Apples and pears…stairs.

Peter looked at the lunch I was fixing for myself, my usual apple, chunk of Cheddar cheese, glass of milk. “Where did you get the apple?” he asked.

I pointed to the old wooden bowl that has always occupied our kitchen, that is always filled with fruit, and the occasional veg.

“Oh, I didn’t know that was there.” He picked out a piece of fruit, came back to the sink and turned on the water.

“That’s a pear,” I said as he washed it off.

Instantly, he collapsed laughing, his face as red as the apple’s cheeks, eyes twinkling. He hugged me. “I know it’s a pear, silly. I’m not that far gone.” I laughed with him and savored the hug.

That far gone, no, but he is more and more confused by the day, less and less able to find words or remember the simplest things. Still, I was grateful for the moment, the laugh, and the hug!

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Fruit with acorn squash.

Header photo: What a pair, pear.

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

What can I do?

My brain had short circuited. I clutched my head and tried to figure out which problem to tackle next.  Just then, Peter peeked around the door. “Can I do anything to help?” he asked.

My pitiful smile didn’t reach my eyes. “Could you give me some peace of mind?” I asked. “That would help.”

He chuckled. “You want a piece of my mind?” he said.

The tears that had threatened dried up. Just that brief exchange lightened my mood.

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Photos: Sailing to Alaska (2006)

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?”
“Mm-mmm.”

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.

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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.

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a bluebird’s wing
by Kathleen Everett
Gray morning fog lifts
revealing the November sky
cloudless
clear
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. 

‘In November, people are good to each other…’

I’ve always liked November’s skill at blowing the warm months away with icy jabs, but I didn’t know it was special for anyScreen Shot 2015-11-06 at 4.21.38 PM reason other than Veteran’s Day, our granddaughter’s birthday and Thanksgiving. A surprise delivery of flowers from “The Soul Sisters” a couple days ago changed that. The card was inscribed “Happy National Caregivers’ Month, for the woman who defines caring.”

Me?

I assumed sisters meant Carolynn and Leslie, so right away, I took a selfie and sent them a thank you. Les replied she wished she could take credit, but she could not. Later, Carolynn wrote, “They’re from Robin and me, Mom, we’re soul sisters. Leslie and I are are blood sisters.”  She said she’d never heard of National Family Caregivers Month either, but Robin had.

Leave it to Robin. Carolynn’s best friend is probably the caring-est person I’ve ever known. She’s a go-getter caregiver, a whirlwind, a hurricane.

Peter answered the door when the flowers were delivered. I figured someone was selling something so I was shocked to see a pleasant young man holding a bright arrangement of autumn flowers. “Are you Judith?” he asked.

“Yes-s…”

“These are for you. Have a wonderful caregiver’s month.” I managed to thank him before he bounded off.

Peter’s chin was glued to my shoulder when I opened the card. “Who are they from?” he asked. When I said “Carolynn and Leslie” he wondered why they’d sent flowers? “Is it Clarke with an ‘e’?” he asked. “Maybe there’s another Judith Clarke on this street. Are you sure they’re for you?” he pestered.

I didn’t want to get into an explanation about caregivers, which he wouldn’t understand anyway, so I said, “Even if they’re not for me, I’m gonna’ keep ’em.”

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I kept them.

Header photo: November leaf in the woods.Title: line from In November, a book by childrens’ author Cynthia Rylant.
Leaf graphic: Alzheimer’s Prevention Registry

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

 

Random kindnesses. Observed. Received.

A young man of twenty-five or so stood in front of me in the quick check-out lane at the grocery. In his right hand he held a plastic bag of groceries, in his left, red roses. When it was his turn he lay the roses carefully on the conveyor. “These are for you,” he said to the checker.

“What about the things in your hand?” she asked.

“No, I already paid for these earlier. The flowers are for you,” he explained. “You said you were having a bad day…”

She was flustered, but picked the flowers up and smelled them. “Really? For me?” She rang them up, he gave her cash and left quickly. She looked at me astounded. “It wasn’t that bad a day,” she said, “but now it’s a lot better.”

Random act of kindness, observed.

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Yesterday, following a week of bitter cold and snow, I was out early shoveling walks and driveway. A young man and his mother walked carefully towards me. He was holding her arm. We exchanged “Good mornings” and observations about the cold, then they got into the big gray pick-up truck that had been parked in front of our house, off and on, all week.

I kept shoveling.

Walks fiinished, I was working my way back along the drive when I noticed the truck had returned to the space carved amidst the plowed-up snow. “Hello again,” the man called out. “I thought I should introduce myself,” he said. “Hope you don’t mind me parking there, but I can’t get in and out of my driveway right now. It’s so steep and icy.”

No problem, I told him. Then he asked if he could finish shoveling our drive for me, and assured me it would be a pleasure to help.

I was gobsmacked. “Thanks,” I said, “but I actually like to shovel snow.” I explained we’d moved here from upstate New York and were used to deep snows. “Besides,” I said, “my husband will be out soon to finish this off.”

“You sure?” he asked. I nodded, he wished me a good day, and walked off.

Random act of kindness, received.

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When I told Peter about the incident, he wondered if I’d told the fellow that I like toDSC00781 shovel snow. “Yes, and I told him that if you didn’t get outside and do your part, I’d bury you in a snow drift and leave you until spring.” I handed him his jacket and shoved him towards the door.

I knew he’d laugh, and he did.

 

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

Two good days in a row.

Sometimes I think of my  husband’s dementia as a scrim painted to look like a lowering storm. Occasionally, a break in the clouds appears — a rip in the backdrop – to let brilliant light stream through.

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Sometimes a ripped scrim is a good thing.

We had two brilliant days this past week.

When Peter is happy and busy he whistles a tuneless few notes over and over. Those two days he bustled around the house, tidying here, straightening there, always whistling. He cleaned the fireplace, laid a fire, made lists, and never once, did he stand in the middle of the kitchen trying to remember where the coffee mugs were. He hasn’t bustled in months!

Two whole days!

He instigated conversation about our grandchildren, Sam and Miah, asked if Carolynn and Bill were snowed-in up north, remembered the recent visit by friends Shelia and Jerry, and willingly watched two Netflix movies in one evening.

Of course it didn’t last, but it was good while it did.

This morning around nine o’clock he was watching football, Manchester United vs Chelsea, when I told him was going for my walk. I went up the hill to the golf course and meandered around enjoying the bright day and the brisk wind. When I got back after nearly an hour, Peter met me at the door. “Martin was just here,” he said, “but I missed him. I left because I thought you were here.”

“I went for my walk, remember? But if you missed him, how do you know he was here?”

“I saw him when I was taking Nobby out.”

“You didn’t stay to talk to him?”

“No, I was going out. He seemed to know what he was doing.”

Then I saw a scribbled note from Mart: Judy, soup & ham in fridge.

I called Leslie to thank her for the soup and asked for the rest of the story. She’d needed to borrow my blender, Martin knew where it was, so it didn’t matter that Peter left the house as he arrived. I apologized. “An hour is a long time for Peter to remember something, Mom,” she said.

Later, Peter came and stood beside me as I was writing this. His head drooped, his arms hung limp at his sides. “What’s wrong?” I asked.

“I don’t know. There’s ‘stuff’ in the fridge, and I don’t know why Martin was here.”

“It’s all sorted, don’t worry. He brought soup and borrowed the blender. It’s OK.” He allowed me to hug him.

“It is Saturday, isn’t it?” he asked. I shook my head. “But football’s on…Sunday then?” I nodded.

He sighed. “I can’t remember things for ten minutes!” he mumbled into my shoulder.

“Hm-m, ten minutes might be stretching it,” I said.

He laughed, gave me a little hug, and went back to the telly. By this time ManU had whomped Liverpool, 3-nil, and Swansea and Tottenham were playing.

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Tottenham 2, Swansea 1.

Photos: From our travels, to Baja California, Mexico, Alaska, and a North Carolina beach.

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

Yet another good thing.

My husband has always been a picky eater. He has always insisted he is selective, not picky. As long as there’s meatpotatoesveg on his plate, he’ll clean it, he says. If there’s gravy, so much the better, even lumpy gravy! He doesn’t like things that sound as if they were bought at a health food store — quinoa, wheat germ, tofu, edamame — although he has eaten all of them unknowingly, and liked them.

The list of things Peter will not eat is varied: tomatoes, the teeniest, eensiest bit of fat, cucumbers, pasta, rice, cheesecake, peanut butter, mac and cheese, cornbread, dill pickles, quiche, cranberries…I could go on.

Nowdays, because he doesn’t — can’t — cook anymore, he eats what’s put in front of him. This change allows me to fix meals I like more often instead of always catering to the meatpotatoesveg dictum.

Used to be, if I fixed pasta, which I love, he’d mutter and growl. Now we have it once a week or so and he doesn’t say a word. Maybe he doesn’t remember he never liked it, or maybe he likes it now, I don’t know. Other meals, I’ll sometimes fix two green veg, no potatoes, and substitute beans for meat. Not. A. Whimper.

Recently I prepared turkey cutlets and quartered red potatoes marinated in lemon juice, rosemary, and olive Screen shot 2014-10-30 at 6.05.01 PMoil. Cranberries I cooked in hard cider, with a smushy apple, and a bit of sugar. Yummy. I nearly fell off my chair when Peter not only cleaned his plate, but carefully scraped out the tiny bowl of cranberries I’d given him and served himself some more!

He pointed to the bowl and said, “Are they good for me?”

I nodded, he smiled, then licked his spoon.

Thanksgiving is upon us. Cranberries!

Another good thing to be thankful for — check

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2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

Another good thing.


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For years, my husband has had bouts of hiccups that sometimes last for days. And sometimes his hiccups predict when he’s going to have a very bad head cold.

Such was the case a few weeks ago. Violent hiccups started in the evening, and by the next morning he could have starred in a Nyquil commercial — sneezing, coughing, aching — with hiccups thrown in for good measure. This went on day and night for four days. None of the usual “cures” work, not drinking from the opposite side of the glass, holding his breath, a scare, nor a spoonful of sugar.

Occasionally the hiccups stopped and I’d hope they’d ended. But I didn’t want to say anything lest I jinx him. “Doesn’t your chest hurt?” I asked midway through the ordeal.

“No, why?”

“I just think hiccuping so often would make your chest hurt.”Screen shot 2014-11-05 at 10.37.59 AM

“Hiccups? I don’t have hiccups!” he growled.

I shut up because, in that case, not remembering was a good thing. Never mind that in an hour they’d start again.

Stop.

 Start.

STOP!

The following week he didn’t remember the horrible cold nor the hiccups, and if his chest ever ached, he didn’t remember that either.

Sometimes, not remembering is a good thing, right?

Check … imagesor  not check? Screen shot 2014-11-05 at 5.27.36 PM

 

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist.