Yugoslavia

AFTER ALZHEIMER’S — A PROMISE…

Peach Blossom

The return of peach blossoms each spring bring hope of new life and remembrance of things eternal.

April 7, 2012 — Perhaps Robert Browning said it best:  “The year’s at the spring, and day’s at the morn…..”  As the seasons continue their flow of never-ending cycles I find that it’s spring I love best.  After a long and dreary winter – spring is here — filled with promises of new life and awakenings.  Spring in our world slips in quietly with hints of timid greens breaking through the drab branches of our trees, and warmth fills the air turning my soul to thoughts of life in general, life after life and just a few days away is Easter – holding more promises of distant hopes and seeing loved ones long departed.  My heart wants to burst with joy.

OUR FAMILY’S FIRST BRUSH WITH ALZHEIMER’S

When I most remember our parents and others who have gone before I remember the sadness we felt and think of Nick.  There is always a period of adjustment when a loved one passes, and Ken’s dad was the first parent we lost.  A victim of Alzheimer’s some 30-plus years ago, as I add and subtract the time between then and now, Nick was also our first experience with AD.  The medical community was just getting their feet wet with dementias, hardly even knowing what to call the collective mystery.  We wandered helplessly through the caring period for Nick without much advice from our doctors because there wasn’t any advice to give.  Little by little we watched and worried as he slipped away from reality until it was no longer practical or safe to care for him at home.  A week after placement in a care facility he died.  Nor was it practical or safe for Mom to be alone in the house.  She had her own problems with dementia, bladder cancer and other health issues.  Following surgery and treatment for the cancer, Ken and his sister Loretta moved her in a care facility located between the two families so we could visit on a regular basis.

What remained were the house and its furnishings.  In today’s world clutter experts would have called Rose a minimalist: if it wasn’t used it was gone which made dividing the remaining treasures among us and the grandchildren easy.  The house would be rented with the income going to keep Mom happy and cared for in the new and sunny surroundings.

Cleaning and painting their house was easy compared to the challenge of the yards.  Rose and Nick had what we considered to be the best lot on the hill.  Windy at times as the salt air swept in through the Golden Gate, across the bay waters, and then up and over the hills just north of Berkeley.  For a time Nick made their bit of land a showplace.  Farming skills he learned as a boy in his native Yugoslavia applied to the hardened clods of dirt surrounding their new home changed the impossible to fertile ground to mold as he saw fit.

In the old country he and his father terraced the hills with cleared stones, pulverized the lumpy earth with their bare hands and added mulch to enrich the earth.  In California, he followed the same pattern, and with limited city space he planted a peach tree, berry vines, grafted a variety of plums onto a “mother” tree, and established a fig tree not bigger than a stick in a side corner which grew to be enormous.  For a time during their good retirement years their small spot of land flourished and became their own Eden.  When Alzheimer’s came Nick forgot his garden and Rose neglected the flower beds.  The wind blew, the earth became hard and dry, and the natural grasses  replaced all that had been good from their labors.

With the inside of the house ready for the renter we tackled the yards pulling weeds, trimming hedges and dug some favored bulbs for remembrance. Winter was still with us; the weather cold and threatening rain, and the chores tedious and exhausting.  “Let’s come back and finish on Saturday,” I suggested to Ken.  He agreed and Loretta was willing to quit early so the two of us could get home before the heavy traffic.

“How’s it going,” asked my neighbor Barbara. We brought her up to speed saying we were going back on Saturday to prune some trees and finish the job.  “Then it’s done,” I added feeling the relief.  “You’ll be pruning trees?” she hopefully asked.  “Would you save me a really gnarled branch for a decorating item I’m working on.”

A SPRING SEASON FILLED WITH SURPRISE AND PROMISE

Saturday went well and I brought Barbara her gnarled branch.  “Come in and I’ll show you what I’m doing.”  Stirring up a batch of plaster of Paris and water, she then scooped the white glob into a decorative brass bowl, smoothing it into a flat surface.  Next my neighborhood crafter plunged the branch deep into the glistening mass holding it firm while the plaster hardened.

Scattered on a near-by table I noticed an array of blue silk blossoms and bits of greenery. “When this dries I’ll glue the flowers in place and it’s done.  I’m going to put it against that blank wall in the dining room,” she explained.  I was impressed having to admit the contrast between the delicate blue silk and the gnarled branch was oddly beautiful.  “Come over in a few days and see the finished product,” she asked.  I promised and went home to collapse into a chair before starting dinner.

With the last few rains, winter was passing and the balminess of spring was in the morning air.  Looking through the window I noticed a few billowing clouds drifting overhead and thought about Nick, missing the man he was before Alzheimer’s, and understanding the loss Ken still felt.  Nick would have been out working in his garden this beautiful spring day.  Suddenly, the ringing of the phone broke the silence and my thoughts vanished.  “Come and see my branch,” insisted Barbara joyfully, but with a sense of urgency in her voice.  Obediently I hurried across the street to her house and through the open door.  “Look,” she said, pointing to the gray, gnarled branch.  In wonderment I was speechless.  There among the blue silk flowers was one pink peach blossom.  Perfect in every way and filled with life.  Clinging to a dead branch stuck in a bowl of plaster the delicate blossom held the promise of a peach, almost as a reminder.

Ken and I talked about it when he came home.  Scientifically, we understood that water supplied from the plaster was enough and sufficient nourishment had been pulled from a branch that for a time was more dormant than dead. Of course, the explanations were there, but for us there was deeper meaning in the small phenomenon.

Outside it was spring.  New birth and promises were everywhere.  With Easter approaching we had been reminded, once again, that as people of faith we find relief from our grief and comfort in that first Easter when Jesus Christ rose from the dead and now lives.  Ken nodded with a smile accepting that Nick was gone – but I could see through his tears that he was filled with joy remembering — and knowing — that he would see his father and all of the others who had come and gone before us. We would see them and know their love and companionship throughout the eternities.  The tiny lone blossom was more than a promise of a peach; it was the promise of new and everlasting life.

 

 

Originally posted 2012-04-07 05:04:17.

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.

ROAD SIGNS FOR ALZHEIMER’S

risks ahead

There are many risks ahead for both caregivers and victims of Alzheimer's.

“Everyone is different,” said my friend, Madalyn, whenever I tried to compare Ken with her husband, Darwin, whose body succumbed to death from its own ills even as his brain deteriorated with Alzheimer’s. Darwin developed AD a few years before Ken so I suppose it was natural for me to look for some kind of gage to compare their journeys. What I was to learn, though, is that AD does not follow a precise pattern like the common cold which is usually gone in two weeks – or 14 days – if you take good care of yourself: a solid time frame if there are no complications. I wanted something like that: road signs, directions and distance as my gage so I could be better prepared for what was to come. AD doesn’t work that way. Rather than gages, I got stages: mild, intermediate and severe cognitive loss, and that’s about as good as it gets even though it still doesn’t allow us, caregivers and family, to determine the approximate sickness location until the evidence is blatant. The brain and its deterioration process are still too much of a mystery.

As we watch our loved ones slip further and further into the depths of The Devil’s disease we can only guess – with input from the neurologist — at the three stages, and when they slip from one into the other there is not much of a sign – nothing dramatic – until one day you realize the patient has moved from mild to intermediate, and somewhere down the line to severe. And in observing the changes, I have come to agree with Madalyn. Everyone is different. So is the first tale-tale sign that something may be going wrong with someone we love.

Ken’s mom and dad were our first experience with Alzheimer’s, but as I have mentioned before absolute diagnosis in the late 1970s could only be determined with an autopsy. None of our medical people suggested it be done after they passed, nor did we make the request. However, that was all right because we didn’t need absolute proof; we knew what we had witnessed. An enemy from within had destroyed their brain and it wasn’t as simple as senility or old age. It’s now, in retrospect, that I search my own memory in an effort to recall some of those first signs which may have hinted to what awfulness lay ahead.

UNREASONABLE: In many relationships unreasonable would be a shot in the dark as far as determining a disease such as Alzheimer’s. Ken’s father, Nick, could be a stubborn man, even unreasonable at times, being the patriarch of the family with a lifetime of independence and dogged responsibility, a world traveler, eight years in the Marines, a strong union member, leader and officer he still managed to remain open for discussion. Then he began to change. The episode I remember, which was beyond reason, had to do with the simplicity of watching television during the Summer Olympics somewhere in the mid to late 1970s.

“What are those young women wearing,” he complained while watching the gymnastic performances. “They may as well be naked. You would never see young women from Yugoslavia wearing something like that.”

Tito was still in power at the time, and while Nick hailed from an area which had been part of Austria, it became part of the new state under Tito. Therefore, 60 years after his immigration he considered himself from Yugoslavia, and was proud of the modesty and decorum of the country’s women – not like the shameless women from other nations, including the U.S.A.

“Dad,” protested Ken, “Yugoslavia is participating in this segment of the Olympics and all of the young women are wearing body suits. You’ll see that when Yugoslavia’s team competes.”

“Never!” grumbled Nick. “Our young women would never dress like that.” Seeing was not believing; Yugoslavia’s team appeared in body suits and participated. Nick was unaccepting saying they must be interlopers, not really from his former country. Ken’s further discussion was waved aside as Nick sliced his hand through the air ending Ken’s participation.

Even though the program had moved on to other events, Nick wouldn’t let the lack of modest attire go. Gymnastics were forgotten, but immodesty prevailed in many forms including swim suits. Ken and I talked about it on the way home, remarking how stubborn and set in his ways he was getting, and now he was to the point where no one could tell him anything. Nothing was up for discussion. He knew it all and his word was law. It was only in retrospect and continuing evidence that we had to accept as fact that something was happening to the man we had known so long. His mind was no longer functioning as it once did.

“You don’t know anything.” “Leave that alone.” “Don’t let the boy (our grandson) do that. He’ll get hurt.” “Leave me alone.” “No! I don’t need to shower.” “I don’t have to change my clothes. They’re not dirty.” “Put the lamps on the floor. If we have an earthquake they’ll crash through the window.” “I wear my coat and hat in the house because I might get cold.” “They tricked me so I lost my driver’s license.” No matter how we tried talking with him, Nick became more and more confused and unreasonable.

The diagnosis of AD was ours and arrived at some years following his death. It quickly surpassed what Rose was suffering from, and yet we still didn’t know what it was, nor did we know what to do. Wearing too many clothes, he collapsed on hot days and was taken to the hospital with the paramedics explaining he had become overheated. The doctors determined he was just getting old and demented, suggesting we find a good care facility for him. We did. He died a week later.

Originally posted 2011-05-30 04:58:01.

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