Wednesday, December 02, 2020

Happy Birthday Mom

 Today is my mother's 84th birthday.  Happy birthday Mom!

I have a lovely memory of spending her 70th birthday with her in Paris. 

You can read about that super fun birthday here.

I'm glad that we have this memory to look back on.  

I'm afraid that my mother's memories have not stayed with her.

This is a screenshot from my home computer.

It shows four of the seven Facebook profiles I have for my mother.  We should have booked her in for a CT scan when this started happening.  My mother would forget her log-in information.  Instead of figuring it out or asking for help, she would just start over.

Although my mother has not been known for being reasonable, this tendency started to become much more pronounced in the last few years. When does natural grumpiness turn into an actual symptom?

The aging process is unkind when we get near the end of our lives.  Brain health is vital.  Conditions like high blood pressure and atrial fibrillation can put us at greater risk of stroke.  Even when we think we have these things under control we can have a "silent stroke" and TIA, transient ischaemic attack and the dreaded Alzheimer's disease.  These things can rob a body of it's abilities and our brain of it's faculties.

Monday, November 02, 2020

As Time Goes By

When I first started blogging, I started following a blog entitled As Time Goes By by Ronni Bennet.  A former television producer who had been looking for a forum that was honest about what happens to the human body, how society acts and reacts to people as we age.   She couldn't find a reliable and honest (non-commercial?) account of actual aging.  I am speaking of her in the past tense because a few days ago, she left her body.  I am glad that she is now at rest.  She already had the peace. It is a comfort to know that she was not fearful when she crossed over.  One of her final messages was: "When you get here, it is really nice. I am not afraid."  Rest easy Ronni. You will be missed.

Everybody experiences aging.  Leading a healthy life is merely slowing down the rate at which we age.  It can sometimes prolong death.  Don't kid yourself, a healthy life doesn't make you immortal but regular exercise IS important. 

Ronni had a list of elderbloggers.  I love that list of blogs.  Colourful and fascinating people who are immensely valuable in a short-sighted world where youth and modernity are worshipped.  As I was only in my 40s when I started my own blog, I was considered too young to be included in that list.   When I turned 50 I requested inclusion to the list of elderbloggers.  I was finally old enough to be included in the group.  I was on the list for a short time.  I was removed when my blog entries slowed and all but stopped.  

A number of people who followed my blog back when I was more active have died over those years.  Fascinating bloggers who had amazing lives.  I miss their input and perspective on things.  I am so glad they are not here to see what is happening in this terrible year but I sure could do with their opinion. The political world is chaos and it is not helped by a global pandemic.  These two topics dominate the headlines.  

I am now thinking back to all the friends I have made through this blog. As in life you make friends through connecting with people.  Some bloggers became very good friends. I am also pondering the changes in my life, changes to my family and body that have occurred over the last 14 years.  The blog has a delightful archive that can be revisited.  It is a great big journal with pictures and comments.  My theme is roughly and very loosely based on my garden but I write about a lot of topics.

This is a list of things that have happened and come to understand

  • My father died
  • My mother has dementia and in a care home
  • I have fewer teeth
  • My feet won't work well without constant support
  • I discovered how vital it is to have integrity 
  • A number of friends have died
  • Gray hair has showed up
  • Your life can change in a moment
  • I love my family 
  • I find joy in nature
I am going to start touching on the aging process as it pertains to my life.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Small Town Life

In 1980, I was 18 years old.   The drinking laws had just changed in Iowa.  Previously the legal age was 18. The law now stated that a person had to be 19 to be able to go to a bar.  I was still 17 when the law changed.  I was a few months too young to be "grandfathered" in.   In my world, this was the most unfair and cruel thing that could happen to me.

 I lived in a very small town.  There was precious little else to do.  I went to school, studied and worked.  I worked in the food service at the local college in town.  This meant that a lot of my friends and coworkers were college students. Naturally they were a couple of years older than I was. I was a high school kid, a townie.  If they were toddling off to the bar after work, I would walk with them part of the way but turn off to go home not continuing to the bar with them.  

It was December and the campus was closing down for Christmas.  Many of my friends were going back to their own homes in other towns or other states for the holidays.  On the last night before they left we thought it would be a great idea if I came with them to the bar.  It was their last night before they left.  I wouldn't see them for weeks.   It would be churlish to turn toward my house and sobriety on this special evening. 

I walked with them and boldly walked through the front door of Joe's (the bar). We squished into one of the booths in the small but crowded bar on the main street in my home town.   

Naturally the bartender (Clay) knew me and I knew him.  He was unsure how old I was so I was "carded" to prove that I was old enough to be in the bar and drinking alcohol.   Of course I didn't have it.  I was underage.  I gave some excuse as to why I was not carrying I.D. and the bartender left our table.  I thought I got away with it . . . until a few minutes later when the he came back to the table.  He had called my house.  Clay was informed by whoever answered the phone that I was only 18 years old.  I was rumbled and I needed to leave. 

With great eye rolling I left the bar and walked the few blocks back to my house.  I was greeted by my sisters and some friends who were visiting us for Christmas. They had answered the phone and told the caller that I was 18.  I think they were pleased with themselves for spoiling my illegal plans for the evening. 

I held a grudge against poor Clay for decades.  He didn't know. It probably never crossed his mind again.  This episode in my young life is fodder for a wonderful story. The story of life in a small Iowa town. Everybody knows you.  Everybody knows your business. You can't get away with anything! I never embellish this story.  It is great as it is. "You think you had it rough!  The bartender CALLED MY HOUSE!"

Tuesday, September 08, 2020

Moving Up a Gear

This summer my mother had a TIA.  For those who don't know, a TIA is a transient ischaemic attack.  It's a mini-stroke.  If any sort of stroke can be mini.  They just randomly show up and take a bit of your brain function away.    

The episode put her in the hospital.  From the hospital she went to a rehabilitation facility in the hope that she would regain enough of her faculties to return home. This hasn't happened.  She is not well enough to return home without full time nursing care and alarmed doors.   This meant that when my mother left her apartment in June, she would never return.

It strange how a planned life with schedules, cell phone headaches, dates to meet up with friends and  carefully archived mementos are gone in an instant.  The life my mother had is gone.  Are there any comforts from former busy lives on offer in care homes? I wonder if they can give patients hot coffee in care homes. I know there is a risk of scalding but sometimes  a good coffee, served how you like it, works wonders.  Can they have a beer?

I haven't been able to speak to her since she went into the hospital in June.  First she was in the hospital and there was no way to get the technology arranged.   Later she was moved from rehabilitation care and  became a permanent resident. During this shift a vital piece of her cochlear implant was lost.  She was then rendered almost helpless.  Without her implant there was absolutely no way to speak to her.  She wasn't able focus on the screen long enough to recognise the face at the other end.   The one time I tried to connect with her, it was really sad.  She was being fed her lunch at the time and wouldn't shift her focus from the food to the screen.  I kept hoping that she'd focus and see me but she never did.

My lovely sister has been down to see our mom again and taken her to all her appointments.  One of the appointments was the audiologist.  She has a fully functioning cochlear implant once again.   Scheduling an international FaceTime call isn't easy with a overworked (and caring staff) at her care facility. I have an appointment with my mom tomorrow.  I hope she can focus on the iPad.  I want her to be able to see me and have a conversation with her. 

Sunday, July 19, 2020


When Covid-19 hit the UK and hit it hard, the government was SLOW to shut things down.  I also think the government is too quick to open things back up.  This is backed up by the return to shut-down in certain areas.

I have been saved by doing volunteer work.  I wrote about it here.

Four months on and I am still heading out a few times a week.  I used to be that I was heading out 5 out of 7 nights to collect food.  The frequency has decreased to 3 or 4 nights a week. 

I get a notification like this via WhatsApp from the charity coordinator and I head out to collect the food.

When I get food from the supermarkets, sometimes there is a treat.  One night there was loads of whole milk.    When I collected it there was plenty for my Syrian families and plenty for the village. 

As you can see there was a lot of milk.  I kept it in my little fridge over night and set it out in the  morning.  I was *slightly* worried that there would be some left, but our village met this challenge!  It was all gone by 5pm. 

Our village and the village next to us are so excellent about helping to prevent food waste.

This week marked the end of me having my mileage costs covered by the village council. As Scotland is moving into phase 3 of the release of lock down, funding for this is drying up.  I don't think for a minute that the community is less grateful.  I am going to continue to collect and distribute food while there is still a need. 

The man of the place and I had a discussion about the cost of collecting the food and distributing it.  I would really miss doing this for my community.
I get little thank you gifts from time to time.  So far I have received some delicious broccoli and Stilton soup and some coriander plants for the garden. 
On Friday I got flowers and a lovely card from one of the families.   This was so sweet!

When the food is put out, sometimes I find there are special items in the form of entire decorated cakes in the boxes.  I set delux items like this to one side for families with small children at home.  It is hard to try to keep children entertained and fed during lock-down.  Treats start to become a thing of the past.  I love seeing the smiles and hear the squeals of delight.  It's like Christmas for me.

Thursday, July 02, 2020

Cucumbers are Already Here!

male flowers have been removed
This is something I didn't know until a few years ago.  Cucumber plants have two sorts of flowers on the vine.  Male flowers and female flowers.

Removing the male flowers before they open and start pollinating everything is important.  If cucumbers get pollinated, they become bitter and unpleasant to eat.
baby cucumbers
It is easy to spot which flowers are male flowers early on.  They don't have a small cucumber behind the flower. 

I did a bit of cleaning out in the polytunnel today.  When the door was opened it was like going into a sauna.  LOTS of hot and very humid air in there!

When I cleared away some of the super slug infested lettuce, I found these little beauties! 
The first cucumbers!   I predict there is some pickle making in my future!
This is a jar I made last year.  They're still tasty!

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Age is Taking Too Much

My mother lost her hearing gradually.  When I was a child, she didn't have hearing aids. As the years marched on, hearing aids became a part of her life. Part of her routine was searching the junk drawer in kitchen or the bottom of her handbag for fresh batteries.

When I was in middle school, we got a volume control on the phone receiver. With this device she was able to use the phone for a few more years.

My siblings and I learned to speak slowly and enunciate syllables clearly. No mumbling!  We knew that if she wasn't facing us, she couldn't hear what we were saying. There was no point in speaking to her if her back was turned or she was looking away.

We also knew when she didn't hear what we were saying. She would have a repertoire of replies and sounds that fooled a speaker into thinking that my mother had heard everything they said and she was in agreement. It made ordinary social interactions just a bit smoother for her. Most people would think that she had been participating. Her children knew the tricks and could spot when she wasn't understanding. Sometimes we would step in and re-explain the conversation to my mother if we saw that the speaker was expecting a more complete answer. It would give the game away so we had to be judicious where we stepped in.

We knew that we had to make darned sure she knew what she was agreeing to in conversations with us. We could never be seen to use her deafness to our advantage. "You said I could go! I asked you and you said yes!" Taking advantage of your mother's disability would have shown a shocking lack of integrity. We just didn't do it.

By the time the 80s rolled around the volume control wasn't enough. I think the last time my mother used a normal telephone was 1981. When I joined the Navy in 1981 she couldn't really use it very well when I called home.

We had a few years with a TTY machine. This was pre-internet and before mobile or cellular phones but I was thrilled with another and simpler way to communicate. It was like using a walkie talkie. There were loads of little short cuts. I don't remember them all. I do remember that when you had finished your sentence, you typed GA for "go ahead". This way you weren't both trying to type at the same time. I had a machine here in Scotland and my mother had one in Washington, D.C. where she lives. Long distance phone calls were still hideously expensive but if we needed to speak to each other, we could still communicate.  With the onset of the internet, chat rooms, and e-mail the TTY machine gathered dust in a cupboard in my room.

The world and technology has moved at a rapid pace. For years we have been able text and email each other. We have chats on line and the cost of international phone calls now costs me nothing extra.

We still don't have the half hour calls that some people have with their mothers. Maybe it was because of her deafness that we never had long conversations on the phone. We never developed a regular phone thing early on. When things started to become a problem, I didn't pick up on them. How could I? I live in another country.

Facebook came on the scene and eventually my mom created a profile. She learned early on how to swim around in the social media pool. A few years ago and  I don't know how but her profile became the target of those people who copy a profile and start to harvest the friends list for their nefarious purposes. We got that profile removed.  It made me careful with every friend request I get from somebody with whom I am already friends.

Despite the copycat profile being removed, I have five separate profiles on Facebook for my mother. They are all genuinely from her.  In the last few years she would forget all her log-in information. It must have been just easier to start a new profile rather than go through the headache of fishing around for the right login information. These profiles show clearly the beginning of a decline of something other than her hearing. She stopped writing in her blog too. Technology was becoming increasingly too complex for her.  

She started to have dizzy spells.  This was diagnosed as a natural reaction to dehydration.  She wasn't drinking enough liquids. It became obvious that she was losing weight as well.  When people develop dementia, the feelings of thirst and hunger don't translate into action.  

We started to have conversations about her going to assisted living accommodation.  These suggestions were always shot down in flames.  My mother has always prized her independence and wasn't going to give that up.

When Covid-19 hit the states, her day centre shut.  On the final day it was open, they sent all their people home with food parcels.   My mother with her natural generosity gave it all away to her neighbours.  We weren't overly pleased with her generosity.  She didn't save anything by for herself.  It was clear that she couldn't plan past what she wanted to do then and there.  The thought of making sure she had food in three days time wasn't on the radar.

It was really hard work to convince my mother that staying in her apartment was essential.  She would walk out to get a coffee, check her bank balance or get a newspaper.  
"I survived polio, I can survive this." 
Meanwhile we are all trying to convince her to stay put.  I could only do that by sending her really grumpy texts or scold her via Facetime.  It would work for a day, sometimes two days and then she was out again. 

It got worrying when she started getting lost.  She would call her friend and tell her that she didn't know where she was.   By identifying the restaurants she was near, her friend could figure out where she was, collect her and bring her home.  She seemed to be chastened by this episode . . .for a day. 

A few days later she was at the Metro station, got confused and the police brought her home.   Then it happened again. . . I'm not sure about the time line for when these things happened but the police brought her home a couple of times. 

Then there seemed to be an event. My mother had another dizzy spell, and was sick.  Things weren't right. My mother's regular doctor was called.  The doctor made arrangements for my mother to be evaluated at the hospital. It was at this point my sister drove down from New Jersey to Washington and supervised getting my mother to the hospital.

Initially we were happy that Mom wasn't in a care home or in assisted living when Covid-19 hit the USA. Those places seem to be hotbeds of Covid-19 infection.  They certainly are in the UK.  Now we wished she was in one so that she was safe.

Old age doesn't come alone.  There seems to be some evil roulette table we are all lined up to play.  As you age more dark spaces are added.  If the wheel lands on a dark space you'll lose something.  Sometimes it's just a tooth or you will suddenly and inexplicably have higher blood pressure.  Other times you develop bunions and not only can you not run, you have difficulty walking.  Your skin will wrinkle, your hair will get grey or go altogether. The more sinister spaces on the roulette wheel of ageing are brutal: cancer, stroke,  heart attack and dementia.  The come along with a loss of dignity that's hard to witness. For a woman whose ability to be sharp, educated and quick thinking has kept the wolf from the door for herself and her children, the loss of her mental ability is particularly cruel. 

This week my mother was moved to a care home for rehabilitation.  She is deaf, confused and in a place where she's never been before.  I take comfort that she is safe, she is being offered regular meals and she is taking her medicine regularly. 

During this global pandemic, I find myself repeating the first part of the Serenity Prayer that the AA use all the time.  

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change; 
courage to change the things I can; 
and wisdom to know the difference.

I am not religious but this prayer reminds me to let go of things for which I have no control.  I can't control other people's actions just like I can't control the weather.  Worrying about it is a complete waste of energy.