of the night. What do you think it was?"

A helpful book** I found at the library yesterday suggested a way to enjoy better conversations. The authors state that folks nearing the end of their lives engage in a process called "life review". They suggest setting aside 30 minutes as often as you can for just listening to your parent talk about his or her life. They even present a list of questions you can ask, such as "What were you like as a child?" or "Where did you live as a young adult?"

We caretakers are told that we need to take care of ourselves. One suggestion is to join a support group. I am a homebody. Once I'm home, I want to stay home. The mere thought of driving across town just to talk makes me tired. That's why blogging has become so important. I feel as if I already have a virtual support group. The comments of on-line friends are like a cool drink of water.

**THE END-OF-LIFE HANDBOOK: A Compassionate Guide to Connecting with and Caring for a Dying Loved One by David B. Feldman, PhD, and S. Andrew Lasher, Jr., MD.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Washday Blues

When Mom moved in with us nearly nine years ago, she announced, "My job will be the laundry." That was the household chore I liked the most, but I let her take it over. Soon she had a routine. She did a load of our laundry on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. This included folding it and delivering it to our bedroom. After awhile, she made a few restrictions: she wouldn't do king-size sheets or my husband's blue jeans.

During the past 6 months, she's started having trouble with the controls. After a minor disaster a few weeks ago with the washer, she said, "I am not touching that machine unless someone is at home to turn it on for me." Yesterday she was ready to take charge again. "WHEN are you going to call a repairman and get that machine fixed? I can't always be waiting around for someone to turn the machine on for me."

"I don't need to call a repairman. The washer is not broken, " I replied.

She shook her head impatiently. "Look," she said, shaking a bony finger at me, "I've run that machine for years and have never had any trouble with it before."

I noticed that the dial was still set at the end-of-cycle position. I had forgotten to reset it after washing the sheets and jeans that morning.

"I think I know why you had trouble today, " I said. " I forgot to reset the dial."

"I know how to reset that dial," she informed me, huffily.

This is the woman with advanced macular degeneration, so I said, "It was probably difficult for you to see that the dial needed to be reset."

"Difficult to see, nothing!" she snapped. "I can't see at all!"

"Well, there you are," I muttered to myself.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

How's That Again?

I thought I heard the man on the radio say, "The authorities are concerned about the increasing number of vegan houses." He actually said, "The authorities are concerned about the increasing number of vacant houses."

It sounded on NPR as if the title of Harry Reid's new book was: " The Good Fight: Hard Lessons from SEX LIFE to Washington." The title is really "The Good FIght: Hard Lessons from SEARCHLIGHT to Washington."

I heard about the attacks by the "the nutty army" instead of "the Mahdi Army."

I was astonished to hear that they "wanted to improve anthrax service along the Northeast Corridor." Actually, it was Amtrak service they wanted to improve.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Good night, Sweet Dog.

When Arlo first showed up on Memorial Day Weekend in 1996, we weren't sure that he really was a beagle. He had the long droopy ears and lovely kohl-lined brown eyes of a beagle, and he was black, tan, and white. But he was also short of leg, long of body, with a pointed "witch's hat" of a nose. He was a great scent hound. He spent many hours happily tracking rabbits and squirrels in the back yard, wagging his white-tipped tail and broadcasting the news far and wide. Once, when we were out on a walk, a woman who lived two blocks away remarked, "This must be the dog I hear baying all the time."

The neighbor who found this 6-month-old stray asked us to keep him while he was away on business. He planned to take him to the pound when he got home. The first night, not knowing whether the puppy was housebroken or not, we made him a bed in the garage. Soon we heard much scrabbling and scratching. The determined little beagle was squirming his way into the house through the cat door to take his place in our hearts.

Phil always said that Arlo "wore his heart on his sleeve." When we returned home from work, he would greet us with joyful howls. He loved nothing more than snoozing on the couch beside anyone who was watching TV, but especially Phil. He slept in bed with us, absolutely the first and last dog to enjoy that privilege. His "whirling and twirling" was very annoying. He would plunk himself down in the middle of my side of the bed--never Phil's--and try to weasel his way onto my pillow.

As a young dog, he loved to run like the wind. We used to take him and Violet, our daughter's shepherd mix, to an empty field, where they would race wildly round and round in circles until they were exhausted.

He loved to follow his nose. One hot and humid day in late August, he slipped his collar while we were on a walk and disappeared into a tangle of vines, brambles, and briars. Phil called him, but Arlo ignored him. So Phil waded into the thicket and emerged later, all scratched up, lugging a headstrong, unrepentent beagle. While vacationing in Door County, Wisconsin, we once let him off the leash while we loaded the car, thinking that the rocky, overgrown terrain around my sister's vacation home would confine him. Silly us. Pretty soon six adults and three kids were looking high and low for the little escape artist. Another time, he barreled down a path in the woods. We heard a yelp. He returned with a muzzle full of porcupine quills. Fortunately, my brother-in-law-the-doctor, deftly pulled them out.

He was dominant. When Phil took him to obedience class, Arlo tried to walk out front on his hind legs as if to show who was really in charge. We are not sure what he learned in obedience class, if anything. Some folks will tell you that beagles are stupid, but we always felt that he was weighing the pros and cons of obeying an order.

He had a dark side. As Phil observed, Arlo had "eaten from the tree of knowledge of good and evil." He was insanely jealous and possessive of his food dish, even though, unlike typical beagles, he was no glutton. It was the principle of the thing. Soon after moving in, he attacked poor Joey, our 16-year-old beagle mix, laying claim to the old dog's dish. He got a severe scolding. In Door County, he rudely challenged Cassie, the resident golden retriever, over her own dish. He got scolded for that, too. He even snapped a few times at our daughter's pit-bull mix when Ramsey ventured too close to the dish, tripping a switch in the hapless pit-bull's brain. He got off relatively easy, and didn't even need stitches. Yet, when food was not an issue, he was best friends with all these dogs. He got along with the cats, too.

He had a mind of his own. One evening, in Door County, after a week of picnics on the beach, boatrides, and hikes, we were all unwinding in the living room, watching a movie. Cassie and Arlo were dozing on the rug. Arlo suddenly got up and marched resolutely up the stairs to bed, alone, The week of fun had worn him out. The kids laughed and called out, "Good night, Arlo."

Good night, sweet dog. We will never forget you.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Hello, New Paint

For several years, we watched the house next door deteriorate. The absentee owner let it run down and rented out the four bedrooms to half a dozen unrelated people. Apparently he gave a couple of them a deal: he would reduce their rent if they would paint the house.

Before they started, the house was grey. By the time they finished, it was mostly turquoise. They started in back, but ran out of paint by the time they reached the front. They left a large grey patch under the double window facing the street. We waited for them to complete the job. And waited. Several months passed. When I could stand it no longer, I sneaked into their yard and picked up a paint-spattered leaf. I found a can of spray paint at the hardware store that matched their turquoise close enough. Waiting until no one was home, Phil and I hurried over and spray-painted the grey patch. Later, we saw the tenants inspecting the newly- painted spot with puzzled looks on their faces.

Happy 99th, Mom

Today my mother is 99. She is doing all right for a 99 year old. Her main complaint yesterday was that the day was so long. No wonder. She's bored.

She is nearly blind and rather hard-of-hearing. She can no longer read and has complained for some time now about her difficulty in understanding the library's Talking Books. She's given up on television, except for Charles Stanley and the late D. James Kennedy, two evangelists. A hearing aid? Not on your life. This is a woman who still spends an hour a day at her dressing table, rolling up her long white hair and securing it with a bow coordinated with her outfit. Appearances count!

When she moved here from Meadville, PA, nearly nine years ago, my husband and I were afraid that, being somewhat of a loner, she would grow to rely too much on us for companionship. This is exactly what happened. One of the few activities she enjoyed while still in her own home was leading a weekly Bible study. With her approval, I made a few phone calls and found out about a small group that met at a nearby Lutheran church. It comprised eight elderly women and one man. The man even offered to stop by and pick her up. It was all set. She seemed pleased.

A few days before the first meeting, I looked at the calendar. "Oh, no," I said. "You have a doctor's appointment on the day of your Bible study."

"I'm not going," she said.

"What? Why not? I can cancel your doctor's appointment."

"I've changed my mind."

"But why?"

"I just have, that's all."

She soon came up with a couple of reasons:

1. "Even though those women are Christians, I know women and how catty they can be. They'll say, 'She's blind, so why is she coming to BIble Study if she can't take her turn reading?'"

2. "When the weather turns bad, I'll have to lean on that man's arm when I get out of the car. If it's icy, we'll both go down."

Nothing I could say would change her mind.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Good Bye, Old Paint

It's spring, and our house is badly in need of painting. What was once a tasteful colonial-Willamsburg green has faded into a garish Ocean-City-salt-water-taffy-silly-looking green.

It reminds me all too well of a previous paint job. The lady next door had approached us, saying that if we were interested in having our house painted, she had a friend who "was in a bit of a jam" and would do it for a reasonable price. She was a realtor and began talking about "curb appeal." We took the hint. It seems that her friend, Ray (not his real name), had just landed a teaching job in Florida, but had no money to get there. It would be a huge favor to her and to Ray if we said yes. We said yes.

Ray came over that evening with about 500 color chips on a metal ring. "You oughta find something here that you like," he said, "but you gotta pick your colors right away, because I have to leave for Florida in about ten days. I'd like to start tomorrow, so that I can take my time and do a real good job." Actually, I didn't care for any of the colors very much. Something about them didn't seem quite right, but, feeling pressured, I selected an innocuous green, with gold for the shutters. Ray had the paint mixed the next morning and set to work with gusto.

He made great progress at first, but as the week wore on, we worried that the job wouldn't be finished by Monday, when he had to leave. By Saturday, the job was only 3/4 complete. Ray didn't show. Phil went next door, where Ray was staying, and rang the bell. No answer. Sunday morning, the same thing. Late Sunday afternoon, Ray appeared. "Oh, I heard the doorbell, " he explained, "but I've been laid up with a tooth ache. Don't worry. I won't leave tomorrow until I'm finished, even if I have to leave a little later." The next morning, Phil wrote Ray a check. We left for work.

Phil came home at noon. Ray was gone. The back of the house was only half painted. Open cans of paint stood baking in the sun. Paint trays, rags, stir-sticks, rollers, and brushes were scattered about. Phil immediately stopped payment on the check. Soon we got an aggrieved phone call from Ray in North Carolina. "Hey, Buddy, I really need that money. I have a friend of mine, a professional, who's gonna come over and finish up at no extra charge to you."

So Ray got his money. His friend finished the job.

I still wasn't happy about the color. It looked like green salt-water taffy. I took the color chip to the paint store. The clerk said, "Oh, that's really an interior color. Here's our exterior colors." He showed me a brochure with a dozen exterior color schemes.

Ray used interior paint on the outside of our house?

"Not necessarily," said the clerk. "You can custom-mix any color you want for the exterior."

A couple of summers later, Ray was back, having lost his job in Florida. "Say, Phil, " he said, looking at our house, "you guys really gotta do something about that color."

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Fat Cat

Yesterday I took Mom's cat, Georgie, to the vet. Mom came along to supervise. Mom adopted Georgie last year after Sadie, her 16-year-old kitty-companion, had to be put to sleep. Georgie, a five-year old tuxedo, came from a shelter. She weighed 10 pounds a year ago February, when she moved in, 11 pounds when she got her shots last May, and 13 pounds at yesterday's visit. The vet strongly advised cutting back on her food. Mom said, coyly, "I will ask 'the boss' what she thinks about that. Anyway, she's gained only two pounds."

I should point out that Mom will be 99 on April 19th and is nearly blind from macular degeneration. Last May, she insisted, as she had with all her cats, that Georgie's shots be divided between two visits. Back home in Meadville, her vet would say, "I've been a veterinarian for 30 years, and I've always given all the boosters at the annual check-up." "Well," Mom would say, "that may well be, but you're not putting all that medicine in my little cat!" This year, Mom didn't hear the vet say, "Her distemper shot is not due until the first of May, but if you like, we can give her both the rabies and the distemper shot today." Sounded good to me. I scribbled a note: "It's OK with me, but don't tell Mom." On the way home, Mom, who crossly informs me every day that she can't see, said, "They gave Georgie two shots, one in her neck and one in her hip. What were they?"

Suburban Silliness

Used to be, when you approached the white-spired Mormon Temple on the outer loop of the Washington Beltway, you could see a message spray-painted on a railroad overpass: " Surrender, Dorothy!" Too bad it got painted over.

Friday, April 11, 2008

The Heavens Are Telling. . . .

I'll say this about our trip to Ohio.
My heavens, what stars!
There was no moon the night my husband called me to come see the blackest of skies dotted with a thousand brilliant stars. "This is why I didn't want a roof over the whole porch," he said.

Small Miracle

He was a month old yesterday and he is wonderful. His name is Nathaniel, which means "Gift from God." He's a gift, all right. I remember when we brought our older daughter home from the hospital. We lived in a duplex then, with our landlord and his lady. Mr. Wilson had a grown stepson, but never a baby of his own. He used to annoy me mildly in the early weeks of our baby's life by repeatedly saying, as if to reassure us, "Any day now, she'll start doing things." It seemed to us that she already "did things" every day. She opened her eyes. She closed her eyes. She flailed her tiny hands about. She sucked her thumb. She kicked, she squirmed, and I swear she laughed out loud twice during her first stroller ride. (The canopy blocked my view, but I know I heard a loud chuckle). She gazed out at the world soberly, with big, blue eyes. Her nephew has the same sober gaze, and every once in awhile, his face crinkles into a merry smile. We think we've heard him chuckle, too.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Bumper stickers Faves # 1

Be nice to America or we'll bring Democracy to your country, too.

Camp Run-A-Mutt

Here's an ad we ran recently. Ramsey, the urban street dog our younger daughter acquired while living in Baltimore, applied for a scholarship and got it. He returned home yesterday much Wiser in the Ways of the Woods.


Rediscover your inner wolf at CAMP RUN-A-MUTT.

Sure, you love your human pack leaders,
but you have to play by their rules.
You have to eat “organic” dog food, heavy on vegetables. You have to pee or poop where
they think it’s OK. You hear “no” all
the time, especially if you chew up a cushion
or growl a little.

This is a dog’s life in the 21st century,
and it ain’t pretty.

That’s why we’re offering this Springtime Retreat
for reconnecting with your inner wolf
at beautiful Camp Run-a-mutt in Knox County, Ohio
during the first weekend in April.

• Hiking
• Campfires, with smores
• Howling at the moon (weather permitting)
• Wading in clear, clean streams
• Workshops led by Calvin “Fullmoon” Coyote and Singing Wolf
• Transportation and meals included in cost of the weekend.
• Scholarships available.
• Vet certificate required
• Call today to make your reservation now. HURRY. Space is limited.