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Restrictions Eased? Not For Some, & Why I’m Angry As Hell About It

Warning: This post contains explicit language and some serious rantings.

All 50 states are easing their COVID-19 restrictions to some extent. Well ain’t that fucking grand. Does Mom and me no good, but hope everyone else is having a rocking good time.

I’d like to be magnanimous and say I’m happy for all those who aren’t caring for someone in the high-risk group who don’t have to worry about bringing the virus back to their charge. But there’s a little petty part of me that is jealous as hell. There. I owned it. Not proud, but there it is.

I’d love to feel safe going out to a restaurant. Or getting my nails done. Or seeing my nieces, who I’ve not seen beyond video chats since early March. The older one turns five soon, and the concept of a birthday party with Mom and me in attendance is still up in the air. The baby started walking during lock down. Pre-COVID-19 Shit Show, she knew who I was, smiled when she saw me as her mother got her out of her car seat for a visit with Nana and Aunt Fran. If I got up to leave the room she gave me a look that said, “You’re comin’ back, right?” Next time I see her, whenever the hell that is, will she remember Mom and me? Or will we have to start all over?

And who’s fault is it? China? Some Wuhan asshole who thought bats were good eats? No. Sure. That’s where the virus originated. But the debacle that is the source of my anger is solely on that orange asshat we call POTUS. More so, I’m angry because there is a very real chance that @realDonaldTrump may be reelected come November. Or even more frightening, that he won’t win, but he’ll contest the results. Anyone with half a brain can see he’s already teeing that one up with all his mail-in ballots are fraudulent rhetoric. And then fuck only knows what happens. COVID-19, lock down, and mask requirements will seem like a walk in the park.

“Get Over It”

After the 2016 election, I posted that I didn’t want to wake up in a world where Donald Trump was president. One of Mom’s friends responded, “I put up with your guy for 8 years, get over it.” Yeah. Unfriending now. Only on Facebook. I still set up her weekly lunches with Mom, but I no longer joined. We haven’t spoken since the early days of lock down, but when and if I see her again, I’d like to ask her if she still thinks I should, “get over it.” If she says yes, that little petty part of me would like to tell her she’ll never see my mother again. But I won’t. I’ll rise above that one.

Fuck Donald Trump and The Horse He Rode In On

If we’d had a competent president we would not be in this mess. I would not be so damn pissed off. I would not find myself in occasionally very dark places. And I would be able to let Mom see her granddaughter and great granddaughters by now. I would even let her go out to lunch once a week with her closeted bigot of a best friend.

But it’s not just me who’s life Trump has turned upside down. I actually have it way easier than some. Child abuse hotline calls in many parts of the country are down by as much as 50%. Not because kids aren’t getting beaten. But because those who usually spot it, school teachers most notably, aren’t able to with kids stuck at home with their abusers.

None of This Was Inevitable

Why should anyone be surprised that the US has the highest numbers of COVID-19 deaths in the world? Or that our economy is on the brink of collapse? Or that kids and wives are probably getting beaten without mercy? Or that three fucking months in, we still don’t have a good fucking plan? Because the loser in charge of this country is a narcissistic nutjob who couldn’t manage his way out of a paper bag and DOESN’T FUCKING CARE!

Trump’s businesses went bankrupt, what, four, five, six times? And he has a long history of stiffing his contractors. The mother fucker is proud of it. Now, he’s bankrupting this country, financially, morally, and mortally to avoid paying the bill of moving his fat ass and vapid trophy wife out of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. He’s stirring up his base of bigots, idiots, know nothings, racists, gun wack jobs, and lemmings so that come November he can say he won, no matter what. Meanwhile, the US goes into the Dark Ages. And Mom and I can’t see our family. Or go to dinner with her friends that aren’t bigots. Or even go to the fucking grocery store.

Get over it, people said. It’ll be fine, people said. You’re over reacting, people said when I dreaded a world lead by a soulless, egotistical, narcissistic, sociopath dumbass. I have one question for those people. How you like the country now?

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“And I’ll Keep This World From Draggin’ Me Down”

A friend of mine posted this meme on his Facebook feed today, and I thought it was so apropos. Last night, I severed ties with a casual friend who I honestly believe to be a kind, well-intentioned woman, but, of whom I believe has some very dangerous ideology. And it is not just that her ideology is, in my opinion, dangerous, but that she actively spreads it. I’ve long held the belief that if you are not part of the solution, you are just part of the problem. And maybe the only solution available to me is that I refuse to validate dangerous ideology through the lens of disinterested friendship, cordiality, or casual association.

We are drifting along in a rudderless life boat during a time of global pandemic, and yet there are still anti-vaxxers out there who, if a vaccine is developed, will STILL refuse to get it. There are those spewing that all you have to do is believe in the blood of a homeless drifter who may or may not have lived 2,000 years ago, and you won’t get sick. There are those on Facebook, and Twitter, and YouTube, you know, all the reliable sources, saying COVID-19 is a grand, deep-state conspiracy, and that we shouldn’t listen to the top scientists, who by way have not been publicly discredited, because some people want to get their roots touched up. And my favorite are those that have no problem with, “No shirt, no shoes, no service” but are protesting that requiring patrons to wear a mask is a violation of civil liberties.

Let’s Just Break It Down

Let’s work backward and start with the whole civil liberties bullshit argument. Having civil liberties does not equal you can do whatever the fuck you want. You may WANT to punch me in the face, but your inalienable right to punch me in the face is at odds with my inalienable right to not want you to punch me in the face. Your rights end when they endanger others. That’s why murder, and rape, and child abuse, and driving under the influence are crimes.

And it’s not even that I don’t sympathize with all those who are in dire economic straights who want to see the country reopen before they lose everything. But when I see and hear some of the inane, Lord of the Flies arguments that we just might have to sacrifice some lives for the good of everyone else I think, “Ok. You first, right?” And then you find out that some of these people, who I am sure have never even heard of Jonathan Swift, are right-wing evangelicals who don’t believe in Darwinism. That’s some weapons-grade irony.

And one more point. If and when we reopen the economy, let’s do it with some science, could we? Please? Pretty please? Here’s an enlightening article about how the virus spreads. It’s your HVAC system, stupid.

Plandemic – Just Stop Already

Judy Mikovits is a liar and a fraud trying to sell books. She and her video have been completely debunked by multiple reliable sources. She’s doing what all scam artists do—play into your worst fears and crackpot ideology and validate, without third party verification, everything you already believed. If you send me that video, or even post something remotely laudable about it or her, even so much as a, “something to think about….”, you are as good as dead to me.

The Blood of Jesus Couldn’t Even Save Him

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Don’t go all, “lamb of god, he sacrificed himself willingly to save us.” I survived Catholic school. I’m hip to your lingo. But that’s your belief. Not mine. And if you want to pack a church on Easter, get infected, fine. Have at it. Darwinism. But then have the decency to keep your fucking distance from me when I’m picking out lemons at Publix. I don’t infringe on your right to believe in a sky god. Don’t infringe on my right to believe that you are potentially Typhoid Mary ‘cuz you just couldn’t Zoom a few Sundays.

No Anti-Vaxxers Allowed

In addition to a No Soliciting sign on my front door, I think I’m going to hang a No Anti-Vaxxers. Seriously. Just stay the hell away from me. You want to down a fifth of whiskey, grab your keys, and take the auto out for a joy ride? Stay off my street. That’s how I see anti-vaxxers. The anti-vaccine “movement” has been debunked again and again. And again.

You know why the Black Death killed 60% of Europe’s population in the mid 14th century? Because there were no such things as vaccines. You know why 1 in 13 of all deaths were caused by smallpox prior to 1796? Because that’s the year the vaccine was introduced. The first vaccine ever. And yet it still took until 1980 before it was declared globally eradicated. That’s how nasty smallpox is.

One Person Can’t Change the World, But That Doesn’t Mean We Shouldn’t Try

Many, many years ago, I watched a documentary on the Holocaust. A former soldier who was with a group that first liberated one of the camps mused that what he witnessed was so horrific, he wanted it never to happen again. He recognized that as one, simple person, he could not on his own effect the change necessary. But that after what he had seen, he could not just walk away, give up, or accept that he if alone wasn’t the solution, he shouldn’t try to be, nevertheless. Because if you are not part of the solution, you are just part of the problem.

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So, Now Grief Shaming is a Thing

What? I Didn’t Cry Enough For Your Liking?

Expressing shock and sadness about the death of Kobe Bryant and his daughter, but not enough about the others on board, or the thousands of other strangers who die every second of every day, not meeting the invisible bar that someone set up without you knowing there’s a bar in the first place, apparently can cause some indignation.

We live in a, “Nothing you do is good enough” culture. “Yeah? But what about?” “How dare you?” “You failed to meet up to the expectations I have not disclosed to you.”

Don’t Judge Me

I’ve seen my share of dead bodies and people with CPR in progress. People die in airports and on airplanes all the time. More than you would think. At SFO, I responded so often to “dead on arrival” that the corpse retrieval team called me by my first name. People die. And we all respond to it in our own way. There is no right or wrong.

The second dead body ever I saw was someone I knew. He was the custodial supervisor that I had interacted with for years. He was a sweet, friendly older guy who always had a smile for me. One day at the end of our shift, he keeled over, smashed his face against the curb, and died. When they rolled him over, I didn’t even recognize him because his face was so busted up.

Many years later, I attended a memorial service for three strangers. This is what I posted later that day.


Facebook December 16, 2014
I attended a memorial service today for three people I didn’t know. They were an ambulance helicopter crew based at my airport lost in a tragic crash, and I had only ever met one of them, just a couple of times. I attended the service for two reasons. One, because the one I had met, Jamie, was the kind of man who leaves an impression. You couldn’t help but smile after Jamie walked out of the room. And two, because I am the airport manager of the airport they were based at, and it was appropriate for me to represent the airport at their memorial.

I was crying before I had even taken my seat and cried through the whole service. For two people I had never met and one I had only met face to face twice.

I cried because it didn’t matter that I didn’t know them, they were people. Who had been known. Who had been loved. Who are mourned and who will be missed. They had spouses and a boyfriend who was going to propose marriage in a few months.

The service was in the morning, and I spent the rest of the day exhausted for the crying I’d done for people I didn’t even know. How do we watch the news each night about people who perish in war, plane crashes, and third world nations riddled with disease and not feel the sorrow I felt today listening to eulogies of strangers?

Because we only see the news clips. We don’t hear the beautiful celebration of the lives that are lost by those left behind who loved them and will never forget them.

Every one of us is a story. Every one of us is a life. Every one of us is a person who someone loves, someone looks up to, someone will miss. Every one of us is a reason to pay attention.

I am an avowed atheist and those who know me well know that this is true about me. And that I’m not kidding. But when the Rabi today recited in Hebrew and in English Psalm 23:4…

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He causes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Even when I walk in the valley of darkness, I will fear no evil for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff-they comfort me. You set a table before me in the presence of my adversaries; You anointed my head with oil; my cup overflows. May only goodness and kindness pursue me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for length of days.

…it touched me and I sobbed. It was, for me, not about god. It was about humanity. I don’t believe in god. I believe in humanity. To me, if there is a “god” it is not a being living among the clouds or the ether or the burning bush. To me, god is us. God is the collective humanity, the collective soul that makes us cry for the loss of those we never knew, never will know, but realize, they were among us for a time and touched the lives of those we don’t know and probably never will know. But it doesn’t matter. We are all connected.

Rest in Peace, “Careflight 5”. There are no souls on board. Those souls have gone on.


If You’ve Not Walked in My Shoes, You Don’t Know Where I’ve Been

So, for all those grief shamers, think about what you don’t know. Admit that there’s a difference between a still photo and feature length movie. You don’t know what is in another’s heart or soul.

Put another way, take your indignation and shove it up your ass.

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“Is Your Mom Getting Worse?”

It has been a while since I’ve posted about Mom. While the early days, months, and years of our journey down Dementia Road were fraught with new challenges, things I’d never expected, and a fair sampling of, “What the fucks?”, we’d kinda reached a sort of homeostasis. Routine. Not much to write about. But lately, I see things changing. And so did one of Mom’s friends, who asked me if she was getting worse.

The type of dementia Mom has is cerebral vascular. It is caused when there is a lack of blood flow to the brain, through either a full-blown stroke, or a series of “mini-strokes“, technically known in the medical community as transient ischemic attack (TIA). Unlike many other conditions that result in dementia, vascular dementia (VaD) is largely preventable through a healthy cardio-vascular lifestyle. Not smoking. Limiting alcohol or not drinking at all. Eating healthy and exercising. Controlling diabetes and cholesterol. All those things that keep your heart pumping nicely and your arteries clear.

But once the barn door has been opened, and the horses are grazing on the grass, as in Mom’s case, the best and only treatment is to keep the already compromised cardio-vascular system as healthy as possible to slow progression.

If You’ve Met One Person With Dementia…

The thing about dementia, in all it’s many forms, is that no two people present the same, even with the same diagnosis. Some sources I’ve read say that vascular dementia can progress rapidly, and that the life expectancy is about five years. But Mom hasn’t progressed rapidly and her diagnosis was four years ago. In my completely non-medical, lay-person, non-expert opinion, this is because we’ve gotten all of Mom’s underlying chronic conditions—heart disease, high cholesterol, hypertension—under good control. The platforms that could progress her conditions are stable.

But that does not mean there is a way to stop decline. And there definitely is no reversing it. Dementia is not curable. So, when in the last two months or so, I started to notice subtle declines, I got worried. My rose-colored glasses fell right off my face.

Yes, She Is Getting Worse

Christmas and the obligatory decorations are a big deal for Mom. But this year, she barely helped me put up the decorations, and bailed completely on taking them down. That was new. While we were putting them up, she gave up completely when it came to the baubles on the tree. She just sat there on the couch, like the proverbial government supervisor, telling me where to place them. When I started to take down the tree, she announced that she didn’t, “…understand my system!” and stalked off to the kitchen to unload the dishwasher. (Which presents its own challenges—usually me trying find where she put stuff—or in this particular case, instead of unloading the dishwasher, she loaded dirty dishes into clean.)

Forgetting Family

A few weeks ago, after spending the afternoon with Mom’s grandchildren (my nieces) Mom ask who were the parents of my niece and nephew (Mom’s grandchildren.) It was a startling moment for me to have to tell my mother that her daughter was their mother. Even more so by how unfazed she seemed about my answer.

Do I Know You?

Then one of her oldest friends, who she has been having lunch with once a week for easily 20 years, asked me if Mom was getting worse. Mom’s friend Donna had noticed that Mom seemed to look right through her over the lunch table, like she wasn’t entirely sure who Donna was.

So What Now?

The best thing that I, and those who love Mom, can do now is just keep her healthy, happy, and aware of how much we love her. Hopefully, this is all just a little slip, and we’ll be back in a new level of homeostasis for another couple of years. If not, we will cross that bridge when we come to it.

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I’m Not Hungry, I’ll Just Pick


One thing no one could ever accuse Mom of being is a picky eater. She always joked that if her food didn’t bite her first, she’d eat it. Until lately. I can’t address the pathology for her, exactly, but her dementia has impacted her eating, and apparently, this is not unusual. Her taste buds could be diminishing, due to her age and years of smoking. Or it could be the way her brain processes information from her taste buds.

The Gustatory Complex & The Hippocampus

The gustatory complex is the part of the brain that allows you to taste your food. The hippocampus is the part of your brain responsible for, among other things, memory. It is where short-term memories are turned into long-term memories.

I’ve long recognized that Mom’s hippocampus is a part of her brain impacted by her disease. She has almost no short-term memory (although once in a while she surprises me, and I am at a loss to understand why some memories stick and other don’t.) But when I went on a search to understand why her food preferences have changed, I came across an interesting discovery.

Yes, I discovered the gustatory complex, where taste is interpreted. But what I didn’t know is that the smell of food passes through the hippocampus and temporal lobe. Or just how linked memory is to food preference.

It makes sense, when I think about it. As a kid, I ate tuna sandwiches with the rest of them. Until my sister told me that tuna was ground up rats, and even pointed out what looked like a tail. To this day I can’t be in the same room with an open can of tuna.

So, Mom’s gustatory complex may be damaged. Or it may be her hippocampus that makes her say her stomach goes flip-flop when she looks at or even thinks of food she used to scarf down like it was her last meal.

Stomach-Turning

These days, Mom can peruse a menu of delectable Italian pasta favorites and nearly gag. The thought of chicken turns her stomach. And much of what I prepare for her now has regressed to what you might feed a child—mac and cheese, hot dogs, baloney sandwiches. Gone are the days of me downloading an interesting recipe from Ina Garten. Keep it simple, stupid is the name of the menu these days.

Her hunger is not impacted at all. She’s hungry all the time, in fact, which has it’s own set of challenges. What she wants are simple flavors—sweet mostly. But spicy still works, too. Chicken may turn her stomach, but Buffalo wings are still a winner, for now. Anything smothered in Ranch dressing is a hit. (And that turns MY stomach!) But dishes with complex flavor profiles, like complex ideas or concepts, just don’t compute very well anymore.

Although she frequently says, “I want something different.”—she really doesn’t. I’ve learned that she says that because she can’t remember anything she has eaten, so she thinks that means she’s bored with what she’s eaten. I don’t get sucked into that trap anymore, trying to find new and never-tried recipes to please her. That’s a recipe for stink-face and a bowl of ice cream for dinner.

A New Normal

One unforeseen consequence of this change in Mom’s food preference is that I often don’t have the gumption to cook like I once did. I like cooking. I like trying new recipes, and expanding my culinary horizons. But throwing away food is something we can’t afford. And having her look at what I spent time, money, and effort on as if it had been dug out of the trash is disenchanting, at best. Dining out is a struggle.

I know she doesn’t mean to hurt my feelings, or challenge my patience. Or that she can even understand that is how it feels for me. I know it’s the disease. And as many before me have said, dementia sucks, and it doesn’t only impact the person who has it.

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Trick, Treat, and Ouch


Too Much of a Good Thing

Last night Mom and I went trick or treating with my niece and grand nieces (Mom’s grand daughter and great grand daughters.) It was the first time we had gone with them, and I was pretty excited cuz I just love them all to pieces and so does Mom.

Knowing there would be a lot of walking, I loaded Mom’s wheelchair into the Jeep and off we went. Mom is itchy about being pushed in the wheelchair. It makes her feel old and infirm and her vanity won’t allow that. She’s just like her own mother, in that sense. My grandmother was in her ’70s and called a friend of hers in her ’80s, “the old lady.” I guess you are only as old as you allow yourself to believe.

So, I didn’t hold out too much hope that Mom would just cave and let me push her the entire time. I would be happy to have her just lean on the wheelchair and push it along. And that she did. I tried several times to get her to sit, but she’s stubborn and I’m a pushover. In any event, after about a half hour, we peeled off from the kids, who soldiered on, and she let me push her back to the house. I could tell it was getting to be too much for her, no matter how much she denied it.

She Paid For It Today

I hear Mom call my name from the other side of the house a lot. It’s almost always in the same tone of urgency because at the end of the day Mom is and always has been melodramatic. Until I get to where she is, my heart in my throat, I don’t know if she’s fallen and cracked her head open or can’t get the back of her earring on. To date, it’s only once been her flat on the floor. And for that I’m grateful. But assuming she’s the Boy Who Cried Wolf is not something I entertain. In my mind, she’s always in some sort of danger.

This morning she wasn’t in danger, but she was in pain. I found her standing in the bathroom, bracing herself against the sink, and she told me she couldn’t walk. She had a shooting pain down both of her legs, starting just above the knee and to her ankles.

I helped her to the couch, put an ice back on her lower back, put her feet up, and slathered her with peppermint and Deep Relief essential oils. Then I diffused lavender and kunzea, and got her a big glass of water and something to eat.

An hour later she was reporting no pain, and was feeling good enough to make a second attempt at her shower. I checked in on her twice, and by the third check-in she was feeling good enough to give me shit for the fact that I haven’t done her laundry, and she’d have to wear black underwear under a light-colored dress.

No More Mr. Nice Guy

All’s well that ends well, I guess. But I should have insisted she let me push her. I walk a very fine line between being her daughter and her mother, her caregiver and her companion, her need for independence and my need to keep her safe and healthy. And it’s not as though I can, the next time, say, “Remember Halloween when you wouldn’t let me push you and you hurt so bad the next day?” She won’t remember.

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You’re Not My Mom


When Things Change

Four years ago or so, when I decided to start a blog about Mom, my original title and registered domain were Mom Is Still Mom. But I decided I might want to blog about things other than Mom, hence the current title.

Back then, Mom Is Still Mom seemed to be fitting. Mom had been diagnosed with mild to moderate dementia presented as short-term memory loss and cognitive impairment. But all of her social skills and muscle memories were in tact. I often said, “If you didn’t know she had dementia you wouldn’t know she had dementia.” Mom was still Mom.

And in some ways, I suppose, that is still largely the case. The frequency of my posts about Mom started to ebb off because for a couple of years we were in a sort of homeostasis. We are fortunate that Mom’s form of dementia, cerebral vascular, while not reversible, is controllable with good cardiovascular habits and medications. And I’d gotten through the learning curve of being her caregiver. But lately, something’s changed.

Ever so subtly, possibly even inconsequentially, Mom isn’t Mom anymore. She’s doing things that she never would have done in a bazillion years.

Are Your Arms Broken?

She’ll complain vehemently about how “crummy” the house it, but won’t lift a finger to help me clean, voluntarily at least. That is NOT my mother.

I clean in the morning, before showers. She’ll sit there on the couch and just watch me. Worse yet, she’ll backseat-driver me. “There’s a big glob of fur right there and you just keep going around it!” Ever worse, she’ll see me cleaning and announce, “Well, I think I’ll go get my shower.”

What am I? Cinderella?

“No Ma, before your shower, why don’t you help me clean this house?”

“I don’t know what you want me to do.”

“You could dust.”

“I don’t know what you want me to use.”

“I’ll get you a cloth.” Who are you and what have you done with my mother?

Even then, I can’t leave her unsupervised or she’ll use furniture polish on the books or window cleaner on the wood furniture.

I Have a Theory

I spent a good chunk of my career investigating airport incidents and writing reports. Who, what, where, when, how, and why are embedded in my psyche. So I naturally have to find a reason why Mom does the things she does.

I don’t believe my hardworking, roll-up-her-sleeves mother who chimed her mother’s catch phrase, “You can be poor but there is no excuse for being dirty.” is all of a sudden lazy. I think she can’t suss out how to perform tasks that always came so routine to her. And I think somewhere in the deep unconscious of her psyche, she knows this. And is scares her. It scares me, too.

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Clean Home With Essential Oils – DIY Garbage Disposal Fresheners


Clean Home – Clean Planet

If you are anything like me, you want a clean, fresh home as well as a clean planet. But have we traded easy and convenience for harsh chemicals and toxins that don’t make our home any cleaner but in fact can harm us and the planet? With a little knowledge, it’s not that hard to change up your cleaning routine with DIY.

Armed with essential oils, it’s possible to work smarter – not harder. Take advantage of the purity and power behind essential oils and watch how a little elbow grease goes a long way! You can proactively begin ditching those toxins and harsh chemicals you’ve been using in your cleaning routine, even if you start with just one DIY recipe.

Here’s what you’ll need:

1 cup salt
1/2 cup water
2 cups baking soda
1 ½  cups liquid Castile soap
10 drops Lemon essential oil
10 drops Grapefruit essential oil
10 drops Purification essential oil

Some other oils you may want to try are Lime, Tangerine, Citrus Fresh, Thieves, Bergamot, Eucalyptus, Peppermint, or Pine

What To Do:

1. Mix your soap and water in one dish, then the baking soda and salt in another. 
2. Slowly pour a small amount of the wet mixture into the dry mixture, stirring well and checking the consistency. Do not add ALL the liquid or it will become overly wet. You want to be able to pack it together and hold its shape. If it does become too wet, just add a little more baking soda until you get the desired consistency.
3. Use a spoon to scoop the thick paste onto a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and flatten drops with the spoon. They will need to be more flat than round because they will dry faster that way.
4. You can let your DIY garbage disposal pods air dry for a day or two, or place them in the oven at 175 degrees for an hour and a half to two hours until they are dry. Store them in a creatively reused glass jar with a lid for easy, airtight storage. 
5. Run hot water through the garbage disposal to clear out any lingering debris. Once clear, pop one of these disposal pods in and shut off the water. Let it run for about 10 to15 seconds, then give it a final rinse with hot water.  

Deodorized and clean!

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The Jesson Press in Paris – The Louvre, Line Jumpers, & Mona

I’m back from Paris, but only now just getting around to posting a few blogs about my trip. That’s ok. These are not travel pieces, per se. Don’t look real diligently for those typical, “10 Things You Must Do!” or, “Best Places to Eat!” But these are my musings, written versions of the ongoing dialogue in my head that I occasionally jotted into my notes for when I would have time to write a formal blog.

The Louvre – It’s Big

My first full day in Paris had already been blocked off for the Louvre Museum. Before I had even left the states, I had my entrance ticket and booking time in my hot little hands. I had visited once before in 2005, during which I had waited in line to get in to get to the security check, then waited in line to get a ticket. Then waited in line to check my backpack. Not this time. I breezed right in.

That’s good because to see everything in the world’s largest museum, you’re gonna want to spend your time looking at the exhibits and not the back of someone’s head in front of you.

Once I was in, standing under that Pyramid, I was in no rush. I didn’t plan on doing anything else that day, so I had all the time in the world. I got a map, got something to eat, then got oriented as to where I wanted to go first.

I’m interested in all of it, but I’m partial to the Renaissance and later. So I chose to start off in the wing with those paintings. It also happens to be the wing where the Mona Lisa is.

You’re Gonna See the Mona Lisa, Whether You Want to or Not

I’d seen her on my first trip to the Louvre, fresh off reading Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. She was in a different part of the museum back then, right where you see her in the movie adaption with Tom Hanks, in an off-to-the-side gallery off a long, main hall. There was a scrum of looky-loos in front of Mona, and you mosh pitted your way to the front to get a glimpse of her, (she’s so small!) Going in and out of her room was unrestricted.

But her gallery is being renovated, so she’s upstairs now. Of this I was not aware. I didn’t NEED to see Mona again. Don’t get me wrong. She’s pretty and all, but I’m more of a Vermeer, Caravaggio, kind of girl. And with the mosh pit, plus the bullet-proof glass, you can’t fully appreciate her before someone shoves you out of the way.

How Rude!

To even get into the wing where Mona is now, you have to queue in line to an escalator off the main lobby, go through another ticket and security check, and then you are herded like cattle up two more escalators with no way out. You can go forward, you can go backward, but you can’t get into any other part of the wing. Not until you’ve seen the Mona Lisa.

Before I even got to the first escalator, still in the lobby queue, someone brushed past me. Then another. Then another. How rude! It turned out to be what looked like a large family group, about 20 people, executing an organized, pre-planned line-jumping assault. I watched with amazement as they trotted up and past the line of patiently, respectfully queuing visitors, some hand in hand, like they were holding onto the guide line on Everest. No one stopped them because frankly I think they were all thinking what I was thinking. “What the fuck?”

I May Be Just a Bit of an Art Snob

The escalators eventually dumped us into a large, high-ceilinged gallery with Disney-style to and fro lanes. We were not to Mona yet, but this gallery was chock full of large-format paintings, ceiling to almost floor.

I’m no art expert, by any stretch. But I do enjoy art and there are few art museums I’d have no interest in visiting. But I was struck, as I was snaking through the Disney line, how few people were, like me, paying any attention to the beautiful art all around us.

You’re in the Louvre, people! It is an ART museum, and there is art all around you, and the Mona Lisa isn’t the only damn painting worth looking at!

What were they doing here, why had they bought a ticket and suffered the long queues inside and out, if not to appreciate the art? It made me wonder if they really even appreciated the Mona Lisa, why it’s a masterpiece, its history (it was stolen and missing for two years from 1911 to 1913), or even the genius and other works of Da Vinci. (I personally find his other paintings, like Lady with an Ermine, more beautiful.) It seemed to me that Mona Lisa was a sort of bragging right.

“You know that Mona chick? Yeah. I saw her. See? Here’s our selfie.”

You saw her, you may have even taken a ludicrous selfie with her. But you didn’t paint her, for Christ’s sake. She’s not hanging in your living room.

BUSTED!

So, remember those line jumpers? By the time I got within 20 people of being allowed to approach Mona, those 20 people ahead of me were the line jumpers. I hadn’t seen them at all in my way in line since the lobby. So, I guessed they had gotten caught and put in time out for the 30 or so minutes they had attempted to gain. But of course, once we were heralded up to see the painting, they rushed her like a concert stage, and just took selfies. Way to appreciate the painting, with your back to it. (FYI – I encountered these very same line jumpers days later in queue for the Eiffel Tower.)

I Crossed a Gallery

The Fortune Teller – Caravaggio, oil on canvas circa 1595 – 1598

Art is about spotting a painting across a gallery and making a beeline for it. Anything by Caravaggio will cause that reaction in me. As did this piece. Art is how it makes you feel, the emotion it creates. The awe and wonder at the hand and mind that could create something so beautiful. It makes you get as close as you can to try to see every detail, and stand back to appreciate from a distance. It’s not, at least for me, about bragging rights and a selfie. So, yeah, I may be a bit of a snob.

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The Jesson Press in Paris – Day 1


Day 1 in Paris, I’m not gonna lie, has been exhausting. But I am sitting on the steps of Sacra Cour loooking out over the gargantuan city of Paris and life is good. It is 68 degrees out, breezy, and most people are dressed in fall jackets and scarves. I’m in a sundress and in bliss. I live in Florida people!

The trip getting here was long. Up at the buttcrack of dawn for a 6 AM flight out of Sarasota-Bradenton, routed through Atlanta then Boston, with about 7 hours on the ground before the hop across the pond. Not complaining! My brother got my ticket using miles so I will take what I can get!

If I’m being 100% honest, my excitement for this trip in those airports and on those planes was somewhat hampered by my mild separation anxiety from Mom and my fur babies. Of course, no one can take care of them as well as I can. No one else knows their quirks and oddities. No one else lets them get away with what I let them get away with because no one else understands how pampered they deserve to be.

Arriving in Paris after a long trip didn’t quite assuage that. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I should be somewhere else.

Getting From the Airport is Easy, They Said

I was exhausted. And I wasn’t sure if it was that Paris stinks or that I stank. I was gross. Grungy in the not Eddie Vedder way. I tried my best maintain a respectful BO envelope around myself and my fellow travelers, who in hindsight I have no doubt were in the same state. Still…

In my own OCD, Myers-Briggs ISTJ way, I had had it all planned out, my route from Charles de Gaule to my hotel in the Montmartre neighborhood. RER B to Gare du Nord. Metro 4 to Metro 2. Then a short walk to my hotel.

The Best Laid Plans

ISTJ why hast thou forsaken me? Boy. I was once a planner. Sacagawea with a baby on my back leading 2 clueless American men across the Louisiana Purchase and saving their asses.

I really REALLY could’ve benefited from the spirit of Sacagawea as I tried to get the fuck out of Gare Du Nord. Nord is one of several main train/metro stations. The regional and city trains run through and hub you where you want to go. I took the regional out of the airport to connect with the city underground in du Nord.

That is if the pre-paid metro passes you bought and had mailed to you in the states were working. Mine were most decidedly not. You can’t exit the station to either the street or the metro lines without a working ticket. My guidebook said if your ticket doesn’t work but should go to a ticket office to exchange.

But the ticket offices are after the exits.

I am fairly certain I committed a turnstile offense, rushing in while someone with a working ticket was exiting the metro lines.

You’ll Never Catch Me Copper

Suffice it to say, I was not caught or sent to the way of Marie A. or her hubby. Versailles is another day.

Up Next

Hey Ma look, I’m a local!

How many fucking stairs?

Stuck in the elevator. Is this vacation doomed?

No ice, no mini-fridge? No problem.

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A Great Privilege, Regardless?


I never thought I would long for the days of George W. Bush. But on this day, September 11, 2019, I watched archival footage of George W. arriving on the presidential B747 at Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport on September 10, 2001, the day before the attacks.

I got choked up, for a lot of reasons. Because the day that footage captured is the last day the world was like that. Because in 1994, I’d been there, at that same Sarasota airport, watching George H.W. Bush step off that plane onto my airport. Because in 2006 I’d watched George W. walk off that plane and onto my airport, this time in Texas. I’ve been there, i.e. somewhere, to watch every president since George H.W. walk off that plane onto some airport I worked at. Some I had voted for. Some I had not. All up until Trump. I was out of the business by the time he came to office. And I’m glad. I don’t think I could ever have handled watching that man step off that plane onto my airport.

That Plane – Air Force 1

For the record, Air Force 1 is not a physical aircraft. It’s an air traffic control call sign. Any fixed wing US Air Force aircraft the sitting president is on, whether a B747 or a Cessna 172 (unlikely, but technically accurate) is call sign Air Force 1. For the sake of argument, in this post, that plane is Air Force 1.

So why is THAT plane important enough for me to write a blog about it? I’ve heard people say—Why do we need a plane like that to move the president around? It’s so expensive. It’s so ostentatious. Other world leaders fly on military transports (technically Air Force 1 is a military transport) or even – gasp – commercial!

Because that plane is a symbol. Air Force 1 is so recognizable that almost anywhere in the world, if you see that plane touch down, you know the US is here. And the US is a badass. And so is that plane. It can fly indefinitely as long as a tanker is around to refuel in flight. It doesn’t have an escape pod (sorry Harrison Ford.) At least not that anyone admits to. But it has state of the art navigation, communication, and can be a virtual flying White House.

But that plane is also Ronald Reagan’s shining city upon a hill. That plane is Lincoln’s hope for “…malice toward none…charity for all…” That plane is the dream of Martin Luther King, Jr. that his, and all, children will be judged not by the color of their skin but the content of their character.

This Is Our Airport Now

Over 25 years, I had the incredible privilege to be a part of and even the lead on many AF1 ops. When you work airports ops and the president of the United States pays a visit, hundreds of people descend on and virtually take over your airport. They show up, and with professional humility that they realize they are essentially fucking up your workweek, say, “This is our airport now.”

Did I mind that I was no longer technically in charge of my airport, that I’d get nothing done for a week that I had expected to, that all my deadlines got pushed back? What do you think? The President is coming!!!!!

A Great Privilege, Regardless?

In 2006, when W. flew through McAllen, TX, I was lead airport rep and worked with all the agencies. White House. Press corp. Secret Service. Air Force. Strike teams. Advance teams. To name a few. It takes an army of people a week, usually, for POTUS to land and then takeoff. My phone never stopped ringing. I was pulled in a zillion directions. The inside of my office was a distant memory. One hour I was in a meeting with a hundred other people. The next hour I was on the ramp with Air Force pilots, laying tape on the concrete where the nose and main gear wheels would park. I was the go-to person for a dozen government agencies, departments, and units.

It was the most fun I had ever had in my job. I felt privileged. Not just because it was part of the work I loved. But because I was, and still, am, a patriot. I love my country. I love what it stands for. Did I love George W. Bush? Hell no. I hadn’t voted for him. I was devastated when he won his second term. I disagreed with all his policies. I was against the wars he’d gotten us into. By 2006, I thought he was a terrible president.

But he pales in comparison to Trump, and what that man is doing to our country and the world we live in. When George W. Bush walked down the stairs of Air Force 1, I busted with pride. Not for the man, but for the office, and for the small part I had played in getting him safely to the ramp. I was proud of what the office represented. For the Constitution that had created that office. For the Founders who had dared to make a more perfect union. Because although I did not approve of Bush, did not like him, I never in eight years questioned that he might have his own interests in mind over those of the country. We disagreed completely on what was best for the country, but I never believed that Bush wasn’t doing what he thought was best for the country. I never thought he was a conman. I never thought he was a crook. I never thought he had a serious mental disorder that made him unfit for the job.

If I was still working at airports, and Trump came through, I would do my job. But I would throw up a little in my mouth to see him walk off that plane. I would not stand in line to shake his hand. I would not take a photo to put on my wall with my other AF1 photos and certificates of appreciation. I would not take presidential swag that you get from all those professionals as a way of saying, “Thanks and sorry we took over your airport.” I would not bust with pride. I’d be ashamed. I’d be disgusted.

Trump has defiled the office of the president of the United States. He’s mocked it and made a mockery of it. He might as well have broken into the National Archives and put the Constitution through a paper shredder. All those years ago, watching George W. Bush, I never could have imagined I’d see a time when the president was so unworthy, so dangerous, so unfit. So undeserving of my respect.

But I do. It makes my teeth itch to see Trump descend the stairs of that plane, that plane that I had personally welcomed at least a dozen times or more. He doesn’t deserve it. That plane, and everything it symbolizes, is so much better than him. I hope they fumigate the hell out of it once he’s no longer allowed to set foot on it.

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Dementia At Night


This was me trying to get Mom to take her bedtime pills last night. Sorry that the video is dark. There was only one light on in the room.

I don’t think it is entirely accurate to say that Mom sundowns in the true definition of that phenomenon. Or maybe she’s starting to. I don’t know. I just know that last night this happened.

Dementia sucks.

Sound on.

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The Sky Is Falling


Friday, August 30, 2019

With Hurricane Dorian bearing down on Florida, and likely to impact where we live in Florida, it’s been an interesting two days with Mom.

She’s terrified of hurricanes. When Irma was forecast to hit as a category 5 two years ago, I got Mom, the cats, and the dog right out of dodge. And said I would never do that again unless the sheriff banged on my door and told me to leave.

Irma eventually came through at a 2, and left the house with nary a scratch. But we found ourselves on I-75, three days prior, in a 250 mile parking lot. A road trip to North Georgia that should have taken 10 hours took three days. I wrecked my truck, in literally Bumfuck, Florida, after eight excruciating hours crawling on the interstate the first night. A cab to get us to the only shithole hotel that had a room was an hour away. And the hotel was another 45 minutes away. Next morning, the only rental car was another hour cab ride away. All this with Mom, three cats, the dog, and all the stuff we’d loaded into my Jeep. The next day was another 10 hours on the road, through Georgia traffic and tons of Florida license plates. Rats all fleeing the same sinking ship.

With my GPS saying we were just three hours from our destination (Yeah right. That bitch had said 10 hours two days ago.) and me white-knuckling it in rush-hour traffic outside Atlanta, Mom decided to start yelling at me that the cats must be hungry, need water, and the box.

Yeah. No shit. We’ve been in the same car for 10 hours, and I’ll lose my shit before they do. Get me off the road before I wreck the rental car. Another hotel. Me dragging the cats, the luggage, the dog into another hotel room. Mom bitching the whole time and not really even remembering why we are on this road trip. Completely forgot a hurricane is coming. We are just doing this,”for fun.”

Been There, Done That, Ain’t Doing It Ever Again

So with Dorian headed, I made a decision to stick it out. And things are a little different this time, anyway. Dorian still isn’t forecast to be as strong as Irma was at this time. And I know the house will hold. Plus, my sister now has an inside condo, with units on both sides and above, only three windows, and two bathrooms with no windows. If we have to, we’ll hunker down there with the zoo. But I don’t think we’ll have to, in any event.

Stay. Away. From. The. News!

I made the rookie mistake the other day of letting her watch her normal local ABC station all day while I tried to get some work done at my computer. In the other room I couldn’t hear that they were cutting in with news updates on Dorian. And of course, before I could do anything about it, Mom was at DefCon 1.

I’ve probably mentioned before that although Mom does have cognitive dysfunction and memory loss, her social skills are still in tact. That also means her core personality is still in tact. That also means her Chicken Little, Hair-Is-On-Fire, Fred Sandford is still in tact.

And sometimes, the only thing I can do is laugh. Not to her face. I’m not an asshole. These are excerpts of some of our conversations the past two days. (Italics are my inner thoughts.)

Mom, “We’ve got to leave! Now!”

Me, “I think it’s too soon to tell. It’s not even to Puerto Rico yet. They don’t even think it’ll be here until Sunday night or Monday.”

Mom, “Yes and today is Wednesday!”

You picked a fine time to remember what day it is.


Mom, “Do we have supplies??”

“Yes, we have tons. I put them all together after the last storm.”

Mom, “How do you know?’

“Uh. ‘Cause I put together the hurricane supply kit.”


Mom, “We need to buy dried milk.”

“Yuck! Why would we buy dried milk? I couldn’t stomach the stuff when you tried to pawn it off on me by mixing it in an empty milk carton when I was a kid.”

Mom, “We might want to make a cup of tea.”

“If we have electricity to boil water, we have electricity to keep milk fresh.”

Mom, “We need to buy hard cheese. Hard cheese will last.”

“Um. Not if the power is out for two weeks like last time. How about Easy Cheese? It doesn’t need refrigeration and will last ’till Trump ushers in the Apocalypse.”

Mom, “We need to buy eggs.”

“But they need refrigeration.”

Mom, “Then you can boil them.”

“If we can boil them we can refrigerate them.”

Mom, “Then boil them before. They last.”

Sigh.


Mom, “You don’t know! I’ve been through hurricanes!”

“HurricanE. You’ve been through one hurricane in the 1950s. You drugged the dog and played cards all night with your neighbors.”

Mom, “I would never have drugged my dog.”

Ok, Ma.


Mom, “You have to be prepared for the worst! You don’t understand!”

“I used to prepare for plane crashes with 300 people on board. I think I got this.”

Mom, “Oh you don’t know!”

“I lived on an island in the middle of nowhere.”

Mom, “Hmmph.”


Mom, “It’ll probably hit in the middle of the night.”

“How do you know that?

Mom, “Because that’s when they hit.”

Ah yes. I forgot. Hurricanes hit in the middle of the night. Earthquakes hit in the afternoon. And volcanoes erupt between 8 and 9 am.


Mom, “We have mac and cheese. That’s good.”

Not if I have to make it on the grill.


Me, “We have a full tank of propane, so if we have to, we can cook from the freezer if the power is out.”

Mom, “You don’t want to be outside cooking on the grill in a hurricane!”

How silly of me. Of course not, Mother.


Mom, “You have plenty of food for the animals, don’t you?!?”

No. I just figured if we die they can eat our bodies.


Mom, “This house isn’t safe! Look at all these windows!”

“It came through the last storm just fine and that one was way stronger. And if we have to we’ll go to [my sister’s].”

Mom, “What if she loses her roof?”

Then I guess the lady who lives upstairs is fucked.

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Essential Oils 101 – Post #9

Whether you are spiritual or not, these can help you center yourself and connect.


Oils to…Enhance Spiritual Awareness

Historically, incense and essential oils have played important roles in religious and spiritual ceremonies. They are known to help participants go beyond the trivial and connect with something larger than themselves.

Due to the purity, the component parts of these oils stimulate olfactory receptors and activate regions in the brain associated with memory, emotion, and state of mind.

Try this to enhance your spiritual practice.

Dilute and apply these essential oils directly to wrists, feet, and behind the ears, or diffuse the oils in a quiet space.

  • Sacred Frankincense
  • White Angelica™
  • Live Your Passion™
  • Inspiration™

(I invite you to visit the product guide to learn more about these oils).


In my next post I will be letting you see why you shouldn’t use an oil warmer with these oils. In fact, you’ll learn why you would never want to use any type of heat on these oils.

MY WEBSITE
ORDERING TIPS

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A Receipt For Regina’s Suicide


Series – Climbing Out of the Hole – A Story of Mental Illness

Christ, what have you done?

The Pass – Rush

I have a receipt for $618.50 dated October 3, 1951—a tiny scrap of 68-year old paper, with that old paper smell. Woodsy. Paper doesn’t smell like that anymore.

The receipt was some of what little I had for a long time to prove my great-grandmother Regina had existed. It is for funeral expenses that my grandmother had paid for her mother’s funeral after Regina had killed herself. I found it in my father’s files after his funeral decades later. That scrap of paper and two photographs, one of which I pasted, incorrectly, into a family tree for a school project, represented an entire life.

My father had never really spoken of her. He’d never spoken of any of his family and I didn’t know why. I didn’t even know he had sisters until I was 11. After Dad’s death I learned from Mom of Regina’s suicide when my father was 17—in the house he had grown up in. In the house that I had grown up in.

My father found her, in the room that was the den when I lived in that house. It’s still hard for me to grasp the history of that den. I had done my homework in that room. I had written term papers in that room. I had created that family tree, pasting Regina’s photo onto craft paper, in that room.

I wanted to know more about why my great-grandmother had taken her own life. I started digging on the Internet through ancestry sites for public records. I found the newspaper article of her death, the coroner confirming death by her own hand, and that she had been in ill health. I talked to my only living relative who had known Regina in life and she told me what Regina had done to end her own life. She had secured a cord around her neck and the back of the sofa, and then rolled herself to the floor, strangling herself. A slow, deliberate, and I can only assume painful way to die. It takes several minutes, some sources say as many as seven, to die of strangulation. You gotta want it, and Regina had wanted it.

Yes, Regina had been in ill physical health, but she had also been depressed. Despondent is the word used to describe her. Two years after her death, my father was drafted into the Air Force. After a short time, he’d been granted a hardship discharge, the result of a letter-writing campaign to get him out so he could care for his mother. One of the letters said that his mother had such severe diabetes that it caused “mental aberrations” that had once landed her in a mental hospital. The fear was, given her own mother’s suicide, that without my father there, she might do harm to herself.

Someone set a bad example. Made surrender seem alright,

The Pass – Rush

I never knew any of this growing up and into my twenties. It would have been useful information. It might have helped me understand my own depression, my own suicidal thoughts. It might have helped me understand, and perhaps empathize with, a distant, moody, angry father who seemed to not love me or anyone else, including himself. I might have blamed him less. I might have not hated him as much as I had at times. It might have allowed me to find forgiveness for him while he was still alive.

Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.

Soren Kierkegaard
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I’m Tired

Mom left the tub running again and went into her room. Then called to me, alarmed, because the tub was filling up.

It’s a tub. If you leave the faucet running at full force, it will fill up. She thinks it has to run for a few minutes for the water to heat up, and I can’t shake her of that notion, which is why every freaking day she takes a shower in three inches of standing water unless I get to the shower diverter first. Except today she just walked out of the bathroom altogether.

She’s demanding I call a plumber, but I know there is nothing wrong with the drain. It never backs up when I take a shower. I told her I would call a plumber only to get her to drop it.

I had to ask her multiple times this morning to take her pills. Like always. Every day. It’s not like I can just shove them down her throat like you do with a cat. Or put them on a spoon with peanut butter like I do for the dog. Or hover over her like a shadow until she takes them. That just makes her mad.

It took me 20 minutes of telling her she had to get going for her shower in time for her friend to pick her up for lunch at 11:30. Now, she’s likely to be late. Again.

I’m tired of nagging her to take her pills.

I’m tired of nagging her to get moving when she has somewhere to be.

I’m tired of jumping out of my skin when she calls to me from across the house in a tone that makes me think she’s down on the floor in a pool of blood only to find she can’t comprehend the tub. Yes, of course, I’m relieved it is latter and not the former. It’s the jumping out of my skin several times a day.

I’m tired of feeling like the only way to avoid jumping out of my skin is to literally follow her around the house.

I’m tired of having to deal with people who have no clue exactly what it means to care for someone with memory loss and cognitive impairment. The other evening I nearly throat punched someone (who is barely even an acquaintance and who I don’t care for in any event) who shoved her nose into my business by contradicting how I was helping Mom order dinner. The mere fact that I did not tell this person to fuck off is a testament to what frayed patience I have left.

I’m tired of feeling like I should pretend that I’m not tired, and feeling guilty when I don’t do a good job of pretending that I’m not tired.

I’m tired of feeling embarrassed that I am tired.

I’m tired of having the devil on one shoulder saying I should be better at this than I am, and the angel on the other shoulder telling the devil to fuck off.

I’m tired of losing my patience with those who mean well, but just don’t understand.

I’m just plain tired.

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Simple Devices for More Independent Living

It wasn’t long ago that I mentioned to Mom’s doctor that Mom’s arthritis makes it difficult for her to fully pull the shower diverter up. Not being able to do this meant one of two things. Either I had to do it for her. Or, if I didn’t, the tub would fill up while she showered because water was coming from both the faucet and the shower head. And her cognitive impairment meant she didn’t realize what was happening or how to make it not happen.

So, Mom’s doctor prescribed occupation therapy (OT). And it’s opened my eyes to all sorts of little tips and devices that we can easily, cost-effectively employ around the house to keep Mom as independent in her activities of daily living (ADL) as possible.

1. Foam Tubes for Grip Support

These are ingenious.

Designed to make holding things like a toothbrush or fork easier, Mom’s occupational therapists had a brainstorm for the tub diverter problem. Because you can cut these to size, she cut one about two inches in length. Then she poked a hole in one side so she could slip it over the knob of the diverter pull. Now, rather than having to grip in a pincer motion, it’s an easy-to-pull T.

Success!

Added bonus—I was worrying I might have to hire a plumber to replace the faucet with something easier for her. Now I don’t have to!

2. Bump Dots

How did I not know about these!!??!!

Assorted Bump Dots

Bump dots are advertised for the blind, or those with low vision, by providing a tactile way to identify buttons, switches, and such. Think Braille. But they also provide more of a surface area for all those tiny buttons on the remote control, electric toothbrush, and microwave. Mom’s stiff, arthritic, weakening hands, as well as her vanity to not break her nails, meant that she struggled to turn the TV on, etc. She often used her knuckle. Not very effective and hard on already painful joint.

Bump dots come in a variety of colors, shapes, and sizes. And although they adhere easily, they are not permanent.

Added bonus—I applied them to only those buttons on the remote control I want Mom to mess with. No more, “What buttons did you push?” while I try to get the TV back from whatever mess she made of it!

3. Easy Soap and Shampoo Dispenser

Mom has been struggling for a while with the bottles of soap, shampoo, conditioner, and body lotion in the shower. At first, it was all the differently shaped, colored, and marked bottles. She couldn’t tell conditioner from body lotion. Too may choices. Too many varied visual inputs that weren’t registering with her. So, I tried refillable plain pump bottles with a single label of what was inside.

Those worked for a bit. Until I noticed she was taking off the pumps, even when the bottle was full. She could ID the right product. But her hands made the pump motion too difficult. I brought this up to her therapist, who recommended a wall-mounted dispenser with big enough buttons that she can press it with her palm.

This model installs easily with heavy-duty two-side tape. No drilling into the tiles.

Added bonus—less clutter in the shower.

Having OT come into the house a few times a week has made such a difference in her quality of life. And mine. The more independent she is and feels, the happier she is. And the more normal she feels. For me, it is peace of mind that she can still be capable without me following her around the house like a hovering shadow. Just a few simple, ingenious tips and devices were all it took!

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Nobody Likes Change

Mom has always been stubborn. For the most part, her steadfastness has served both her, and me, well over the years. It was her stubbornness that refused to let me cop out on college when I was too afraid. It is her stubbornness that makes her push through the pain of her arthritis rather than sit idly feeling sorry for herself. But lately that stubbornness, coupled with a dislike for change, is proving a challenge.

We have started her on physical and occupational therapy, both twice a week, to try to find ways to ease her arthritis pain and help her be more independently mobile. I had noticed that she was having difficulty operating the shower due to pain in her hands and her cognitive impairment. She also walks so hunched over I’m constantly afraid she will fall because her center of gravity is so off kilter. So her doctor suggested the therapy.

Works For Me

For me, its been great. I learned things I didn’t understand about her posture, and what I should be doing about it. I am learning exercises to help her with her mobility, posture, and pain. And I learned the best place to put the grab bar on the tub to help her in and out.

Not So Much For Her

She goes along with the therapists when they show her the best and safest way into and out of the tub. She goes along when they suggest she use the walker in the morning when she’s stiff to get from the bed to the bathroom. Everything seems hunky-dory and I breathe a sigh of relief.

Except when they are not here, she adamantly refuses to use the grab bar and insists getting in and out of the shower, “…should not be this hard!” And the walker—it’ll gather dust before she uses it without prompting.

I don’t know about should or shouldn’t. She’s 88 years old. But that is beside the point. Will any of us think, “Oh well. I’m old so I guess I should just be ok with not being able to do everything I used to.” Doubt it.

But as stubborn as she can be at times, she is also adaptable. I know it’ll just take time. Nobody likes change. And Mom is no different.

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The Outsiders

It’s not uncommon for me to tell people, “If you didn’t know Mom had dementia, you wouldn’t know Mom has dementia.”

That’s because all of her social skills are in tact, and she’s smart. I’ve watched her carry on conversations with total strangers who have no inkling that what she is telling them is complete nonsense. Like, for example, when she told a new acquaintance that the last time she visited our Upstate New York hometown was a year ago during winter, when it was in fact a decade ago in May. Things like that are harmless, and I just let her spin her tales. But when it is not harmless, like yesterday when I had to take her to the ER, I only remain silent for so long.

Ensuring Her Sense of Self

But I do sort of sit back a bit to see how she answers when we are meeting with health care professionals or others where the truth matters. I never want to just push her to the side, and treat her like a non-verbal infant. Her dignity, as well as her social skills, is certainly in tact.

Outside Looking In

If you don’t spend day in and day out with Mom, you would think she is just forgetful. You might see a woman who forgets what day it is. Or has difficulty choosing off a menu, and then forgets not only what she ordered, but that she ordered at all, within minutes. And this is certainly true about Mom.

But what you might not see without spending a great deal of time with her is everything collateral with short-term memory loss and cognitive impairment. You might not see how mad she gets at me because I, “…don’t tell her anything.” when it comes to appointments or any time we have to be somewhere at a certain time. If I had a dollar for every time we were walking out the door late with her fuming, “You don’t tell me until five minutes before that we have someplace to be!!”

Try getting her out the door to go to the ER because her blood pressure was so high I thought she might stroke out. She wanted to shower first and was pissed beyond all get up that I wouldn’t let her. I didn’t let her put makeup on, and she fussed that she looked like, “…death warmed over.”

Uh…that’s exactly what I’m trying to avoid now get into the goddamn car.

If anyone was going to stroke out yesterday, I wasn’t sure if it wouldn’t be me. Next time, I’m just calling 911 because a stretcher certainly makes an impression of urgency. Fuck clean underwear.

Day In And Day Out

But it’s not just about appointments. I recently realized that for all the times she says she wants something “different” for dinner, and for all the times I have bent over backwards to find something different to make, it wasn’t that she was bored with my cooking. It’s that she can’t remember anything she’s eaten. And that there is some small unconscious part of her brain that realized that she can’t remember anything she’s eaten. And that small unconscious part of her brain realizes that it’s not normal to not remember anything she’s eaten. So it rationalizes it by telling her consciousness that nothing she’s eaten has been good enough or different enough to be worthy of remembering.

It’s Not Me, It’s You

For everything that Mom can’t remember or suss out to make sense, it comes down to the only other person who might be the source. Me. I misplace her bobby pins. I put her purse somewhere she would never put it. I’ve lost all the belts to her dresses. I ate the last of the ice cream. I don’t show her her bank statements, and I never, ever tell her about appointments. I give her her meds more often than prescribed.

Making Sense of Nonsense

I don’t take it personally. I know it is the disease, and Mom’s coping mechanism. I know she loves me. I know she’s proud of me. I know she appreciates me. But sometimes, I have to admit, I just get tired.

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Debating With Dementia

I hate the ceramic tile in my kitchen and bathroom. It’s white, and shows dirt minutes after being mopped, usually because a dog or cat has zero respect for a freshly cleaned floor.

But more than that, the rest of the floors in the house are terrazzo, meaning there is a lip between the tile and terrazzo. I’ve been meaning to rip up the tile now for a while because Mom could trip. And yesterday she did trip, and fall (nothing damaged but her pride), but not on aforesaid lip. She got her toe caught in a grout line. We are talking millimeter depth.

So today is demolition day. I went to my trusty Ace Hardware around the corner for advice and tools. They said without a rotary hammer, which I don’t have, the only other way is to beat the living shit out of it with a regular hammer. That I have.

Labor intensive, hard work, time consuming. But I’m ok with that. It’s exercise, stress reducing, and I like beating the living shit out of something that won’t hit back.

Enter Mom and her impossible to reason with brain.

“You’re gonna kill yourself!”

“No I won’t, and I don’t mind the work. This is how they said to do it.”

Who said?”

“The guy at the hardware store. He removed tile like this for 20 years.”

“Humph! The guy at the hardware store! How do you know he knows? Did he go to school for it? Did you go to a tile store?”

“I went to the hardware store.”

“They don’t know! You have to go to a tile store! You should talk to some contractors for advice.”

“Why would they give me advice for free to do a job myself?”

“Isn’t there something you can put on it to soak it off?”

“I think that’s just for linoleum. This is tile.”

“You can’t do this. You need to talk to experts. I’d call about five different people. Isn’t there something to soak it off?”

“I’ll call Mike (nephew). He did tile work for years.”

“Oh! He did tile work for years! How do you know he knows? He was just the guy who worked for the owner! Can’t you soak it off?”

“He’s the guy who did the work.”

“No, no, no. You aren’t listening to me! You need to talk to someone who started from scratch and worked their way up, made all the mistakes.”

Then I showed her about six YouTube videos of guys beating the living shit out of ceramic tile.

“See. This is how they do it.”

Yeah, but they’re big burly guys. I wish your father was here. He would have stacks of information on how to do this. Get the phone book.”

“What’s a phone book?” (I didn’t really say that.)

“I think I’m just gonna beat the living shit out of it.”

“Fine!!! I don’t know anything! I’ve lived in houses two, three times longer than you have!!”

Stomps off. And I’m beating the living shit out of it.

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The Day of Days – June 6, 1944

June 6, 2019

Today is the 75th anniversary of D-Day. But it is also my grandmother’s birthday. On the day one of my most loved, admired women turned 38, hundreds of thousands of young allied troops stormed the beaches on Normandy, and tens of thousands of them died that day.

On this day in 1944 she was 13 years younger than I am today, and four of her five brothers were at war. She had heard on the radio that we had invaded France. My mother remembers being at the top of the stairs getting ready for school and there was her mom at the bottom of the stairs telling my not quite 13-year-old mother about D-Day.

I think of my grandmother and of how she spent her 38th birthday. It must have been frightening. It must have been fearful. All I remember about my 38th birthday is that I bought a red sports car. And that I was hoping it might impress a guy. And I don’t remember why I wanted to impress that guy. I do know I loved that car longer than I had a crush on that guy.

My grandmother’s youngest brother Mike served on the Lexington from April 1943, when he was 21, through June 1945.

USS Lexington

The Lexington, dubbed The Blue Ghost, was an Essex Class aircraft carrier. With my Uncle Mike as part of the crew, The Blue Ghost participated in nearly every major operation in the Pacific Theater, her planes destroying 847 enemy aircraft, her guns shooting down 15 aircraft, and sinking 300K tons of enemy cargo. She was decommissioned in 1991, and is now a floating museum in Corpus Christi, Texas. Uncle Mike survived the war and died in 2006 in California where he’d lived his entire adult life. I worked as a salad girl in his restaurant when I was 16. He’d hold court during dinner service at a poker table in the corner of the bar, giving away far too many free meals than his wife would have liked. He loved people and people loved him.

My Uncle Sam enlisted in the Coast Artillery Corps in 1940 when he was 21, serving first protecting the Panama Canal more than a year before the attack on Pearl Harbor. Later he fought in Europe after the US joined the war. According to family history, he had served honorably in Panama, had won awards for bravery and could have gone stateside during the war. But two of his brothers were in Europe, so that’s where he chose to go. Uncle Sam married a girl from Missouri and lived there after he retired and until he died in 2000. I only saw him a few times when he came home to visit family, but I remember a happy, cool dude who put salt in his beer and laughed a lot.

Uncle Frank enlisted in January of 1942, when he was 26. He once told me a story of being sick as a dog, hunkered down in his foxhole during a battle. I also have a vague memory of him telling me about being briefly captured by the Nazis, but he jumped off the truck and ran to freedom. I seem to remember family history that Uncle Joe fought in the same unit as Uncle Frank. Uncle Joe died before I was born, and I couldn’t find his service records on Ancestry. But I know he was over there. My mother adored him.

My Uncle Pat had a family, so he served the war effort at the Seneca Ordnance Depot, transporting bombs for detonation. Of all my great uncles, I knew Uncle Pat and Uncle Frank the best as a young girl because we saw them often. I idolized them. They were always happy, and just like their brothers, they laughed a lot. Uncle Frank died in 1993, far too young. Uncle Pat died in 2011 at 97, sharp as a tack till the end.

This is why my grandmother and her brothers, and all of her generation were truly The Greatest Generation. It’s days like today that put my whole life into perspective. I’m lucky and blessed beyond belief because the worst that has ever happened in my world is nothing like what they lived through. And they survived so we would have what we have now.   

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Death, Grief, and Dementia

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This morning I had to tell Mom that one of her oldest and closest friends (I’ll call her Mary) had passed away. I wasn’t sure how she’d take it. I wasn’t even sure if I should tell her at all. Mom’s short-term memory is so poor that she may likely forget Mary is dead and I can’t keep telling her over and over. It would only bring her renewed grief. And me, too. Mary had become my friend.

I’ve not had much experience with death, or more accurately, the sorrow of death. Three of my grandparents died either before I was born or when I was too young to have any memory of them. Losing my grandmother in 1990 was extremely painful for me. I loved her more than just about anyone in the world. But she had been ailing for about six months prior, and we knew the end was near. The last words she said to me were, “I love you, too, Dolly.” Had she died unexpectedly, without me being able to tell her I loved her one last time, I think I would have taken it harder. But I knew she never wanted to linger, was as frightened of becoming a shell of who she was almost as much as she was frightened of death. So I could find peace in the fact that she had lived a full and happy life—long enough to see two great grandchildren—when the end came.

When my father died in 1996 I felt nothing.

Mom took the news of Mary’s death well. She teared up but she didn’t cry. Her face crumbled, but she didn’t. She’s outlived more than a few close friends, so she’s been here before.

But she did ask the same questions over and over in the course of a few minutes. Were Mary’s children with her? Did she die at home? How old was Mary? When was the last time we had seen her? Did she know she was sick? Had she been in the hospital? Who told me? How old was her other surviving friends? Who of her friends were still alive? Will there be a service?

I don’t know how to predict the impact of her asking the same questions over and over. It may mean the memory of her friend’s death has imprinted, and she’ll remember, at least some of the time. It may mean the opposite. There’s no way to know just yet.

The test will be the first time she and I are out with the group of her friends we see regularly, those with whom we’d always seen Mary. If she asks where Mary is, I’ll have to employ therapeutic fibbing. And I’ll have to ask all her friends to go along with it. I’ll tell Mom that Mary moved up north to live with one of her daughters. Mom will accept that.

I am very saddened about Mary’s passing. Not just that our friend is gone, but that her death was very unexpected, and I’m musing about just how tenuous the mortal coil is. Mary didn’t know she was sick. Mary didn’t appear sick. She was still driving, albeit only in daylight. She still lived alone. She could still walk the distance from her condo to the clubhouse. Her mind and her wit were still sharp as a knife. She was active with all her friends, not just our little circle. She was older, but she was still as vibrant as anyone years younger. But in the course of less than one week, her doctor’s discovered she was terminally ill, she went into hospice, and then she was gone.

I can’t imagine what her daughters are going through. I don’t even want to think about it, because it will make me think about when Mom’s time comes. And I don’t want to contemplate that.

As I was breaking the news to Mom, a bluebird alighted just outside the window on the patio table. Reminding me that I need to fill the feeders. Or maybe it was Mary.

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Climbing Out of The Hole – A Story of Mental Illness

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I’ve been contemplating for a while the notion of starting a series on The Jesson Press about mental and emotional health. It is a subject very near and dear to my heart. I make no bones about the fact that I take an anti-depressant. Nor am I ashamed to admit that mental illness is woven into the fabric of my entire life since I first appeared on the corporeal plane. While we are experiencing less stigma around mental illness than when I was a girl, we have not yet shaken the misconceptions: That the mentally ill are weak. That the mentally ill are broken. That all the mentally ill have to do is get over it, be strong, pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. That the mentally ill don’t deserve compassion, or understanding, or help. That the mentally ill should be ashamed, should hide their illness. And the biggest misconception of all—that mental illness is not really an illness.

It is. Whether biology or some outside traumatic forces causes it, the end result is the same. It’s a soapbox issue for me. Brain health for the mentally ill is as important to me as brain health for those living with dementia.

So, I’m going to put on display my personal experience with mental illness. Full disclosure—I’m doing well now and no one need worry about me when they start to read my story. Good things and happiness can come from tragedy. That’s my point.

In The Hole

The mind is its own place, and in itself

Can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.

Paradise Lost
John Milton

I grew up in The Hole. I spent my first 18 years trying to climb out of The Hole, and the rest of my life trying like hell to not fall back in.

The Hole exists both tangibly and intangibly. Tangibly, it is a three-bedroom one-bath house on Pine Street in Geneva, New York. It was built in the 1880s and was white clapboard when I lived there. It had a big, deep back yard lined with mature trees, a tree house and neighbors close on both sides. 

The Hole is the house where my father grew up. It is where he shoveled coal into the furnace to heat the house in winter. It’s where he worked on his stamp and coin collections. It is where his father beat him, and where his mother returned to when she was released from an insane asylum. It is where his father stole from his coin collection to buy booze. It is where his grandmother killed herself. 

The Hole is where I watched my father humiliate my mother and abuse her verbally and emotionally. It is where my brother and I sat side by side, silently and in the dark, for hours, on the bottom step listening to the snores of a sleeping dragon upstairs, worried about what might happen if we woke him up.

The Hole is fear. The Hole is wretchedness. It is loneliness and self-isolation at the same time. It is hating yourself. It is longing for what is not and for what you think you can never have, what you think you don’t deserve. It is reliving the same terrible moment over and over again. The Hole is feeling like your life is not worth anything, that you aren’t good at anything, and that the world would be better off without you. The Hole is wanting to be dead.

All of us get lost in the darkness
Dreamers learn to steer by the stars
All of us do time in the gutter
Dreamers turn to look at the cars
Turn around and turn around and turn around
Turn around and walk the razor’s edge
Don’t turn your back
And slam the door on me

The Pass
Presto – 1989
Rush
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Let’s Talk Reality, Shall We?

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Excerpt from a post from Welcome to Dementialand, a blog by Dr. Elaine Eshbaugh, an associate professor of Gerontology and Family Studies.

“You can’t fix dementia.


I don’t care how much you love someone or how many books you read. It doesn’t matter if you feed them the perfect diet and travel to specialists across the country. At this point in time, we cannot repair the brain after dementia takes hold. So don’t beat yourself up when dementia progresses. You’re not doing anything wrong.”

Ok, I’m gonna get on my soapbox for a minute.

When my own mother has dementia, why would I get on a soapbox screaming, “YOU CAN’T FIX DEMENTIA!” Seems counter intuitive. Or glass is half full. Or hopeless. Or fatalist.

It’s not. It’s reality. The harsh reality is that though studies are being done, and efforts are underway, at this point in time, dementia cannot be reversed. And although there are ways to prevent certain types of dementia, there are ways to slow certain types of dementia, there are ways to alleviate the symptoms of certain types of dementia for a while, dementia is at this time NOT curable, NOT reversible, and NOT entirely preventable.

Anyone touting otherwise is fucking with you. Plain and simple. They may have good intentions. They may even truly believe their snake-oil salesman pitch. And worse, they may actually BE a snake-oil salesman playing on your emotions, fear, distress, hopelessness, and love for your loved one to separate you from your money.

Because I am caring for someone who has dementia, it makes me unbelievably angry when I see something like a seminar on how diet and healthy lifestyle can reverse dementia. Or how a handful of supplements every day can bring Mom’s Folstein Mini Mental State Examination score up from 23. “But Francey, this is offering hope!”

No, it’s not. It’s offering a ticket to fantasy land.

Here in the real world, I know that the brain is the most complex structure known to man.

“There are as many connections in a single cubic centimeter of brain tissue as there are stars in the Milky Way galaxy.” Incognito – David Eagleman.

I want scientists and medical professionals with actual medical training to find a way to end dementia, and a way to cure dementia as much, if not more, than the average person. It’s why I blog. It’s why I post. It’s why I talk to anyone who wants to listen, and maybe even those who don’t want to listen.

But I will not be silent against those offering false hope. It’s wrong, it’s immoral, and it is dangerous. I live in the real world. And sometimes the real world just plain sucks. But false hope is a cancer all its own.

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One Caregiver’s Unrealistic Birthday Wish List

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My birthday isn’t for another six weeks, but I thought I’d get my wish list circulating, since everything on it is nearly impossible. Anyone wanting to get me something off of it will have to pull some serious metaphysical strings. So, here goes.

Rosie the Robot From The Jetson’s

Or a self-cleaning house. I’m not married to either input as long as the output is a house that isn’t back to being a mess 30 minutes after I clean it.

The Food Replicator From Star Trek

It doesn’t necessarily have to shoot out martinis on a regular basis. But on those nights when I just don’t feel like cooking….

Han Solo

I fail to see the need for an explanation.

Acceptable Substitution in the Event Han is Not Available

Again, if I have to explain it…

The Standing Stones at Craigh Na Dun From Outlander

Not so much so I can go back to find a gorgeous red-headed Scot. I mean, if I have the time, why not? But really I’d like to go back to a time before Mom had dementia. I’d bring the pre-dementia Mom back, and that’s where my last birthday wish comes in.

The Holodeck From Star Trek

I’d upload all Mom’s memories so that no matter what happens, I’ll always be able to find her again.

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A Day In The Life – Jeff and Becky

I’m launching a new series on The Jesson Press called “A Day In The Life” in which I welcome volunteer guest contributors to detail, in their own words, one day with dementia. They can be both caregivers and those living a dementia diagnosis. The intent is to bring even more awareness to this condition—the highs and the lows, the cruelty and the moments of grace—and how we all cope with it in our own ways. They can be anonymous or not, their choice. All I do is proofread, format, and post. I welcome all contributors.

This first post of the series is by Jeff Ginther about one day caring for his wife, Becky. This post is repurposed from a Facebook post by Jeff in our support group. His post is what gave me the idea for the new series, so thanks, Jeff! For inspiring me and for agreeing to be the first contributor!

March 26, 2019, 12:10 AM

It’s been a while since I’ve posted and even longer since I’ve helped support you all. But I want to share an hour or so of life here, showing that even the simple, repetitive, mundane things in life can be exhausting.

Becky comes to work with me at the liquor store. We get off at about 10 to 10:30 on Sundays, depending on the number of customers, and odd jobs around the store. Our trip home is along quiet streets, about twenty minutes. Last night I had to stop at our grocery for a few odds and ends. Specifically I was looking for some shark steaks they had had on sale a couple days ago. They were gone, but I got the items on my list and some extra fruits and veggies. I like Beck to come in with me, but she prefers to sit in the truck. She has always hated grocery stores and cooking—and most of what I fix since it never tastes like Mom’s. And conversation is negligible…she simply has little or nothing to say. We do listen to music, so I am going through our CD collection. Occasionally she will sing along or move to the beat. And hold my hand.

We finally get home, I help her out of the truck and into the house…she is always unsteady and very slow moving. (No recent falls thank goodness.) I have to leave the foyer light on because our Yorkie will often poop there or in the rooms just off the foyer, on the stairs, or even in my office or kitchen or laundry, at the far end of the house. I have to quickly get in to turn on lights (we do try to conserve) and yes, while avoiding one poop I occasionally step in another. He does have a doggie door…. nope, won’t use it at night or during bad weather. He does have a complicated diaper and harness locked on him so Beck doesn’t take it off him. So I quickly clean up the poop so Beck or the dog doesn’t step in it, and in the meantime Beck will often go up to the bedroom (she’s like a damn bat, doesn’t like lights on and has stepped in poop because of that.) And the dog follows. So I need to trudge upstairs and retrieve him to take his garb off and stick him outside for a bit. And yes when he’s ready to come in he barks incessantly at the door and ignores the doggie door. I toss the peed-up diaper into the laundry, and put his supper out. When he comes in and I get his diaper back on he immediately jumps upstairs to snuggle with Beck (on our bed of course) “Oh what a good boy!” So I call to Beck to bring him down, so he can eat. She calls him. He’s deaf and also won’t jump off the bed by himself anymore. So when Becky finally gets that figured out she’ll carry him down and as he is eating she’ll start grazing the pantry for snacks. Mind you, she used to be a svelte 130 lbs.—now about 190. And sees no connection between cookies and her weight. Because it has gotten out of hand and her blood pressure is up and I am putting her on a diet. She despises me telling her what not to eat. But was fond of publicly criticizing me and my eating habits years ago. So I get her eating grapes or yogurt (she dismisses the Ritz crackers because she will ONLY eat a certain expensive type.)

Ok, so she goes up to bed, dog in tow, and I get the groceries and my backpack and our lunch box (she ate only an apple out of it this night, refuses leftovers, and insisted we order fresh pizza. She won’t eat warmed up pizza at work because we don’t have an oven at work.) I also drag in my iPad (she watches videos at work) and her snack bag. She will eat about anything my co-workers offer her, but refuses the same object I purchase for her.

I pour myself a little beverage and check emails and Facebook, clean up any mess we’ve left behind, set the fireplace fire, and go upstairs. Then I have to help her floss, encourage her to brush her teeth, tell her three times to use the medicated mouth rinse (abscessed crown), give her the night pills, often telling her what each one is, administering the CBD drops and explaining what they do, put her dirty clothes in the hamper (“That isn’t dirty!!!”), first showing her the food stains and explaining how they got there to her shock, checking her Depends for wet or soiling (another shock and embarrassment to her), plugging in her watch/phone, and finally getting my clothes off and brushing my teeth.

I try to read each night, a little uncomplicated fiction to her, something more in depth for me, the Catechism that I’ve never read, and finally scripture and prayers. I am exhausted. And not uncommonly the dog wants to go out an hour or two later…yes, Beck hears him and if I say anything about it, she muses that she didn’t know he wanted to go out….tomorrow it starts all over. Yay!!

Becky Ginther

Jeff and Becky met when Jeff started his medical residency training. Becky was hired as the head RN for the outpatient clinic they were assigned to. They got married a little over a year later, in 1978. Becky helped Jeff open his medical office in 1981 and worked for him, on and off (kids, other ailments) till 2014. She started showing subtle signs of Alzheimer’s in 2013, or maybe before, Jeff says. Jeff took retirement from his practice in mid 2014. He admits they did have some bad rough spots, but they overcame them and now are just navigating her problems, and his patience and tolerance.

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19 Holistic Treatments for Stress & Anxiety

I can’t take any credit for this post. My cousin Michelle Waddell (full credits at the end) did all the research for a presentation she gave entitled, The Reality of Stress, Anxiety, and Depression in the NICU…Is it Real? Best Practices for Nursing Self-Care.

She was generous enough to share her research with a group of us—friends, family, and essential-oil enthusiasts—because she knew it applies to anyone experiencing stress, anxiety, or depression for any reason, not just challenging nursing. I at once realized it could be an amazing post for my blog about caring for someone with dementia. Because caring for someone with dementia IS stressful. And sometimes it’s not even about your interaction with the person who has dementia. It’s about stressors in your daily life—traffic, long lines at the grocery store, the balance, or lack thereof, in your checking account, inconsiderate people—that can seem exacerbated when you are already tired, pressed for time, on edge, or just plain at the end of your rope.

So What Is A Stressed-Out Caregiver To Do?

Well, you can down a few prescription sedatives, crack open a fifth of whiskey, or run naked into traffic. I don’t recommend any of those. There are many safer, healthier ways to make yourself feel better when it feels as though the world is crashing in. And there’s science behind many of them.

  1. Chamomile Tea – binds to brain receptors like Valium
    1. Calms muscle spasms (muscles tense during stress)
    2. Relaxes the intestinal lining (gut/brain axis)
    3. Sleep aid for insomnia
    4. Has been studied since 1980—has similar anxiety-reducing properties as some anxiety medications
    5. Recommendation dosage is 1 to 4 cups per day
  2.   L-Theanine (Green Tea) – helps reduce elevated heart rate and blood pressure
    1. L-Theanine is an amino acid known for reducing stress and relaxing body and mind. A 2012 study in Japan showed college students taking L-T experienced decreased anxiety when confronted with physical or psychological stress
    2. Can be taken in hot tea form or as an oral supplement
  3. Valeriannatural sedative
    1. Better taken in the evening
    2. Works well with chamomile tea and lemon balm
    3. The German government has approved it as a treatment for problems with sleep
    4. Recommendationed 300 to 600 mg of Valerian root 30 minutes to 2 hours before bedtime
    5. Works best after 2 weeks of continuous use
    6. For tea, steep Valerian root in 1 cup hot water for 10 to 15 minutes
  4. Hops – the bitter herb, not beer! Sorry!
    1. The part used is the female part of the plant (resembles a small pine cone)
    2. Contains methylbutenol
      1. Works effectively on the central nervous system as a sedative
  5. Lemon Balm – (Melissa) considered one of the most powerful medicinal oils in aromatherapy
    1. Used for anxiety, reducing agitation, insomnia, stress
    2. May be combined with Valerian in low doses. Too much may cause increased anxiety
    3. Recommended dose of lemon balm is 300 mg
  6. Exercise – regular exercise, 30 mins of movement of any type per day
    1. Biggest benefit is that it helps dissipate worrying about illness and poor health
  7. 21 Minute Cure – exercise for 20+ minutes to reduce anxiety
  8. Passion Flower – sedative (Germany has approved its use for nervous restlessness)
    1. DO NOT use this herb or any of the others if taking prescription sedatives
    2. Only take one herbal sedative at a time unless prescribed differently by a physician
    3. Do not use passion flower for longer than one month
      1. Does have some side effects. Make sure you understand them before you use it.
    4. Comes in tincture, tea, pills, spray, inhalation
  9. Lavender – the “Swiss-Army Knife” of essential oils
    1. Known as an emotional anti-inflammatory
    2. In a German study, a special lavender pill (not available in the USA) was shown to decrease anxiety as effectively as Lorazepam (Ativan)
    3. Inhalation, topically, tea, in water, sprays
  10. Hold Your Breath – 4/7/8 breathing technique used in yoga created by Andrew Weil, MD, (Internal Medicine and Integrative Medicine) 
    1. Exhale through your mouth
    2. Inhale through your nose for a count of 4
    3. Hold your breath for a count of 7
    4. Let breath out through your mouth on a count of 8
    5. **Repeat twice daily**
  11. Eat Something-Quick!! – hunger can trigger anxiety due to low blood sugar
    1. Have walnuts or dark chocolate on hand along with water or hot tea
    2. Eat a diet of whole foods, leafy greens, some meats and seafood, and phytonutrients (antioxidant and anti-inflammatory) fruits, veggies, whole grains, tea, nuts, beans, spices, CBD oil
  12. Eat Breakfast – EVERYDAY!!
  13. Eat Omega 3’s – (Dr. Axe)
    1. Mackerel, salmon fish oil, cod liver oil, walnuts, chia seeds, herring, Natto (fermented soy), Alaskan Salmon, flax seeds, albacore tuna, sardines, anchovies, and egg yolks
    2. Or by supplement
  14. Get Hot – sauna, steam room, time in the sun, or Jacuzzi after work
  15. Stop Catastrophizing – “This is the worst thing that has ever happened”
    1. The the worst day ever, the worst co-worker ever, the worst family ever, dementia sucks!
    2. Take a few deep breaths, get away from the stressor (go to another room, take a quick walk outside if possible, even if it’s only out the doors and then back inside)
  16. Forest Bathing – walking in the woods for 20 minutes decreases stress hormone levels more than a walk in an urban area
  17. Mindfulness Meditation – pay attention to the present moment intentionally
    1. Stop, slow down, breathe, quiet your mind, step away from where you are feeling stress for 2 minutes
  18. Breathe and Question – Go to a comfortable place
    1. Close your eyes
    2. Focus on breathing
    3. How does that breath feel coming in and out of your body?
    4. Ask yourself questions:
      1. What am I grateful for?
      2. Where is my happy place?
      3. Who makes me happy?
  19. Give Yourself Credit
    1. Being aware of your emotional state is the 1st step in decreasing anxiety
    2. Give yourself credit for being aware you are having anxious thoughts

**I am not a medical professional and I am not here to diagnose, treat, prevent, or cure any disease or ailment. Be educated about your personal choices and make sure you do your own research as it relates to the use of any holistic therapy.**

Michelle Waddell, RN, BS, RNC-NIC, is an award-winning, neonatal nursing leader recognized nationally for subject matter expertise. She is sought-after as an educator and speaker on the topics of neonatal neurodevelopment, Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, and leadership fundamentals. She has worked in the field of neonatal nursing since 1988.

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What’s For Dinner? Dementia

My brother is in town, which is always a good reason for a big family dinner. We were all getting together at my sister’s yesterday for a traditional family favorite—homemade sauce, pasta, and breaded meat. Everyone will be there—Mom’s three children (my brother, sister, and me), her two grandchildren (my sister’s son and daughter, and their spouses), and her five great-granddaughters. Four generations.

Doing Our Part

My sister would be making eggplant and spaghetti squash. Mom and I were to make the sauce and the meat. In my family, we always just called it breaded meat, but it is essentially Milanese steak. Thin cuts coated with seasoned bread crumbs, pain fried, and finished off with lemon juice or sauce. I like mine with just lemon. Even though Mom’s entire heritage going back hundreds of years hailed from Sicily, apparently someone ventured north up the boot and picked up the technique!

She Remembers How To Make It – Sorta

Mom has been cooking, and cooking breaded meat, her entire life. One of the little things I’ve noticed, though, is that her muscle memory for cooking is beginning to atrophy. That doesn’t mean we don’t cook together. We cook together almost every night. She does the prep. I don’t let her near the stove. But the simple thing of peeling a carrot eludes her now. I give her the carrot. I give her the peeler. But she leaves half of the icky outside on the carrot. And when I tell her to peel more off, she tells me this is how she has always done it.

No, it’s not.

The same thing happened when I set her up at the dining room table for some industrial-scale breading.


The classic Milanese technique for breading is to go flour, egg, breadcrumbs. It’s how she’s always done it. It’s how she taught me to do it. But she insisted that she goes eggs, flour, eggs, breadcrumbs. Now, every time we make Milanese anything, be it steak or chicken, we have this conversation. Why a false memory has stuck in her brain is beyond me. But there it is. Wedged in tight.

It’s not about whether the breading technique is correct, or even effective. It’s this weird way that her memories have been skewed. It’s the way her habits have been altered. I’ve spent more time in my 50 years with my mother than any other person, living or dead. I know her like I know myself. She does things she never in a million years would have done before dementia.

She cuts directly on the counter if I don’t give her a cutting board.

She walks away from the fridge with the doors wide open.

She tries to peel a carrot with a paring knife if I don’t give her the peeler.

She wraps left overs in paper towel instead of foil or plastic wrap.

She reads in a dark room until I turn on the lights.

She cleans the wooden dining-room table with window cleaner if I don’t stop her.

She needs to be told how to dust.

It’s fascinating. And it’s sad.

Sophie, “I know if I’m patient enough, Nana will drop a piece of meat.”
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Morning Coffee and Dementia

I’ve said before that Mom doesn’t sundown. Being the contrary little enigma that she is, she’s more challenging in the morning. Six days out of a normal week, it doesn’t really matter how long she lingers over her tea, how many pages of coloring she finishes, how many crossword puzzles she does, or how long she let’s the bathroom heat up until it’s a Turkish bath. Most days, though, I try to get her rolling, to keep her on some sort of schedule, even if we don’t have anywhere to be. But some days there’s just no amount of coffee or sleep, and I haven’t the gumption. Tuesdays though, she has a standing Mahjong game at 1 PM—getting her out of the house by 12:40 takes some considerable effort.

It’s not that she doesn’t want to go to her game. She looks forward to it. It’s that she has zero concept of time. In her world, she has all the time in the world. Time doesn’t move for her. And, she can easily just forget it’s Tuesday. But, paradoxically, although she has no recollection of how time works, or what day it is, she can always remember nagging. This illustrates a normal morning/Tuesday:

“Mom, have you taken your pills yet?”

“I will! Jeesh just give me a minute!”

“Mom, take your pills and drink your juice.”

“All right! Gosh! Does everything have to happen right now?”

“Mom, you have Mahjong today. You need to get moving.”

“I will! Can I finish my tea? It doesn’t take me that long to get ready. You act like it takes me forever!!” (Trust me, it does.)

“Mom, you need to get moving so you can have something to eat before you go to Mahjong or you’ll be starved.”

So, this morning my brother is in town. We have plans to go over to my niece’s so he can see her new baby. My hope was to get her going so we’d get there before noon. I started the process at 8:30. I got her into the bathroom by 10:15, but only because I invoked my brother’s name at least a dozen times.

I pissed her off royally when she turned the heater on in the bathroom, and headed for the couch.

“Ma, we don’t have time to let it heat up for a while. We’re meeting Steve.”

Huff. “Just one minute!”

“No, if you go sit down, twenty minutes later you still won’t be in the shower. Steve is expecting us.”

That’s when she got really pissed. But she turned around and was in the bathroom immediately, by 10:15. As I write this, at 10:42, I just heard her shuffle out of the bathroom. Shower complete, now just make-up and dressing. She’s making nearly record time! And all it took was snowplowing her along, some strategic and unapologetic name dropping, and letting her get pissed at me. And me having this blog as an outlet.

My calculations have us at my niece’s house around 11:30. Not a bad bit of goal reaching.

Is it exhausting? Yes. Is it worth it? Yes.

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Life & Times in the Middle of Nowhere – Installment 7


“You were right about that water thing.”

People often asked me what was the hardest thing about living on Midway. I think they expected me to say something like, “No pizza delivery,” “Island fever,” or “Same people, different day.” (Fun fact–I actually managed to get pizzas delivered to Midway. We had a lot of military “gas and go” traffic. As long as it didn’t impact mission critical, the military would bring us anything. Pizza. Beer. Starbucks. KFC.

The Hardest Thing

The most difficult thing for me about living on Midway was feeling woefully unprepared for an aircraft emergency, or worse, disaster. If you remember from previous posts, Midway is an emergency alternate for trans-Pacific aircraft. Any aircraft in distress, for sure, but primarily ETOPS, which stands for Extended-range Twin-engine Operations Performance Standards. Without getting too technical here, basically our job was to be ready to accept a commercial twin-engine aircraft that had lost an engine. (This 8-minute video explains ETOPS well, in case you’re interested.)

For an airport to be listed as an ETOPS alternate, that airport has to have a certification from the FAA to accept commercial (airline) aircraft operations. Again, without getting too technical that means, among a host of other things, the airport must have an FAA-approved airport emergency plan (AEP.) The AEP covers in excruciating detail how the airport, with help from community first responders, will respond to:

To put into perspective just how detailed an AEP is, mine at Midway was 109 pages, over twenty-two thousand words, and included two dozen exhibits. An AEP plans for the absolute worst, while everyone hopes for the best. “You don’t build the church to fit the regular Sunday congregation. You build the church to fit the Easter congregation.”

Trouble is, to build a church big enough for Easter requires tons of labor, equipment, facilities, and supplies.

Yes, We Have No Bananas

Yeah. We had none of that on Midway. I had three aircraft rescue firefighters at the airport. We had two 16-year old aircraft fire trucks, one that had to stay plugged in all the time or the battery would discharge. FWS had three to four staff, and always a few volunteers. We had one physician’s assistant who ran a three-bed clinic. No blood (no way to test or store donated blood.) About a dozen hits of morphine. And the logistical contractor, depending on which company it was, had 10 to a couple of dozen staff in various positions, one of them a paramedic.

Now, before you jump all over my shit—the expectation was that any plane diverting to Midway on one engine would land safely. That wasn’t MY expectation. It was FAAs. I was scared shitless we’d get a Sioux City­. I actually had a nightmare one night of a Boeing 777 cartwheeling down the runway, nose to wingtip to tail to wingtip to nose.

Unlikely? Yes. HIGHLY unlikely. The logical part of my brain knew this. Planes declare emergencies all the time. No, don’t go jumping all over my shit. They have back-up systems that have back-up systems. But if the primary system so much as hiccups, the captain doesn’t say, “Ah. Fuck it. We got two more. Let’s press on.” No, he declares an emergency and points the nose to the pre-ordained alternate. Statistically, almost every time an aircraft emergency is declared, the plane lands safely.

But I have always just been a bit of a Chicken Little. I didn’t want it to happen on my watch. I wanted desperately to rely on my then-15+ years of experience that we really were just a simple country chapel and would never have to be St. Peter’s Basilica. But I wasn’t about to go blowing smoke up anyone’s skirt either.

I had a meeting with the FWS folks to talk about the AEP, why it had to be such a lengthy document, and why I was concerned we’d not be able to carry out any of its protocols if the shit really hit the fan. They didn’t think the sky would fall. So I said, “Ok. You’re right. Let’s just put a tack in the limited medical personnel, the ancient fire trucks, and no blood. We probably won’t need them. But what if a plane makes a safe emergency landing with 300 people on board?

  • We had a reverse osmosis system that processed enough drinking water for seventy people per day.
  • We had fresh food for (then) twenty-two people and intended to last between supply flights that were anywhere from three to four weeks apart.
  • We had an airport with so many gooney birds flying around that planes could only safely land and takeoff at night, increasing whatever time on island for those 300 people (in terms of relief aircraft.)

Don’t worry about it. It’ll never happen.

And Then It Did

My satellite pager went off at about 1 AM. Continental B-777 inbound with one engine out. 299 passengers and crew, plus two lap-infants. ETA just under two hours. I scrambled the island and we all headed out to the airport to get ready.

I’d done this hundreds of times in 15 years. I’ll never forget the first time, my first aircraft alert. I was shaking so hard that I could hardly keep my foot on the accelerator. After a couple of years at SFO, I was watching the news after my shift when the announcer says, “Tense moments at SFO!” I perked up. Oh shit! What was happening? They cut to video of an alert that had happened earlier that day, that I had responded to. Tense? Who was tense? It was nothing! Slow news day.

I was up in Ops talking to the captain when the acting refuge director, Mike, came loping in with his usual aplomb.

“Ok, so what happens now?” he said.

“Well, first of all, he’s going to land safely.” I said.

And he did just that. And then the plane emptied like a clown car. Two-hundred and ninety-nine adults, children, and two babies. The current-resident island population on that night was under thirty people.

We couldn’t get a plane with mechanics out there before dawn, so we’d have to wait until nightfall. The airline was reluctant to ferry out a relief plane for the passengers because it also couldn’t get there before nightfall, and if it turned out the emergency aircraft could be repaired quickly, they’d be taking a big plane out of service for 24 hours, or more, for no reason. And all flights crews have a required rest period that would put any crew out of compliance if they tried to turn things around too quickly.

So we tried to make our guests as comfortable as possible. If the plane could be fixed, they’d be with us for about 24 hours. If not, at least 48. On a rundown island with leaky roofs, not enough drinking water, limited food, no real air conditioning, and 85 degree temps.

After I was done with the flight crew, I went back to my room for some sleep. I knew perfectly well this would be a long haul, and a few winks were essential. Later in the morning, I went outside, and it was like the island was being overrun!

There were people EVERYWHERE! You can’t imagine what it is like to have spent months on an island with a couple dozen people only to have a few hundred show up out of nowhere.

The logistics contractor had set them up in the movie theater and gym. But they ran out of blankets and pillows. They resorted to carpet padding. There were no diapers for the babies, and obviously no formula. There wasn’t really even much milk. There were gooney birds and other birds that would fly or waddle through the buildings. No fans. Hot. Muggy. And they all had to be shown how to get drinking water out of the “village well,” and sparingly so we didn’t run out. Once all the food from the plane was gone, they were directed to the Clipper House, where we ate—capacity?—well, not nearly enough. They had to dine in shifts. There were only seven phone lines off island, so they stood in line in the heat to call home.

Miserable? No. They were happy as hell to not be on the bottom of the ocean.

Afterwards

The mechanic plane got there just after nightfall, and they were able to fix the 777. Over 24 hours after landing, they were on their way.

We had no fresh food left.

Our phone circuits were fried, so we had to rely on the satellite.

The large-capacity reverse osmosis machine was fried, so we had to rely on a small back up that only produced a few gallons a day.

The next supply plane with food, parts, and techs was a couple of weeks away.

Just after the plane had taken off, the acting refuge manager said to me, “Hey, you were right about that water thing.”

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I’m Not Giving Up Anything For Lent

I’m an atheist, but a Catholic mother who sent me to Catholic school raised me. So I know all about the Lenten season on the Christian calendar. It represents the 40 days Jesus spent wandering the desert keeping Satan at bay and suffering deprivation. That’s why Christians give something up for Lent. To emulate their god, and prepare for Easter, the Super Bowl of Christian holidays. 

I’m Taking Something Back For Lent

There was a time in my life when I read two or three books a week. Not little books, or light reading—full length, non-fiction—memoirs, biographies, books on world history, religion (I may not believe in god, but I’m fascinated by religion), science, and more. If a particular subject struck my interest, I’d read several tomes on it, until something else tickled my fancy. I read three books on the Nantucket whaling industry alone, a couple on Cleopatra, and a few on The Holy Grail. It wasn’t unusual for me to leave the library limited only by the number of books I could carry with two arms. The bookstore was my crack house.

I had the time back then. It was during my five years at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) as an airfield safety officer. A couple of times a week I would get assigned to escort a crew of workers, and my job was to just sit in a truck and watch them work, keeping them off the runways and taxiways. A crew of people picking up trash between two active runways while 747s, DC10s, and L1011s barreled past. I could easily read my book while keeping them enough in my peripheral vision, always listening to the radios, mentally picturing where every aircraft was on the field or in the air in relation to us. It’s not that I didn’t take my job seriously enough to watch them vigilantly for five or six hours. It’s that they were smart enough to stay sufficiently away from the aircraft movement areas, and I was good enough at my job to multi-task. I promise you, not one of my many charges ever got run over by an airplane.

I left SFO in 2001 to take a job as an airport manager, and I still was reading six or seven hours a day, every day. Only now it was emails and memos, manuals and reports, advisory circulars and regulations. My pleasure reading dropped off dramatically because by the time I had free time, my eyes hurt and my brain was fried.

I’ve never really gotten back into my lifelong habit of reading for pleasure every day. I have upwards of 200 books in my personal library, many that I’ve never gotten around to reading, or started without finishing. Now that I am Mom’s caregiver, I read even less than I did three years ago.

So, while the entire Christian world is sacrificing for Lent, I’m committed to reading for pleasure at least 20 minutes every day. I’m going to get through the hundred or so books on my shelves that I’ve never cracked, but have carted around the country for the past two decades. Then, after I finish each, I’ll post a short book report.

This is my first one. Incognito, The Secret Lives of the Brain, by David M. Eagleman. I’ve started and stopped this book no less than three times.

Man is equally incapable of seeing the nothingness from which he emerges and the infinity in which he is engulfed.

Blaise Pascale, Pensees

While I wrote this post I was:

Listening to – Piece of Mind, by Iron Maiden

Fly, on your way, like an eagle,
Fly as high as the sun,
On your way, like an eagle,
Fly and touch the sun.

Flight of Icarus – Iron Maiden

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Celebrities Who Endorse CBD

Michael J. Fox

As a longtime sufferer of Parkinson’s disease, Michael J. Fox has used cannabis to counteract the effects of the chronic disease since he was diagnosed.

Seth Rogen

Seth believes so strongly in the benefits of cannabis for Alzheimer’s prevention that he spoke in congress about the state of Alzheimer’s research and the public perception of people with the disease. His testimony came as part of a larger Senate hearing about the state of Alzheimer’s research.

Whoopi Goldberg

Whoopi is a well-known cannabinoid advocate and consumer. She’s used a vape pen for years to treat her pain, stress, and glaucoma.

Morgan Freeman

Freeman uses both CBD and THC to treat the fibromyalgia he suffers after a serious accident in 2008 and has since been a voice of support for the benefits of the plant.

Tommy Chong

Chong became popular in the 1970s for his comedies about pot smoking. Like many advocates, his support was a product of personal necessity. He credits the effects of CBD oil when discussing his recovery from prostate cancer in 2012. “I kicked cancer’s ass,” he said of his CBD use.

Montel Williams

Montel has been famous for years for his acting career, but in 2016 the cannabis community won a huge victory while he was traveling through Frankfurt airport. Police found cannabinoids in his luggage, but after he proved that it was CBD prescribed as a medical-use product by a licensed doctor, he was released. Williams suffers from Multiple Sclerosis and has been a proponent of legalization ever since he tried it and found relief. He has been an outspoken advocate since 1999.

Melissa Etheridge

The famous rock star began using CBD after she was was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004, and has since continued to use cannabis in all forms to battle the gastrointestinal issues that have arisen since her victory over cancer.

Oliver Stone

Oliver Stone fought in the Vietnam war for the US Army before he began his cinema career. Not only did he return from the war with PTSD and find that cannabis helped him from going insane trying to readjust, but he recounted that many of his platoon members also smoked to relax and maintain a healthy state of mind. He’s been advocating for legalization ever since.

Nate Diaz

After winning a fight in the notoriously brutal UFC ring, Nate Diaz conducted his post-fight interview while smoking CBD from a vape pen, live on TV. He has stated that CBD oil helps him relieve pain, heal injuries, and concentrate.

Snoop Dogg

The famous rapper is rarely seen without a joint in his hand. He largely credits his transition from a hate-filled gangster to a love-giver to cannabis. He has always supported and advocated for use and legalization of both THC and CBD products.

Sam Simon

The creator of The Simpsons sadly passed away in March of 2015 from terminal colon cancer. He was diagnosed in 2012 with three to six months to live, but the support and the wellness goodies from his CBD-savvy girlfriend helped him defy the odds and live for three extra years.

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Time Savers for a Caregiver

As a new caregiver a few years ago, I didn’t really have any idea how pressed for time I would be once Mom moved in. When you care for someone with dementia, just about anything you do with them takes longer than it does without them. Shopping, cooking, and running general errands are the big ones that come to mind with Mom. A simple run to the grocery store for milk and eggs can take an hour out of our day. Here’s how it could go down:

“Mom, I need to run to the grocery store real quick.”

“Ok. I’m coming with you.” (Of course you are.) “I just have to pee and brush my teeth.” (15 minutes later, we might be out the door. She also has to brush her hair and put on lipstick, as well. Then we have to find her purse and make sure her sun glasses are in it. If they aren’t, we have hunt for them.)

It’s about a five-minute drive to the store. Mom’s moves slowly, so there’s no running in. And there is no speeding to the milk/eggs department. I may make a bee line, but Mom has to, “look around.”

After I’ve made my bee line, milk and eggs in hand, now I have to look for her. For someone who moves as slowly as Mom does, how she can get so far away from where I last saw her is a mystery. I liken it to that physics theory known as the Observer Effect—that simply observing something changes it. When I observe Mom, she moves at a snail’s pace. But in the two minutes it takes me to get to the dairy case and back, thus no longer in my observation, she’s turned into Usain Bolt. Finding her can take 10 minutes.

Once I’ve tracked the little quantum particle down, now I have to get her to the register. If we are any where near the bakery section, that’s a good 10 minutes, inevitably with me saying no to a dozen doughnuts and her getting surly. If we are on the other side of the store from the bakery section, she steers there as if drawn by a siren call. The Queen Mary 2 changes course with less effort, so we make our way back via the chips and olive oils. Why? I don’t know. We just do.

Then it’s the same, “Pies are two for one!” “We don’t need one pie let alone two.”

You can see how a 15-minute errand is an hour we never get back.

For a long time, I just accepted this as our new normal. But I hadn’t discovered all the wonderful time-saving devices, services, and techniques that could make our lives easier, and richer in the long run. I’ve slowly learned ways that I can reduce the stress of never having enough hours in a day. Here’s a bit of what I’ve learned along the way.

  • Amazon Prime—I admit, I was tardy to the Amazon Prime party. Most of the people close to me were already using it, and why I didn’t, I just don’t know. But I’m firmly on board now. I can get everything from refrigerator water filters to Christmas gifts, delivered for free, sometimes same day, with a few minutes at my computer. Trust me, the yearly membership fee pays for itself. (Full disclosure—I am an Amazon Affiliate, but I was a Prime member before that.)
  • Grocery Delivery Services—In my area, these include Instacart and Shipt. I knew about these, but had never used them until I was sick, and didn’t have the vim or vinegar to brave the store with Mom for cough drops. Where you live may depend on the services available, and there may be some delivery charges with less than minimum orders. But I find them worth it, and there’s zero chance I’ll cave to Mom’s impulse pies, either, so it saves money and stress in the long run.
  • Buy Online Pick Up In Store—I use this especially for my pet supplies. But I know Target, Walmart, Sam’s Club, and others offer this. It’s a growing trend, so chances are your local stores that you frequent have a program.
  • Instant Pot and Slow Cookers—I use my pressure cooker now more often than I use my slow cooker, but I’m hear to tell ya; anything that allows me to drop and go for a healthy meal is my best friend. And I even discovered that I can cook from frozen chicken in the IP; just have to add another minute to the cook time. If I forget to take something out to thaw this is life saver.
  • App banking—I hate going to the bank, anyway. Some sort of bank robbery phobia I have. Not only time saving, it cuts down on those, “Where’s my money?” “Why don’t I see bank statements anymore?” interrogations. Mom’s inability to manage her finances, or even know where her money was and wasn’t, was one of the first signs that something wasn’t right with her.
  • Make a plan—A few days before the end of each month, I start planning my shopping needs for the next. I lay out a weekly meal plan, inventory what I already have (including non-food items), and figure out what I need to buy. I scour the sales and coupons at the regular stores and compare them to Sam’s Club. Then I shop. I get the vast majority of what I’ll need for the month at once. It’s a bit of front-end work, but it pays out in the end.


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Dining Out With Dementia

Mom and I look very forward to Wednesdays. We have a standing dinner date with a small circle of Mom’s longtime close friends. Mom may not know exactly when Wednesday is, but she remembers her girlfriends.

But the restaurant experience can be very daunting for someone with dementia. Decisions are harder to make, and the environment can be distracting at best, or worse. Here are a few things I’ve learned along my journey with Mom about dining out.

Dining-Out Tips for People with Dementia

  1. Avoid restaurants that are loud or crowded, or cater to families with small children. People living with dementia can get overstimulated very easily, and this can cause anxiety.
  2. Avoid restaurants with long or complicated menus. Too many choices are very challenging for someone with cognitive and memory dysfunction.
  3. Avoid restaurants where you queue in line and order at a counter. This puts too much pressure to decide with people behind them in line awaiting their turn.
  4. Chat casually with your friend or loved one about the menu as they look it over. Bring up items you know they like, and see what response you get. If they seem interested in one or two items, hang on to that information until the server comes back. You may even find employing “therapeutic fibbing” helpful. “You said you wanted this.”
  5. Let everyone at the table order first.
  6. Don’t let the server, “…give you a few more minutes.” This is a tricky balancing act, because you don’t want your friend/loved one to feel pushed or rushed. But a few more minutes will go on endlessly. How you approach it depends greatly on them. I can actually say, “No, she has to choose.” And it works with Mom. But you may have to experiment.
  7. Try to get ahead of the inevitable, “Soup, salad and choice of side?” by getting those preferences before the server comes to take orders.
  8. If your loved one goes out with a friend/family member to lunch or dinner without you occasionally, make sure you fill them in on how best to enjoy their dining out with your loved one.

Just because someone has dementia doesn’t mean they are no longer capable of enjoying things they did before. A little awareness, technique, and tips can help them continue to enjoy a full life.

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How Can You Help a Caregiver?

Two things many full-time caregivers never have enough of are time and money. On a daily basis, sometimes even an hourly basis, they are trying to keep a whole bunch of spinning dinner plates from crashing into a broken heap.

This is true for any sort of caregiving, but what I know is dementia, so that’s what I’m focusing on here.

How Can You Help?

So what might you, as friends and family, be able to do to help and support them? Well, first understand that every caregiver is different—just as every care recipient (CR) is different. If you’ve met one person with dementia, you’ve met one person with dementia. Not everything you think they need or might offer is going to be right for them.

Think JFK

The most obvious thing is to come right out and say, “What do you need?” You’ll likely get a list. But even so, here are a few Dos & Don’ts.

The Dos

  • Offer to come by once a week to clean and/or do a few loads of laundry.
    • Or, if you have the means, gift them a maid service.
  • Offer to bring ready-made meals that just need to be thrown into the oven, slow cooker, or Instant Pot.
    • Make sure they have a slow cooker or IP. If not, they make thoughtful gifts!
    • Check first about dietary restrictions, and likes and dislikes.
  • Are you handy with home improvement or DIY? Ask them if there is anything around the house or yard that needs or wants doing.
  • Shopping and running errands with a CR can be time-consuming and frustrating. Offer them a choice—you can run those errands for them, or visit with the CR at home while they do them. You’d be surprised how many caregivers consider the grocery store alone to be a mini-vaca.
  • Offer to take their car out for a gas up and detail.
  • Offer a regular day and time when you will sit with the CR at home or take them to lunch, and allow the caregiver some much needed free time to do whatever they like.

The Don’ts

  • Don’t stop by unannounced. Dementia is unpredictable enough on its own.
  • Don’t offer to take the CR for overnight visits. It may seem like a nice way to give the caregiver some respite, but people with dementia need familiarity as much as is possible. They are more comfortable with routines, and can become over stimulated easily, especially in unfamiliar surroundings.
  • The king of all don’ts is this—if you extend an offer and the caregiver says, “Thanks, but no thanks,” don’t push. As much as they likely appreciated the good intent, they said no for a reason.
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My Nightmare is the Grocery Story

I determined today, finally, that I can no longer take Mom to the grocery store. I know she enjoys it, but I just can’t anymore. Any trip to the store results in frustration for both of us due to a battle of wills I’ve seen play out with toddlers in the cereal isle when Mommy says no to anything on the lower two shelves.

Mom’s dementia means that she has no impulse control. She wants what she wants and has no capacity to understand why I try to say no. And diversion doesn’t work in a grocery store. What do I divert to? Lettuce?

She has no idea what anything costs. She has no idea that we might already have plenty of it at home already. She has no idea that I’m trying mightily to stick to an established, carefully planned budget. And she more than usual wants shit that has no business being in our home.

Two-for-one boxes of chocolates. Pudding cups. Sugary soda. Cookies, cakes, and pies. The brand of hotdogs that probably stunt growth in children.

Some might say, “Why not just let her have it? At this point, what does it matter?”

It matters quite a lot. Beyond her dementia, Mom is in exceptional physical health for a woman 87 years old. She has a few chronic conditions, but they are completely under control. On her last check-up, her doctor declared her, “Perfect!” She’s a little overweight, mostly because of how much I have caved to her insatiable need for junk food. But that has to stop. I have to put my foot down. And I just can’t keep busting my grocery budget on empty calories.

And then there is her dementia. Mom has cerebral vascular dementia (VoD). The best way to slow her decline is to keep her cardio-vascular health in good working order, so she is not so prone to TIA or stroke. Gobbling down chocolates and pastries is not the way to do that.

Sure, I’ll let her have some, in moderation. I’m even doing research on making my own CBD edibles, to feed her need for chocolate (fully loaded with blue, black, and red fruit, of course!) while she gets the good stuff at the same time.

I ran to Publix without her last night. (She’s not so advanced that she can’t be left alone for a few minutes.) She wasn’t happy about it, but it was so nice to just get in, get out, get only what I needed, and not have to deal with an 87 year old toddler.

I’ve spent the last three days formulating a very carefully planned and researched healthy monthly menu planner, grocery list, and budget. I’ve found the best prices, scoured the sales and coupons, and if I can stick to it, I’ll be able to pay all our bills, gas up the Jeep, feed the beasties, refill prescriptions, and not run out of toilet paper. Fingers crossed.

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The Controversy Over B. Smith – One Caregiver’s Opinion

Yesterday (1/29/19), on ABC’s show The View, they did a segment on the Washington Post piece, including video, on B. Smith, an icon of fashion, restaurants, and lifestyle guru, who now has Alzheimer’s. Full disclosure, I had never heard of B. Smith prior to this segment on The View, and had not yet seen the Post video. However, even before seeing the Post video, I began forming an opinion based on the co-hosts’ discussion of the video. And that general opinion is – It Depends.

If you haven’t seen the video or The View segment, watch them now. Links are embedded above. As you’ll see, Smith’s Alzheimer’s appears to be around Stage 5 or 6, moderately severe to severe decline. Since there was an episode as early as 2014 in which she wandered off and was missing for a hours, 50 miles from home, I’d say, with no medical training or professional expertise, that she is likely in Stage 6, of 7 stages.

The controversy is two-fold. First, her husband, Dan Gasby, of 26 years, who cares for her, has also revealed that he has a girlfriend, and that girlfriend often stays at the home he and Smith share. In fact, the girlfriend often helps care for Smith. The second controversy is that Dan allowed the video of Smith to be shown publicly in the first place, showing Smith’s decline.

I found each of The View co-hosts’ opinions compelling and valid, but, nonetheless, based on incomplete information.

Whoopie @WhoopiGoldberg didn’t like seeing Smith that way. I can understand that. When you know someone for what and who they once were, seeing them in such decline can be devastating.

Sunny Hostin @sunny could see two sides, one that caregiving is difficult, but two, that Gasby is being disrespectful by having a girlfriend while his wife is still alive, regardless of her condition.

Joy Behar @JoyVBehar was of the mind that, if it happened to her, she’d be happy to have more people in the house.

Abby Huntsman @HuntsmanAbby would want her husband to be happy. But she quipped she’d also burn his house down, a comment I found transparent and humorous. She also cautioned about trying to walk in another person’s shoes. Very wise.

Meghan McCain @MeghanMcCain remembered her dad, and how her family was adamant that pictures of him gravely ill not be made public because he had been such an icon, and Smith was, as well. She also made the point that she is curious if Smith had asked for her decline to be made public.

That’s where the – It Depends – comes in. Meghan’s question about what did Smith want. And that is the information I don’t know. Did Smith and Gasby discuss any of this while Smith was still cognizant enough to understand the implications, and did she give consent while she still was competent enough to do so?

I’ve seen more than just the opinions on The View. The Post is littered with negative comments, mostly decrying the disrespect, that Gasby is taking advantage of Smith, a slew of “till death do us part”, and more comments by people who don’t appear to know the inside story, only a 5 minute video.

So, if Smith had given informed consent while she could, then no one has a right to judge. Period. End of discussion.

But what if Smith hadn’t? That’s the sticky wicket. Did Mom give me consent to write this blog? No. Her diagnosis occurred before we could have a conversation. Do I feel as though I am betraying her somehow? No. I feel I am keeping her alive and present, and I’m also trying to help others who may be facing the same experience. And in turn, those others are helping me. This blog has introduced me a worldwide community of caregivers who GET IT. Who know that it is not fairy tales, pixie dust, and unicorns. It’s hard. It’s really freaking hard. And Mom is no where near as advanced as Smith. And she’s my mom, not my spouse. One is not easier than the other, but they are different.

If Smith had explicitly not given informed consent, had told Gasby she didn’t want her decline made public, and that she wanted him to stay faithful, then what Gasby is doing is wrong. It is a betrayal of her last wishes. And if things got tougher than he had imagined, and if he figured Smith won’t know the difference anyway, my response is, “Suck it up.”

But maybe they never really discussed it when they could. That wouldn’t be all that unusual. It’s a hard conversation to have. Or maybe, her condition was so advanced once she was diagnosed, that there really was no time. In this case, I would give Gasby the benefit of the doubt that he knew his own wife, likely better than anyone else.

In the end, none of us know all the details. None of us know the specifics. Dementia sucks. It sucks for those who have it. It sucks for those who love them. It sucks for those who take care of them. And it’s complicated. It depends.


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You’re Mad at Me Over a Urine Sample??

Mom doesn’t really sundown. Not in the severe sense that I know some people do. Thankfully. I’m acutely aware of how fortunate we are that she does not, thus far, tend towards that particularly upsetting aspect of dementia. But if there’s a time of day when she might be more easily agitated for what seems to be trivial reasons, it’s in the evening.

That happened last night. She became absolutely incensed with me because I neglected to tell her she needed to give a urine sample, as requested by her doctor. And this was not her forgetting that I told her. I really hadn’t. There was no point. She would’ve just forgotten, and I didn’t need to collect the sample yet. So I just waited until I knew she’d be able to pee, and put the sample bottle out on the toilet for her.

Assume the Position

She went suborbital like a speeding bullet. All I could do was mentally make like a roly poly. Don’t engage. Don’t ever say, “calm down.” Don’t try to make her see reason. Just say, “I’m sorry” and take it on the chin.

It didn’t last long. A minute or two. Then we got the sample, and got her into her regular nightly ablutions routine.

The Predictability of the Unpredictable

Why she got so upset that I didn’t tell her about the urine sample is a complete mystery to me. That’s the thing about dementia. I never know what might upset her, but I do know things will upset her, and there’s not much I can do to predict what will or what won’t. The best and only thing I can do is help steer her through it to a place where she can be her normal, happy self.

That’s why when, a few weeks ago, a well-meaning cousin offered to have Mom spend the night with her, to give me a break while I was sick, that I had to refuse the gesture. It wasn’t that I didn’t relish the idea of an evening and morning on my own. Sick or no, I would have loved it! But I was worried that the odds were high of Mom freaking out about it.

She has a daily routine that she still can keep to, fairly well. She still has some muscle memory left in her brain; she knows where her toothbrush and make-up remover wipes are. Her bed and linens and cat are familiar, and she knows how to get to the bathroom in the middle of the night, if necessary. Taking her out of what is familiar for no reason other than respite for me would have just been cruel.

I know. I know. The caregiver has to take care of herself if she is to care for someone else. But with reason, and rationale. Overnight sleep overs in a strange setting are not reasonable, or rational. In this case, my job really was to put Mom’s needs before my own.

Some days seem like a breeze. Other days more like a gale. And no matter how much I deconstruct, I almost never know why.

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So You Want To Start Using CBD Oil? How To Start?

I didn’t write this, but it is great information on how to begin using CBD and then continue using it as a daily regimen to maintain health.


CBD Usage Guide

For anyone beginning to use CBD there are many questions and concerns. In this article let’s address the questions surrounding how much, what strength, and when do you take it.

Strength

The initial phase of starting CBD is examining your reasons for CBD usage. What is your pain level? What are your health challenges? What are you looking for relief from? There can be many more reasons but let’s start here.

isolateoildrops

300 MG

Our 300 mg strength is geared for a health and wellness maintenance program. The ultimate serving of size of 20 drops would deliver approximately 6 mg of CBD. Based upon a twice a day serving size the daily amount would be 12 mg. At the serving size of 20 drops two times a day a 30 ml (1 ounce) bottle would last approximately 25 days. Recommended for those with very minor pain in the 1-3 range.

500 MG

Our 500 mg strength is available is three different formulations. These formulations are our full spectrum CBD Hemp oil drops, 500 mg Isolate Hemp oil drops, and our 10x PURE 500 mg Hemp oil drops. Each formulation has differing characteristics. Please review the details of each of these formulations in the supporting documentation.

10xpuredrops

The 500 mg strength is recommended for those with minor health challenges, the occasional headaches, digestive issues, minor inflammation, and others. This is generally a good strength to start customers on when trying to determine which would work best and you always want to start low and work your way up. A good rule of thumb is that this would work well for those with pain in the three to five range.

At the full recommended serving each serving would deliver approximately 10 mg of CBD two times per day for a total daily dose of 20 mg.

750 MG

The 750 mg strength is generally recommended for those with more health conditions. This strength would be great support in aiding in the reduction of stress, anxiousness, repetitive pain, inflammatory conditions, and more. Generally, individuals with pain in the five to seven range would see an overall increase and improvement in wellness with this oil. This oil is currently only available in the full spectrum formulation.

fullspectrumdrops

Taken as suggested the 750 mg strength would deliver approximately 15 mg of CBD per serving, therefore an individual would get 30 mg daily on a 25-day cycle.

1500 MG

The 1500 mg strength is our strongest full spectrum oil available aside from our 10X PURE formulations. This strength would be recommended for those battling much more serious health issues. Remember we cannot state that CBD heals, treats, or cures and we cannot discuss actual illnesses.

Taken as suggested the 1500 mg strength would deliver approximately 30 mg of CBD per serving and 60 mg of CBD daily.

How Much and How Often

Start low and go slow. I always recommend that my clients start low on their beginning usage and work their way up. For most I start them on the 500 or 750 strengths and five to eight drops two times per day. Every two days increase that amount by two to three drops. You want to find that sweet spot in CBD usage where the body is balanced, and the optimum serving size is achieved. This will also help in avoiding “herxing”

The Herxheimer Effect

There is also a condition known as a Herxheimer effect or “herxing” for short. Herxing is a short-term reaction to the body as it detoxifies. This is common when people have a detox diet or take antibiotics and it is sometimes referred to as the die off effect. It is quite common to experience flu-like symptoms that can include a headache, joint and muscle pain, body aches, a sore throat, sweating, chills, or nausea. If it occurs, it generally lasts a few days but can last for a week or more.

Herxing is actually helpful to your system as it is creating a detoxifying effect. Taking CBD products, low and slow can prevent this from happening too quickly.
Sublingual Delivery and Micro-dosing

The delivery method is essentially the same for all oils. Oils should be taken sublingually. There are sublingual glands that are located under the tongue. The most common route of CBD oil administration is orally, or through the mouth. If CBD oil is held under the tongue for 60 to 90 seconds before being swallowed, the mucus membranes in the mouth can absorb the compounds. This method bypasses the intestinal system and allows the CBD to be absorbed into the bloodstream faster. Some can feel the effects in as little as 20 minutes.

For regular daily delivery most will react well to the two times daily. However, on occasion there are times when MICRO-DOSING is a great alternative. Micro dosing breaks the amount of CBD down to four to five times per day. So, for example instead of 20 drops two times per day a person would take ten drops four times a day. The delivery of CBD multiple times over the course of the day helps maintain a consistent level of CBD in the system so things like inflammation are maintained at more healthy levels.

It’s up to you to give your customers and associates what they need to be successful. These little lessons are designed to give you a fairly good overview of what you need to get started. However, it is up to you to service your customer and to be well informed and educated. Continue to research, learn and ask questions.


Would you like to get started using CBD? Check out my site. Join for free as an associate to get wholesale pricing. And if you sign up your friends and family, you can earn generous commissions! 

**I am not a medical doctor, and I am not here to diagnose, treat, prevent, or cure any disease, or ailment. Be educated about your personal choices, and make sure you do your own research as it relates to the use of CBD oil.**

 

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Even Dementia Must Be Politically Correct, Apparently

I try very hard to avoid controversy on my social media platforms. I long ago began to check myself from wading into the weeds of political or social commentary—especially on Facebook, where I once had to block, unfriend, or mute people who just could not have a civil debate to save their lives. And those were all real friends or family. People I actually knew on a non-cyber level.

That being said, I never expected to find myself on the business end of a thinly-veiled offensive by a complete stranger on Twitter about one word I use in my pinned Tweet. I use the word “suffering.”

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Someone I’ve never heard of, who I am not following on Twitter, nor who is following me, who knows nothing about me or Mom or our situation, went slightly apeshit because I used THAT word.

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Disclaimer – This Will Be A Rant With Adult Words

Oh for fuck’s sake. “Just expect to be challenged if you keep using the S word.” The “S” word? Suffering is now a dirty word? When did that happen? And who does this complete stranger think she is to go jumping all over my shit? I doubt she even read one word of my blog, which if she had, she might understand why, from where I sit, Mom is suffering from dementia. It took all my effort to not tell her to go fuck herself.

inner-peace

Ok. I got that out of my system. Now to the technical part of this blog, and my own education. Being the word nerd that I am, I had to find the dictionary definition for the English word suffer. Maybe that would shed some light on to why some people apparently DESPISE that word. And of course, I also needed to look up the idiom “living with” to see how the two contrast in the lexicon. Turns out, not much contrast at all etymologically speaking.

According to the online MacMillan dictionary, to “live with something” means, “to accept something unpleasant that you cannot change.” And according to Merriam-Webster, one definition of suffer is, “to put up with especially as inevitable or unavoidable.”

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Call me crazy, but I don’t see much contrast in definition. So maybe, I thought, it’s the first of Merriam-Webster’s definitions of suffer that puts them into a tailspin, “to submit to or be forced to endure.” Is it the word endure? Sounds ominous, doesn’t it? Ok. What does endure mean?

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To remain firm…without yielding. To undergo…without giving in. Endurance is strength. Enduring while suffering is to accept something you cannot change. Ergo ipso facto, suffering and living with are two ways to describe the same act of courage.

But it’s the second of the dictionary definitions of the word suffer that I mean when I’m talking about Mom, “to feel keenly: labor under.” Mom feels keenly what is happening to her, but she can’t understand it, and that lack of understanding just makes it all the worse. Yesterday morning, she told me she was struggling to remember the name of her third great-granddaughter. She’d lain in bed for what seemed to her like hours not being able to conjure up the name. When I told her the name she said with frustration, “What’s wrong with me!?” She feels it keenly. She is suffering.

To offend anyone is never my intent. I only blog about Mom, no one else.

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When Dementia Nearly Gives You a Flood, Take a Bath

Stress Level – Moderate

Every morning, Mom puts a space heater on in the bathroom a few minutes before her shower because she can’t stand to shower in anything less than a Roman caldarium. As par usual this morning, she sauntered out past my desk and declared, “I’m just gonna let that warm up a bit, and then I’ll take my shower.”

We missed par this morning by about four inches of water.

I usually try to avoid the sauna—did I say sauna? I meant bathroom—when she’s heating it up. But today I really had to pee, and I’m now calling my bladder my little disaster avoidance system.

As I got nearer the bathroom, I heard the water running. Great. She turned on the shower, and now liquid money in the form of hot water has been rushing down the drain for 10 minutes.

No. No, not the shower. The tub. It was nearly full, and had I not had to pee, we would have certainly had quite the flood. That we didn’t is the only reason for my stress level being only moderate.

Activities of Daily Living

Depending on who or what you are consulting, ADL or Activities of Daily Living is a list or scale that determines everything from a diagnosis of dementia or incompetence to the VA benefits Mom gets every month in form of Aid & Attendance. The VA, for example, lists eight ADLs for which an eligible candidate is evaluated:

  • Dressing
  • Bathing
  • Eating
  • Walking
  • Sitting
  • Transfer from bed to chair
  • Attending to wants of nature
  • Other

In the VA’s determination, if an eligible candidate requires assistance with just one on the list, they qualify for the benefit. And there is no scale of how much assistance is needed. It’s a yes or no question. In Mom’s case, when we first filed for her benefits two years ago, we used the “other”. Mom was more than capable of the first seven ADLs, but should could no longer manage her medication properly. And that got us her benefits.

Checking Items Off The List

I’m a list maker. Always have been. I love crossing out a task well done. Except for this list. These days, today especially, I have to check off dressing and bathing. Not because Mom is physically incapable of performing those daily ablutions. Because she now sometimes struggles cognitively with them.

About two weeks ago, she became incredibly upset because she just could not make a decision about what to wear. She hated all her clothes. Nothing fits her. Which shoes to wear? Where’s her hair brush and bobby pins? How could she not have any clean underwear? (She had a drawer full.) It was then that I realized I’ll have to start laying out her clothes et al every morning for her.

But the tub thing today was unsettling, and I’m not afraid to admit it. Not the mere thought of water everywhere averted, but that I really will have to watch her more closely and take nothing for granted. And not that a flood would have just been a mess to clean up. Thankfully, and for no reason I understand, she had NOT put the space heater in the bathroom. It’s a high end space heater, with a a bunch of auto-shut off safety features. But I got a little jolt—pun intended—of fear that flood waters might have become electrified.

All those years of mine in aviation brought to mind a simple statement for emergency managers and disaster investigators. All disasters are a series of events like a chain. Break one link in the chain and the disaster doesn’t happen. My bladder and the lack of the space heater are two links that thankfully were broken. And there was a third link. She hadn’t stoppered the tub. The water had filled up because the faucet outstripped the tub’s drain rate.  Had it been stoppered, I doubt my bladder would have saved the day.

Waste Not

So now we had a tub full of cool water and an empty hot water heater. I was tempted to calculate just how much money we’d already put into the county sewer system. No. Not a ton. Not a bank breaker. But I just hate waste, especially if it costs money to boot. I empty water glasses into my plants instead of the sink, for Christ’s sake!

So I took a bath. I plopped a lavender bath bomb in and tried to meditate away what could have happened but didn’t.

A little while later, Mom was in the shower and I went by to check on her. I heard the shower running and the tell-tale glug glug of water from the faucet hitting the tub. I found her ankle deep in a filling tub with a pitiful stream from the shower head. Completely oblivious.


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The Unpredictable Nature of Dementia

Funny thing about dementia—it’s hard to predict. More times than not, Mom forgets what happened five minutes ago. But every now and then, she doesn’t. If it is something good, like we are spending the next day with her grand daughter and great grand daughter, she’s up before me and in the shower—when it usually takes 45 minutes of me cajoling her to get going in the morning.

But other times, it’s something that upsets her, and she doesn’t forget it. The lingering is more emotion than specific details. And it can be very stressful for her. And impossible to foresee. That’s what happened this morning.

It’s Thanksgiving and my brother is in town to be with the whole family. Late last night, we made plans for breakfast this morning, with turkey et al scheduled for 3 PM. She didn’t like that plan last night. If we ate breakfast at 11 AM, no one would eat dinner at 3. She didn’t fight it too hard, but she thought it was poor planning.

No big deal. We went to bed and that was that. She had spent the last few days completely forgetting what day it was, and even swearing to me that I was born and raised in Sarasota, FL as opposed to Geneva, NY. (another blog to follow on that)

So this morning, there was a slight change in plans that occurred around 9 AM. Instead of going out for breakfast around 11, we were going to my sister’s for bacon and eggs. I had told my sister not to wait on us. There was no way I could get Mom moving in the time it took to scramble a few eggs. We’d get there when we got there.

I said to Mom, “We’re going to [my sister’s] for breakfast. I’ll feed animals if you want to get going get dressed.” That was it. That’s all I said. As promised, I went to feed the zoo, get the newspaper, and make our coffee and tea. I heard water running in the bathroom, and thought, “Cool.” I chalked it up to her remembering my brother is in town, and today is Thanksgiving. One of those good memories that gets her going.

Nope.

A little, very little while later, I walked passed her bedroom and there she was, underwear and bra, putting on her make-up. I said, “Wow. That was a quick shower.” She normally is in the bathroom at least a half hour or more.

She turned to me with exasperation and proclaimed, “I didn’t take a shower! I’m just dressing for breakfast and then I’ll come home and dress for dinner.”

Uh. Ok. Odd. But I guess I can work with that. Mom really doesn’t need to take a shower every day, it’s not like she sweats all day. She’d be having such a good time that she’d forget she’d only washed up this morning, and we’d not have to come back. I started the shower for myself, but before I could hop in, she was stressing.

“This is a bad idea! No one will eat dinner if we have breakfast now! No one plans!”

Oh Christ.

I told her it would be fine. We weren’t having a big breakfast, just bacon and eggs. Not even going out, just at my sister’s.

But it just wouldn’t compute.  That bad emotion she had been feeling last night was dug in like a tick on a dog. It had twisted and turned all night long and now she was huffing and doing that little dual-hand raise thing she does when all is lost and no will listen to her.

In hindsight, I should have just lied to her. I should have told her dinner wasn’t until 6, and everyone would be starving by then. But I didn’t. I tried to reason with her. Tried to assure her it would be ok. In my defense, I had not had my coffee yet, so I wasn’t on my A game.

That’s what I mean when I say dementia is unpredictable. Until she first said, “This is a bad idea!” I had no reason to believe anything was amiss. But once it was amiss, it was most definitely amiss. And I realize now that it was the word “breakfast” that had been the catalyst. I could have used that word in the context of any word jumble—

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.

The sky is blue and breakfast is delicious.

Breakfast is to noon and as lunch is to 6 PM.

Breakfast triggered her emotions from the night before, and there is  no way to have known it would.

 

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Eliminating Toxins, One Toxin At A Time

What’s In Your Cabinet?

Do you know what toxins are in your home right now? Would you like to kick them to the curb and start living a healthier lifestyle? It may take a little time, but read on how I am making it happen in my home.

“May contain ingredients with potential for chronic aquatic toxicity, acute aquatic toxicity, nervous system effects.”

That’s a quote from the Environmental Work Group website regarding ingredients in a brand-name automatic dishwasher detergent I once swore by. Yes, it made my dishes and glassware sparkly. But it is also believed to contain nasty toxins that not only kill the fishies, but cause cancer, asthma and respiratory problems, skin irritation, and developmental and reproductive toxicity in humans. Call me crazy, but sparkly dishes with a side of cancer and dead rivers ain’t for me.

The Truth Is Out There

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The more I investigated the contents of stuff lurking under my sinks, in the medicine cabinet, and in the laundry room—common household and personal items I used regularly—the uglier it got. Did you know that those convenient make-up remover wipes can contain formaldehyde-releasing chemicals! Formaldehyde is a known human carcinogen, as per the International Agency for Research on Cancer, which is an agency of the World Health Organization.

Now, I’m not one of these people that want to live forever. Heck, I’ll probably live to 100 doing nothing but leaning on my genetics. But I would prefer to not be embalmed before the coroner shows up. I’m just wacky that way.

Out of the Frying Pan?

So I did my research on the store-bought stuff I’ve been using for decades and then found non-toxic, plant- and essential-oil based household cleaners and personal products that won’t wreak havoc on me on a cellular level or turn whatever waterway my tub drains to into a massive slow-moving fish kill. And if I was going to make the switch, I needed to make sure the essential oils I would be using were 100% pure. Why would I stop using products with ingredients that are toxic only to begin using essential oil-based products that were distilled from plants that were grown using pesticides and herbicides, or that are cut with things to make the price tag cheaper? No, my new products had to come from a reputable company with total transparency from sourcing seeds, to growing policies, to distilling and testing for purity.

Money Was Tight, But I Had a Plan

If you’re anything like me—a stay-at-home, work-from-home (aka struggle from home) 24/7 caregiver—simply going cold turkey from buying my hand soap at the dollar store, and everything else I buy with coupons and only when on sale, was just not fiscally feasible. Spoiler—going toxin free will cost you more, at least upfront.

Now, I most decidedly don’t want to die like Madame Curie, but I also don’t have the couple million she won for two Nobel prizes, or my own money tree. Slow, steady, and methodical was the only way I could make it work. I’m betting it’ll work for you too.

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The first thing I ditched were the cadre of scented candles, air fresheners, and odor eliminators. I share my home with three cats and a dog, so you can bet I was fairly addicted to anything that kept my house from smelling like a zoo on a hot day. Instead of covering up odors with stuff containing sodium borate, (developmental/endocrine/reproductive effects) and other bad actors, I turned to the power players of the essential oil world, the everyday oils that are anything but ordinary: lavender, peppermint, lemon, eucalyptus, tea tree, orange. I diffused them daily, and guess, what? Not only did my house smell amazing but the emotional and mood lifting effects were noticeable. Then I discovered ways to use them topically, and my whole world changed.

I set myself a reasonable monthly budget for my oils that wouldn’t break the bank. I just wanted to use the oils, but when my first commission check paid for my monthly allotment, I found I could start adding additional oils and other products slowly. After a few months, I had a good stockpile of everyday oils, so I could really start adding more and more household cleaners, make-up, and personal products. I’m about half-way to completely eliminating toxins from my home! And my commission checks keep paying for my monthly subscription.

Tell me about the toxins you’d like to eliminate from your home and your life.

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Life & Times in the Middle of Nowhere – Installment #6

Copyright 2018 Francey Jesson, The Jesson Press. All rights reserved. (Sharing, reposting, reblogging, and printing of this blog is authorized and encouraged by the author only if the copyright notice is attached.)

Catastrophes, Mishaps, & “I did not sign up for this shit.”

—Part 3

dead parrot

“‘E’s not pinin’! ‘E’s passed on! This parrot is no more! He has ceased to be! ‘E’s expired and gone to meet ‘is maker! ‘E’s a stiff! Bereft of life, ‘e rests in peace! If you hadn’t nailed ‘im to the perch ‘e’d be pushing up the daisies! ‘Is metabolic processes are now ‘istory! ‘E’s off the twig! ‘E’s kicked the bucket, ‘e’s shuffled off ‘is mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisible!! THIS IS AN EX-PARROT!!”

—Dead Parrot,  Monty Python

You Want Me To Do What??

When I wasn’t screaming to the universe in a tiny tsunami warning shack, I was actually having a pretty good time on Midway, First Tour—that was my first solid six months on island. There weren’t many of us, we all got along, and we were all on an adventure. Except for Bring Out Your Dead Day.

I was reminded of Bring Out Your Dead Day the past several days here on the central West Coast of Florida, where we’ve had one of the worst red tides in years. The fish kill was terrible, and the stench filled the air, even at my house some six miles from the beach. I could only imagine people who lived on the beach, making a furtive dash from front door to car door, dry heaving all the way. Now imagine four hours straight of that.

A Mission I Would Have Liked to Have Refused

We’d had several days of serious rain when a typhoon stalled just west Midway for three days. Much of the island was under water. Thousands of birds were killed when the nesting sites were flooded. Had there been no infrastructure, the casualty rate would have likely been significantly less. On sandy atolls without infrastructure, the water mostly percolates through the sand. But pavement, roads, and roofs drained water into nesting areas, and many Albatross chicks died of hypothermia.

And then they started to stink. Midway normally smells slightly like a bird cage, but it’s not overpowering, and you get used to it. Ten-thousand dead and decaying birds is hard to get used to. And since there are no carrion-eaters, like vulcher, coyotes, rats, or eagles to perform their very important role in the eco-system, it was up to the only the only other creatures capable of cleaning up the yuck.

The entire island population was mobilized for four hours of collecting, transporting, and burning the dead. My staff and I were assigned the airport. It was the most disgusting four hours of my life.

One of my crew was a heavy-equipment operator, so he ran a small loader and we all tossed carcasses into the bucket. Some were mummy-like, desiccated and stiff as boards. Some were downright juicy, covered with flies and maggots. Others just fell apart and you were lucky if you were down wind.

On the first loader run to the dump, my guy turned and headed at a good clip, wanting to get this over as much as we all did—regretting his speed immediately when he was treated to a cloud of flying dead debris in his face. I nearly puked just seeing it. He donned a bandanna bandit-like after that.

All total, we estimated we had cleaned up several thousand dead birds, just our crew at the airport. I’ve never been more grateful for a shower.

That night, cook served chicken for dinner. None of us ate it.

 

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Some Things I Am Proud Of


For a while there, when I wasn’t taking care of Mom, blogging, or promoting the benefits of essential oils and CBD, I had a freelance editing and proofreading business. Truth be told, was the least of my endeavors, and I eventually gave it up. The world of editing and proofreading is extremely competitive, with many, many people out there all over the world trying to make it in the business. But I have had a love of the written word my entire life.

Nonetheless and notwithstanding (see I LOVE words!) I am pretty darn proud to share with you book projects I’ve worked on that are published and available for you to enjoy. I’m even more proud to say that I am listed in the acknowledgments of several. I have always dreamed of being a published writer, but I’ll settle for my name in print on the “thank you” page.


Turn Right at the End of the World

Turn Right at The End of the World, by Robert Watkins. This was my first, big project in 2016—my first novel proofreading gig. I will be forever grateful to Robert for allowing me to share his magical work. This book is in the young adult adventure fiction genre, and follows the exploits of Max, Lux, and Ushtey.

Max is fifteen, and all about science. He’s into rockets, and can distill salt water into drinking water with a couple of gourds and his glasses.

“What was one more Close Encounter of the Max kind…”

Lux is his best friend since they were young.

“Well, she didn’t need to hold a globe to look pretty.”

Lux is fourteen, and she has an uncanny ability to sense and talk to animals. She rescued Ushtey, a Manx shearwater, from a cruel, evil man who forced the bird and other animals to do tricks in a traveling circus.

“…only moments later, her dear little friend returned—with everyone he knew.”

She and Ush had barely escaped the clutches of Barnabas Osiris Ptolemy de Miliponce Maximus! And now, Ush has told Lux that the evil man is in Egypt with Ush’s friends as captives. Lux convinces Max that they need to go help Ushtey’s friends, so Max comes up with a daring plan to get them to Egypt aboard a private Airbus A380 owned by an eccentric and elusive billionaire.

This is a fun read for kids and adults! It’s only available through iTunes, so download your copy today.


Not just words

Not Just Words, How a Good Apology Makes You Braver, Bolder, and Better at Life, by Donna Moriarty. Non-fiction. This little book is a must have for anyone who has trouble with the simple act of saying, “I’m sorry.” As Donna writes, her book,

“…is neither a self-help book nor an etiquette how-to guide. It isn’t about table manners or trying to be perfect. Instead, it is for those times when we blow it.”

Donna writes in an upfront, engaging manner. She uses cases studies to make her points, and gives the reader easy-to-use tips for delivering that great apology.

Get it on Amazon!


tiera

Life in Overtime, A Memoir of Perseverance, by Tierra Rogers. This was an absolute pleasure to work on. Teirra is a strong, gifted, remarkable young woman who grew up in the Projects of San Francisco. In the course of a couple of years, she lost her father to gun violence and the dream of playing professionally with the WNBA. Tierra is gut-wrenchingly honest about her ordeal and the pain it caused her. And she’s inspiring when she describes how she pulled herself out of horrific events to become a motivational speaker. She shares her young life with others because she wants to make a difference, something her father did for her and their community.

Get it on Amazon.


bankers

Bankers Are People, Too. How Finance Works, by Jan Musschoot. Jan is a former banker who also happens to hold a PhD in physics!  He’s one smart guy. And he was fun to work with. Through step-by-step explanations, Jan—

“…shows that banking is not rocket science.”

I learned a great deal just editing this book. Finance was never my strong suit, in college or beyond. But Jan lays it all out simply and concisely, without oversimplifying it. It’s an enjoyable read, and a must have for anyone interested in investing. Or if you just want to understand the finance report on the nightly news!

Get it on Amazon.

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I Found Amelia Earhart In My Fridge

No. I didn’t. But it got you reading, didn’t it?

I’ve blogged about this before, but it bears repeating. Living with someone with dementia is like living in the Bermuda Triangle. Or, maybe more aptly, like living in the Philadelphia Experiment. You know, that theory that in 1943 the US Navy teleported the USS Eldridge, a destroyer escort ship, from Philadelphia to Norfolk. One second it was there, looming all battleship grey in Philly. Then poof! It’s gone and ends up where no one thought it should be.

Today’s subject of what I like to call the Worrington St. Experiment is the little ruby-colored fruit bowl I inherited from my grandmother. It’s Depression glass, the sole surviving piece to a long-gone set. Or maybe it is the only ruby bowl she ever had, since Depression glass pieces were often giveaways to get people to buy stuff at grocery stores.

In any event, I can’t find it. I noticed it was gone this morning when I went to pull a bowl down for some fruit with Mom’s tea. It belongs on top of the rest of my fruit bowls. But it’s not there, and I hunted everywhere for it. My kitchen and cupboard space are not that spacious, so there are only so many places it could be. Perhaps someone in Norfolk opened her cupboard today and poof! There was my ruby bowl.

That I hunt for things, and sometimes come up empty handed, is normal and daily. Today it is the ruby bowl. Yesterday it was lids for the cat food cans to go into the fridge. The day before, it was Mom’s crossword book. She puts things in weird places, forgets where she put them, (or that she even put them anywhere) and then I have to do cognitive gymnastics to try to decipher her skewed logic for where things belong.

It’s frustrating but fascinating. She has memory loss and cognitive dysfunction, and sometimes it seems more like memory dysfunction. Every day she sets the dinner table. It’s one of her jobs. Every day, she pulls the table cloth, place mats, and napkins out of the linen closet, which is where they belong. Linen closet—linens—linen closet.

But every day after dinner, when she’s helping me clean up, she puts them all back on a shelf in the dining room on top of the serving platters. Why she thinks that is an appropriate place for table linens is beyond me. I have an unproven theory that she unconsciously wants to keep things visible. A closed closet door may just as well be the Bermuda Triangle to her. But this theory doesn’t explain all the other strange places this once highly organized, a-place-for-everything-and-everything-in-its-place woman repeatedly puts things. Watching her unload the dishwasher borders on the comical.

The ruby bowl will show up. I know it will. Till then, the best thing I can do is try to keep the house as uncomplicated and transparent as possible. And put the table linens back in the closet every day.

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No One Said It Would Be Easy

I’m not afraid of anything in this world
There’s nothing you can throw at me
That I haven’t already heard
I’m just trying to find a decent melody
A song that I can sing in my own company
—Stuck in a Moment, U2

I’ve spent the past several days contemplating shutting down this blog, or at the very least, rebranding it to be less about caregiving. Why? Because it was recently suggested to me that perhaps I’m not the best person to be taking care of my mother, the rationale in large part due to what I post in this blog. Because my posts are about the challenges of taking care of someone with dementia, and those challenges rarely involve rainbows, puppies, or unicorns.

News flash—taking care of someone with dementia 24/7 IS HARD. I never thought it would be easy. And although I’ve never  had kids, and may be talking out of my ass, it’s not like raising normal, healthy children. Children grow, and learn, and develop, and improve, and become independent of you. The best that can be hoped for a person with dementia is homeostasis. The worst, of course, is decline and complete dependence.

You Deal The Cards You Are Given

I take great inspiration from a friend of mine who has an adult daughter with special needs. She and her husband had agreed to not have children, so the pregnancy was unplanned. Everything seemed fine until their daughter was born. The doctor said the baby might never walk or talk (he was wrong) and suggested institutionalization.

My friend was horrified and appalled. No, she had not planned on having a child, and yes, she had hoped for a healthy child. But she loved her child, nonetheless, and although their lives would not be what they had planned, that they might be difficult at times, they were not about to turn away from the promise they made by being her parents. They have raised a daughter who is one of the purest souls I have ever encountered. They make it look easy, but I know it hasn’t been.

It’s Not About What Is Easy—It’s About What Is Right

I made a promise to Mom. I made a pledge. I would take care of  her, and I would never put her in a home. I don’t break my promises, even if things get rough. I never in a million years thought she would need me because of dementia, and I’ll be the first to admit that I was woefully prepared for what that means. But I will play this hand the best I can because she is my mother.

Because we have always had a strong bond. We’ve vacationed together, three times in Italy alone. For fifteen years she came to stay with me for months at a time almost every year. She came to work with me, and bonded with my staff, who called her Mom. When I was on Midway, she managed my finances for me. She has been the one constant in my life. The one person who I have always trusted, and who I know trusts me and loves me unconditionally. If it hadn’t been for her, I would not have gone to college, would likely never have left my hometown, would never have set foot on Midway, or rode on the back of a motorcycle across the Golden Gate Bridge, or anything else that my life has been. I owe everything that I am to her.

I Got Your Fairy Dust Right Here, Pal

So, although I thought for a second that maybe I should just keep my mouth shut, keep my head down, and sprinkle fairy dust, I’m not going to do that. Because Mom raised me better. She never gave up on me. She always believed in me. She always made me believe that there was nothing I couldn’t succeed at. She raised me to be honorable. She raised me to a realist. Yes, this is hard. No, I’m not perfect. Yes, some days just suck. But most don’t. And she would have done the same for me if the tables were turned.

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Just Keep Swimming

I’ve often likened Mom to a shark.

shark

Not in the toothed-and-terrifying-reason-why-I-don’t-go-into-the-ocean way. But in the fact that some sharks have to swim constantly to keep oxygen in the water passing over their gills. They keep swimming to stay alive.

That’s always been Mom. Always on the go. She can’t sit still to save her life (no pun intended.) Even now, in the midst of dementia, sitting idly, quietly, contemplatively is not for her. She’ll work a crossword puzzle, word search, or coloring book while watching TV.

It’s part and parcel to her extroverted nature. She derives energy from activity outside of herself. She and I are a great deal alike, except in this way. I’m an introvert. I can go days, weeks, without ever speaking to anyone other than the check-out clerk at the grocery store and be perfectly content. In my work, though, I had to learn how to be more extroverted. I can now happily drum up a conversation with the person next to me on a plane. I can chit chat (introverts are notoriously averse to small talk.) It was like having a muscle I never used, but once I started to flex it, it gained in strength. I’ll never stop being exhausted by too much human interaction every day, though.

It’s good that I learned how to be more extroverted because it helps me understand Mom’s need to keep busy. For many years, she was the chair of her condo association’s social committee—organizing elaborate parties with food, entertainment, so much fun. It took a great deal of her time. And she relished it, until her forgetfulness became so overwhelming that she couldn’t organize as she once had.

It’s sometimes a challenge now to keep Mom busy and engaged because she can’t really stay on task, due to her compromised short-term memory. And also because it’s not my own nature to need to be actively engaged in something external. But I’ve come up with some regular things that we do that work to energize her and keep her feeling relevant.

Pretty Flowers & Good Food

The best way that I keep Mom energized is with arranging flowers and cooking. The flowers are the best. We get beautiful, inexpensive flowers at Trader Joe’s, and she arranges them way better than I can. And it’s something she can do entirely on her own, without any supervision from me. Cooking is another thing.

Aside from all the obvious dangers that the stove poses, Mom can no longer follow a recipe, or cook from memory. So it’s a team effort that we both enjoy. I just have to pay attention to what she is doing. If I tell her to mince half an onion, there’s a good chance she’ll do the whole onion if I don’t stop her. Not a big deal, but it’s just how it is.

All the research I did when Mom was first diagnosed said that keeping someone with dementia active is key. I’ve found what works well with Mom, but everyone is different, and early stage dementia does not necessarily strip away a person’s innate personality. Understanding that about the person you may be taking care of will go a long way to giving them a full, happy life.

 

 

 

 

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My Grandmother’s Hands

Yesterday, June 6th, was my grandmother’s birthday. In honor of this wonderful woman, I’m posting a short essay I wrote around Valentine’s Day in 2015.


IMG_2230

I looked down upon my hand poised over my keyboard and saw a hand familiar but not mine. The hand had an agedness—an oldness. No more a young, fleshy, supple hand. Now a hand that showed knuckles. Veins. Wrinkles. Age.

I move the fingers to prove to my eye and my brain that they are in fact my fingers.

They are. They move to my command.

But they don’t look like what I think they should look like. They don’t feel like I think they should feel. I feel my joints. I feel my tendons, my skin, when I flex my fingers into a fist.

They are not quite my grandmother’s hands—yet. But they do remind me of my grandmother’s hands. Not quite so arthritic, though.

With a little thought, and a bit of free writing, this does not trouble me. Seeing my hands like my grandmother’s does not bother or frighten or trouble me.

My grandmother was a lovely, wonderful, caring, brave, free-spirited woman. She lived and led a very different life than I have.

And maybe not. She wasn’t married young like most of her generation. She married at twenty-three. Practically an old maid in her time. Not because she had no choices to marry earlier—she had, and she had just said no—but because she was having too much fun not being married any sooner. She married when she wanted to marry. When she had found a good man.

At the age I am now, she had a married daughter living overseas.

I have no daughter. I have no child, adult or otherwise, married or single, living anywhere, let alone overseas. And yet my hands begin to look as my grandmother’s eventually looked.

Aging follows no playbook. It just plays.

I didn’t follow the playbook from my grandmother’s time. Anymore than she did. She was supposed to get married in her teens and have kids. She waited until her twenties and had just one kid. I went to college in my teens. I never married and will have no kids.

grams wedding
My grandmother on her wedding day in 1929.

My mom. She learned a trade, but married younger than her own mother, and then made her trade a business. Not enough to live on her own. But close. Then she had me. And made sure I’d learn to make my own way. On my own. And I have.

My grandmother. My mother. I see them both in my hands. I see age in my hands. I see the passing of youth in my hands. But more importantly, I see the women who came before me in my hands. I see them pass on to me their strength.

They are my Valentines. My mother and my grandmother. Happy Valentine’s Day, Mom and Gram. I love you more than you knew, more than you know.

 

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Life & Times in the Middle of Nowhere – Installment #5

Copyright 2018 Francey Jesson, The Jesson Press. All rights reserved. (Sharing, reposting, reblogging, and printing of this blog is authorized and encouraged by the author only if the copyright notice is attached.)

Names may have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.

WARNING – CONTAINS EXPLICIT LANGUAGE

MATURE AUDIENCE

Catastrophes, Mishaps, & “I did not sign up for this shit.”

—Part 2

After that minor meltdown in the tsunami-warning shack, I pulled myself together, and when the weather cleared enough for crews to safely get into the electrical circuits, that’s when the weather station went to hell. As the crews were re-energizing the runway lighting circuits, something (we never figured out what) went wrong, and the motherboard for the automated weather station got fried.

Fuck. Fuck. FuckFuckFuckFuck.

The automated weather station is aptly named because that is exactly what it does. It collects weather information near the runway that is pertinent to anyone trying to land several thousand pounds of iron on Midway. Without that weather information, however, a commercial aircraft cannot legally land on Midway. With our station out of service, we were potentially right back where we were with the runway lights being out.

Fuck. Fuck. FuckFuckFuckFuck.

There was a back-up plan that didn’t involve the tsunami-warning shack, though. The FAA, and our contract with FWS, required that airport staff be certified weather observers to ensure weather data if the automated system went down. I was certified. One of my three firefighters, Ben, was certified. But the other two firefighters had taken and failed the test not once but two or three times each.

Granted, it’s a dreadfully boring subject and a tough test, but my disdain for airline dispatchers now shifted to the two slackers who’s lack of industry meant 24/7 weather observations now were up to just Ben and me.

I had taken meteorology in college as ground school for my flight training, and hated it back then for being tedious and utterly forgettable. I’d squeaked by with a C. The only thing I had enjoyed about the subject was my instructor, who had worked for TWA (which he called Teeny Weany Airlines) back when Howard Hughes had owned it. He often regaled the class with war stories of Hughes absconding with a commercial passenger jet scheduled for a full day of service so he, Hughes, could spirit a dozen or so floozies off somewhere, and the resulting chaos this caused the airline’s employees.

Back on Midway, I wasn’t thinking much of Howard Hughes or one of my favorite instructors. I was thinking about how Ben and I would manage to submit hourly weather observations, around the clock, for the three weeks it would be before the supply plane, and a new motherboard, could get to us.  The only way the National Weather Service can create a forecast is to know exactly what the weather had been doing for at least several hours. That means weather observations, either by a human or a complex set of devices and a computer, have to observe and report that weather every hour, at a minimum. A Special Observation has to be taken when certain drastic changes in the weather occur. Ben and I were in for the longest 22 days of our lives.

I took the 5:00 PM to 5:00 AM shift and gave Ben the other 12 hours. Ben was a firefighter, after all, and he needed to be rested and ready to act far more than I did.

There is a reason why sleep deprivation is a form of torture. I tried to sleep during the day so I could be alert at night, but that’s never come easy to me. I’d worked more than my share of graveyard shifts during my twenties, and had never adjusted well. Now, I set my alarm every hour through the night and did my best to sleep in between.

Being awoken every hour to spend five to seven minutes observing cloud cover and height, visibility, wind speed and direction, precipitation, temperature, and dew point is bad enough. But to submit an official weather observation, you then have to translate it into code, which is like another language.

Screen Shot 2018-05-25 at 6.16.22 PM

Weather observation and reporting are a complete pain in the ass under the best of circumstances, and these were decidedly not the best.

The first week wasn’t so bad. The second week was hell. I accidentally slept through more than one of my hourly observations and sent complete fiction into NWS. I didn’t care if the clouds were at 1,000 feet or 2,000 feet. Visibility always looked pretty damn good to me. One of the FWS staff saw how exhausted I was and half joking, half seriously offered to bull doze under the runway so the airport would be no more, and my torture would end. It was the nicest thing anyone had ever offered to do for me.

I did have one particular night that was thoroughly enjoyable, though, and I wouldn’t have given it up even for the entire crisis to have not happened. I’d for some reason gotten a good day’s sleep and was alert and rested for my shift. With energy and nothing better to do, I wandered aimlessly the gigantic terminal building that I’d not yet completely explored.

terminal, ramp & old twy

The second floor had a long and wide central hallway that went the full length of the building. On either side of the hallway were offices of all types, a rabbit’s warren of long forgotten spaces once used by hundreds of service personnel. The commandant’s office had a huge desk, a formal reception area, and several secretarial or aids offices attached. There were accounting and finance, and other support offices. There was a Christian chapel with a fridge full of unconsecrated hosts and a Hindu shrine resplendent in color and still smelling of incense. There was a radio station with a sound proof booth and racks and racks of equipment. There were barracks and other living quarters. And there were rooms for which I had no earthly idea what their function had been. There were vaults on either end of the central hallway, with gigantic doors like you see in banks, and these were the only rooms not accessible, their doors locked years ago and the combinations long forgotten. I spent hours exploring and discovered rooms I’d never seen before, some that had not seen use in decades. Some with only a few mattress-less bunks, almost all showing signs of a leaking roof, neglect, and the birds who had come to be the only residents. In not one room could all the windows be shut. I tried.

It was quiet and I was alone and peaceful in the knowledge that no matter how hulking and forbidding and scary this old building might have looked, I was completely safe and nothing there was frightening or could hurt me. I wondered at those young men and women who had spent months working here during the wars, WWII, Korea, Viet Nam and the Cold War. I was, most likely, the only person awake on the island and the only person in about 100,000 square feet that had once teemed with hundreds of people every day. People who had a mission. People who may or may not have been assigned to Midway by choice. People who missed home and loved ones and probably got a little island fever at times.

The third week of 12-hour graveyard shifts, and I wanted to die. I kept myself going knowing the plane and replacement part were on their way.

And then the glorious day arrived. The navaid tech, Rich, met the plane, speeded the new motherboard off to the weather station shack, and I fell blissfully asleep knowing that for the first time in three weeks I did not have to get up.

The knock on my door woke me up. There stood Rich, looking like his dog had been hit by a truck. The weather station wasn’t working, and he didn’t know why.

It was what I imagine falling feet first down a well must feel like. The floor dropped out and the hands of my mind grabbed and scraped and clawed against slippery smooth walls as I plunged. My head was buzzing and my eyes were stinging as he explained it could be one of three reasons. Either we’d been sent the wrong motherboard, or it was the right motherboard but defective out of the box, or he’d done something wrong and fried it. In any event, the next supply plane and a new part were weeks away. I was ready to fire up the bulldozer myself.

In the end, it was a false alarm. I don’t remember what Rich’s explanation was for why he thought at first he couldn’t fix the weather station. It’s likely I was too far down the rabbit hole at that point to listen or care. All I know is a few hours later he came bounding back to my room to tell me he’d fixed it. I got very drunk that night and slept like a baby.

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Am I Vain?

I’m asking that myself today, the end of trying and tiring week. The reason why is that I’m feeling a little underappreciated and that makes me wonder exactly who’s problem that is—I’m leaning toward it being my problem.

Of course, being the logophile that I am, wondering if I’m vain to want to be appreciated and feel I deserve gratitude begins with me looking up the formal definitions of those words to be certain I’m applying the correct English to my feelings. I’m just kooky that way. Merriam-Webster defines them like this:

Appreciate

A: to grasp the nature, worth, quality, or significance of

B: to value or admire highly

C: to judge with heightened perception or understanding: be fully aware of

D: to recognize with gratitude

Gratitude

The state of being grateful: thankfulness

Vain

Having or showing undue or excessive pride in one’s achievements

That leads me to also look up:

Thankful

Conscious of benefit received

Mom is not capable of understanding that I am her caregiver, what I’ve sacrificed to be her caregiver, or how difficult it is for me sometimes. She doesn’t know that I used 40% of my savings to buy the house in which I try to make a home for her. She doesn’t know that the rest of my savings are gone because I can’t work a regular job and take care of her at the same time, or that I’m filing bankruptcy because of that. She doesn’t know how much it hurts me when I spend an hour making her a healthy, tasty meal, but because it won’t be done in time for her to eat AND make her Monday night euchre game, and she says, “I’ll just have a sandwich so I can go play cards.”

She doesn’t know that when I’m not taking care of her or the house or the yard or the pets, I’m trying to make money driving Uber, or writing blogs that will hopefully monetize my site someday, or taking a proofreading course so I can get better gigs, or researching ways to make money from home, or trying to build my essential oils business. She doesn’t know that I lose a little bit of my self-worth every time I have to ask my brother for money. She doesn’t know that there is no such thing as Sunday Funday for me anymore. I don’t get a day off. But I sure as hell need one.

So that has me wondering if I’m vain to want a little gratitude. To want someone to say thank you. Not just, “You’re doing a great job.” But thanks for doing what you are doing.

Another definition of vanity is to worry too much about what other people think. Why should I care? I know what I’m doing, how hard it can be, and how much I struggle to be the person, caregiver, daughter, and provider I am. Some days, I really am John McLane, kicking ass and taking names. I’m gonna save everyone in Nakatomi Plaza, no matter how many people are yapping in my ear about a better way to do it. Other days—like today—not so much.

 

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You Can’t Be a Caregiver If You Happen to Be Crazy

I could have titled this post “Taking Care of The Caregiver” or “Why a Caregiver Needs to Take Care of Herself.” But you’ve seen those blogs before. And don’t get me wrong, they are important. But this one isn’t about yoga, or meditation, or respite, or support groups. It’s a cautionary tale of what almost happened to Mom and me, and why you should make sure it doesn’t happen to you or your loved ones. It’s also my own personal soapbox about mental and emotional health. The two intersect in a way that will become apparent.

Why the Soapbox?

I had a long conversation yesterday with a friend who is considering the possibility of medication to battle mood swings. He turned to me for advice, knowing that I take an antidepressant. He was very careful about how he broached the subject, not wanting to offend me or ask too personal a question about my mental health. He needn’t have worried. I have no shame of my illness because that is exactly what it is—an illness. Like any other. But he got me thinking about where I was a few years ago, and how I came so close to ruining Mom’s life. And how I managed to not ruin her life, and in turn, saved my own. Here’s the story, and it starts way back in 1997.

Jumper

When I was twenty-nine, I stood looking down off my third-floor balcony wondering if three floors were enough to kill me. I obviously determined that they were not. But I also asked myself just why the fuck I was thinking about leaping off a balcony? I had zero reason to be depressed, no earthly reason to want to be dead. I had a well-paying job that was fun as hell. I had a wonderful circle of friends. I was dating an amazing guy. I was spending lots of time in San Francisco. I had an awesome apartment with views off that third-floor balcony of verdant Burlingame, the San Francisco Bay, and Mount Diablo. I was debt free.

I had it all, and I should have been happy. But I wasn’t. I was miserable. I wanted to die. And no one knew because I could cover it up pretty well. I was an expert, after all. I had been covering up my illness my entire life.

It was that day on that balcony, the closest I had ever come to committing suicide, that a small sane part of my brain told me to get help. Journaling, partying, sex, hiking, poetry, reading about depression, therapy—none of them were enough. I needed medication, maybe for the rest of my life.

So that’s what I did and miracle of miracles, my depression left like a lousy roommate I kicked to the curb. My doctor weaned me off the meds after three years, and for about a decade, I was cured, always aware that that crappy roommate might come back looking for his stuff someday.

Well, of course the asshole came back, and in 2008 I went back on the meds, happily. The same low dose I had been on before, and I thought everything was fine. But in retrospect—which is always 20/20—I know now I was anything but fine.

Maybe It’s You

In 2014, an old friend, that amazing guy I had been dating in 1997, stopped by my place in Santa Fe on his cross-country trip back to California. By this time, I had been fired twice, and in about a year, I’d be fired again. My life was a train-wreck about to be hit by another train. But I absolutely could not see it. Bad things had been happening to me for ten years. That’s when he said simply, “Maybe it’s you.”

He had never pulled any punches with me. The only guy I ever dated who had never lied to me. But I was still in denial. My low-dose antidepressant was doing its job, and I was just surrounded by assholes. I couldn’t yet see that bad things were happening to me because of me.

Falling Down

By the time Mom was diagnosed with dementia a year or so later, I had been fired again, and I had moved to Florida. And I was seriously clinically depressed. And I had this person who needed me desperately and completely. I was doing a shit-job of taking care of myself. How the hell was I supposed to take care of her?

I didn’t have a choice, and here’s the tidbit for you and yours. Although Mom had done all the right paperwork to plan for this event—durable power of attorney, medical surrogate, living will—the one mistake she made was that I was (and am) her one and only, sole POA. Just me. Except I was a mess, and I would get worse in very short order.

See, in Florida, and likely most states, when a person (principal) has designated only one POA, if that POA is unwilling or unable to carry out her duties, the principal, if deemed incompetent, as Mom had been, goes into guardianship. Once a person is deemed incompetent, they can’t change their POA, either. If I couldn’t get my collective shit together, the courts would decide what would happen to Mom. I could fall down, but I sure as shit could not stay down.

TERRAIN – PULL UP – TERRAIN – PULL UP

I’m an introvert in a family of extroverts. Without getting too deep into the differences between the two, decision-making for each group is like this:

Extroverts—Let’s do it!

Introverts—Let’s think about it….

So there I was, already depressed and rapidly becoming extremely suicidal again. Mom was in need. Everyone had an opinion. But I was the one with ALL the responsibility. All the pressure was on me. And I was fucked up three ways from Sunday.

It was like being in a cockpit with every warning light and alarm going off at once. The small sane part of my brain was in the right seat saying, “If you just block out all the alarms, you can take the yoke, and bring her in for a perfect three-point landing.”

But the great big crazy part of my brain was in the left seat, and all it wanted to do was slam my eyes shut, cover my ears, roll into a ball, and go down with the craft.

terrain pull up

Getting Her on the Ground in One Piece

An old pilot joke is any landing you can walk away from is a good landing. I didn’t stick a perfect three-point landing. But I didn’t rattle anything off the plane, either. I let myself get talked into some bad, although well-intentioned, choices for Mom. But I also made the best choice to up my dosage, doubled it in fact. I’m not depressed. I’m not suicidal. I’m healthy again. I’ve accepted that my train wreck was my own doing. And I am capable of being there for Mom in all the right ways.

So here’s the dual-purpose of this cautionary tale:

  1. When deciding who will be responsible to take care of you or your loved ones when and if the time comes, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Make sure you assign either a co-power of attorney or secondary and even tertiary. It doesn’t have to be depression that wipes out your intentions if that one person you trust the most “falls down” for whatever reason.
  2. If you think you are ok, but your life is just a shit-storm, you might not be ok. Don’t hide it. Don’t be ashamed of it. Don’t be afraid to get help. You are not invincible. And if someone you trust tells you, “Maybe it’s you.” —believe them.

 

suicide prevention


Music—Third Eye Blind

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My British Home Child

My grandfather was a British Home Child. It took me nearly a decade of searching digitized archives and websites to find that out. But what I now know is this. When he was about four years old, his mother brought him to a London orphanage, never to be seen by him again. When he was about eleven years old, he joined about fifty other little boys and girls, some as young as only four, but most around his age, sent to Canada to become indentured servants.

The BHC scheme, and I do mean scheme, shipped some one hundred thousand children from the UK to Canada to be farm workers and domestics, oftentimes little more than slaves. Canadians thought these children were orphans. Most were not, though. Most were children whose families had hit rough times. They left their child or children in an orphanage or sheltering home until they got back on their feet, only to find their kids gone when they came back. Whether or not my grandfather’s mother had planned to come back for him is still a mystery.

The Ghosts of My Past

My grandfather died before I was born and had been estranged from my father for years. All I ever knew for a long time about my grandfather was that his name was Walter D. Jesson, that he was English, an orphan, and a drunk. Oh, and that he was an abusive asshole to my father, aunts, and grandmother.

That he was an abusive asshole seemed to make perfect sense, since my own father was an abusive asshole. Or at least that’s what I had held true about my father until the day he died. After my father died, I started to look at my childhood and his life differently. It’s not to say I’ve glossed over or forgotten what it’s like to be afraid all the time. On the contrary, I determined to try to understand how that life had come about for me. Why had I been raised in a scary home with an angry, moody, miserable man? Action. Reaction. Cause and effect.

So, armed with the few personal papers on my grandfather that I had found in Dad’s effects after he died, I signed up for a genealogy site and looked. And looked. And looked.

What I initially found was perplexing, to say the least. At one point, I had one birth certificate and two death certificates for my grandfather. All three say he was born on February 14, 1900, in Enderby, Liecestershire County, England. All three say his name was Walter Jesson, and his parents were Ada Young and Walter Jesson. His date of birth, parentage, and place of birth all jived with a naturalization application I had found in Dad’s file.

Here’s the rub. The two death certificates weren’t duplicates. One said he died on November 11, 1965, in Rochester, New York (which he most decidedly did.) The other said he died on March 5, 1900, at just 19 days old. You get why I was perplexed.

It was certainly strange, but Occam’s razor told me there was an easy explanation. There must have been two Walter Jesson’s born on the same day in the same place. Right?

With parents named the same? Wrong.

No. That’s ridiculously too coincidental.

What the hell was going on? Who exactly was my grandfather, and is my name even Jesson? Did he ever really know his own identity?

I was stuck for a long time. I knew from his naturalization paperwork that he had entered the US from Canada through Vermont in 1922. But the twenty-two years prior was a black hole. I spent years trying to find his Atlantic crossing, knowing that would be the key to unlock the rest. But when you are hunting down genealogy as a pastime on your computer, you are often stymied by the fact that the records exist, somewhere, but have yet to be digitized.

“There’s gotta be a record of you some place.

You gotta be on somebody’s books.”

On Every Street

Dire Straits

There had to be records. He could not have just materialized from the ether in 1922.

Iceman Cometh

It was during this time glaring at the brick wall of my ancestry, wondering if I really was a Jesson that I watched a PBS show on the Ice Man, Otzi. Otzi is the 5,300 year-old mummified remains of an Iron Age man who died and was eventually discovered in the Italian Alps in 1991. I’m a science nerd. I dig that stuff.

I’m not on a tangent. I swear. I sat there watching what Otzi’s investigators and keepers had learned about him and realized that, laid out side by side, they knew more, and in some ways much more, about Otzi’s life and death, over five thousand years ago, as I had managed to uncover about my grandfather.

Otzi had been in his 40s when he died. I knew my grandfather had died in his 60s, but without knowing for sure when he was born, I couldn’t drill down any further. My grandfather had died of heart failure. Otzi was almost surely murdered, and died from injuries sustained by an arrow to the back and possibly a blow to the head.

Otzi’s resting place lay undiscovered for over five thousand years at over 10,500 feet above sea level. My grandfather died alone, in his apartment. Someone, probably a neighbor, followed the stench and found him quite dead, a few days later. My grandfather was then buried in an unmarked grave. I know the cemetery, but that is all. My father spent a whopping $585 to bury his own father somewhere in Glenwood Cemetery in Geneva, New York. In 2011, my mother and I spent hours scouring the cemetery grounds hoping we’d find something that could be possibly his grave. There are many unmarked or poorly marked graves in the largest cemetery in Geneva. We couldn’t find him. Unmarked really means unmarked. Under six hundred bucks for a box, a hole in the ground, and eternal anonymity.

Otzi’s last meal was not long before he died, and it was large, and of good quality. My grandfather was a life long alcoholic, but beyond his affinity for booze, I know nothing about what he liked or didn’t like to eat. I don’t even know his booze of choice. As an Englishman, I like to think it might have been gin.

Although Otzi had died at high altitude, he had gone done to lower altitude shortly before he was killed. He had died with high quality and quite valuable belongings. Shoes for the high alpine trek, and amazingly, a copper ax. He was from the Iron Age, but he had had a copper ax, redefining history’s timeline of when European man learned to smelt.

My grandfather’s landlord inventoried what was left behind after the body was removed from the apartment.

  • $6 in bills
  • $0.98 in change
  • $0.25 in bottle
  • a check for $7.76
  • a couple of rings and a tie clasp
  • a billfold
  • a change purse
  • personal papers

Otzi, and his ax, redefined our knowledge of man’s history. My grandfather defined my own history because he was a drunk who got arrested and thrown in jail a lot for beating his family and causing public disturbances. Although he died before I was born, he left the legacy of a son so tormented by demons that that son would eventually visit them upon his own family.

I had to understand why. I had to keep digging.

“It’s your face I’m looking for.

On every street.”

On Every Street

Dire Straits

340406_10150484126254324_590599323_8617550_373052744_o
My grandfather, Walter Jesson


Diffusing—Young Living Lemongrass, Orange, and Northern Lights Black Spruce essential oils.

Music—Dire Straits, On Every Street

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Toast & Frustration for Breakfast

I’ll admit that I’m not the most patient person in the world. Especially first thing in the morning, pre-coffee. And while I’m admitting to being a flawed human being, I might as well be honest that Mom tries my patience sometimes.

There. I said it. It doesn’t make me a horrible person or a terrible daughter. It makes me human. Nonetheless, I still feel the need to ask the universe’s forgiveness, not for my flaw, but for when I have trouble overcoming it.

It’s an onerous thing, not being perfect. I’ve always been incredibly hard on myself. No one has ever judged me more harshly than me. I could do a thing perfectly 99% of the time, but that 1% when I make a mistake, I’m a complete failure. At least that’s what I leap to tell myself.

It’s a factor in my relationship with Mom. I love her. She’s a wonderful mother. I wouldn’t trade her for the world. She’s been my best friend my entire life. But she’s nearly as hard on me as I am.

I’m not talking Tanya Harding’s evil bitch of a mom. Not like that. Mom doesn’t try to be hard on me or push me to do things. It’s just that it’s part of her nature to have a “glass half empty” outlook. I know this about her. Sometimes, she just looks at the world through shit-colored glasses. Always has—not a result of dementia.

But certainly exacerbated by the dementia. And then factor in my lack of patience and innate ability to beat up on myself for stupid shit, like losing my patience, and voila! The perfect storm.

I could do my very best Cinderella impersonation, but the house is never spotless enough for her. (Three cats and a dog, yeah, that ship’s sailed.) And since she never remembers having seen me clean, ergo ipso facto, I never clean. And there’s perpetually a mouse in her pocket. As in, “After we empty that recycling bin, we have to scrub it out!” We? You mean me.

I do all the yard work. All the laundry. All the cat box sifting. All the meal planning. Most of the cooking and cleaning (I have her help but have to supervise her to keep her on track.) Make sure she takes her meds. Chauffeur her to her card games three days a week. Make sure she has her sunglasses, her cell phone, her Mahjong card. Get her out of the house when she’s bored. Play rummy with her when she’s bored. Hunt for whatever she’s misplaced.

But a trashcan needs cleaning, and she goes sub-orbital. And I have to stomp down the dual impulse to be impatient with her and feel like I’m falling down on the job.

This truly is a case of, “It’s not you, it’s me.” I’m well aware of that. Most of the time, I’m pretty good at letting it all roll off my back. I recognize that these feelings of frustration and failure are my imperfect impulses, and not Mom trying to be hurtful or unappreciative. I know she appreciates me. I know she loves me, unconditionally. But she’s an imperfect human being, just like me. Just like all of us.

There are times, however, when my impatience with her is not necessarily a bad thing. I try to resist, for as long as I can, from stepping in when Mom is trying to do something but struggling. It’s important that she feel as independent as possible. And if I constantly rush in to help her, I take away some of that. That’s not easy for me. I’m a perfectionist, after all. If I tell her to slice the garlic and not mince it, once she starts mincing, I cringe. But it’s just garlic, for Christ’s sake. Cool your jets.

This morning, though, my impatience wasn’t a bad thing. Mom managed to get herself totally flummoxed in a failed attempt to make toast. I sat at my desk, which has a commanding view of the kitchen, and watched her for as long as I could before stepping in. Initially through impatience, and only a few sips of coffee. But then thankfully because she was about to electrocute herself.

It went like this.

Mom, “I want toast. Do you want some toast?”

Me, “Uh, sure. But not the seeded Italian. The French baguette.”

Mom, “Where’s the toaster?

“Under the counter in the cupboard. No, Ma. Not that bread. I want the French baguette.”

“The what?”

“The long one. You have to slice it.”

She stood there staring at the French bread like it was something that had fallen off an alien space ship.

“It won’t fit in the toaster.”

“You have to slice it.”

“But it’s too big.”

“I’m coming!”

I got frustrated and got up to find she’d plugged in the toaster with it sitting in a puddle of water on the counter. Now, I doubt she was in any real danger. I’m sure those things are made to not electrocute, and it was plugged into a GFCI. But still.

 

 

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Life & Times in the Middle of Nowhere – Installment #4


Copyright 2018 Francey Jesson, The Jesson Press. All rights reserved. (Sharing, reposting, reblogging, and printing of this blog is authorized and encouraged by the author only if the copyright notice is attached.)

WARNING – MAY CONTAIN EXPLICIT LANGUAGE. MATURE AUDIENCE


Catastrophes, Mishaps, & “I did not sign up for this shit.”

—Part 1

There were a few things that happened on Midway that tested my coping skills, both professionally and personally. Since most infrastructure on Midway was anywhere from mildly to wildly decrepit, system malfunctions were common. At least three times, the electrical circuits for the runway edge lighting failed, plunging a quarter of the runway into darkness. The motherboard for the automated weather station managed to get fried. Phones and Internet went down for days and weeks on end, sometimes concurrently with runway lighting failures, making it that much more difficult to notify airlines and pilots who might want to use Midway for an emergency landing.

I had a mission. I had a job to do. My whole reason for being on that island was to ensure that if a plane got into trouble over the mid-Pacific Ocean, it had a safe place to land. Midway is the only safe runway for a thousand miles in literally every direction. If we weren’t at 100%, if the entire runway wasn’t lit, if we couldn’t give accurate, timely field conditions, and if we couldn’t receive a distress call, we weren’t doing our job.

Airports in the real world have system malfunctions all the time. It’s only when the phones go out in Chicago’s tower for five minutes, and the entire air traffic control system goes tango uniform (tits up) as a result for twenty-four hours that it makes the national news. But every airport in the world is made up of electrical, electronic, automated, computer, mechanical and human machines, components, bits, and pieces. None of which are infallible. All of which have a useful life.

By the turn of the 21st century, virtually the entire infrastructure on Midway was decades beyond its useful life. The first serious outage we had was in my first few months. The center section of edge lighting on the runway, about 2,000 feet on both edges, crapped out one night. If the outage had been on either of the ends, I could have kept the runway open with notice that it was, essentially, now shorter than it’s usual 7,900 feet. A runway that is dark in the middle is illegal, so I had to close the entire runway at night.

The airlines went apeshit. Without Midway to list on their flight plan as an alternate, they couldn’t fly straight—essentially—across the Pacific. They’d have to go hours out of their way by hugging the coast of Alaska and the Aleutians to the north, or south to be in range of Johnston Atoll or Wake. Aside from totally screwing up their schedules, it cost a fortune in extra fuel. Within minutes of putting the notice out I was bombarded with emails, phone calls, and pages from frantic dispatchers who had no earthly concept, nor did they give a shit, about the challenges we were facing 1,200 miles from the nearest hardware store.

At a normal airport suffering a system failure, you probably have spare parts in inventory. If you don’t, you have a supplier who can overnight them. Or, you might even have a nearby airport that has the same make and model, and can loan you some bits and pieces. Midway is not a normal airport, though, and it is futile to try to explain this to a disgruntled, anxious, freaking-out voice coming to you from Japan Airlines dispatch in Tokyo. It’s also futile to try to explain to them that my outfit was not a 24/7 shop. I slept, or tried to sleep, in the middle of the night. Waking me up at 3:00 am for an update didn’t get the lights working quicker and only served to piss me off.

It took a few days just to figure out what was wrong. For days, my crew and island maintenance staff trenched and inspected wire until they found the fault. The runway lighting wires were not in conduit, and thus were buried under about eight inches of asphalt in muddy sandy muck that had to be pumped out before the wires could even be seen. It was a dirty, hot, and backbreaking effort, but everyone knew the stakes.

The second outage was not long after the first, but was a piece of cake, comparatively, because we had the smoking gun of a burned and nearly melted edge light that led us directly to the fault. That repair took hours, instead of days.

The third outage was brutal. It lasted for over a week and happened during the winter rainy season, during a torrential storm that knocked out our phones and Internet. I could send fax updates to the frantic airlines using the satellite phone, but at $7 to $14 a minute, sending even a one-page blast email to dozens of recipients cost an arm and a leg. So I would fax one page to my corporate office in Santa Monica, CA, and an angel named Phebe (executive assistant) would blast it out to my world wide list.

My satellite pager still worked though, and the usual bombardment ensued at all hours of the day and night. It was fine when they left text messages, because, aside from waking me up and requiring me to drag ass out to the airport, they came through immediately on the pager’s display, and I could respond easily with the sat phone or a fax. It was the voice messages that made me want to crawl into a ball and cry. To retrieve a voice message sent to the sat pager I had to call a toll-free number and then enter a 12-digit access code. The access code was completely impossible through the sat phones. They were pure sat, and had too much delay to register the tones. But there was another phone on the island, not part of our day-to-day phone system, and not knocked out by the storm.

It was a partially land-based, partially satellite-based phone in the tsunami-warning shack, near the middle of the island. None of us ever paid it much attention. It was owned and operated, remotely, by NOAA (National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration). The warning wasn’t for us on Midway. It was for Hawaii. By the time Hawaii would get word a tsunami was headed their way, we would have all been under water, along with the shack.

This phone was tough enough to sustain a tsunami and my only shot at returning voice mails.

Even with frequent fax updates, which became increasingly shrill on my end, saying in bold shouting letters WE HAVE NO PHONE AND NO INTERNET SERVICE DO NOT LEAVE VOICE MESSAGES ON PAGER – ONLY TEXT MESSAGES CAN BE RECEIVED AND ANSWERED, there was almost every day some asshole who couldn’t read or didn’t care that would send me a voice message.

In the winter rainy season on Midway, when it rains, it rains sideways. Midway is typically too far north to get cyclones, but it’s not impossible. This particular event had everyone wondering if we’d all be witness to a freak meteorological event that brought one to us.

We didn’t make history, but the storm came darn close and dumped a ton of rain and blew us nearly to smithereens. And there I was, in the middle of fucking pitch-black night, wrapped up in rain gear like Kenny 

steering a golf cart being tossed around in gale force wind and rain to the middle of a tiny island to a tiny shack and the only phone that could call the outside world.

Sorta. It may have been partially-land based, but it was still satellite. And it may have been sufficient to send a pre-recorded message to Hawaii over that satellite, but it still had enough delay to make my 12-digit code grueling. Over and over I tried until I managed to get exactly the right timing of all twelve digits to get into the voice mail system. It was so frustrating that one particularly wet and blistery night I screamed to no one in particular in the shack, wiped away tears of anger and sat on the floor wishing a tsunami would actually hit so Hawaii could then tell the world Midway was closed.

I’d had enough.

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Life & Times In The Middle of Nowhere – Installment #3

Copyright 2018 Francey Jesson, The Jesson Press. All rights reserved. (Sharing, reposting, reblogging, and printing of this blog is authorized and encouraged by the author only if the copyright notice is attached.)

The Midway Way

Midway has been occupied continuously since the turn of the 20th century when the Pacific Cable Company built homes for its workers, the Cable Houses, with two story encircling verandahs and large windows to coax in cool ocean breezes.

Partially restored Cable House.

During the Cold War, Midway’s several thousand inhabitants, among other things, monitored Soviet submarines with hundreds of radio antennas and an underwater “listening post” that could detect whale songs for miles. Navy staff and their families lived, worked, worshiped, played, went to school, were born, and died on the atoll. For five decades before I arrived, thousands of people at any given time had called Midway home. When I arrived on Midway, I was one of only twenty-five people living on a ghost island.

You know those apocalyptic movies where the world ends in a flash, and all of mankind is gone but for a handful of plucky survivors? The survivors wander around a place where people stopped existing in an instant and left everything frozen in time when disaster hit. An ashtray over flowing with butts, as if they had just been snuffed out. Pens and pencils lying on a desk blotter, the user having had casually gotten up to refresh his coffee when the end came. Files half riffled through on a desk, in the middle of some project no longer necessary, no longer important, never finished.

Midway had been most recently occupied and operated, including the airfield, by Midway-Phoenix Corporation. A cooperative partner with Fish & Wildlife with the somewhat misguided idea to run the atoll as an ecotourism resort, Midway-Phoenix had had a rocky relationship with FWS. The honeymoon didn’t last long, if there had ever even been one, and the divorce happened almost overnight. About a month or so before I arrived, Midway-Phoenix had pulled its several hundred staff off the island, telling them they’d all be back in short order once Mom and Dad worked things out. It was as if they had all been going about their normal workaday lives and were told to stand up, walk calmly to the exits, and board a plane for the mainland. Well, Mom and Dad didn’t kiss and make-up, and the kiddies were never allowed to come back and pack up their rooms. Time stood still.

It was an eerie feeling, wandering around the airport terminal. The ground floor was mostly warehouses, some of them almost completely empty and echoing, others overflowing with stock, supplies, bits, parts, equipment, and enough toilet paper to last until doomsday for reasons I’ve never sussed out.

And there was an awful lot of just plain useless crap. Virtually everything that one would use, eat, or drink has to be shipped by boat or plane to Midway. So it stands to reason that not much ever actually leaves Midway. Transistor radios, five and a quarter floppy disks and their drives, dot matrix printers, brick cell phones, televisions and computer monitors—dozens of them—from the 1970s. And that’s just the stuff I could identify based on the fact that I was born in 1968. One day I wandered along shelves and shelves of parts to what—for all I knew—was a trebuchet siege engine.

It all makes for some quality five-finger discount. Scavenging, scrounging, and squatting were our way of life. The Midway Way. You need a place to live? Just be the first one in the best place you can find, and you have home sweet home. No microwave? No TV? No couch? No problem. Go harvest one of each or two of each out of a room no one is using. Or be one of the only two single females on the island, and a microwave and DVD player will materialize at your door.

I spent my first couple of days wandering around my ridiculously huge terminal looking for something trivial, like a pencil or pad of paper, and inevitably ended up with an armload of stuff. “Ooh, I need one of those.” “Hey, I could use that.” “An extension cord—score!”

My office. All the comforts of 1965.

Another aspect of The Midway Way was improvisation. There were hundreds of printers in the terminal, of all different ilks, of indeterminate age, and using different types of ink, in some cases paper, all in limited supply. I would use one type of printer until I couldn’t find any more ink cartridges, then hook up another, and another, and another. I spent a soothing afternoon converting boxes of automatic feed paper into reams of individual sheets for printers with paper trays. It was like popping bubble wrap.

When the FAA ordered us to paint four ten-feet-by-ten feet yellow Xs to mark the closed runway, we scrounged for yellow paint and calculated only enough on island for about a quarter of the job. The Xs also had to be outlined in black and there was no black paint on the island at all. The nearest Home Depot was 1,200 miles away, so I sent my staff to the storerooms with one instruction—figure something out.

What they came back with was ingenious. They found plenty of tar to use in place of the black paint. One problem solved. There was an abundance of a light green paint they could use as a base coat so they wouldn’t need so much yellow. Another problem solved. But we still didn’t have enough yellow so they’d crush yellow bricks into white paint to make enough yellow. Last problem solved.

Accommodations

I spent my first three weeks in a room with no curtains, which I decidedly did not like. So, bath towels to the rescue. But the room had a bed, a couch, and a dresser, at least.

There were (and still are) five-bedroom houses on Midway that had served as quarters for officers and their families. Some of my island-mates opted for a house, but I didn’t. I lived in the Bachelor Officers’ Quarters. Back in the day, two Navy bachelor officers would have shared a common bathroom with their individual private rooms on either side, each private room opening up onto a central hallway. When Midway-Phoenix converted the BOQ to a hotel for their ecotourists, they left the original floor plan in place, and each guest suite became two rooms and a bath. One room was the living room, the other the bedroom, but you had to move between the two through the bathroom.

Eventually I would inherit a larger suite of rooms in the BOQ from a very sweet older gentleman who was leaving in three weeks on the next supply plane. He took me aside one day and told me, on the down-low, that his suite was the largest and most well appointed available in the BOQ, with three rooms and a kitchenette, and that I should literally move into it the moment he vacated it to beat out any competition. I placed one of my suitcases in the suite, to stake my flag, as it were, as we both headed to the airfield, for him to catch and me to work his flight.

Pirate Island

My first six months on island were the best. It was Pirate Island. Everything and everyone was new. Professionally, I had the opportunity to build an airport operation from scratch, and not many airport managers get to do that. Every manual, every standard operating procedure, every effort at compliance put in place by the previous operator was designed for an airport staff of about twenty and an island staff of several hundred. I had three ops/fire fighters and one navigational aid technician. Beyond that, there was one fuel farm tech, and a handful of guys who doubled or tripled duty as tugboat crew, vehicle maintenance, logistics, and facility maintenance.

But the booze was free and free-flowing, left over from Midway-Phoenix and purchased by FWS as part of the divorce settlement. By 5:30 pm every day I was on a bar stool in a bar with no bar tender, no tabs, no bouncer, and the only music was from my CD player.

I was having a blast.