December “Up North”

For a month now, we’ve been waiting for snow. We had such a good start in November but since then the temperatures have been between the high teens and a bit less than 40. The early snow has gradually melted in all but the shadiest, most protected places. In some ways this mild streak of temperatures is nice but it puts a damper on those who are waiting to ski, snowmobile or just see more of the pretty white stuff.

We were very hopeful about the winter storm that was forecast for last night. And sure enough, when I looked out in the dark this morning, I could tell by the streetlights that we had new snow. We also had a good chance of more precipitation in some form, but it was 37 degrees – that meant it would likely be rain not snow.

My brother is responsible for snow removal in the small development that he manages. I help him when I can. He runs a small machine with a plow, called a skid steer, and I shovel close to the houses where he can’t easily go with the machine. There are 12 dwellings. It’s a good upper body workout, yes it is.

But I like to shovel snow most of the time. This snow was wet and heavy. There really should be different names for all the different kinds of snow, and there are a few, I guess. This snow was white and pretty on top but slush underneath. Slush is heavy, being mostly water trapped in collapsing snow particles. When I pushed the shovel through 3 to 4 inches of this stuff it would curl up in a roll until it was too heavy for me to make it move. If I’d been out to play instead of work, it would have made super, sticky snowballs.

And the more I thought about it (play), I decided I was not an “all work” girl. Making a giant snowball is a pretty nifty way of clearing a path, so I did that a couple of times and ended up with a snowman. By this time it was raining instead of snowing. I had a hard time getting Frosty’s eyes and nose to stay on his face for a picture but I persisted. Mom is not “all work” either. She suggested one of her hats would look good on him, so that’s why he got photographed twice – the second time with a somewhat more glorified nose.

Celebrating Today

Although I am not with her, today I am celebrating the birthday of my daughter, Julia. As I scrolled through multiple pictures of her it was easy for me to recognize why I love her and am blessed to share life with her.

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First off, you cannot put this girl in a box. Oh, wait, maybe…

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Of course, I am her mom and have a fair amount of bias. There are a lot of “mom pics” in the album I’ve made. But most of the photos are of Julie with the family at large, with her Cambodian “sisters and brothers”, with her clients and their animals, with her own menagerie of four legged friends, Julie being silly, enjoying the outdoors, Julie being Julie. The smile is always present and gives the impression of coming on easily and quickly. She is connected. She is involved.

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I’ve seen her when she isn’t at her most glorious, when her dishes aren’t washed, when she doesn’t feel well, when she’s depressed, when she’s overwhelmed with her complex life, having a bad hair day, in trouble at work… all those things that happen to us all. I still like her. I always love her. I admire her resiliency and her ability to work through to better times. If I were a captain choosing my team, I would pick her.

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So today, thank you for keeping yourself in my life Julie. I am grateful for your friendship and all the wonderful opportunities you give me to talk, to laugh, to work, TO HAVE FUN! I am forever on your side and you are forever in my prayers.

Love, Mom

An Ordinary Day Up North

Is there such a thing as an ordinary day? I would call September 6, 2018 a fairly normal day as it had its share of minor crises and busyness, but nothing earthshaking. It was a good day, and I will lay it out before you for the sake of meeting my writing challenge (something every day in the month of September).

 

6 am, rise and get coffee, morning talk with Mom as we watch the sun come up. World problems get discussed, and solved.

7:30 am, I’m worried about some papers I can’t find for the husband’s medical file and spend time looking through boxes in the 6 x 12 trailer where our extra things are stored. It seems I am always looking for something, but this time, no find… I walk the short distance to my brother’s business, Apple Awards, and find him in his office. He is busy but is glad to talk for a few minutes.  It is so good to be close to this part of my family!

8 am, Back at our condo, the husband is up earlier than usual. I tell him he must get his own breakfast because I’m going to help Mom do her shopping in town. We might be back before he gets it done, but it is good for him to fend for himself when he can.

We buy bread at the European bakery in town. They do not use yeast and the fresh loaves are beautiful to look at. It’s early and we find parking right in front of the store – wonderful.

Off to Walmart for some groceries. Mom has a recipe for soup that needs some vegetables. I am proud of myself for remembering a return that I have. I trade in the wrong connector that I bought for the husband’s TV earphones and buy the right one. We finish grocery shopping. This is definitely the time of day to come to Walmart. No crowds to fight.

10 am, Mom is chopping vegetables for her soup. I hook up the husband’s earphones with the new connector. He now can watch and listen, leaving us in blessed silence.

10:30 am, I am compiling a double stack of the husband’s medical records to take with us to doctor’s appointments. Tomorrow he meets a new primary care provider and coming up on Monday, he will be at Mayo Clinic. I am thankful the copier works.

11:30 am, My phone did some updates last night. I’ve tried several times to make calls this morning and my cell phone refuses to hold the call. I’ve forgotten about it until now when a call comes in and I realize I can’t received calls either. I jump in the car and visit my good friends at Verizon. I’ve been in so many times lately that I’m recognized immediately. The rep smiles, reboots the thing, and it works. I knew that. I go home feeling stupid but, hey, I spent no money there, so no complaints.

12:30 pm, We eat Mom’s soup, which is quite good. The husband and I spend some time talking about our house that hasn’t sold, our daughters, our upcoming trip to Mayo. We talk to God about all this and more.

2:30 pm, I have an appointment with Pastor Chad at the church we’ve been attending. I like to feel known and since we are new in town, an introduction is in order. We talk for an hour. I get permission to come in and play the piano when it’s not in use. I miss my music outlets and enjoy the sound of the piano in the large, empty sanctuary.

4:00 pm, On a whim, I stop in to check on an old friend. She hasn’t felt well so I haven’t seen her since coming to Hayward. She’s out weed whacking in her yard so I know she’s better. We hug and stand outside talking. It’s a beautiful day and we both love being outside.

5:00 pm, More prep for our trip to Mayo. I fill out online forms for the husband and make a list of his medications. I sort through all the vitamin bottles and parse out his pills for the next three days doses.

The husband, Mom and I eat our supper and I clean up the kitchen.

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6:00 pm, Mom and I take the nature walk around the pond. Mom’s been doing this for about a week now, trying to regain some strength in her legs. We see a white tail deer ahead of us in the meadow and I am able to get its picture before it runs off. It is a little cooler every evening now and we wear jackets. Definitely getting to be fall.

7:00 pm, Coming back to the house, we meet my brother in his truck and talk for a minute. I decide to go around the nature trail a second time with my sister in-law Mary Pat and nephew Evan and Scruffy the dog. It’s nearly dark but we see something strange in the pond. It looks like a snapping turtle may have killed a duck and is slowly trying to submerge it. Life and death in the wetlands leaves us feeling a little sobered.

7:30 pm, Sunset as we walk back to our houses. Days are noticeably shorter. As usual, I stop multiple times to take pictures. Can’t get enough of the gorgeous views.

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8 – 10:00 pm, I wander around the house, putting things away, knitting a few rounds on my project, answering texts and emails and watching some TV with the husband. Thinking and planning for tomorrow. Realizing I haven’t written anything today – oops. It’s a challenge for sure.

10:30 pm, Realizing this is not the most inspiring post but I hold to the theory that in order to ever write something good, a writer has to write a lot of bad things too. Time to sleep.

 

Have you ever gone through the exercise of remembering and writing down your day’s activities? How did that go for you?

Up North: September Challenge

Okay. I’ll admit I’ve been a little quiet about our new life “up north”. I think it’s a mild form of shock, if there is such a thing. I can hardly believe I’m really back living in Hayward, thousands of miles from Florida, on my grandfather’s farmstead, in my Mom’s condo.  I’m trying to find a place for myself (and the husband) up here and it takes a lot of introspection. Introspection wears me out. “Worn out me” tends to revert to endless games of spider solitaire (confession time), jigsaw puzzles (hours spent here), thick paperback novels (three in the last two weeks), and occasionally, just sitting and looking out the window. Anything except writing.  After all,  these are stereotypical retirement activities and am I not retired now?

Haha, no, not really.

There is plenty to do up here – real work, including writing. For my own sake, I need to exercise some discipline and record the journey (that is, life) in this new place. Writing should be a daily activity, a joy, a relief, a healing outlet and a way of sharing. Thirty days hath September, and each one shall be recorded in some fashion. If I can do it in April, (A to Z in April) why not now?

In defense of jigsaw puzzles, I need to explain. Each time we finish, Mom says “Did you take the picture? Of course, I do, although I don’t always post them here or on Facebook. There is almost always a puzzle in progress in this house. We know the kinds we like, the kinds we agonize over and won’t choose to do again. We have different methods of hunting for pieces depending on the puzzle. We have special Styrofoam boards on which to lay out the pieces, and we now bag up the edge pieces separately when we put them away. These are the fine points.

The value in all this puzzling? I can think of three benefits. First, it does make us think about so many things. Color, shape, texture, direction, recognition all have to register and be in operation to get a puzzle from a pile of pieces to a picture. Secondly, no matter what stresses we have been immersed in before or after, the time spent doing the puzzle is a break. We concentrate, get engrossed. It clears our minds and emotions.

Thirdly, probably most important, it is time spent together. We don’t always talk, but often we do. All kinds of things come up as we sit there, knowing that the other person is not in a hurry, not going to rush off somewhere. We probably don’t solve any world problems, but that’s not to say we couldn’t. Who knows?

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So here is our last puzzle. We liked it because there were no parts so hard that we got stuck. We were always finding pieces, 1,000 of them to be exact.  We will probably be doing puzzles more as the days get colder and there is less to do outside. We have a whole stack of them waiting, thanks to our friend Sandy who traded with us.

I’m just sayin’ there are a whole lot of worse things we could be doing with our leisure time, here “up north”.

And I may actually write about some of them this month. The plan is to share life, the small and the significant, the joy and the pain, the awe and the awful… here it comes. 

What We’re Doing this Summer…

What’s Happening with Us…

What on earth have we been doing? We’ve been selling and moving for months already! Aren’t we gone yet? No, we aren’t. Here’s what’s been happening in the past few weeks of relative silence:

  • The husband has been finishing up his last weeks at American Aldes Ventilation. They finally realize he is leaving and are asking him questions and scrambling to learn the things he will not be doing for them anymore
  • About half of our “things” got boxed and put in a container that is stored someplace in Tampa.
  • Packing has continued as I empty out closets, dressers, cupboards and the garage.
  • Keeping the house “showing” ready in case an interested buyer comes our way. We’ve had two open houses, both of which had 0 visitors. Really. Everyone is up north I guess.
  • We have been using up our food supply, giving some things away, sold the freezer. (Now we’ll hopefully leave before we get a hurricane so we don’t have to restock.)
  • Sold my car, and traded our red truck for a newer Chevy Colorado in a sophisticated grey.
  • Ordered a topper to go with the new-to-us truck to give us space for the move. They take weeks to make and getting it put on will probably be the last thing before we leave.
  • Spending lots of time driving around together, since I love to drive the new truck and am not letting the husband get behind the wheel.
  • Doing our last visits to doctors and dentists, compiling our health records to take north with us.
  • Keeping up with summer growth in the yard, mowing, pulling weeds and vines, trimming trees.
  • Visiting with friends we may not see again for quite a while.
  • Last but not least, trying to keep healthy and find our way out of some disturbing health problems.

 

What we hope to be doing in the next few weeks:

Dennis Retirement  (Click here to see the invitation with a nice picture of the husband. I’m technically challenged to get it to show up, sorry.)

  • Retirement party!!! I am so excited to see the husband getting honored by his co-workers. He has been faithfully on the job for 35 years and has been through a lot with this company. They have been planning a special lunch out at a restaurant and a surprise. I have no idea what it is.
  • Making an appointment at Mayo Clinic. The husband is frustrated and depressed with his erratic blood pressure and extreme mental and physical fatigue. He has had a brain MRI and tests for his heart and circulation but no helpful diagnosis yet. Ever heard of NPH? We hadn’t either but it is one of the possibilities.
  • Emptying out the house. Filling our container and returning it to storage until someday when we have another house to furnish.
  • Buying a small trailer for the things we want to take north.
  • Taking our trip to Wisconsin, via Greensboro to see Julie and possibly Madison, Indiana to check out Ron and Marlene’s project (this is the first they’re hearing about this though, so we will be flexible on that.)
  • We absolutely have to be finished traveling and in Wisconsin by the end of July because the first week in August is the Smith Family Reunion and we are going to be there helping it happen!

 

So a lot has been happening, even as some important things, like the sale of the house, have not been happening.  We are learning and practicing our waiting skills. And since it doesn’t make much difference where we wait, we will do it with family. We are not discouraged. The house will sell, eventually.

Assisted Living 101: final thoughts

Did I mention at the beginning of this that so many people think “nursing home” when they hear the words “assisted living”? (Yes, I did.) The truth is that no one wants to be sick, disabled or senile and in need of a nursing home.  The truth is that no one really wants to be old, but the alternative is to be dead and that’s not great either. If we grow old without being sick, disabled or senile we will be blessed. Some of us will need to have good nursing care and a nursing home will be the safest place for us. Probably all of us will need assistance at some point. Who will assist you?

Before that time, we hope to take care of ourselves and be independent as “young elders”. It takes courage to ask where we best belong, and where we fit in. It also takes courage to deal with one’s pride and go live in a place where others might need us. Mom’s apartment at Water’s Edge is designed with aging in mind, but it is just like a nice apartment anywhere else. The basic plan here does not leave her feeling like she is an invalid, in fact, she feels like she’s on a cruise.  What would improve her experience here would be having more people closer to her age.

We have been meeting other tenants at meal time. Marjorie, Eleanor, Ken, Emil, Violet who is going to be 103, and the three Dorothys. Underneath the aging exterior, all of these individuals have interesting stories and quirky personalities that can come rushing out when you start conversing with them. This particular brand of assisted living has been good for them. They have family nearby but are really safer and happier here than they would be elsewhere. It is a good place.

Will Mom feel like she belongs here? She doesn’t know but is willing to give it a try. She has the option of returning home and living with family if she needs it. I will end the way I began. There is not one right way to do this aging thing – everyone’s situation is different and there are lots of variables to deal with. But I have learned that it is good to do the dealing gracefully, thoughtfully, and without fear before it is an emergency.

Aside: Today we met Ken who is a retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel of 27 years. When he could no longer play it, he donated his digital piano to the chapel at Water’s Edge. After we had lunch at the same table, he invited us to come learn how to operate the instrument. (Mom has always loved having a piano around to play when the urge hits…) Interesting people… see what I mean?

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Outside the door, each tenant has a name plate and a small shelf where they can place some object. For now, it’s a china doll, but eventually it will be something red, I think.

Assisted Living 101: Red!

20180107_162125957370457.jpgMost apartments where people come and go are painted in neutral colors – beiges and browns, as in Mom’s apartment at Water’s Edge. There are beautiful dark brown cabinets, doors and baseboards, a light brown carpet and vinyl hard flooring. The minute mom saw it she was planning how she would fix it up. It needed some punch, and the punch was going to be red.

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Red carnage begins.

The week before she moved she designated a rocking chair that would go there with her, whose outward façade would never be the same. I got in on the decorating fever and found a twin bed headboard and footboard at the ReStore. We put plastic down on the garage floor, obtained some of Walmart’s red spray paint and Mom went to work. Painting all those skinny spindles on the chair and headboard produced a lot of overspray. (Think “how to make your garage look like the scene of an axe murder” or “how to get pink hair for $3.89”). But she really liked the results, most of them (not so much the pink hair).

Moving day was last Friday, and has continued in increments since then. Having her former residence only a mile or so away has some advantages, because we forgot quite a few things at first.  Most of the cute, red stuff is here.

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Moving day! The SUV was so full we had to put a basket between us in the front. I’m not really that excited – I’m freezing. It was minus 12 F. and snowed the day before.

Another way that Water’s Edge assists its tenants is in the safety department, and I said I would mention a few of those features in this post. Inside Mom’s entry door is this notification system that they ask her to use each day. 20180114_213513326780616.jpgShe presses the “check in “ button by 10 am just to let staff know she is doing fine and doesn’t need them. “Help” doesn’t have to mean she’s dying, just that she would like some help, duh. She can use it anytime, even if it’s just to get the TV hooked up, or a picture hung, or a question answered. There are also call buttons in the bathroom.

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Sign out book, which we forgot to use the first night out. They forgave us. We’re new here.

Tenants here come and go as they please, but the outside entrance is locked at 8:30 pm and must be opened by staff after that time. They like to know who is out and when they are coming back, so there is a sign out book that keeps staff informed.  It’s not a jail by any means. Mom has an outside patio door on the ground floor and could get out anytime if she wished, but security is important for everyone living here and cooperative living means rules.

 

I’ve been getting some interesting comments on this series and want to sum things up in the next post by addressing some of what I’m hearing.

 

 

Assisted Living 101: how will they assist?

We started the process of entering the apartment at Water’s Edge with Mom undergoing an evaluation. It was to assess her needs in the basic areas and determine what kind of assistance she might want.

As you’ve caught on, we are in a very cold climate and we needed to schedule this appointment with a nurse and the assisted living manager. To my surprise and delight, they didn’t waste any time in assisting us and volunteered to come to Mom’s house and do the evaluation there. Later this week, before Mom moves in, the final paperwork has to be filled out. Again, our manager was quick to offer to come to the house rather than having us come to them. I was impressed that they would consider the difficulty an elderly person might have going out in below zero weather.

Concerning that weather (icy roads and snowstorms), transportation is provided to the grocery store and pharmacy every week on the resident bus. Water’s Edge and the hospital are also on the hourly bus route and will take residents pretty much anywhere for $.50. Mom still drives her car lots of places in town and she can have garage space at Water’s Edge, but the convenience of the bus is very tempting. We are going to ride it around it’s route just to scope it out and learn what it’s like.

Another day we were looking for a place to have lunch with my uncle and aunt. We decided to show them Mom’s soon to be abode and have lunch at the Water’s Edge Bistro. The Bistro is a volunteer staffed eating place with a “soup of the day” and accompanying sandwich. It’s open for residents and the public over lunch hour. The menu is limited but the price can’t be beat and the atmosphere is pleasant and relaxed. All four of us had soup, sandwich, coffee and a dessert cookie for $11, total!

Mom has been a great cook and hostess all her life, and although eating is still fun, cooking is no longer her favorite thing to do. Shopping and cooking for one person is not easy and not as rewarding as fixing meals for a group. She is always worrying about using things up and not wasting food. She often eats standing up, looking out the kitchen window.

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The last meal Mom will probably cook for a while (until she gets lonely for cooking #shesaidnever)

Being assisted with meal preparation is one of the things Mom looks forward to most. At Water’s Edge everyone gets coffee any time of the day, a good continental breakfast buffet every morning, and a hearty lunch. The evening meal is available in the dining room for a small cost, but many people take part of their lunch home to eat later. In addition, everyone has their own kitchen in their apartment should the desire to cook suddenly overcome them. Guests can be entertained in the dining room for a reasonable price, or at the Bistro. Problem solved.

These are just a few of the ways that assistance is offered to residents at this particular place. Most assisted living facilities have put a lot of thought into what help is needed and appreciated, either for safety or just for convenience. I’ll tell you more about the safety features at Water’s Edge that we all liked and I’m sure will give Mom the security and peace of mind that we want her to have – in the next post.

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This is more like it…

Assisted Living 101: answering questions

Assisted Living: Who Decides?

I have come to the conclusion that the answer to this question is different, case to case. I can think of examples for every possible scenario. I can only give what has happened for our family.

My parents moved numerous times in their lives. They were tied to a general area but not to a particular house. Each time they moved they practiced parting with things. They practiced flexibility. Some people are not that way. I have always been a bit surprised by their flexibility because I have seen the opposite happen with my grandparents. They were not as comfortable with change and they stayed in the home they were familiar with until it was impossible to do so.

Mom has jokingly said that she looked forward to nursing home social life, playing bingo and cards, etc… so I know that she has thought about the subject way before she had to. Watching others go through decisions about caretaking made her lean in the direction of not wanting to be a burden on her children. We have all had to reassure her that we are all “burdens” to each other if we want to view it that way, and that every burden, planned for and accepted cheerfully, has corresponding joys and rewards. For mom, this means she can know she is loved and can depend on us. For us, this means that we trust mom to make a decision for herself, and that we will do everything we can to make it happen.

Mom was not afraid to put her name on the waiting list, but I think we were all surprised when it was announced that she was next in line for an apartment. This announcement came at a time when Mom was struggling with her feelings of loneliness and isolation, the shortened days and long dark nights, the winter cold. There were people she could reach out to, frequent phone calls and my brother and his family checking in on her, but even with all this there were sometimes days at a time when she was not face to face with anyone. She became very clear about one thing – she no longer wanted to live alone. Maybe it was not a coincidence that there would soon be a place for her in a warm, secure building with people to see and be with any time she wanted. When you are a praying person, you examine “coincidences” in a whole different light. And that’s what Mom has done. She says she owes it to herself to find out if this is right for her, and why not do it while she is young enough to enjoy the many perks?

Meanwhile, my brothers and I are battling winter with Mom in any way we can. I am so happy that I am free to visit her in Wisconsin for an extended time. Since I have been here, the apartment has come open and I will get to help with the move. We are having fun getting ready. Wait ’till you see what Mom is doing! Clue – a lot of red paint is involved.

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Mom and her five “kids” spending time at her home in Hayward, Wisconsin

 

 

 

Assisted Living 101

Our family is having a new experience this winter – I call it a learning experience because I’ve been made to see that we approached it with some bias, some presumptions that need to be adjusted. Although mom is the central figure in this experience, we are all involved and affected. Over Thanksgiving we had discussions with Mom and each other.  It is a blessing to have a close family that wants to work together and communicate.

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With Mom up in the cold north (Wisconsin). We’ll get this assisted living thing figured out…

My personal bias was the idea that someday, when Mom needed help, I would be her primary caretaker. I enjoy my mother and the idea of living with her has never been hard to bear. I have looked forward to that time.  However, there were many details about “that time” that were not defined or even thought about.

How will we know when “that time” comes? Who decides? Is it based on physical need? Financial need? Emotional need? Safety need? Where will “that time” take place? What if “that time” comes when it’s inconvenient?

All of these questions and more came into play this last year. It was a shock to me when my forward- thinking brother and my mom announced that they had put her name on the list for an assisted living apartment. She had already told me that she didn’t want to winter with my husband and I in sunny Florida. Travel wasn’t easy for her and she didn’t have many friends of her own there. She felt isolated and in the way. But assisted living?! She had a small but very comfortable condo in a safe community near my brother and his family. She had lived alone there for the two years since Dad had died. What was going on?

Mom had gotten on the list along with lots of others because there was a shortage of apartments in the facility of choice. It was a “just in case” move so she wouldn’t find herself in need in the future. I wasn’t the only one who balked at this idea. Other family members were concerned and even voiced the common sentiment “once you go to a nursing home, it’s all downhill from there”. Fortunately, nothing happened quickly.  I think it was by God’s design that we were given several months to process this idea.

Our first lesson was learning the meaning of assisted living. The term has been around for a number of years but even with my background in nursing, I had not paid much attention to it. I did not know how common these facilities had become and the variety of levels of assistance available. The facility Mom is interested in is connected to a hospital, but really consists of apartments, fully equipped, like any apartment building. They are small but very nice. Residents move in with their own furnishings and come and go as they please. Mom can bring her own car if she wants to.

As some of this information comes my way I want to share it with my family and with others who are also considering assisted living for themselves or those they love. Since Mom is moving this coming Friday, I will be posting over the next few days in hopes that following her journey will help others understand and feel informed about assisted living.

Click here to see photos of the assisted living facility where Mom is moving. Water’s Edge Senior Living