THEY, DOCTOR OZ, BROCCOLI, ET AL

broccoli

Does broccoli prevent Alzheimer's? "THEY" say it does.

With my soap box  still intact I do have one more annoyance regarding Alzheimer’s information.  It appears that every other magazine or TV talk show guest has a theory for avoiding Alzheimer’s.  It’s as simple, it would appear, as the common cold, and “They” know the answer.

Who are “They?” For years I have wondered that. “They” seem to be everywhere and know everything; so much so that I’ve given them a proper status with a capital T. You’ve heard the references a zillion times: “They” say…., “They” are showing…., “They” know for sure…., “They” seem to be right. “They” set the fashion and home trends.  “They” tell you what colors to use, what sofa to buy, window covers which are the latest, what’s in or out, cold or bold, and what’s hot or not.  “They” have become so prevalent in our society, so controlling, so self-serving, and “so the last word in just about everything” it’s difficult to make a competent move without looking for their input. “They” even dabble in how to live a healthy life and how to prevent Alzheimer’s with numerous magazine and newspapers articles using, if available, some reputable references.

In the medical field, though, the “Theys” seem to have lost some influence.  “They” have, however, passed on their clout using other pseudo names such as “Others” and “Studies.”  “Others agree” or “Studies show” or even “Studies prove” appears to carry more authority as to input or conclusion even though vagueness still prevails.  And we mustn’t forget “According” to.  Often the mysterious four appear in articles written by doctors with impressive degrees and in good standing, or pharmaceutical companies, who are also impressive and acceptable compared to the unidentifiable, common underling “They.”  Yet, even though what is presented brings hope to the reader, or viewer/listener, the information remains without a proven conclusion.  And, more often than not the statement is salted with what a former English teacher referred to as glittering generalities.

For example, on a slow news day you might hear that “studies show an Alzheimer’s breakthrough is right around the corner.”  “Studies prove that a good exercise regimen can prevent Alzheimer’s.”  “A healthy diet prevents Alzheimer’s.”  Generalizations I can deal with, it’s the absence of a disclaimer such as may or might that I find disturbing, because nothing is certain even though the healthy ideas offered are worth considering for everyone.  What is interesting about disclaimers such as may, might, possibly or perhaps is that several years ago when some of these health suggestions were becoming popular they did use the disclaimers.  Why not now when solutions are still no where in sight.

Today, Dr. Oz is going to be my fall guy.  Mind you, I love Dr. Oz and watch his program as often as I can.  Way back when he was a weekly guest on ABC’s “The Oprah Show” I seldom missed his day.  Wearing purple gloves and scrubs he was the absolute expert: smart, entertaining, cute, personable – cleaning out refrigerators for willing viewers he usually left a near-empty white box in the kitchen and the homemaker was delighted.  The good doctor proved his point with an ugly glob of fat and got folk’s attention: we need to eat a healthier diet.  For us “lay people” he was right on target, even updating us on any late news about Alzheimer’s.   In many ways, especially promoting a healthy diet, he is absolutely right, but he is not right about broccoli preventing Alzheimer’s.

Reading his column in the February 2010 issue of “O” magazine he wrote that eating broccoli prevented Alzheimer’s.  That’s what I found annoying and not true.  No one ate more broccoli than Ken and I did – do.  It being one of our favorite vegetables we consume the little green trees year round (prepared in many ways) and we enjoyed it long before our children tagged it “little green trees.”  Yet Ken is nearing the last stages of the disease. If the article had included “broccoli may prevent AD” I would have had no objections.  Who knows, possibly Ken’s consumption of broccoli may have delayed the disease. But without a disclaimer it appears to be a fact– which it is not.  I haven’t heard of any vegetable, including broccoli, being used in any clinical trials.

Perhaps someday, “studies” will prove, or “others” will have found, or far off in the future we may find that even the illusive “They” have evidenc that broccoli – and wouldn’t that be ironic — might be the secret ingredient to a successful cure.  Meanwhile, and trust me on this even though I am not a doctor, broccoli, delicious and good for you though it is, doesn’t prevent anything — and that’s “according to”  me and my many and long years of experience with Alzheimer’s.

Originally posted 2012-02-04 23:01:44.

POSTPONEMENT AND MORE PATIENCE

Like a road leading to nowhere, help for Alzheimer's research is like a long road leading nowhere.

Government help for Alzheimer's sometimes seems as pointless as a long road to no where.

A good while back I read an article which gave some hope to a timeline when the puzzlements of Alzheimer’s might be solved or at least the disease would be effectively treated.  Granted, five years ago it wasn’t a promise and I don’t even recall where I read it.  However, the writers implied that some kind of breakthrough could be expected within 10 years – right around the corner – I thought. Since then I’ve read a zillion more articles and plea letters, but without any time frame.  While I knew that even 10 years for Ken would be too late, that ray of light gave hope to the Baby Boomer generation and my family.  2016 wasn’t all that far away.

Recently, we have a report from the special committee representing the National Alzheimer’s Project Act, NAPA, titled “Draft Framework of the National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s Disease.” What?  How many steps back was that?  Victory was the cry from Washington and applause was heard from the Alzheimer’s Association. It has not been well received by the Alzheimer’s Community and has raised the ire of many. A two and a half page comment by blogger Richard Taylor and posted on The Alzheimer’s Reading Room mentioned that this committee report was nothing more than a draft of a plan to plan to write a plan, and paraphrased a Woody Allan quote, “Life can be awful.  Now it has gotten worse!”

Apparently it boils down to more wasted time and money with no real plans to get to the problem which for loved ones and victims is AD.  But then what do bureaucrats do best?  Waste.  Not to mention the draft to plan to plan to plan took one year to compile.  Next report (plan) is promised in May.  Hasn’t anyone reminded Washington that the camel was designed by a committee?  If the camel with one hump isn’t strange enough, it took two committees to design the camel with two humps.

When we moved into our community many years ago the city and county officials ordered a study costing a good lump of money to find the most troublesome intersection in town.  My question and answer at the time was, “Why a study?  Just ask me, I’ve been there.”

Thirty years later it’s still our most troublesome intersection, but they’re working on it.  Sound familiar?

NAPA did arrive at five goals:

  1. Prevent and Effectively Treat Alzheimer’s Disease by 2025
  2. Optimize Care Quality and Efficiency
  3. Expand Patient and Family Support
  4. Enhance Public Awareness and Engagement
  5. Track Progress and Drive Improvement

The only one that’s truly important is No. 1, and how about cutting off five to seven years.

No. 2.  Optimize Care Quality and efficiency.  Really?  Authorities can’t even keep up quality control and efficiency with the existing care facilities.

Looking at No. 3: my friend cares for her AD mother whose disease is somewhere between mild and moderate.  Cherrie tells me funding was cut for the Dementia Day Care where she had been taking mom two days a week for the past several years.  Mom no longer gets to go. That’s not an expansion.

Enhance public awareness.  I believe the public is very aware of Alzheimer’s and its destruction.  Are they going to have Engagement police to force involvement?  Engagement will always be a matter of choice.

What is No. 5?  Why does Government have to track progress using up valuable dollars which could be better used for research?  Researchers issue their own reports on progress, success and failure.  Does drive improvement mean nag?  Who?

It has been said that funding from Medicare and Medicaid will be cut to help fund Obamacare.  If this is so, where is government getting the money for NAPA?

No, I don’t have answers for any of the above, or for the 10 million people with Alzheimer’s including my husband, my now-deceased father and mother-in-law, and my own mother also deceased, but I do know that changing the title from “The Dementia Crisis” to “The Alzheimer’s Crisis” won’t even put a finger in the dike, nor will four out of NAPA’s five goals.  Does all the hoop-la about the name change and the forthcoming plan imply that all of our public health problems under the microscope of Health and Human Services could be solved if only AD went away?

The Dementia Umbrella, with all of its brain altering diseases which includes Alzheimer’s, is what’s in crisis and all of those many victims are slowly slipping away; dying twice.  Does the title The Alzheimer’s Crisis mean to ignore all of the others, or is it because AD has skyrocketed to the No. 2 most-feared disease next to heart disease?

We already know there is urgency in finding at least a viable and enduring treatment without sacrificing precious funding foolishly spent on endless study plans, discussions and hyperbole. We, who have lived/live with AD, like our city’s bad intersection, have been there. No longer strangers to the disease, it’s been a part of our lives for years and we don’t need to waste any more money on these silly committees, paper-shuffling studies, or congressional members who stand around pontificating, pondering and shaking hands with one another for what they believe is a job well done.  We need the money to go into research and, perhaps, some help for those who are draining their life savings caring for an AD loved one.  The Dementia Umbrella is filled with catastrophic illnesses and they are world-wide problems with Alzheimer’s as No. 1.  Just fix it.

Originally posted 2012-01-28 05:08:43.

I SEE THE MOON. DOES KEN?

Full winter moon peeks through bare branches

Do people with Alzheimer's remember nature?

I watch the moon on these crisp and clear winter nights as it wanes and waxes just as I have watched it during all of the seasons.  For me, though, it is most beautiful during the fall when it appears to be closer to the earth than at any other time.  In reality it isn’t, it just looks that way.

The Harvest Moon as they refer to its splendor is almost frightening when it’s full, appearing bigger than life, as it peeks up over the hills east from where we live.  For years, at first sighting whether by me or Ken one would nudge the other excitedly saying, “Oh, look at the moon.  It’s so magnificent!”  It was as though if we didn’t stop what we were doing and look right then and there the other would miss it all together – as if neither of us had ever seen the moon before.

It’s understandable why the ancients of long ago were frightened of what they saw in the skies; why they had moon gods and superstitions, worshipping and fearing what they could not comprehend.  The moon itself with its many changes would be awesome enough, but imagine what terror was evoked when something unknown changed the appearance of their moon.

Ken and I have property in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains where we were able to spend some wonderful times several years ago before Alzheimer’s spread its destruction across his brain.  A lunar eclipse had been announced, but because of fog we wouldn’t be able to see it in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Not to matter, we had already planned to spend those days on the property and looked forward to the heavenly show.

Taking our folding chairs and flashlights from the trailer we walked up to the top of the hill as darkness fell and the telling hour approached.  Facing eastward we waited longer than we had expected to see some sign of the moon.  Nothing was happening.  Had the fog followed us to the foothills?  Looking straight up, directly overhead, we found the heavens filled with bright, sparkling stars and yet there was no moon.  Had the universe canceled the show?  Finally common sense prevailed and we stood up and moved to the right of where we had been sitting.  There it was in all of its celestial glory: the lunar eclipse.  Much to our chagrin we had been sitting behind a tree – a distant tree – but a tree nonetheless that reached skyward into the blackness just enough to block our vision.

“Wow!” was the word, spectacular beyond description.  We had lived so many years under hazy skies and city lights such sights had long eluded us.  We spoke of the Indians who had lived here so many years before and wondered what they thought of such a phenomenal happening.   It would have been beyond frightening without knowledge, and having only mystical beliefs they could know little of their moon-god, much less that Mother Earth could produce a shadow.

I wonder if it would frighten Ken if he saw an eclipse tonight, or is his thinking so far gone that even the moon itself is unknown to him. I wonder if he remembers the sun or the stars, the heavens or the universe.  Does he grasp feeling heat or cold, light or darkness – even day or night? Would he know of things once held dear to his heart: the ocean’s roar, the cry of a gull, the wind coming in from the sea, the feel of damp sand beneath his bare feet or the wetness of a lacy edged wave spilling over his toes?  I wonder if he remembers our four seasons with the moon.

It was under a spring moon that we met, falling in love among the stars and moon on balmy summer nights, a solitaire diamond offered in the brilliance of fall’s golden moon, and we married as winter’s pale moon slipped away behind storm-leaden clouds.

We looked out from our window into a gray day watching the rain and wind banter with the last few leaves hanging on skeletal trees in a nearby grove, and I thought of my new husband while promising me, “I’ll remember you in winter.”  And now I look up at the soft moon remembering him – us — January. Perhaps, somewhere deep in Ken’s lost mind and crippled neurons a memory flickers – and then again — perhaps not — but more importantly I want him to know deep in his soul that he knew love and is loved — still.  Happy Anniversary Ken.  January 21.

Originally posted 2012-01-21 03:43:06.

THE TWO FACES OF JANUS AND GROUNDHOG DAY — THE MOVIE

Janus

Even without the two faces of Janus, AD caregivers often see their tomorrows filled with the repetition of their yesterdays.

It’s January again and at times I want to ask, “Didn’t we just do January?” The answer coming back would be, “No.  That was last year and 11 months have transpired in between.”  I really know that, but there was something about that first day of 2012 which brings about thoughts of Janus the Roman God of New Beginnings after whom the month was named.  Being who he was it is said that he had two faces: one looking forward and the other looking back.  While Janus probably didn’t have my caregiving assignment, or if he did he never mentioned it, I see a disheartening sameness in my life while looking in either direction.

Being able to look back is a good thing, and in that respect we are much like the mystical god, but better because we who are mentally healthy can look back without needing a second face.  We have memory and can learn from history – especially our own.  We learn from making mistakes, taking wrong turns in the road, and what works and what doesn’t.  Furthermore, we can look ahead making daily plans, and plan for the future. My problem is constantly seeing more of the same thing coming in my tomorrows as filled my yesterdays.

Suppose that by looking back and ahead we see only repetition.  I guess that’s where I was as this New Year began; living in “Groundhog Day” – the movie – without the romance.  Bill Murray’s character Phil, an angry, arrogant, conceited jerk, had to keep repeating February 2, until his attitude changed, or until he got it right.  Andie Macdowell’s Rita, the love interest, eventually helped him through his maze of repetition producing a new, reformed and lovable Phil; a delightfully funny movie which Ken and I enjoyed together long before his Alzheimer’s was even suspected.

Remembering the movie, though, I found I was identifying with Phil’s frustration of constant repetition – without the laughs.  It’s true that I’m not tied to a stockade then released to perform certain duties, but it is the repetition of those twice-daily duties from which there is no escape: getting Ken up, cleaned and ready for breakfast each morning, and getting him cleaned and ready for bed in the evening.  (It is much more complicated and emotionally wrenching than it appears in my simple sentence, but long ago I promised myself to always be discreet in my writings about my husband.)

My caregivers, wonderful though they are, cannot do these chores alone.  I am their assistant, and I know I am blessed beyond measure to have them.  I also know that having Ken home is so much better for him, and me, than placing him in a care facility. Yet, the schedule inhibits my planning a totally free day.  No matter what I’m doing I must stop at designated times and with my cell phone in a pocket I’m always on call for undesignated times, which can put a damper on my project regardless if it’s at a crucial point or not, and help the caregivers.  That’s when I feel as if I’m living in “Groundhog Day” – the movie.

Admitting to me that I dread the routine I also recognize that the dread causes a buildup of resistance in planning my day.  Recognition is a first step.  While I understand that the day will be interrupted, it’s the accepting of the interruption that is difficult – and I ask myself – why?  After all, once involved in any project we can be interrupted in anything we do; altering our focus by a phone call, a visitor, a question, or a problem with the project itself.  Then I realized those interruptions are, not only easily accepted, but often welcomed as a mini-break because they were never built into the day’s plan as a constant, as is my husband’s clean-up time.

When Ken retired we became very spontaneous, often ditching less-important, flexible plans for some fun times spent together.  I suppose that loss of spontaneity is rather debilitating adding to the lack-luster feeling of sameness.  Actually, it can be rather hellish when time offers us no opportunity for change in our life; little variety,  few surprises, no rewards, no excitement and not much in the way of looking forward.

With that in mind, and as a caregiver who has been putting break time on hold during the past Holidays, I need to move headlong into the tomorrows and make positive plans for this coming year, and I’m the only one who can do it.  Not resolutions, just plans, even sketchy plans including projects and fun, but in the doing I’ll still need to schedule those time periods to accommodate my daily duties as assistant to Ben and Crizaldo which is a must, and learn to conquer my feelings of dread and resistance.  A recent email message offered a really great motivational shove: “Life has no remote.  Get up and change it yourself.”

It is essential for my own well-being to get out more with my movie group, my lunch group, and with Madalyn where we meet at Wendy’s for a baked potato with extra sour cream, butter and no salt because periodically we deserve a two-hour, carefree lunch.  I might even plan on painting the living room.

I know I don’t have all the answers to lighten up the tedious work of caregiving and the reality of losing my husband to this cruel disease.  What I do know is that I don’t want to live my life in the sameness of “Groundhog Day” – the movie – no matter how funny it was — because even never-ending funny without any hope for change can be hellish.

Photo courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/forresto/4258770494/

Originally posted 2012-01-14 03:42:41.

MOTHERS’ DAY: I AM MY MOTHER’S DAUGHTER

AFTER-CHRISTMAS CHRISTMAS SHOPPING

After Christmas Sales page

This Alzheimer's caregiver misses the companionship of shopping with her husband at after Christmas sales.

Ken and I used to do it all the time, and I do believe he enjoyed this kind of shopping more than I did.  Always one to appreciate a good buy, he couldn’t believe that everything left over from December 25, was marked 50 to 75 percent off.  “Hang around long enough and it might reach 90 percent off,” I would tell him.  Usually, though, at 90 percent what was left wasn’t worth taking home.

“Look at this,” he called out, attracting every customer within earshot, “it’s only $8.00.”  It was usually a toy he would have selected a few weeks prior for one of the many little ones in our family at twice or more the price. Of course we weren’t the only shoppers looking for future gifts.  No longer under the stress of the Jolly Old Elf’s arrival, we all gently sorted through the bins and shelves finding just the right gift for next year’s “someone.”

So amidst the austere surroundings, when stores deliberately strip their displays down to the nubs and advertise “White Sales” meaning sheets and other linens which are no longer necessarily white, we understand the barren look.  Colorless windows and displays in January usher in the coming of spring just around the corner when shoppers, hopefully flocking in great numbers, will be dazzled by the store’s new brightness and buy the latest in fashion.  However, as post-Holiday shoppers strolling through the bleakness of winter there is at least one counter, or section, that displays the merriment of Christmas just past.  That’s why we were there.  With our carts piled high we set out for the car pleased with our bargains; a small portion of next year’s gift list on the back seat.

Going to the mall alone a few days before the New Year, I did not intend to do what had been Ken’s and my pattern for so many years.  Alzheimer’s manages to remove just about all the pleasantries from life – even shopping for the small children.  I went because I needed a few things.  Items purchased, I strolled among the isles featuring “White Sales,” and stumbled upon the red and green of close-out Christmas.  I couldn’t resist just a quick look, but soon my cart was filled with toys, crafts and games for next year.  The bargain hunter within me is alive and well even if the trip isn’t the same without Ken.  Now it had become merely the practical thing to do.

Gone was the mischief I used to see in Ken’s eyes, glancing around as if he had pulled off a “fast” one at the store; the ultimate toy bargain, not fully grasping how happy the store was to have it all gone before inventory.

I miss the time he didn’t want to settle for just one gift for each child – his grown children included.  “Just a few more little things – like the stocking stuffers when our family was small,” he would coax as I marked my list complete a week or so before Christmas.  For a long while he thought gift buying was like after-Christmas shopping: all fun.  What he didn’t grasp was that serious shopping is often time-consuming and tedious.  “Okay,” I finally told him, “I’ll wrap if you buy.”

Dutifully and by himself, he began his search the week before one of those bygone Christmases only to find how difficult it was to find a bunch of “little things” times three or four equaling stocking stuffers for a couple of dozen adults and children.  “You win,” he confessed after a few days of searching for just the right extras.  I know how he felt accepting that our children are all grown with children of their own – even grandchildren  — and they don’t need any more stocking stuffers.  So he became content with our after-Christmas bargains where one gift for each person is just fine.

Our Holidays are different now.   Still able to be at home with me, spending most of his time content to be in our family room which has become his domain, shared with Alzheimer’s, me, the caregivers, and the cats Ken is as happy as he will ever be.  With Ben and Crizaldo to do the heavy care, I am still the main caregiver; the one in charge, but always allowing them to do their job in their own way.  In his dementia every so often he will ask, “Where’s the boss,” which no longer means much although the boss is me, but I am not who he wants.  Recognition is seldom there.  In all outward appearances he is the man I married – older – still Ken – but not.  I miss my husband, my friend, my fun date, and my after-Christmas-bargains shopping companion.

Originally posted 2012-01-07 05:01:34.

THE POTICA-SWEDISH-TEA-RING WAR

Mary Perse rolls potica

Will an Alzheimer’s victim remember this treat from the past.

My mother-in-law Rose (and every Slovenian woman in the neighborhood worth her salt) made wonderful holiday bread called potica.  Not “pot’ e ca” – the way it might be pronounced if one put the accent mark on the wrong syllable. Its proper pronunciation is po’ teet sa (po as in potential).

Holiday bread — that’s exactly what it was/is: Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, weddings and any other occasion where there was a celebration – particularly a religious celebration.  Many of the women, including Rose, baked the potica in a turkey roasting pan the day before the event. Best described you might look at it and think – “giant cinnamon roll”– only different: more of a bread filled with ground walnuts and honey than a sweet.  Lacking an oval-shaped roasting pan, the boa-like roll can be cut into loaf-pan pieces and baked individually.

When I met Ken he mentioned – no, mentioned is not a strong enough word – he bragged that he was 100 percent Yugoslavian.  His father, Nick, and Rose’s parents came to America from that part of the world.  His dad was just a boy of 15 traveling alone when he entered the U.S. through Ellis Island in 1906.  Both Ken and his sister Loretta were extraordinarily proud of their dad’s courageous journey to America and their so-called unique “pure” heritage.  I scoffed, telling him that with the world’s dark account of battles and conquest which constantly swept back and forth across the continent like the ebb and flow of endless tsunamis, no one could possibly be 100 percent anything; especially with all the plundering, ravaging and “whatever” which always accompanies the brutality of war. Yet, he persisted.

As our children grew my gene contribution of mixed Anglo-Saxon and Swedish ancestry became so insignificantly incidental I often wondered if my offspring could have been birthed by a surrogate Slovenian woman and I hung around to do the cooking, cleaning, and child-rearing.  Consequently, and to hang on to my own identity I declared war on making potica.  (My war was not to be confused with the potica war which raged quietly among the older generation of Slavic woman.  Rose used dark rains while her sister-in-law Mary insisted the number one potica recipe must contain only white raisins.)   In my effort to stand my ground and not make, or bake, the celebrated bread I became the unnoticed resistance.  The family’s attitude was, “Who cares if mom doesn’t do potica, we have plenty with Grandma and Auntie Mary baking it.”  I did have, though, a fabulous recipe for a Swedish tea ring which I made more often than Rose or Auntie Mary, who lived close by, made potica.

Our girls, as adults, coaxed the recipe from their grandmother or Mary, and when they married both of them dutifully made potica, portions of the bread they brought to their grateful father – and me. “Ah,” he would say, “potica — just like my mother bakes.  Her parents were from Yugoslavia, you know.”

Following WWI and the fall of the Austria-Hungary empire, more than 20 ethnic groups were thrown together to form Yugoslavia which loosely existed under Communism for many years.  Powerful Marshal Tito managed to extrapolate the country from Soviet-Stalin dominance in 1945, and continued to rule with his own iron Communist fist for another 35 years.  When Tito died in 1980, the Yugoslav government, of which he was the pivotal figure, began to crumble under conflicts and political upheavals.  Countries and regions involved wanted to be who they were before WWI.  Sadly, new and fierce conflicts ensued. Yugoslavia, as we had known it, faded from the map.

Meanwhile, we discovered that Nick was born in a little town in Austria, which had been obliterated by the Germans during WWII, and Rose’s parents emigrated from Croatia.  For a good portion of the century, they had obediently accepted the order of Yugoslavia even though, in their hearts, they knew better.  I teased Ken for a long while, as did my brother-in-law Douglas, about him now being a man without a country which he took, unruffled, in his stride.  After all, my husband is an American: first generation, but still an American.

As for potica, I did surrender after many years and made the delicious bread.  I suppose Rose, herself, might have driven me forward to give it a try when she stayed with us for a few nights after Nick died.  I had baked a Swedish tea ring, and in the morning I brewed her coffee and served a slice of my delicacy.  “Mmmmm,” she murmured, “Who made the potica.”

I suppose it doesn’t really matter whether it’s potica or tearing.  They are both delicious in their own right.  Nor does it matter whose ethnic background is 100 percent anything.  We are really one: part of God’s family.  Hopefully, someday we’ll all get along so we can enjoy potica and Swedish tearing at the same banquet in addition to ham, lamb, chicken, sheep heads, beef, squid, octopus eyes, bugs, headcheese, tripe, brains, worms, larva, sea creatures and whatever else is out there for mankind to consider a gourmet delight.

On Thanksgiving Day, our daughter Julie had dinner with Tim’s parents, but on the way, they dropped by with buttery sweet potatoes, sausage stuffing, and potica.  “I wonder if Dad will remember it,” she questioned, and as curious as I was I decided to wait until the next day when the time was quiet and he could concentrate on what he was eating rather than be distracted with so many other foods and a house filled with company.

All by itself on a plate with a little butter he picked up a piece of his heritage food and took a few bites.  “Mmmmm,” he said, and then he stuffed the rest of it into his mouth without another word or sign of recognition.  Perhaps, though, somewhere in the lost caverns of his diseased mind there may have been a tangled nerve cell groping to identify that little “something” which was so familiar.

FOR YOUR NEW YEAR’S BAKING PLEASURE

Potica

Soak raisins (dark or light) till puffy – about an hour:  11 or 15 oz. box depending on your raisin preference

Potica dough

2 envelopes dry yeast dissolved in ½ cup warm water. Set aside.

2 cups scalded milk.  Allow to cool to tepid.

2 tsp salt

¼ cup butter or margarine

½ cup sugar.

2 well-beaten eggs

7 – 8 cups flour

Add readied yeast to lukewarm milk.  Add next four ingredients.  Beat thoroughly.  Beat in some  flour and mix till you have to change to a spoon.  Mix in remaining flour as if it were bread dough but a little softer.  Place in greased bowl.

Cover with dish towel and allow rising till doubled in size.

Potica filling

1-1/2 pounds ground walnuts (7.5 cups shelled nuts – yes, lots).

1 cup honey

½ cup milk

2 eggs

½ cup sugar

1 Tb. Cinnamon

Sprinkle of salt

Stir together.  Makes a thick paste.

Cover a very large table (dining room table is good) with a clean flat sheet folded in quarters. Flour lightly.  Punch down dough and then roll out in rectangle of about ½” in thickness.  It’s big. Smooth paste over surface, sprinkle on raisins.  Roll entire piece of dough with filling into a giant jelly roll.  Best way is to turn the first edge then let the sheet do the rolling (see photo).  Cut into loaf-size pieces and place in greased loaf pans (or greased turkey roaster).  Cover with towel and allow doubling in bulk and then bake in 350 degree oven.  Remove, rest in pans 5 minutes. Turn out to cool.

Swedish Tea Ring

Soak about 1 cup raisins according to preference, till puffy. (Raisins optional)

Tea Ring dough

2 envelopes dry yeast dissolved in ¼ cup lukewarm water. Set aside.

Blend ½ cup sugar into ¼ cup shortening

1 tsp. salt

2 eggs beaten

1 tsp. grated lemon rind

1 cup milk, scalded and cooled to lukewarm

About 5 cups flour

Stir first five ingredients into cooled milk. Beat.  Add enough flour to make batter.  Beat well adding as much flour as possible and still be able to beat dough.  Stir in remaining flour to make a soft dough.  Turn out on lightly floured board and knead until satiny.  Place in greased bowl, cover and allow it to rise until doubled in bulk.

Tea Ring filling

Melted butter

Brown sugar

Cinnamon

Chopped nuts

Raisins or other dried fruit (optional)

Powdered sugar icing with just enough lemon juice to drizzle.  Chopped nuts

When dough is light, remove from bowl and punch down.  Place on lightly floured surface.  Knead just a bit.  Divide into two sections. Set aside 1 section for 2nd tea ring.  Roll 1st section into rectangle about 3/8 inch in thickness.  Brush surface with melted butter and sprinkle generously with brown sugar, cinnamon, raisins (optional) and nuts; amounts in preference.  Roll like jelly roll bringing ends together to form circle.  Tuck ends inside one to the other.  Place circle on greased baking sheet, or round pizza pan.  With scissors, cut circle at 1-inch intervals to near center.  Twist each section under and up. Allow to rise once again until doubled in bulk. Bake in moderate oven (375 degrees) 25 to 30 minutes.  While still warm, drizzle with icing made with powdered sugar diluted with lemon juice and milk.  Careful when adding liquid to powdered sugar; you want to drizzle onto the tea ring, but not have it run off.  Sprinkle with more chopped nuts. Assemble and bake 2nd tea ring.

Originally posted 2011-12-31 03:10:05.

GRINCH STEALS CHRISTMAS – FOR KEEPS

The Kindess of All Makes up For Christmas Grinch in Oakley, CA

The Kindess of Many Makes up For Christmas Grinch in Oakley, CA

Unfortunately, there are among us a lot of Grinches and Scrooges, and while we would like to believe they all reform at the end of a story, that just isn’t true.  Take, for instance, the good folks who live in Oakley, California, located in Contra Costa County which is part of the nine counties making up the greater San Francisco Bay Area.  For months the “Friends of Oakley,” a non-profit organization, who serve their fair city, had been collecting toys and food donations for those of the community who were down on their luck during these tough economic times; everything to be delivered just before Christmas.

The day after Thanksgiving, all was going very well until the committee arrived at the school where the growing supply of good wishes had been stored only to find that a Grinch had stolen everything.  The empty store room, without nary a can of food left to roll across the floor, told an obvious tale:  this Grinch, more than likely these Grinches, had no intention of returning their cache of goodies.

Of course, the crime was promptly reported to the police department, the City Council and the mayor.  Word of the robbery spread via TV, newspapers, social media, emails, texting and even phone calls.  Many local residents and many throughout the Bay Area wanted to help.  In addition, the “Friends” received word from a retired school teacher living in North Carolina that she too wanted to contribute.  Such outpouring of concern and generosity quickly erased the hanging cloud of gloom and despair.  However, the big question remained:  in less than a month could all the good intentions in the world replace the missing toys, blankets and non-perishable food items that were meant to help and bring a bit of joy to 800 children, 300 families and 100 seniors this Christmas season?

“The response was incredible,” said newly sworn Mayor Kevin Romick. “Wells Fargo Bank joined the effort with a $4,000. gift, Oakley Disposal added an another $2,000. and many other local businesses made like donations.  The weekend before Christmas additional food was contributed by The Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano Counties.  While volunteers wrapped and packed, Santa’s helpers in the form of volunteer drivers with trucks checked their lists twice for delivery of two gift cartons for everyone in need.  “There are some wonderful people living among us,” concluded the mayor.  “Probably some are your neighbors”

Thinking about my adult children, including Mayor Romick, it warms my heart to know the apples didn’t fall far from the tree.  Over the years I have been aware of the many charities to which these adults who shared our life and home have contributed both with money and time, their constant support of worthy causes, and their individual efforts to bring comfort and peace to those  in need – you might say to be the answer to someone’s prayer.  And I remember many of Ken’s and my efforts to do the same. I am pleased with my family, all of whom continue to serve their fellow man and if he were able Ken would tell you so himself.  With Alzheimer’s his mind no longer registers the happenings in life, but I know that somewhere deep in his heart he feels the joy.

It is sad to acknowledge that there will always be unreformed Grinches and Scrooges living among us, but the good news is we have wonderful people as well — some of whom are my children – and some just might be your children, or your neighbors and no doubt you.   So, recalling the most famous and most reformed Mr. Scrooge of all time I’ll echo his Merry Christmas, and in the words of Tiny Tim, “God Bless Us, Every One!”

Originally posted 2011-12-24 05:48:57.

RINGS ON HIS FINGERS

Santa and little girl

Over 50 years ago his rings gave this Santa a way.

Men wear rings for as many reasons as there are men, and then there are some who don’t wear them at all.  There was a family tale told by my father about his wearing a ring during his younger years. In the early1930s it could have been a wedding ring.  Whatever it represented is really not important.  By the time he was rescued from the side of a threshing machine where he hung by that ring, his third finger left hand, and his grappling right hand searching desperately to find a saving hold, the ring was history.  With his feet firmly planted on the ground, my father said he pulled the ring from his finger and threw it as far into the field as he could.  Never again to wear any rings until he had retired and my sister gave him a birthstone ring, which he loved.  I suppose he felt by then it was safe to garnish his hand with an emerald set in gold.  My dad was fortunate, and seriously, anyone who works around machinery or construction should leave the rings at home.

When Ken and I married we exchanged rings which had been engraved on the inside with our initials and wedding date.  Romantic as it was, we never looked at the lovely cursive letters after our wedding day because we never removed the symbols of our marriage until they were near worn through and we bought replacements.  But long before the replacements, I purchased him another ring for his birthday.

I had received an introductory coupon for a jewelry store in another city – not far away – but not in our shopping hub either.  The offer was good enough that I drove the miles to see what I could find as a special gift. With the coupon and my tight budget I found just the ring I knew he would like.  The design was probably quite common and might even still be available.  Engraved in black onyx was the head of a knight in full armor, and at the time I thought it was somewhat unusual and very handsome – just like the soon-to-be recipient.  He opened the box, smiled his approval, and slipped the ring on his finger where it remained until it needed repair.

My husband was really very hard on jewelry.  Not removing the rings when he did honey-do jobs around the house or replaced a fence, mixed concrete or changed a tire is not the way to keep rings looking their best, especially when I noticed the palm view.  “Good grief,” I once said, “they’re both bent out of shape.  He reassured me they could be straightened when the time came.  I suppose he was right and being the busy, active man he was I didn’t fret over his decision.

As soon as our children started school, he was involved in PTA, and in our school’s Dads’ Club as well.  There were dozens of activities throughout the year.  Not only projects for the school – building sets, planting gifted trees — but fun events for the children:  picnics for the Traffic Patrol, Easter egg hunts on the school grounds, Halloween parties and bringing Santa Claus to the Dads’ Club Christmas party.

Our close neighbors John and Fred, and Ken were all involved in working together for the good of the schools and the children.  They were almost like brothers, and when they weren’t working with the school, or some other worthy organization, they were helping one another almost every Saturday.   Being close friends, we were constantly in and out of each other’s homes almost on a daily basis.  It was a wonderful neighborhood for bringing up children, and we loved their kids nearly as much as we did ours.

While pleased with their father’s involvement, the children of our three families found there was also a down side.  “I know their costumes were great, but I can’t judge them the best, nor can we allow Fred or John’s kids to win.  As judges and workers in the club, it would look like nepotism.  People would think they won because of us,” Ken explained.  I knew what he said was true, but it just wasn’t fair.

The following year our daughter Julie wouldn’t allow her father to see her costume and arrived that evening as a tombstone which I helped her put on after we arrived at the school because she couldn’t sit down.  Clad in an oblong cardboard box painted gray with the appropriate R.I.P. lettered across the front which covered her head and body with arm holes so she could keep her balance Julie was unrecognizable and a contender.  It was all right that she didn’t win, but she did receive the well-deserved credit despite her father.

With Halloween over, the club jumped right into preparation for the coming Christmas party. “Hey, Ken,” asked the club president.  “Will you be Santa Claus.”  Well, of course, he would be Santa.  He loved that sort of thing, and not even our own children knew who Santa would be.

All the neighbors were there and during the program part where we sang the wonderful old hymns of the Baby Jesus lying in the manger, Silent Night and Jingle Bells while the little ones anxiously watched the empty chair next to the Christmas tree on side stage. Ken sat with me and the children, together with our neighbors and their children.  Our Kevin was best friends with Steve and Doug who were the sons of John and Fred, and all three were among the anxious little boys waiting for Santa.

Ken had slipped away to get into costume, and as the children clamored and began to form a line to visit with the jolly old elf no noticed his exit.  One by one the children took their a turn sitting on Santa’s lap telling him how good they had been and reciting their list of hoped-for toys to be delivered on Christmas Eva.  Santa gave each visitor a gift and they went their merry way.  Many of the small ones still believed and came away wide-eyed and excited about their experience.  Steve, Kevin and Doug wanted to believe, but they knew better all the while rattling off their list of wants and accepting the small gift.

Later that night as Fred and his wife Phyllis were putting Doug and little sister Lisa to bed Doug whispered to his dad, “I know who Santa was.”  Fred looked at his boy disbelieving, yet smiling, and replied, “No, you don’t.”  “It was Ken,” said Doug. “I could tell by his ring.”  I guess that’s why Santa should always wear gloves.

Many years later, and it was no wonder, the shank on the knight ring broke so it was away to the jewelers for repair.  Other than a few minor chips on the onyx the ring looked almost new when we picked it up.  Pleased, Ken slipped it back on his finger.  There it remained; the knight on the right hand and his wedding ring on the left.

Several years into Alzheimer’s when the mind begins to play tricks, and forgetting is the usual, I noticed he began to fidget with things: rearranging decorating items or taking them, putting magazines under sofa cushions, hiding keys, confiscating the remote control, insisting it was one of his engineering tools – more signs that AD was winning.  He also began slipping the rings off and on his fingers, playing with them like prizes from a gum ball machine.  One day I found the rings rattling around the bottom of my washing machine after removing a load of laundry.  Ken, no doubt, had placed them in his shirt pocket, soon to be forgotten.

A few days later he asked, “Have you seen my rings?”

Reluctantly I returned them explaining where I had found them and suggesting that he leave them on his fingers.  A week later while dusting in the living room I found them looped onto a fern nearly lost among the greens.  Enough, I thought, I’ll just put them away for safe keeping.  I believe he asked about them once.  I told him if I found them I would give them back.  I didn’t, and soon they were forgotten.  Apparently, the sentiment and the value of cherished items had slipped away with so much of who Ken was.  The rings:  Still put away safely until one day, perhaps, one of my grandsons will grow up to be someone’s  knight in shining armor — just like his grandpa – and I will pass them on.

Originally posted 2011-12-17 04:08:47.

WHAT’S YOUR EXCUSE?

Decorated Christmas Tree
Even something as simple as putting up the Christmas tree could be a great help for Alzhiemer’s caregivers.

Continue reading

Originally posted 2011-12-10 05:37:08.

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