I am kicking ass and taking names!

30 09 2008

Remember the story about my Granddad when my Mom went to show off her new engagement ring?  Refresh your memory in an open letter to my nieces and nephews be they tulley or mcniece.  I am channeling him these days.  I feel surly and churlish – trying to get a job done because I won’t be free to feel what I want to feel until she isn’t chomping at the bit.  So, I am posting fair warning to stay out of my way.  If my concentration gets broken for any reason it is not going to be pretty. 

We started in on the famous bookshelf yesterday.  I had planned a strategy to help keep focus and minimize distraction.  First, I took three small bins, piling in anything and everything that wasn’t a book.  Oh the glorious bounty!  But alas, three bins did NOT do the trick – so it overflowed on to a chair and in plastic grocery bags and anything else that would serve a containerish purpose.  

Then with the mrs. at my side we started at the top and worked our way down.  Book by book she was allowed to condemn them to death or grant them a stay of execution.  Two shelves worth stay pretty much intact.

She has always been a reader.  Her favorites authors and series: not ones I’d care to read once let alone re-read them year after year as she does, but that doesn’t matter – they are hers…she wants to see them on the bookshelf, in her TV room, in her house.  Once her favs started lining up all organized and dusted – she could hardly contain herself.  She can’t stop staring at it.  She says it’s changed the whole look of the room.  

Throughout the evening while she worked her word puzzle, I started in on the nooks and crannies that had been the filing system for Billy’s newspaper clippings.  Like an archaeologist at a dig site in the Negev Desert – a pattern slowly formed before my eyes:

  • Obits for anyone who had attended Emerson High School, worked at Nipsco or lived on Gary’s East Side.  
  • Anything having to do with the Cubs.  
  • Members of their church-in name or photo-snipped and saved.  
  • A column that used to run in the paper written by a guy living in LA who had grown up in Gary back in the “good ol’ days”. 
  • And finally – a shared section.  Once she was done with her wordsearch…he’d have his turn to carefully scissor his way around the crossword puzzle. All of them were blank.
Today, a very Fallish day – cold blowing winds, big puffy gray clouds rolling in off the Lake, leaves coming down like what.  It’s time for the trees to be bare for awhile…to rest naked in the snow. They have their own kind of beauty. Just like this bookshelf.  Old is giving way to a new look.  Once this room is to her liking…she’ll be ready to hibernate and wait out the winter.
This is a very disconcerting process.  Everytime I throw away a pile of half bent paperclips, plastic milk bottle tops and screws to who-knows-what, I feel like I’m erasing a little bit more of him.  He doesn’t reside in stuff…he’s in my soul and if I never have a trinket that was his – no one can take him away.  My hands are open.  
I haven’t been able to write for a few days.  The very act of blogging is counterintuitive to censorship.  There is a lot more going on here than what meets the eye.  Meanwhile, there is a job to do and it’s going to get done…

naked we enter…

27 09 2008

There are certain things I like doing around the house and other chores – not so much. One of the things I don’t like doing is buying groceries. I don’t know why. I just don’t get excited when I need to go to the store. But I don’t mind doing laundry. Maybe it harkens me back to my former life.

When we first moved overseas one of the major adjustments was that dryers where not part of that equation. Washers were all front loaders and always mounted under the counter in the kitchen. Kitchens were tiny spaces but the set up was very convenient. It didn’t take long to understand the genius and catch on to the overall way of doing things.

I started noticing that people didn’t have as many clothes. You could see someone in a repeat outfit and there would be no raised eyebrows. There were no built in closets so the small armoirs were the space to house whatever we had.  We had less – and it worked.

Line drying everything had its challenges but I learned to work that system too. The sun is pretty efficient and having those pulley lines outside my kitchen window multiple floors up was easy except when things would fall off the line and I’d have to go to a neighbor’s to claim some random pair of underwear. In the winter, using the radiators to dry things inside was a natural humidifier.

Of the gazillion living situations we experienced over the years , one was upstairs from our landlords. They had built a free standing home with two identical floor plans plus an attic apartment. Their plan was to provide housing for their kids but in the meantime paying down the mortgage with renters. There was a nice large porch off the kitchen where I could hang the laundry and it was also a terrific place for our Old English Sheepdog to hang out and watch the world.

At one point in an economic “crisis” we were surprised to find that our rent was being doubled. So a face to face with the landlords had us trying to find a solution. In our discussion we were made aware of a fact that they had been keeping from us for a long long time. Elena would do her laundry daily, hang it out to dry and soon discover that it was spotted and dirty again. Day after day, weeks – months….they never told us that even though I took the dog out multiple times a day to do his thing, he was peeing off the porch too – right over her clean laundry. It wasn’t long until we were stateside for an extended stay where we found a new home for the dog from hell and on returning found another rental.

All this laundry musing was brought to mind as yesterday I “goodwilled” 40 shirts, 20 pairs of pants, 20 belts, 37 ties and various and sundry other items from the man who lived a relatively simple life.  It should be noted that most everything he ever wore was already being recycled.  He only spent money at resale shops. The frugal side of the depression-era babies made them hang on to things they didn’t really need. There is something very hard about getting rid of someone’s clothes. Even over lunch, the mrs. commented on how strange it is to be on this side of the equation. Someone is here for so many years and within a few hours you load up the trunk and all traces are gone.

So next time you do laundry – think about the time and energy invested in all the stuff we wear, all the stuff taking up room in our closets that we rarely wear-if at all, and all the stuff that someone else will have to get rid of when we’re gone. Do your family and the world a favor – and get rid of it now and if you love line-drying your laundry like I do –  never live below someone that owns a badly mannered dog.

When I get a…

26 09 2008

I don’t even feel like writing and I take that as a sign that I should.  There are only 15 minutes left till the 25th is officially history.  I wasn’t even tracking on what day it was today until late this evening she drew my attention to it.  A month has gone by and today I feel pretty overwhelmed.

She wanted to go to George’s for breakfast – it was strange to be there without Billy.  George wasn’t even there so she couldn’t personally give him the little card thingy from the funeral.  We left it with the other guy and hope he gives it to him.  Maybe it was being there again that silently set the tone of the day.

I thought I’d be responsible and proactive by fixing the outdoor sconce first thing so soon as we got back home,  I had it taken it down and taken apart. Ninety percent of the project went off without a hitch.  But before long I found myself in the garage and in the basement staring at his work bench looking for specific things I couldn’t fine.  Finally, two more trips to the hardware store and four hours of work lead to so much frustration that by early afternoon,  I called an electrician’s shop and took the stupid thing in to have them fix it.  It wasn’t that I couldn’t figure out how to repair it, it was just a simple logistical matter that got me in the end.

I knew I should get something else accomplished…something significant.  But I had been sabotaged early on.  Looking for what I “needed” and seeing all the things I need to sort through – I hit a wall.  A big wall.  One that reminds me that there is plenty of work to be had around here.  

It’s not lost on me that I was so energized last week by reading someone else’s blog about organizing their work space.  This is my work space. I’ll start with the four boxes method:  Goodwill, garbage, keep and the “Oh God what do I do with this now” box.  I have to be disciplined and remember that this didn’t get here in a day (more like 41 years!) and it’s not going to be taken care of in a day. There will be days that I will be able to do alot…and there will be days that I don’t do much.  I’m really very grateful that she doesn’t have to do this alone.  

I found myself in the basement wishing a dumpster would magically appear in the driveway accompanied by six strong men without bad backs – like the kind you can hire outside the Home Depot on Sunset Blvd. in Los Angeles for a song and a dance ‘coz they are just thrilled to find “work”.  People I don’t know – but people I can boss – people that won’t engage me in conversation or distract me.  But they aren’t here…

Or someone that walks behind me snapping digital pictures that are automatically uploaded to eBay with the perfect descriptions and eager buyers already bidding by the time it is posted.  There really is a gold mine here.  But do I have the patience, time or energy to recognize it all?  If the group from Antique Roadshow would just pull up outside they could tape 10 episodes for sure.

Tomorrow is another day.  The day after the day he died a month ago.  Supposedly that will make the 25th of next month easier.  Maybe I will have made so much progress by then I will feel better. But for now, I’m officially giving myself permission to take this a baby step at a time and say …it’ll get done when I get a round tuit.

…a thousand words.

25 09 2008

Need I say more?

gettin’ our ghoul on

24 09 2008

I had to go and mention it…thinking that since it was an 85º day, we might as well get her favorite Fall/Halloween decorations out and up.  We started at 5:30 p.m. and after two trips to the hardware store, one blown fuse, one sconce socket sparking, 200 mosquito bites later – we are half way done.  The rest will happen tomorrow.  Maybe – unless I call in sick!

itinerant mouser

23 09 2008

My dad did not like cats.  Consequently, I never had a cat until twenty years ago a little runt in our house found an orphaned kitten (well not exactly orphaned – just abandoned by her beaatch of a mom) on a very cold rainy November night and did that quintessential dad-begging to let her bring it upstairs to the apartment for just ONE night.  Thirteen years later and numerous overseas jaunts traveling like the King of Siam, that black and white was given the keys to the kingdom thanks to a friend of mine who worked at the humane society.

Then came psycho cat.  She’s good enough – a hard working mouser for sure – always leaving her prizes in obvious places for me to find.  Like right beside the toaster…she knows that’s a place we’ll visit most every morning.  But she talks alot.  She’s a yappy cat.  Especially at this time of day when we are anywhere within a few hours time of her twice a day alotment of smelly little kibbles.

I do know that she doesn’t get the attention that the first one got.  That first one was a dog in cat’s clothing.  He’d fetch – he’d let the girl dress him up in doll clothes – he was quiet and shy and rarely came out when non-family members were in the house, and most importantly he knew when you wanted him to cuddle or when just your feet were cold.  All in all a pretty perfect cat for our first time around.  

But she…She came just 6 months before the “golden” four-legged child.  The one that does NO wrong, barely barks unless she’s feeling protective, very easy on the eyes, and she has to be coaxed into licking anything.  So the little missy has had a lot to live up to for sure.  She doesn’t get taken for walks or get to go to the groomers for a spa treatment…lately she gets locked in the basement at night to stay away from the only houseplant I’ve dared have in 7 years.  It’s supposedly poisonous but just like a freakin’ junkie…I can’t keep her away.  She’s ruined the blame thing.

So I’m headed south in the morning and wondering if I should take a little traveling companion with me.  It’s just an experiment at this point.  Maybe she’d make a good housemate for someone who is alone all day and has no one to talk to.  They could talk to each other.  The shedding would just be a plus as it’d give the lady something else to do and someone to fuss over.  The mouser could be an alarm clock of sorts to remind the mrs. of when to take her pills.  “When the incessant meowing starts take your pills then feed the feline.  No batteries necessary.  Will work even during power outages and will not have to be reset during Daylight Savings Time.”  How perfect is that!

I’ll be there for a few days this week and maybe mouser will just think she’s special that she gets to go and the hairy big beast doesn’t.  Then if it seems like all is well – I’ll leave her there when I come back for the weekend and we’ll see where we stand after that.  

The only thing I wonder about is who will clean the dog’s face every morning.  

coping mechanisms

22 09 2008


It was last December when I snapped this picture of Billy using one of his favorite coping mechanisms. When things got too overwhelming for him, he’d just take out one of the multiple “snot rags” he’d have on his person at any given time – hang it over his glasses and check out.  He knew what was best for his brain at the time. Having worked with many brain injury patients over the last three years – I understand some of the things that happened…too much light, too much noise, too much activity, too much stress.  A time out for the brain.

So after a good cleaning of the livingroom today and exorcising all the flu bugs – I went to Blockbuster and got season one of 30 Rock…just like hanging a snot rag over my brain.  There’s not much in life that Tina Fey can’t fix for me.

table for one, please

21 09 2008

Tentatively she asked, “Can you seat me at a table for one?”  Without hestitating the young waiter at the Dynasty Buffet ushered her over to the same booth they had shared so many Sundays together.  It wasn’t until the end of the meal that she dared explain knowing full well that if she attempted it earlier, she’d not be able to eat because of the lump in her throat.

This week has been that for her – doing some of the hard work of being on her own. Once she gets some of these things out of the way for the first time, the easier they will be the next time around. But they take tremendous amounts of courage.  She surprises me.  I am so proud and so sad at the same time.

She says that she often finds herself talking to someone in the next room only to discover there is no one there.  She’s still thinking the dog is making noise and Saint Skye’s been gone for a year and was only a freeloader for 17 years.  Imagine the adjustment time after sidekicking it for 60 years.

Funny that I often find myself in such an opposite place in life where I rarely get one or two hours totally alone in the house – no Cali Squatter, no Director Boy, no Dr.  I can barely contain myself when it does happen.  Guess I’d better reconsider what I wish for…

95 shopping days left till Christmas

20 09 2008

Billy got a moose last year and I’m thinking his “girlfriend” deserves something like this under her Christmas tree this year…check out what the Spoon Sisters are offering.  


Tattoos for the Elderly

Tattoos for the Elderly

Everything in life is a little easier to take if we have a sense of humor about it, and yes that includes old age. So for anyone who’s really “old school”, here’s a set of tattoos guaranteed to generate laughs from Arizona to Florida, and every retirement community in-between. With ten different tattoos, you can choose from “Grand Mom”, “Retirement Home Boy”, or our personal favorite the “Pill Organizer wrapped in a Snake”. They’re so much fun, you’ll want to wear more than one! Tattoos will stay on up to three days; can wash lightly with soap and water; may come off in chlorinated water.

we are the lucky ones

19 09 2008

I don’t know what it is about today that has me thinking this way.  It might have been a casual conversation with my mom about food.  We talked about microwaveable meals, I guess, the ones my dad hated.  About a month before we started our journey in the hospice world, he was giving 90% of his Meals on Wheels “to the birds” (or so he thought, you’ll remember I discovered he was really feeding a cat…that would NOT have made him happy).  So in recalling all that today on the phone, mom laughed out loud saying, “wasn’t he an ornery bugger?”

Our journey was only “diagnosed” about 5 years ago right now.  I was in the hospital then too but taking care of someone different.  After a month there, we came home this very weekend.  It had been life and death and we barely got out alive.  And I’m reminded of all of those details because we were in the emergency room two nights ago and he’s been battling a fever of over 101° for five days. Bags of various fluids suspended from an IV pole can be our friend but they remind us of when there were seven hanging there at once.  

Less than two weeks after being released back in 2003, I got the call that my dad was in the hospital down in Indiana and was recovering from a stroke.  He’d had a quadruple bypass in the late winter of 2001 without any complications that I can remember.  After the stroke, a neurologist was added to the growing list of appointments he had to keep.  Ironic for the guy that had worked 34 some odd years without a sick day.  Now he had four doctors.  His hobby turned from garage sales to doctors’ offices and he still came home with unnecessary plastic items.

I remember going to see the neurologist with them and was surprised at the casual mention of Alzheimer’s as the diagnosis. Where did that come from?  Since when? The usual trial of meds began and some very unpleasant side effects seemed to us worse than whatever it was supposed to be treating.  Was quality of life no longer an issue?  Later in another setting with his internist, it was explained to me that he really had multi-infarct dementia caused by the strokes (at least two maybe three – and who knows how many mini-strokes that went “unnoticed”) hitting his brain in the same spot that was causing similar effects of Alzheimer’s.  I call them cousins.  Not exactly the same but way too many similarities to ignore.

During this last year with the three of us huddled in the same little office, the doctor patiently explained to my mom again that Billy had two terminal situations going on at once – congestive heart failure and dementia.  One would win out in the end and we had no guarantees of which would take him first but we could secretly cross our fingers.

The heart was quite a piece of work.  He didn’t have a heart attack to provoke the surgery so maybe it was just a “routine” stress test.  What they found out after they were inside was quite different. Two thirds of his heart had been seriously damaged by silent heart attacks all along.  What did he think it was – trapped gas?  A pulled muscle?  A hang nail?  That would be just like Billy to not complain.  So they rewired the whole thing and closed him up to let that last third do its job.  And work it did – for seven years.  

A year or two after the major surgery, they added what looked like a pack of cigarettes under his skin – a pace maker / defibulator doodaa.  I must say it was strange the morning we moved him to the hospice center and a rep from the manufacturer came by the house with a laptop and magic wand to turn the gizmo off.  Yikes – that was a weird feeling but I totally understood that at that point we didn’t want it kicking in and shocking him.

Now, post-hospice we know what won out in the end…his good heart.  Just yesterday I read an essay from the New York Times about a loved one in an Alzheimer’s unit.  I walked through one of those this year thinking I’d better anticipate our options.  I was profoundly sad and am profoundly relieved that we never got that far. 

This week of forced pause while I do different caregiving in Michigan (Does he have Epstein-Barr?  Is it just the flu complicated with tonsillitis?  Will he be able to sleep tonight and start to rest?) has been odd.  While I’m worrying about this “other” him – I’m thinking about her there alone.  She’s doing well.  She did some good grieving this week.   That wouldn’t have happened with me there pushing papers and figuring numbers and mailing out death certificates to everyone and their brother.  This is where we are – and we know one thing:

It could have been so much worse – we are the lucky ones.  Some families are still in the throws of it all…and I think about them everyday during the hours I dreaded the most.