Eating

A WINTER’S EVE — FEBRUARY 15, 2010

A WINTER’S EVE — FEBRUARY 15, 2010

It was still daylight when Ken and I left our house to do a bit of shopping on that brisk Monday.  Daylight, yes, but darkness comes quickly in winter.  I had hardly parked the car in front of Radio Shack as dusk fell.  I needed only two small items: a new cord for one phone and an extension line for another, and then we were off to enjoy dinner with our friend, Jayne, at 6:30.

Getting Ken ready and out of the house to go anywhere was becoming more and more difficult as he slipped further into Alzheimer’s.  Nevertheless, he always liked getting out once he was dressed.  I believe winter is often a problem with dementia and related illnesses, the season having so much gloom — so few blue skies and sunshine.  The world had been very gray this season with lots of rain, which California has so badly needed, but the storms came one following another, often without a break.  Ken does better when the days are long, light and bright.  Each year, it has become more of a struggle getting through the dark months.  I’ve often said December 21, is my favorite day of the year because the sun begins its return journey “home” to our house.

I looked at the time — a little before six — time enough to stop a few doors from Radio Shack and pick up a few more items at CVS Drugs.  While we were out, we might as well get everything on my list, I thought to myself, and no crowds.  I’ve always liked to shop during the dinner hour; it seems that everyone is either at home cooking or eating.  With no one in line, we moved along quickly, and then headed back to the car.

Inside our older 1995 Ford Explorer I buckled my seat belt.  “Do you have your seat belt on?” I asked Ken.  “Yes,” he answered, pointing to the belt around his waist.  When his focus is on the belt holding his pants in place, I know I can’t change his thinking.  I don’t even try.  Unbuckling my own seat belt, I leaned over with one arm around his back and the other in front of him, I handed my left hand his seat belt, guiding the locking piece into its slot.  Then, I rebuckled my own seat belt.

I made ready to exit the parking lot, waiting until traffic from both directions had cleared, and then began my left turn, crossing the clear west-bound lane, flowing easily into the medium strip, and then turning and merging into the inner east-bound lane.

Glancing to my left I noticed the solid double line of cars coming from the direction of the freeway.  How odd they looked in the blackness — almost surreal.  Blending together, the moving vehicles appeared to be a horde of great prowling beasts with enormous yellow eyes, appearing almost liquid in their pack-like movement.  Suddenly one of the automobiles — a maverick of sorts — pulled out from the mass of cars, crossing into the medium lane.  I wondered if the fool planned to pass the unyielding line of west-bound vehicles using what was an illegal passing lane for him, but also noted he hadn’t made the necessary hard-right turn which would have placed him parallel with that line of traffic.  Rather, he was pointed in a diagonal path toward me.  I was not concerned as he was a distance from me, with time and space to correct his direction.  Convinced he would make the adjustment, I turned my eyes to my own traffic lane.  Within mere moments my world went black.

Originally posted 2010-05-06 20:15:29.

Oh The Things They'll Eat

Another guest post from Deborah Romick Schultz. Ann is still recuperating at her daughter’s. She has been home a few times to visit Ken, but is still to weak to stay there for very long. Ken continues to be cared for at home by family members and paid caregivers. Deborah has returned home to Utah. This is something she wrote while caring for Ken in California.

My dad has a hearty appetite not affected by his Alzheimer’s. He eats and then he forgets he just ate and eats again. Last night I brought home Chinese food with a large portion of rice and noodles, thinking we could save some for another night. I dished up both of our plates and then the phone began to ring. My dinner was interrupted three times. It was no big deal, except it gave my dad time to finish his dinner and clean his plate. Then he insisted he hadn’t had a thing to eat, was starving and wondered why I was eating and he wasn’t. So on top of his full dinner, I gave him all the rest of the noodles and rice and he gobbled those up too. This is not a growing boy, but maybe, because sometimes he thinks he is one, he has the same appetite.

It’s not just the amount he will eat, but his willingness to eat anything. At times this is a good thing, because I am able to cook whatever I please, and he eats it with gusto, proclaiming how much he likes it. We are polishing off my broccoli slaw, a delightful dish which sits in the fridge going to waste when I make it for my family in Utah (so I don’t), but my dad eats it with pleasure and compliments.

In his stubbornness if he believes something is good, he will continue to eat it all, even if it isn’t good.  He insisted on eating a whole jar of salsa with a spoon straight from the jar, and before the accident polished off a jar of capers and a special concoction he made using the contents from a large spice jar of turmeric.  Adding water he insisted it was butterscotch pudding. (He later slammed down his spoon proclaiming how awful it was.)   Dad has also indulged in a generous helping of dirt (looked like a crumbled bowl of chocolate cake) from one of my mother’s plants, saying it was delicious.

I have found  the best offense to his peculiar eating habits is a good defense. If I offer him something every two hours he seems less likely to help himself to strange contents he may find in the refrigerator or anything else that looks like food. Now if we can only discourage him from helping clean-up the kitchen after we eat.  No telling what he might find.

My mother has a bowl of very life-like fake fruit that sits on the dining room table. The apples have definite bite-marks, but he will trade for the real deal when offered.  I finally put the decorative fruit out of sight after he insisted that the fake banana was real. He broke off the tip to peel it, and when that didn’t work, proceeded to try and cut it with a butter knife.

Just like a small child, the answer to all of this weird food eating is trading. He has a real fondness for vanilla pudding in individual cups. I trade the weird stuff for the pudding and he’s generally willing to give me whatever he has decided is the food of the day. But whoever receives the green onions he has insisted on mailing in an envelope will have a real surprise, but that’s another story if he finds a stamp.

Originally posted 2010-04-07 05:01:25.

TRADITION REVISITED

Is it Thanksgiving that kicks off the Holiday Season, or is it Halloween?  While the “they” forces are debating the question I’ll take a quick sentimental journey back to my own childhood remembering Christmas decorations lurking on the high shelves of our local “5 and 10 Cents” stores waiting for the Halloween masks and costumes to disappear.  No different from merchants of today, they couldn’t wait to push an early start for Santa’s helpers to swing into action.  My sister Janet and I used to ask one another, “What happened to Thanksgiving?”  Even at 9 and 12 we were aware that every holiday had its own tradition, and it wasn’t Christmas, but Turkey Day that arrived in November.   In school we had learned of the pilgrims sharing their harvest with the local Indians and giving thanks to the Almighty.  Nice beginning.   America’s first Thanksgiving has long since been tradition, and we continue to celebrate as the first gusts of cold air remind us that winter (and Christmas) is, indeed, on its way, but first let’s have our day of gratitude.

When we were children both Ken and I spent Thanksgiving day with family — not friends — family; unless the friends joined us for dinner.  As youngsters we were yet to meet, but family traditions were pretty much the same.  Dinner was either at home, or everyone gathered at some other relative’s house; that house belonging to anyone on the long list of the aunts and uncles.

After we were married we continued to share with one another the Thanksgiving traditions of our parents, aunts and uncles. It was a little more difficult because we now had his family and my family from which to choose.  It was also noticed that our cousins were growing up, getting married and having children, as were we.   With so many invitations and so many relatives, the older generation soon realized that traditions needed to change — not disappear — just become less rigid,  less cumbersome, evolving — even morphing — into a family solidarity of  love  and genuine affection for one another — which they did —  all the while respecting the new chosen Thanksgiving traditions of the younger generation.

We settled on Grandmother’s house – either one.  When Ken’s parents, Rose and Nick, began to have health problems we brought our brood, their brood and Rose and Nick, health permitting, to the home of my parents; a country setting located in Northern California’s Sonoma County.  For years my personal tradition was to arrive on Monday to help my mother prepare; making pies, cooking ahead and cleaning – getting ready for family on Turkey Day.

It was during dinner that last year when I noticed my mother seemed to be talking endlessly about not much of anything.  Her dinner plate was untouched as she droned on and on until my father said, “Irene will you stop talking and eat your dinner.”   She paused, took a few bites and began her filibuster once again.  I had noticed her being inattentive the previous three days, losing concentration and not listening.   Later, much later, we realized she was slipping away into Alzheimer’s.

Nick and Rose had already journeyed into the disease.  It was more than 35 years ago when doctors weren’t even certain what was wrong: “Just old age,” was the usual diagnosis, “or senility – maybe dementia.”  The medical community groped and we did too.  Uncertain about what to do, we did the best we knew finally placing them in full care facilities when we could no longer cope.

My parents moved back to the Bay Area to be near us so we could supervise and be a part of their care, and life continued.  So did tradition, but once again a new one:  Thanksgiving dinner was at our house just as I had promised Mama.

Years before when I could see my mother was growing tired, not so much because of the work involved with family gatherings, but more of the house being filled with company; the laughter and chatter of adults, the clamor and joyful sounds of children, the cry of a new baby seemed to tire her.  Interesting, no matter how much we might love family and parties there comes a time when a little peace and quiet is better.  My parents were ready for love and devotion to be served in small portions.  I suppose we can compare the often overwhelming joy of family to a lifetime of being stuffed with Thanksgiving dinners – some better than others – but appreciated none the less.  When age finally dictates after such a life-long feast, and we are filled to the brim, all that is wanted is a very thin slice of pumpkin pie.  I understood what she meant; enough was enough.

Nevertheless, she worried about letting go of the reins of her tradition, “If I don’t have the family come to our home, then where would they go?”  Smiling a sad smile I reassured her, “Then they will come to my house, and when I’m not able someone else will have the family Thanksgiving at their home.  There will always be someone to hold it together because family tradition is so precious.  Just let me know when you and dad are ready to let it go.  I’ll be there.”

We took photos after dinner that year: family photos, group photos, candid photos, couples photos and Mom and Dad photos.  With everyone being in a jovial mood, Dad made the announcement, “This is the last Thanksgiving here at the farm.  Mama just isn’t up to it any longer.”  The invisible baton of tradition was handed to me and for all of these years I have held it close.  It has changed, been reshaped, gotten smaller – and larger – depending on the number of guests.  The door of Ken’s and my home swings wide, and there was/is always  room for one more.

Since Ken’s AD Thanksgiving is always the holiday which hangs precariously in limbo until November.  By then I know whether we can do it one more time — or not.  In October we had a small family gathering.  Ken was very good.  Somewhere in his damaged mind there remains a spark of social.  He did so well that evening I decided yes; we would have Thankgiving dinner at our house once again.  Our daughter Julie and her daughter-in-law Marisol did the cooking last year, and what a wonderful gift it was.  This year I will have Ben to help when he isn’t watching Ken, and those coming will all bring a dish of something fabulous for the table, as usual.  What a bounty of blessings abides in my home.  I am forever filled with gratitude.

Last Thanksgiving I wrote about “Fiddler On The Roof,” Tevya and his ever-changing tradition and reluctantly accepting what he could not change when his daughters began their own traditions.  I see my battered baton fragmenting as did Tevya’s; bits and pieces scattering in many directions as members of our family move to various locations throughout our great land, but that’s okay even though we will miss them.   I think of tradition as a lighted candle –  like love.  It’s by sharing, giving it away,  allowing it to spread that it becomes bigger, better and brighter.

Following the “tradition” of Tevya and his humble friends I decided last year to place a metaphoric fiddler on my roof as a reminder that in spite of the adversities we all have, life is good.  As far as I know my fiddler remains.  Listen, once again I do believe I hear the lilting strains of music.

Originally posted 2010-11-20 21:38:29.

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