Wrinkles in time, smoothed.

Peter has been sleeping much later in the mornings, sometimes until ten or after. On the one hand, that gives me time to write or go for my morning walk, but on the other hand, I wait for him to get up so I can do laundry, tidy the bedroom, or maybe run an errand. While I’m glad to have extra time to myself, I’m also testy with him because he sleeps undisturbed while I wait to get my chores done.

Ironing, for instance.

Peter wears long-sleeved dress shirts every day and they need, if not ironing, then at least touch-ups. True, I’m the one who nags him to put his shirts into the hamper, while he insists they’re clean even when they’re so stiff they could walk to the laundry room. If he hasn’t spilled soup on the front, he says they’re fine.

I seldom have time, or more correctly, seldom have the inclination, to iron his shirts, or anything else, anymore. Recently, when he asked if he could help me, as he does several times a day, I suggested he iron shirts. And he did! He does a better job than I do, although he thought eight shirts were too many to do in one afternoon. Humph.

The next time he asked if he could help, I again suggested he iron shirts. Those shirts still hang, wrinkled, in the guest room closet. He doesn’t want to do them and I’ve decided to go on strike. He can no longer do most things around the house, but he can still use an iron and, well, he’s the one who wears the shirts. If he chooses not to iron them, then wrinkled they’ll be.

It isn’t really about the ironing, of course, it’s about all the other tasks that pile up like unmated socks. Another iceberg lurking.

If it were possible to smooth the “wrinkles in time” to squeeze more hours into a day, I’d get the iron out…or ask my husband to do it.

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. screen-shot-2016-12-07-at-10-14-53-am

We soldier on.

One of my husband’s culinary successes has always been perfect fried eggs. And one of his favorite meals is egg and chips. Nowdays it’s my fall-back meal when I’m too tired to cook, even though I’ve never been able to fry an egg. Take last night.

I got out the eggs, skillet, oil, plates for him. I put the frozen chips in the oven and called Peter to fix the eggs when the chips were nearly done.

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Egg and soldier.

I sat down to read for a few minutes, but his grumbling got me up to see what was wrong. “These eggs are no good,” he growled. “I can’t get them out.” He had an egg in his left hand and was trying to peel it with his right, as if it had been soft-boiled for soldiers.

“Shall I do it?” I asked and cracked another against the skillet. In the meantime, he dumped the raw egg he’d scrambled in its shell into the skillet too. Except for that one, my eggs were done perfectly — first time ever! — and the chips were as good as frozen ones ever are.

Afterwards he thanked me and said he enjoyed our little snack. “What’s for afters?” he asked.

“Applesauce.” He was blank. “Stewed apple,” I translated.

Lately I’ve been helping him clear up after we eat. He just can’t seem to manage the task anymore. But this was a simple meal, with just plates and silverware for the dishwasher and cookie sheet and skillet for the sink. I went to watch the news.

“How am I going to get this stuff off?” he yelled. He was poking at the submerged cookie sheet which appeared to be floating on an oil slick.

“What did you put in the water?” I asked. He didn’t know, but I suspect he either dumped in the canola oil out of the skillet, or poured some straight from the bottle in lieu of dishwashing liquid. “Did you put the Dawn in?”

“Didn’t know I was supposed to,” he said.

Deep breath. “You go have your tea. I’ll take care of this.” I sopped up as much as I could and hoped all that oil wouldn’t glom up the drain.

It didn’t, but this morning when I came downstairs, the eggs in the refrigerator were soft boiled. The fridge had gone on the fritz in the night and warmed to 70°.  Not a laughing matter.

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Glossary of English vs American terms:
His chips are our French fries (Crisps, btw, are potato chips)
His stewed apple is our applesauce
Soldiers are strips of crustless buttered toast, dunked into soft-boiled eggs, (pointy ends removed neatly), that are placed in an egg cup. Why “soldiers?” Don’t ask me, I’m an American.

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

Header photo: Frambled eggs, photo courtesy Epicurious.

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.

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.

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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.

 

Keep on the sunny side of life.

For years and years, long before dementia took control of our lives, if I asked Peter to take the garbage images-3out Thursday evening he nearly always refused. His argument was, no one else had theirs out. Only one other house on our block has front curb pick-up, so it isn’t a contest. Finally, I started doing it . It certainly isn’t difficult, and my nagging was nagging at me.

images-2Before daylight one Friday I noticed the blue bin was in the carport. I was positive I’d taken it out. Did the truck go by already? Did our neighbor bring it back? I went out and peeked inside  — full. Blast!

Peter must’ve rolled it back the evening before thinking it was empty. He didn’t notice that “empty” was very heavy — the week before we’d had a lot of snow so there’d been no garbage collection at all.

Whether garbage is in or out isn’t a big problem, but it’s a worrisome symptom.

A few days later I was in the pantry when I heard Peter and Nobby come back from their walk. “Knock, knock?” he said, peeking around the door. “Oh! I didn’t think you were here.”

I’d been pouring kibble into Nobby’s metal bowl. “Didn’t you hear the racket?” I asked.

Peter shook his head and pointed toward the carport. “Your car isn’t there.”

This was a Sunday. My car had been gone since Thursday evening. Leslie traded cars IMG_0461with me so she and Martin could take mine to a family ski weekend in West Virginia. “You haven’t noticed my car was gone? We ran errands today in Leslie’s car, remember?”

Of course he didn’t remember. But he’d laughed at me trying to adjust her seat and mirrors while complaining I felt like I was sitting on the road in her much lower car. Even after all this time I can’t seem to remember that he really can’t remember.

Peter no longer fixes meals. He used to make Indian dinners, bubble and squeak, and he always cooked fish. He still makes the best fried eggs. He does them, with supervision. I get out the skillet, eggs, oil, spatula, and put the frozen chips in the oven. I tell him when to start the eggs.

I watched him a few nights ago so “I could see how he did it,” I said. When they were just right, he slid the skillet off the burner, then reached through the grate. “NO-O,” I yelled when I realized what he was doing. He singed his fingers before my yell penetrated. He said he  thought he had to twist the “thing” (burner cap) to put out the flame. He wasn’t burned badly, thankfully.

Days like these, “Keep your sunny side up” are words to live by.

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Sweet tooth, Sweetheart?

Toothpaste-PeopleHe squeezes the bottom, I squeeze the middle…of the toothpaste, that is. Who squeezes where has never been a problem in our marriage.

What is a problem these days is Peter’s obsession about having toothpaste. In spite of the tube on the sink and a new one in the cupboard, he always writes “toothpaste” (actually, touthpaste) on his ever present shopping list. He used to walk the two blocks to the grocery, but he doesn’t go on his own anymore. Neither does he give me his list which always includes string as well. I don’t understand that either.

His toothpaste concerns befuddle me. I wonder, does he remember rationing as a child during World War II? Toothpaste wasn’t rationed in England or here, but in both countries a purchaser had to turn in the used metal tube in order to purchase another. I remember my mother carefully slitting the tube open to scrape out the last traces of toothpaste. I thought she was being too particular, but apparently that was the only way she could buy more. The metal was recycled for the war effort.

Even though we have a drawerful of the toothbrushes the dental hygienist gives us, toothbrushes are always on his list too. About once a month he goes to the grocery with me. Grocery-getting is my least favorite of all household tasks because it is so labor intensive. Plus, keeping my husband in sight is like tracking a three-year-old in a toy store. He doesn’t think it’s a problem, so I try not to complain.

When we finally meet up, my large cart is overflowing. Peter’s small one has only beer and a Hershey bar inside. I ask about toothpaste.

“It’s OK,” he always says, “I’ll get it another time.”

Maybe he puts toothpaste on the list to justify the Hersey bar? He used to buy flowers occasionally, but now it’s chocolate for himself. And he doesn’t share.

Even this silly story makes me laugh, sad though it is.

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‘I can’t go back to yesterday because I was a different person then.’

Losing car keys doesn’t mean Alzheimer’s disease is lurking, but forgetting what the keys are for might. That’s a simplistic example of the difference between simple forgetfulness, and a more serious problem.

I asked Peter to put some towels into the washer. He went to the laundry room and stood in front of the washer and dryer, muttering. After a few minutes he said, “Which one do you want me to use?”  Since he hasn’t done his own laundry in forty years or more, the question wasn’t too surprising.

On the other hand, I’ve been doing weekly laundry for more than fifty years, but lately I simply forget it until I realize I’m out of underwear! I do know which appliance is the washer, which, the dryer.

Once upon a time I was so organized that my brain was a calendar, neatly compartmented with to-do lists. I never left work without clearing my desk and writing a chronological list of the next day’s projects. When Peter left work, papers were an avalanche waiting to happen. Pens and pencils were strewn like trees in the Midwest after a tornado. Dust bunnies raised families in the crevices of his desk chair.

Now, both his desks look like a military parade: pencils and pens aligned at right angles to the front edge, calendars hung at studied levels — turned to the wrong months however — and stacks of coins in ranks as if on review. His other desk, the one dedicated to model ship building, is arrayed similarly: special brushes and tiny tools in rows, regimented.

My desk looks as if the recycling truck backed up and dumped a load of papers, boxes, sticky notes and Mentos wrappers. Every few weeks I attempt to organize my desktop and files. The mess is viral.

Household chores? While Peter attends to his self-assigned tasks, I seldom even clean the coffee maker anymore. For many years I had a rigid first-Friday-of-the-month routine: run vinegar through the coffeemaker, use baking soda and vinegar in all the drains, and turn the mattress, end-to-end one month, side-to-side the next.

pea_princessBack then, flipping the mattress made us laugh so much we couldn’t lift the thing. Neither of us remembered, one time to next, how to do it, end-to-end or side-to-side, without demolishing the ceiling fan. Last week, I realized we hadn’t turned the mattress in months. I called Peter to help.

We’ve never agreed how to do it. In the past we laughed at our contortions, but this time we barely managed to heft it, much less laugh.

Time was, I vacuumed and dusted obsessively. Now I have Carri who does it for me, and if she’s away, I don’t bother. Peter likes to “Hoover,” as he calls it, but insists on parallel lines across the rugs. He combs their fringed edges with a fork. I wish his hair looked as good.

We’ve reversed habits. His new obsessiveness stems from a need to have control. My escalating lack of organization says I have more chores than I can manage, so I let everything slide. Peter can’t help himself, but I really must revive my routines.

A magic wand might help!

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Quote at top: Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

Joy ride.

“It’s the little things,” was another of my husband’s “old granny” sayings. Peter repeated the phrase often as a way to dissect any quarrels we had. We’ve never argued over the big stuff, but his whiskers in the just-cleaned bathroom sink sets me off, and he hates the way I coil up the garden hose.

Nowadays it’s the little things we do that he enjoys, although he doesn’t want to do anything that will mess up his routine. Our horizons have become limited.

Yesterday I forced myself to do errands, really boring stuff — buy dog food, find special batteries, get wood to replace clothesline poles. I figured Peter would want to go with me and, yes, he was ready within minutes. He misses being able to run the errands himself, and I miss that he can’t do them anymore. Even though I would’ve liked to come home after the last stop, I took us to lunch at a restaurant where he’d never been. That threw him for a loop because the menu was unfamiliar, as were the beer choices. I encouraged him to order a burger. Good thing it was excellent, because the beer I suggested was only so-so.

After lunch, I realized we were just around the corner from a car wash, so I whipped in there. Peter’s eyes were like a kid’s at Christmas. I had to laugh. I pulled the moon roof back so we could watch the giant mops swish over us. After his initial, childish delight, his engineering persona took over and he marveled how the washing system was set up. “How’d they do that?” he asked, as he always does of anything that smacks of good engineering.

Screen Shot 2015-08-30 at 10.24.43 AMFor Peter, it was a perfect day out. For me, I’m glad such a little thing made him happy…I still hate to run errands though.

 

There are two types of people in this world, those who would take an Alzheimer’s patient on a joy ride and those who would say it was
a waste of gas.”

 

 

 

Attention span of a goldfish.

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Ten symptoms of caregiver stress were listed in an Alzheimer’s Association newsletter with this caveat: Alzheimer’s caregivers frequently experience high levels of stress. It can be overwhelming to take care of a loved one with Alzheimer’s or other dementia, but too much stress can be harmful to both of you.

 No kidding!

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In any given day I deal with several of these, and I’m sure other caregivers do the same:

  1. Denial – Early on, I was convinced that if I kept trying to force Peter to remember things, to eat right, to get out more he’d at least maintain his status quo.
  2. Anger – Screams, like geysers ready to erupt, lurk just below the surface of my “looking for laughs” demeanor. 
  3. Social withdrawal – Sometimes it takes too much effort do anything at all, much less be sociable.
  4. Anxiety – I’ve finally done what I should have done sooner: hired more help for Peter and for me. What a difference to have the house cleaned and tidied by a young lady who is energy personified, the garden maintained by a woman who knows first-hand what it’s like to be a caregiver, niggling tasks done by a handyman friend.
  5. Depression – Big mistake to think that I didn’t need anti-depressants. Hindsight and a meltdown proved me wrong.
  6. Exhaustion – I used to keep my house to a certain standard, not the same white-glove-test standard my mother used, but I kept the dust bunnies at bay, food in the fridge, cookie tin filled, laundry done. When I realized it had been weeks since I’d cleaned the bathroom or changed our sheets, I knew I needed more help. (see #4)
  7. Sleeplessness – Guilt wakes me in the wee hours, especially when I’ve crabbed at him for things he can’t help. Peter’s attention span is worse than a goldfish’s and he’ll ask the silliest things over and over. Within a few seconds he forgets I yelled and when I apologize he doesn’t know why.
  8. Irritability – No one has ever called me patient. Lately Peter has started reorganizing the pantry every few days, lining up jars and moving boxes so I can’t find anything. Most wives would be thrilled if their husbands undertook that task, but I’m an angry bumble bee.
  9. Lack of concentration  – I used to be so organized, so tidy, but no more. My personal spaces are in the same sorry state as my mind.
  10. Health problems – Many times I wonder if his dementia has rubbed off on me. Am I losing control too? Is it stress, or am I destined to be a statistic as well?
    I talked to my doctor. He did the basic tests and I passed. “Stress,” he said, “it’s stress. You’re doing fine, but take time for yourself, do what you can to alleviate stress.”

My mother always said, no matter how bad things may seem, there’s always someone who is worse off than you. I’m glad I’m not a goldfish.

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Laughter, always the best medicine.

This caregiving business is a series of lessons on the run. I have an “ah ha” moment almost every day.

Take today.

Every morning, I put our prescription meds into two shot glasses — Peter’s on the left of the coffeemaker, mine on the right. He takes an 81 mg aspirin, Losarten for blood pressure, Wellbutrin for mood, Livolo for cholesterol, and Vitamin D3 because dementia patients are thought to be lacking in the D vitamin. Oh, and Namenda, the well advertised medicScreen Shot 2015-08-09 at 5.49.32 PMation thought to slow the effects of dementia-related diseases. How could I forget that one?

After dinner, I dole out Glucophage, the supposed answer to leveling his blood sugar levels since he won’t leave sweets and carbs alone no matter how often the doctor explains nor how often I nag. Just before bed, he takes Donepezil (Aricept), to treat confusion, possibly improve memory, awareness and the ability to function.

How well do these meds, particularly Nameda and Donepezil, perform? I have no idea. I do know that his taking pills from the wrong shot glass was an important lesson-in-waiting for me this morning.

I discovered the mistake when I poured my second cup of coffee. Peter was already watching West Ham beat Arsenal. “You haven’t taken your pills yet, Peter. No, wait! Mine are gone and I never take them until after my coffee!”

He had no idea what I was talking about. So much for awareness.

“Did you take my pills?” I asked, showing him the little empty glass. “Yes, you took mine.” I answered my own question.

“I don’t know…probably,” he said. “What will happen to me?”

“Hm, well, my super prescription vitamin may give you a boost. Maybe you’ll have the energy to mow the grass…” I laughed at my own joke as he made a face that said, “Not bloody likely…I’m watching soccer.”

I didn’t expect that he’d cut the grass, and he didn’t. But, lesson learned, from now on I’ll keep my medications in a secure container in my pocket.

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Ah ha! A beer-on-a-stick might work.