How lovely are thy branches?

The Christmas morning clatter—save the boxes, keep the ribbon, recycle the tissue, read the directions, where’s the receipt, the vac is clogged—is a week in the past. As I write, the new year is just hours away.  I can’t say I’m sorry to see the old one out.

This dwindling year has been an annus horribilis, as Queen Elizabeth II defined her 1992. She referred to her children’s marital follies and questionable clandestine issues, as well as the costly fire in Windsor Castle, one of her favorites.

Even though this has been an awful year for the Clarke family, we’ve found bright spots to keep us laughing. The house didn’t burn down either.

One of Peter’s new helpers, fascinated by his natural affinity with children, observed him interacting with a little boy. They stood on the fringe of a crowd waiting to see the Nutcracker ballet. I wasn’t there but I’m sure my husband’s eyes twinkled while he made silly faces and crouched to the two-year-old’s eye level. More than once, the boy announced loudly to anyone else in range that this, pointing to Peter, was his New Best Friend.

When I heard the story I smiled in spite of myself and my fretting.

For months I’d wondered how, or if, I would cope, how Peter would do, how would we all manage during the holidays. But, miraculously, my husband had settled into his new “digs” and no longer asked, “Is this my room?” every time I led him inside.

With a lot of propping up from family and friends, I spun through Christmas with more good cheer than I’d thought I could muster. I dashed and twirled and muddled, but in many ways, the week was actually one of the best we’ve ever had. The eight of us kept him busy with meals and snacks, card games, walks, movies, billiards, and chatter. Not that Peter talked much, but he smiled, chuckling, as he listened. If he had been able to channel my dad, my husband might have said, “Well, someone has to listen.”

Header: In 2017, Peter lifted a dug-up pine to bring home with help from Leslie who wore red and white striped camouflage.

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 


Better than a dozen roses.

The weekend was perfect for so many reasons. First, Leslie orchestrated a tea party Saturday on the porch at the end of the corridor where Peter lives. Grandson Miah was the surprise guest. What a treat all ’round.

Then, on Sunday, I organized a walk in a favorite park for Peter, Nobby and me. My husband actually remembered having been there, “Once,” he said. I told him we’d been there many times over the years.  “Many times?!” he asked with raised eyebrow. He shook his head. Nobby remembered too, romping as if he were still a puppy instead of an old fellow of ten.

As we meandered back to the car, Peter lagged behind. I kept glancing over my shoulder to make sure he was following — he has a history of getting lost or hiding to scare me. When he caught up, he held up a bouquet of maple leaves. “Would you like to have these?” he asked. His eyes twinkled and he had sweetest smile.

Would I ever!” Thank you,” I said and took his hand, something he usually hates. He actually leaned in to kiss me but knocked both of our caps askew. A laugh, a kiss and a bouquet on a beautiful orange and red afternoon. Better than a dozen roses any day.

I took the scenic route back. Peter laughed when I said I thought we were lost. “You never get lost,” he said, and indeed I don’t and I wasn’t lost then. Then I told him I was more worried about being low on gas. That really made him laugh because he remembered how much I hate to pump gas.

When I opened the door to his room he looked shocked. The space was unusually tidy and the bright potted mum in the window glowed in the sunshine. “Is this where I live now?” he asked. I nodded. “Good!” he said. He took his jacket off, tossed it on his bed, and gave me a hug.

I tuned his tv to a soccer match, parked him in his chair, and headed home to put my fanciful bouquet in water and reflect on the glorious autumn weekend.

Outside looking in, Nobby seems to approve my maple syrup “vase” and fetching bouquet.


2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

New broom sweeps even better.

Peter clears the litter from the porch.

A nurse sat at the end of the hall when I approached my husband’s room yesterday. “Peter’s outside,” she said as she walked toward me. “He’s had a bad morning…very out of sorts….”

I held up the new broom I’d brought. “He was so thrilled to be able to sweep up grass the other day,” I said, “but he complained he needed a bigger broom. This ought to do it.” She nodded her head and said he’d told everyone that he got to sweep.

She added that she’d just given him his morning beer. I suggested tactfully that a cup of tea usually works better when he’s upset. “Beer with his lunch would be a better idea,” I said. She went off to change the orders—PBR with lunch, Guinness after dinner.

Outside, I saw him at the far end of the garden. When I yelled his name he looked up and laughed. “What are you doing here?” he asked, trotting in my direction. I brandished the new broom. “What’s that?” he  asked.

“You said you needed a bigger broom.” He grinned as if it were the best present ever. “This space really needs to be swept,” I said, as I nudged him toward the porch where we often sit.

Well, that’s all it took! He went right to work sweeping leaves and twigs off the cement and even whisking the seat cushions clean. He also managed to polish off his beer and the coffee I’d brought, before he tracked along the sidewalk with that bright red broom. He was in a much happier mood when I left for my dentist appointment, and so was I.

This morning I learned that Peter’s down mood had returned in the afternoon. Again he asked over and over why he was there? When I got home from the dentist, probably about the same time he had the second meltdown, I looked around at the mess “Florence” had made and wondered how I’d cope on my own without my champion sweeper and all that autumn brings. But my thoughts are selfish compared to those my husband is trying to sort out in his fractured mind.


Header: Bittersweet is lush this year.

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 


Be gentle with yourself, you’re doing the best you can.

Notices for books by, for and about caregivers show up in my email every day. I follow blogs by women  who are caregivers, and by experts who advise them…advise us. The common thread is, be kind to yourself and remember, you’re doing the best you can at a very hard job.


Monday, Leslie collected Peter at ten for Christmas shopping and lunch. She volunteered for the job. She, and Carolynn too, always lift his spirits and make him laugh with their teasing. I’m sure he enjoyed the day, even though he didn’t remember where they’d been.

After they’d gone, I spent a long hour on the phone straightening out a niggling problem, the sort of thing I despise doing. After that, I thought, I should go to the grocery. But, no, dammit, I would get coffee at Our Daily Bread, a favorite haunt. I’m so glad I did. While I dawdled over coffee and cranberry/orange scone, I read two excellent story drafts by writer friends. Un-in-ter-rupt-ed. I felt a bit guilty that I enjoyed being there without Peter, but I confess, I savored it.

As I was about to leave, a young woman waved from across the room. Stephanie, a gardener friend, worked her way to my table and gave me a hug. “So nice to see you out like this,” she said. “I know how hard things must be, but obviously, you have ‘time off’ today.” She’d just been to Florida visiting her father who has Alzheimer’s too. “I understand what you’re going through,” she added.

Stephanie, with her million-dollar smile and twinkling eyes, helped make my day.

After that, I did get a few things at Kroger’s. While in the card aisle, looking for an anniversary card for my husband, a wheelchair-bound, sweet elderly lady asked me to help her find a Christmas card for a dear friend. I picked out several, but cost was an issue. She really liked an eight dollar one, but wanted something in the five dollar range. I found one with a message she loved. She thanked me over and over.

I hope I helped make her day.

Leslie stayed for a cup of tea after she brought Peter home even though I knew she had lots to do at her house.

She made my day all over again.

This morning, both daughters texted, Today is the shortest day of the year. Won’t be long until time to cut the grass, as my dad always said on the Winter Solstice.

Their reminders made me chuckle and made this day.


Header photo: Christmas cookie selection at Our Daily Bread.


How deep was my happiness?

Anyone who knows me knows I’m happiest when buried up to my earlobes in snow, luxuriating in the cold, pristine sparkles, the way others roast themselves on sandy beaches.


Softly falls the snow.

December and most of January were “dark days of my discontent” to paraphrase Steinbeck who paraphrased Shakespeare. “Dark” because the ground was brown and bare, the temperatures, moderate. Without crisp white snow,  winter is worse than summer in my view.

Kathleen Everett’s blog, “The Course of our Seasons,” moves me. In her, I found someone whose thoughts echo my own. She published this January 16, 2016:


Trying to wrest my mood from the dark side,
I cling to the path
well-worn from years of mindless wandering.
that same heaviness plagues my heart,
rending my chest in two.

It is nothing really.

Just the dance on the edge of that cliff—
the one at times I find myself
teetering and scrabbling,
struggling to find firmer ground.

It is nothing really.

Though at this moment
it seems more like quicksand
or a rabbit hole
or a trap door
or something.

But is is nothing,

Kathleen’s poem can be interpreted several ways. When I’m down, I feel that heaviness, see the trap door. Drab, brown weather depresses me. It doesn’t help that my husband is slowly getting more forgetful, more confused, less himself.

Last week’s historic blizzard “Jonas” was a balm for me. Not so Peter. When we lived up north he enjoyed snow nearly as much as I did, well, except the years spring didn’t arrive until mid-May.  We snowshoed, cross-country skied, hiked, moved snow and chopped monster icicles.

I’ve always loved to shovel snow, and Peter loved to scrape down to bare ground. When he finished, the edges of the driveway looked as if the snow had been chiseled away.

Jonas started about five a.m. By nine o’clock a mere four inches lay on the ground. I shoveled a path to the backyard for the dog.


Nobby loves snow too.

A cup of coffee later, I went out front to tackle the increasing depths.  Peter wouldn’t be far behind, I thought. I made a walking path to the street, another along the sidewalk, a third from street to front door for the mailman. Still no Peter. No mailman either until Monday, though our newspaper lady delivered.

Peter finally emerged Saturday afternoon to scrape the paths I’d made. Sunday morning, glorious and sunny, I took on the rest of the driveway. Thankfully, the snow was like crystallized feathers. Peter got into his old routine. He scraped and sliced, swept and brushed. Together we attacked the icebergs the plows had shoved in our way.

Later, while he Skyped with a friend in England, I heard him say, “No, only a few inches…some places got more, but not here.”

The depth of my happiness was diminished.


Snow-capped sedum.

Header caption: Barely icicles, cold splinters are no northern widow-makers.
“It is nothing really” Kathleen G. Everett ©2011-16

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

‘Blue skies, smilin’ at me, nothin’ but blue skies do I see…’

If only the lyrics from Irving Berlin’s “Blue skies” were true at our house. Phrases and actions cause repeats — I call them rePetes — in Peter’s brain. Picking up tiny sticks in the yard and endless sweeping on our brick terrace are two of them.

Lately, with November’s crisp weather bringing brilliant skies, Peter has become enamored of the beautiful blue. “Not a cloud in the sky,” he says over and over. “I’ve never seen such a blue sky.”
“Yes, it’s a beautiful day,” I agree.
“Look at that. There’s not a cloud in the sky. Have you ever seen such a blue sky?”

I guess there are worse things to be stuck on than the beauty above us.

“Blue days, all of them gone,
Nothin’ but blue skies from now on

Bluebirds singin’ a song
Nothin’ but bluebirds all day long…”
Ah, if only.

Screen Shot 2015-11-15 at 12.24.03 PM

While trying to find the perfect blue sky photo to use above, I came across this lovely little poem and accompanying picture. Thus inspired I thought, why not go outside and take a photo of our “I’ve-never-seen-such-a-blue-sky” sky? So I did, and laughed at myself for taking so long to think of it.

Screen Shot 2015-11-15 at 11.41.45 AM

a bluebird’s wing
by Kathleen Everett
Gray morning fog lifts
revealing the November sky
color of a bluebird’s wing
an autumn aster
your eyes



Header photo: “Not a cloud in the sky” taken by me, 11/14/15.
“Blue Skies” lyrics, Irving Berlin
“a bluebird’s wing” Kathleen Everett, The Course of Our Seasons ©2011-2015
Feather ©Rakkla

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

The day after the shortest day.

It’s that time of year when even the faintest skiff of snowflakes causes visions of sleds and snowmen to dance in my head. Haul out the snow shovels, check the windshield wiper fluid, find the mittens and mate them. Baby, it’s cold outside.

Screen shot 2014-12-21 at 10.02.18 AM

Christmas is just five days away, and the weatherman has hinted that there’s a slight chance we’ll have a white one. Is that Bing Crosby crooning? Do you hear what I hear?

As always, I can hear my dad saying, “Shortest day of the year. Won’t be long until time to cut the grass.” He said that for as long as I can remember. Maybe he was onto something. Now that I’m certified elderly, the days fly by so quickly that it really won’t be long to cut the grass. Heck, son-in-law Martin just mowed his for the last time this year a week ago!

In June, Dad always remarked on the summer solstice too. He was nothing if not set in his ways.

Screen shot 2014-12-21 at 11.02.37 AM

In my email this morning came a reminder of another sort — one close to my mind and heart — about solstices.

Today is the winter solstice — the shortest day of the year. But we’re already looking ahead to the summer solstice and The Longest Day®, an event on June 21, 2015, to raise funds and awareness for the Alzheimer’s Association.”

The message goes on to say, It will be “a day of sunrise-to-sunset activity to symbolize he challenging journey of those facing Alzheimer’s disease.” 

This is brand new information to me, but I’m thinking ahead, just as my dad always did, to June 21 and what I might be able to do on The Longest Day®. Read more about it here. 

Screen shot 2014-12-21 at 10.16.17 AM

A sunrise mimics the Alzheimer’s Association purples.


I published this post yesterday, December 21, 2014, on my other blog, “Wherever you go, there you are.
2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

Bare necessities.

We were salmon swimming upstream into a pack of grizzly bears. Two Fridays before Christmas, and we were at the largest mall around. What was I thinking?

Screen shot 2014-12-18 at 10.43.17 PM

Grizzlies doing lunch.

I don’t like to shop anyway, especially not for something specific.

“Specific” was shoes for Peter. He complains he has no shoes every time we get ready to go out. The man has shoes, lots of shoes. He just doesn’t want to wear them.

Right away I found the perfect pair. Nevertheless, he had to try on every likely shoe in the store before he realized — or would admit — I was right. He liked them so much he put his old ones in the bag and walked off, though not before the salesclerk chased him down to scan the code off the sole.

The real reason for braving the holiday hubbub was to see the Leonard Bearstein Animatronic Orchestra that performs at Christmastime. Peter takes childish delight in them, plus it’s fun to watch him watch the children who are alternately thrilled and terrified by bears not much bigger than themselves.

Screen shot 2014-12-15 at 4.26.23 PM

Leonard Bearstein musicians.

We elbowed our way around both levels of the mall, dodged moms pushing strollers the size of SUVs, teenagers meandering with cell phones in hand (why weren’t they in school?), and old guys tottering towards benches to rest.

It wasn’t long before I’d had enough. “One more stop,” I said, as we headed back to Macy’s and our exit to the parking lot. “I need underwear,” I told Peter.


“Yes, underwear…panties…knickers!” I pointed towards the lingerie department. The displays were an avalanche waiting to happen. Brassieres as far as my eyes could see. Peter said he’d wait by the door.

I edged through the racks. There were robes and slippers and nightgowns aplenty, but I didn’t need nightwear either, damnit, I needed underwear and there was none in sight. I had no energy for an extensive search.

Totally disgruntled — and, dare I say, hungry as a bear? — I headed towards Peter and the out-of-doors. “What’s wrong?” he asked.

“There weren’t any! No knickers! Only bras!”

“How can that be?” he asked. “Don’t they sell them in sets?” He gestured, his hands drawing two voluptuous shapes in the air, with buttocky shapes beneath. “Why don’t they sell them together?”

Only an engineer would come up with a practical solution to vital, yet flimsy, womanly merchandise. The thought of women buying bra/panty sets, as if a “set” size would fit the whole woman, made me envision marketing nightmares: 34A up top meets size 18 XXL at bottom, or 44DDDD meets size 6.

“And you don’t even have a fur coat,” he said. His eyes crinkled merrily.

I looked at him with question mark eyebrows.

“Fur coat and no knickers…” he said, using one of his favorite English expressions. Such a comedian.

“You’re unbearable,” I growled. He laughed.