These bubbles don’t make trouble!


“Why are they all different colors?” Peter asks. Bubble-blowing is a new experience for him.

“‘Cause they’re soapy, I guess,” I say. Heck, I don’t know why bubbles look like floating rainbows in the round.

“But the stuff in the bottle is purple!”

Oh, I get it. He thinks the bubbles should be purple. “Food coloring maybe?”

“Why?”

“To make it look like grape pop.” The tiny bottles were made to look like look like pop — soda — bottles.

“Pop?”

“You know, a soft drink…Coke…Coca Cola….”

“Not me! I drink beer!” He smiled to see if I got his little joke.

GLYCERINE!” I say, inspired. “The bubble juice has glycerine in it, I’ll bet that’s why they’re so colorful.”

“How do you know that?” he asks.

“I don’t. I’m guessing. My mom used to make a bubble concoction with a cake of Ivory soap…and something else….” Back then, little kids had bubble pipes,, not plastic wands like now. I played with mine for hours because I thought I looked like my daddy. He smoked a pipe. The only bad thing with bubble pipes was, if you forgot and inhaled, you got a mouthful of soapy water.

I’ve since discovered that glycerine doesn’t cause the bubbles’ iridescence, the soap does. Glycerine makes the bubbles supple and extends their life. Either Karo or Golden Syrup can be used in place of glycerine. Who knew?

Peter carries on blowing bubbles, fascinated with a childhood pastime he never experienced. In war torn England, little kids didn’t have such luxuries, I suppose. Mums didn’t have extra Fairy Liquid and Golden Syrup with which to stir up entertainment for their children.

The National Society of Newspaper Columnists contest winner, 2016 —
online, blog, & monthly under 100,000 unique visitors category.

You don’t forget how to ride a bicycle.

Snow was on the ground when friends Shelia and Jerry first mentioned organizing a day’s cycling adventure once the weather was nicer. We tried to coordinate a date for May or June, but bad weather and household emergencies got in the way. On a brutally hot day this month they brought up the idea again. “Let’s try the Virginia Creeper Trail in September or October, Pete,” Jerry said. “It’ll be cooler then.”

“And the fall colors will be beautiful,” Shelia added.

“Where is that?” my husband asked.

“Southwest, near Abingdon,” Jerry said. “It’s an easy trail. They take you to the top and you coast down, almost never have to pedal.”

Peter wore his worried face. “I don’t think I can ride a bike anymore.”

Jerry winked at me and Shelia said, “Just think about it, Pete. We’ll set a date later.”

My husband knocked off thousands of cycling miles a year, even while he was still working, more after he retired. He has a custom bike that is the envy of anyone who knows bicycles, but he hasn’t ridden, not even his “junker,” in at least five years. “I’ll get lost,” he always says.

He’s forgotten so much, but he remembers the concussion he got in a bike race years ago. He slid out on wet pavement — no helmet — and hit his head. He blames that on his memory loss, and maybe that’s why he won’t commit to a ride, even on a local trail.

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After our friends left, I said I thought he’d be able to ride the Creeper trail. “Why don’t we take our bikes out and ride around the block to see how you — how we — do,” I said.

“I might fall off.”

“Riding a bike is like riding a horse,” I said, twisting the old catchphrase. “You don’t forget, and if you fall off, you get right back on again.”

“You remember the last time I rode a horse, don’t you? The horse died the next day!” His face turned red and his eyes watered, he was laughing so hard. Dementia hasn’t erased that memory.

That poor horse died more than forty years ago. We hadn’t even met when it happened, but we’ve laughed about it for years.

Header: Huckleberry Trail, 2014.

The National Society of Newspaper Columnists contest winner, 2016 —
online, blog, & monthly under 100,000 unique visitors category.

Why was I surprised?

“Let’s go see the ‘Art in the Garden’ exhibits…” I said to Peter, “…at the Hort Gardens.”  It was a surprise outing for him.

“Oh, OK!” His eyes sparkled. “We haven’t been there in a long time.”

“Be ready in twenty minutes,” I said, glad he was interested. Wherever we went on our travels, when we still traveled, we would always visit public gardens.

He didn’t mention, or didn’t realize, that I headed the wrong way out of our drive. Carol Lee doughnuts was an important first stop, part of my surprise. I bought six of their lighter-than-air glazed to have with the thermos of coffee I’d brought. From there I took a “scenic route” I knew he’d enjoy — through campus, past the power plant which intrigues him, around the drill field and duck pond, and finally to the Hahn Horticulture Garden.

Leslie and I had already seen this year’s  “Simply Elemental.”  I hoped Peter would enjoy it as much as we had. I pointed out Richard Hammer’s “Glorious Glass Flowers,” but he preferred the enormous hibiscus near the pavilion. I nudged him to examine the NRV Naturalists’ “In a stream near you,” but he wanted to watch the real fish in the real stream or see the spider that had spun the web attached to one of Lauren Collver’s “Bedrock Beetles.” I carried on about the beautiful handiwork of the Textile Artists of Virginia (TAVA) who created the butterflies for “Kaleidoscope Flutters by” in the trident maple allee. He spotted a real butterfly. Why was I surprised he liked nature better than art?

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Floyd Quilt Guild’s colorful ‘Leaf it to Quilters’ tossed in the breeze.

We had our coffee and doughnuts in the arbor. The sun was baking hot, but the air was lovely in the shade. “Isn’t this pleasant?” I sighed.

“Mmm.”

My indignant tsk tsk was loud. Why I was surprised he was noncommittal?

 “Sorry,” he said, “you know I don’t like this heat.”

“Mm-mmm,” I said.

Two women walked by just as I snapped the picture below. “He’s a masterpiece,” I joked.

They laughed. “He sure is,” one of them said.

My husband loves being the center of attention. I have lots of nice pictures from that day, but this is my favorite.

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My masterpiece, ‘The essence of Peter.’

 

National Society of Newspaper Columnists 2016 contest winner —
online, blog, & monthly under 100,000 unique visitors category.

Header: One beauty for the “kaleidoscope” of butterflies.
(Click on photos to enlarge.)

On canyon’s edge!

Three years ago I published my first post, “We’ve arrived, and to prove it we’re here,” on my new blog, “Wherever you go, there you are.”  A year later, August 6, 2014, I published my first post for this, my second blog.

I often think about how the subject matter of this blog has affected what I intended to write about in “Wherever you go, there you are.” As my husband’s dementia has worsened, traveling anywhere, even to the mall, can be a problem. His wardrobe needs to be replenished but he won’t go willingly to look for new shirts,pants, or shoes. If I try to buy things and take them to him, he won’t wear them. He didn’t even like the socks I bought.

I knew our last big trip in 2011 was our final trip — Peter got lost, at night, at Bryce Canyon, Utah. He wanted to hear a talk in the main lodge, within sight of our room. It was daylight when he left, and would be daylight when he returned. He went by himself.

Dusk fell. He wasn’t back. I raced to the main lodge, panicked because I’d let him, urged him, to go alone. 

When I got to the desk, terrified and gasping, I could hardly speak. The staff jumped to action. Grounds crew sped out in golf carts, while I stayed behind and paced. It wasn’t long before the desk clerk beckoned. Peter had called! My husband, who never uses a phone, had the presence of mind to go into a dorm, knock on someone’s door and ask to use their phone.

“Stay right there, we’re coming,” I said. I hopped in with a groundskeeper and we rocketed through the dark.

Peter was inside a lighted entryway. He grabbed me and apologized over and over for getting lost. He was shaking. He’d never go off on his own again, he promised. “But it was my fault,” I said. “I should’ve gone with you.”

Neither of us slept well thinking what could have happened. I knew that trip was our last. No way could I cope with the escalating need to keep closer tabs on Peter, and keep track of travel details too. When we got home I tucked our luggage away and made a photo book of our travels to remind us where we’d been.

Now, the smallest outing is an event. We don’t go far, but we have mini-adventures. “Others deal with far worse,” my mother would’ve said, and I know it’s true. Besides, in the end, there’s no place like home.

Header: Queen’s Garden, Bryce Canyon, Utah (2011)

National Society of Newspaper Columnists 2016 contest winner —
online, blog, & monthly under 100,000 unique visitors category.

 

Hung out to dry.

“Do you really hang clothes out to dry?” friends ask when they see my clothesline in the backyard.

“Nothing like sleeping on sheets that have dried in the sun,” I say. A clothesline was a must-have when we were looking at houses.

I did the laundry early so I could hang it out before the temperature reached the weatherman’s predicted, blistering 92°.  But I forgot about the wet things, and didn’t take anything out until 11:30. Then I rushed to “peg it out,” as Peter’s old granny would’ve said, so I could retreat to the cool of the house.

Half an hour later, upstairs tidying our bedroom and bathroom, I glanced out the window and saw my husband taking everything off the clothesline. Oh no, I thought, the laundry can’t be dry yet. I opened the window and yelled, “Leave all that there, please.”

“But it’s dry,” he yelled back. He continued folding the sheets.

Screen Shot 2016-07-26 at 4.43.06 PMI ran downstairs to try to short circuit the process, but he was already inside. The sheets, dish towels, and tablecloth were all folded neatly. He had left tee-shirts and a few other things on the line. “I wanted this stuff to hang out in the sun,” I explained. “It makes everything smell so good and bleaches the whites too.”

He plonked the basket down and stomped off. The sheets were still quite damp, so back out I went to hang them out again.

I walk a fine line trying not to hurt my husband’s feelings when he tries to help, but in this case, I really needed the sun-dried sheets to promote my sense of well-being.

I decided all husbands, not just mine, have trouble with Laundry 101. And most wives don’t understand why they must heed the oil warning light in their cars. In the end, it all comes out in the wash.

Screen Shot 2016-07-26 at 2.05.30 PM©Mark Anderson, WWW.Andertoons.com

National Society of Newspaper Columnists 2016 contest winner — 
online, blog, & monthly under 100,000 unique visitors category.

‘So far, so good.’

The insurance company nurse comes twice a year to assess my husband. One of her questions is, Can he bathe himself, brush his teeth, toilet himself? She asks Peter, but looks to me for answers.

I know he scoffs silently at the mere mention of the topic.  My answer is always an enthusiastic yes. On that point I am — we are — way luckier than many who live with any form of dementia.

Peter has been taking multiple showers a day for the past year or so. This wasn’t always the case. I used to have to remind him he needed a shower, but now, if he sweats even a tiny bit, he reacts as if he’s been dipped in pond scum. “I’m all sweaty,” he’ll say as he races through the house and up the stairs.

He almost never puts on clean clothes afterwards. I don’t understand, but I don’t question, glad that I don’t have to help him bathe nor wash piles of clothes…yet. For some reason, wearing a shirt that is damp and stinky doesn’t bother him. It’s the sweat itself that is his bugaboo.

The rest of the personal hygiene issues aren’t issues yet. From the articles I’ve read, I know what’s coming.

Peter always says, if asked how he is, “So far, so good.”

“It could be worse,” is what I say if anyone asks me.

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National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest winner, 2016.

Mow and mow and mow the grass.

Keep him doing chores that he can still do is my motto. Gives him a sense of purpose and helps me. My husband can still empty the dishwasher, clear up after dinner, sweep the terrace, mow the grass. He no longer hauls the garbage bins out to the street because he forgets which way they face. Easier for me to do it than to explain.

Each  of his chores has become problematic for both of us. When he empties the dishwasher I put away the odd things he doesn’t recognize — juicer, salad spinner, flour sifter — and after we eat I must put leftovers away or he’ll throw them out.

Version 2

Cotton-tailed trimmer.

Mowing the yard has become an all-day event. If I remind him that the grass needs cutting, and if he’s in the mood to do it, he’ll mow front and back, come in complaining how hot he is, take a shower, then go back outside and start to mow all over again. When I catch him to tell him he already mowed, he argues. I point out the freshly manicured lawn, but he doesn’t believe me. He is hot though, so he showers again, and tries to mow a third time.

Or not.

A week ago I couldn’t get him to cut the lawn at all. When the grass was nearly at mid-calf, I threatened. He mowed the outer edges of each section, but left the middles. He put the mower away. I asked him to finish mowing. He would not. Suddenly, he went out and started the mower. He was going round and round the front when it started raining. Blinding sheets of rain. He would not stop. He kept going and going and going, an Energizer bunny. He was drenched. “No reason to quit once I got so wet,” he said with a silly smile when he came in the back door.

He headed upstairs to take another shower.

 

 

National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest winner, 2016.

 

Aside

‘When life gets you down … just keep swimming!’

Dory, the brilliant blue, wide-eyed tang fish who stars in “Finding Dory,” has a problem with memory loss much like my husband does. I’d forgotten that Dory was a supporting player in “Finding Nemo” (2003), so I didn’t realize forgetfulness was key to the storyline for the new movie when Leslie took us to see it.

Peter didn’t remember Nemo at all, even though we saw the movie in a theater and have watched the video several times. Nor did he remember “Finding Dory” on the Thursday after he’d seen it on Sunday. But he liked it all over again.

Dory, who hasn’t seen her parents in years, remembers the importance of family, but little else. We just enjoyed a week with family that was filled with raucous laughter and good food. Peter hasn’t forgotten the good times we’ve all had in the past, though specific memories have faded. He can’t even remember much about the past eight days.

Screen Shot 2016-07-10 at 5.17.39 PMAnytime either of is down in the dumps, I look for reasons to laugh. According to Dory, swimming would help too…if Peter knew how to swim. He can’t even float, except two feet below the surface. That’s always makes me laugh, though he doesn’t think it’s funny at all.

Credit: Disney•Pixar “Finding Dory” (2016)

 

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A last hurrah?

“Where have you been?” Peter asked. It was the wee hours of Monday morning and he was just getting into bed.

“Los Angeles…I just got back,” I said. “The plane was late.”

“Why were you there?”

“Columnists’ conference, remember? I marked it on the big calendar downstairs.”

“Hm-m,” he muttered and, lights out, he was asleep. So much for a welcome home hurrah.

Leslie had been in charge my four days away. She (and Carolynn, too) can handle Peter, often more easily than I can. She’d been asleep on the couch and went home as soon as I came in.

When Peter came downstairs next morning, I said, “Gooood morning,” as I do every day.

He affected his fake startled look, as he always does, and said, “Oh, hello…I thought you were away.”

“I came back…two o’clock this morning,”

“Where were you?”

“L.A.” I said, pointing to the calendar on the kitchen counter.

“Mm-m, that was a long time ago. I don’t remember.” The previous Thursday was ancient history in Peter’s mind

I didn’t expect him to remember, but still it rankled. “It was one of the most exciting things I’ve ever done,” I said. I wanted to tell him about it, but showed him photos on my phone instead.

“I’m sorry, there’s just nothing in my head anymore.” He sighed and knocked on his forehead with his fist.

“But it doesn’t sound hollow,” I said and we laughed.

I didn’t even try to tell him that I’d won the number two spot in my category. Or that the award came with two hundred dollars or that I sat next to my idol Leonard Pitts at dinner.

IMG_3374When I showed him this photo of Los Angeles’ infamous rush hour traffic, he asked, “Who would want to face that every day?”

“Not me,” I said. “Coming downstairs is as far as I want to travel to go to work.”

 

UnknownNational Society of Newspaper Columnists 2016 contest winner —
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Perfect do-nothing day.

“Do you want tea or coffee for ‘second breakfast’?” I asked my husband. “I’m fixing waffles.”

“What? Tea or coffee? What are you having? What are we having?”

“I’m having tea, we’re having waffles…and fruit, lots of fruit,” I told him.

“OK, tea then. What’s the occasion?” Peter asked.

“It’s Father’s Day.”

“You’re making me waffles?”

“Mmm-m,” I said, “it’s Father’s Day.”

“What can I do to help?”

“Nothing. It’s Father’s Day, do nothing until I tell you it’s ready.”

“I’m good at doing nothing,” he said.

“Yes, you are,” I said.

This day is perfect — a Crayola box of colors, balmy air, bright sun. I set the table outside, made a pot of tea, washed raspberries, blueberries and a peach, got out real butter and real maple syrup, and popped a whole package of frozen waffles into the toaster.

Peter ate as if he hadn’t had a meal in days. “I would like to have two birthdays every year…” he said, smacking his lips.

“This isn’t your birthday, it’s Father’s Day.”

“Not February? What is it then?

“June. It’s never warm like this in February,” I said.

“Well, I’d like two birthdays like this. This is good.”

“It’s still Father’s Day.”

“Are we doing anything special later?” He made a silly, little boy face.

“Yes, Leslie is taking you…and me…to a movie and dinner.”

“Wow, I’d like another birthday like this.”

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UnknownA card arrived from Carolynn yesterday. On the front, the unmistakeable silhouette of Mickey Mouse, Peter’s hero, and a “Hooray for Dad” message. He looked at it again and again, then put it next to his chair. When I looked at it this morning, I realized why he’s confused about today. The message says:

As far as dads go,
there’s not a more classic
character than you.
Hope your birthday’s
as special as you are.

Beneath that she wrote, I know you can’t remember all the cool things you did with Leslie and me…but we do! Happy Father’s Day!

Birthday? Father’s Day? Doesn’t matter. He’s loved by “his girls” and he’s happy.

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Mickey Mouse webgrab/Pinterest