Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Being Dutiful

I called my mother on Christmas Day.

She did recognize my voice, or at least she seemed to. During our twenty-minute conversation, at times she thanked me for the flowers I'd sent to her, at times she thanked me for the pointsettia she thought I'd sent to her.

Mostly she bitched about the people who "visit" her and how they only come to her house because there are no other elderly people to visit. She has no understanding that the in-home aides are there to take care of her. She is still (as she was from the earliest memories I have) utterly without ability to accept gift, or compliment, or help with gratitude. I refrained from telling her that the people were there because I ordered them to be there -- she wouldn't be able to understand that, so there's no point.

I listened to her repetitive rant until my temples were throbbing, then extricated myself from the conversation.

Talking to her was like looking at a cicada moult and trying to figure out the bug's mind from it. She has convinced herself from her core of being that there is nothing wrong with her, and that she needs no one's help.

Nothing that she says is reliable. What she apprehends from minute to minute is malleable, it might be real, it might be imagined. She said she was alone, although the agency we've retained says it is there 24/7. I don't know if that's true or not.

I began to froth at the mouth that she had been left alone on Christmas Day, but then had to sigh, and wonder. Maybe she was, and maybe she wasn't. And though I might rage at what might happen to her if she was alone, isn't some incident that she, in her incapacity, might bring upon herself the foot in the door that I've been praying for to get her into a nursing home?

Wishing her no ill, I still have to accept that her Alzheimer's is a death sentence that cannot be commuted.

May God have mercy on her.

Monday, December 24, 2007

In Love

I know that I thought the first picture I took would be of Howie, but the sun was peeking through the trees and struck the papyrus by the patio with a remarkable effect. This is the first picture taken with the Sony Cybershot DSC-H7.

I only took a couple pics the first time through the instruction manual. As I began to realize the potential of this camera, my hands started to shake and my nerves were done for the day.

This morning, after breakfast, I sat down with the BIG instruction manual and started going through it page by page. I found out I could take pictures of the yard through the window while I was seated in my comfy chair in the bedroom!

One of the "demands" I had on a new camera was a zoom. What I didn't expect (whee!!!) is that this camera can function well in low light without a flash. I zoomed in on the dozing Howie.

Another thing I lusted for was closeup stuff. The Sony has a "macro" feature that allows me to take pictures as close as half an inch. Not having any pretty flowers growing in my bedroom, I had to be content with experimenting with the arm of my chair.

To avoid taking up too much space on this blog, I reduced the size of the photos, but with the original in Photoshop, I can zoom in even closer to the point of seeing the fibers in the threads.

I love this camera already.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Watch This Space for More Developments

A new pet entered the household tonight. I've been wanting a companion like this since the old pet died. And now it's resting in the quiet of my bedroom, waiting for my hands to touch it gently and make it do tricks.

It's a Sony Cybershot DSC-H7 digital camera. 8.1 megapixels, 15x optical zoom.

No way am I even going to try to play with it tonight. I read as much of the manual as I could easily retain, and by the time I was done gulping with astonishment about all the things this camera can do (that I didn't even know about) my hands were shaking so badly that I'd never be able to get a clear shot.

When I bought my dearly departed Olympus 765 Ultra Zoom, a week went by before I had more than one clear shot per shoot due to the shaky nature of my appendages when nervous.

And I want the battery to have a full charge when I start to play, tomorrow, you betcha.

AND how much do you want to bet that my first subject is the sweet, soft, striped Howie?

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Even One Little Life

This finch has just had a quick snack and is debating whether or not to tell the other 20 members of his flock about the freshly-hung finch food.

Eventually, he returned to the flock with nyger seed on his breath, and they all beat the location of the tasty treats out of him. And then they all came to dinner.

This evening I got an early Christmas gift. While sitting at my computer station (now in the kitchen with this pictured window in front of me, and a patio glass slider to my left) I heard a loud "Whonk!" and turned to see a little finch lying on the wet patio about 3 1/2 feet away from me on the other side of the glass. The poor little idiot had flown into the patio door and knocked himself simple.

One wing trailed on the ground, allowing me to see the exquisite pattern of darks and whites on his wing; but the bird's head listed to the left, eyes half closed, beak open as he panted in distress. "Not good," I thought. "If he dies, I'll toss him over the fence to where a neighbor's cat will eat him." (No life should be wasted. His little lifeless body could provide a meal for something.)

I turned off the kitchen light so that I would be less visible to the traumatized bird. After about five minutes, I noticed that he had stopped panting, though he was still looking over his dragging wing to keep an eye on me. I read another article on the BBC, and then was pleased to see that the bird's wing was back in its proper position. In a matter of seconds, the bird was looking around, eyes fully open. I watched and waited for him to hop away, but instead, he burst into the air and flew madly away over the fence to the east.

He was only a lowly finch, but I was glad for his recovery.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Broken Toy

I still have no pictures to share on this blog recently because I still have no camera.

There is no new camera in my life yet because until the last couple days, I was too sick to entertain thoughts of researching cameras. And then when I started to feel better, there was too much to do trying to make the house look less like an abandoned land fill.

This next week will be different, I suspect. I miss having a camera. I miss specifically MY camera, and haven't grown past the realization it is dead-o. Prior to owning my Olympus C-765, having a camera was a convenience; a camera was something one ought to have on hand in case one needed it. After splurging my stash on the Olympus, however, that appliance became as much of an extension of my creativity as my pens and pastels and paints. Without it, I feel as though I'm missing a limb -- something should be there ... and isn't.

The evenings I've spent sitting in the comfy chair in the bedroom, with my laptop warming my legs, keeping one eye on the back garden to watch the yellow-rumped warblers, kinglets, and white-crowned sparrows frolicking in the weedy overgrowth I've neglected this past year, I really miss the camera. Though the winter light is probably too dim for photos, I fancy that I could get a kickass image of a yellow-rump if only my camera was working.

Gotta get me one.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Where Are These Terrorists When I Want to Kiss Them?


If I could just give all of them a nice big kiss, most of them would be dead within two weeks.

This damn virus has still got me housebound and feeling like shit, after ten days. I haven't slept for more than 20 minutes at a time for six days at least -- oh, now that's not true, either, because this morning I slept for nearly an hour this morning before the damn phone woke me up. (You had better believe that tiny machine will be turned off before I attempt to sleep again!) Plus, my throat is still sore from coughing for all those days (and especially nights).

Bernie and I were talking on his lunch break today, and decided that this one is in the Top Ten Worst Bugs we've ever encountered. The absolutely wracking cough, the inability to rest, the physical weakness that have accompanied it -- for so many days -- yup, it's a prime contender.

I can remember when I was a kid, and got the measles or some such, and spent two weeks on the couch in the living room because my parents were afraid to let me out of their sight. The room had all the windows covered, I remember that, but not much else of that time, so it must have been pretty bad. I also remember how happy my dad's face looked when he brought me a couple of tiny pieces of pork chop and I ate them, at the end of that illness. So that one probably takes the top of the Top Ten list.

About thirteen years ago, I caught the flu, and thought I would die from it, especially after the long, long night I spent in fever hallucinations, thinking that I was an overstuffed chair that had been mistakenly created with sentience. I really thought I was a chair, and I really was dispairing for the voiceless existence I'd been given. That bout is probably Numbah Two, and convinced me of the necessity of getting flu shots each year since.

I haven't felt in danger of dying from this one, so I can't say that it's "Number Three" -- but I honestly can't remember feeling this crappy from a plain old cold virus. The wrenched muscles from coughing were alleviated by taking a couple doses of valerian; the nausea and diarrhea were (blessedly) short-lived; the coughing is disgusting, of course, and makes my throat hurt; but I think the worst is the inability to sleep. (No, Nyquil doesn't even touch it.)

Yesterday was Sunday, with Alex and John and Bernie all off to San Francisco to accompany Alex to the airport for her trip to Chicago. Though I had coughed myself awake for most of the night, I did have a lovely half hour of sleep, in which I dreamed.

I dreamt that I had somehow gotten shit all over the legs of my pants. Not my own shit, this was like peanut butter-colored cow shit. I cleaned myself off with paper towels as best I could (I was at an informal gathering of some sort) and then looked down to find myself covered with shit again. For a moment, I was horrified, and then, in the dream, turned to Bernie and said, "Do you know what this means? It means this is a dream, and I'm ASLEEP!" And for the rest of the dream, which involved more piles of shit in doorways and stacks of forgotten papers I had to go through, I was in joyous spirits because I knew I was asleep.

When that's the high point of your week, you know next week has GOT to be better.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Tis the Season

That could be a picture of our Christmas tree this year, but isn't.

We don't have one yet, and won't for at least another week. Bernie found an article about respiratory illness spikes during the Christmas season, and how they're apparently often linked to the mold spore content of the air around cut Christmas trees. The longer the tree is up, the higher the mold spore count, and thus the more likely to trigger respiratory illness.

And that, O World, is something this household does not need any more of. Four out of the five of us have been treated for pneumonia this autumn, so we're going to wait a week and some before setting off to cut our tree.

I have the dubious honor of being the final Coughing-The-Lungs-Out victim in this latest germy import. The doctor, when I saw her today, pitied me greatly, but informed me it was "just" a horrible hacking, wracking, nauseating, achy virus and that I'd live through it, bitterly perhaps, but in time I'd feel like a human being again.

Good news, eh?

Unlike some friends, who can turn sick-time into productive channels, I'm too much of a bitchy baby when I'm ill. Writing and art work are far from whatever side of my brain I use for those things, and all I can think of are mean things to say about the person who passed this freakin' bug on to me. (Hint: He had the gall to chuckle at me when my voice disappeared today.)

I did, however, find that the time went by more quickly when I had something to read. I'd ordered Lisa See's Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and The Prestige by Christopher Priest a few weeks ago, so I picked them up, turned on my reading lamp, and had at them. I won't do a review on them here -- I'm really not a good reviewer of books. It's enough to say that I read them through, and enjoyed their distraction, though I probably won't read them again.

The only other new books I have at hand are too creepy and depressing. Someday, but not on a rainy winter night when I'm alone in the house feeling like crap.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Mystery of the Disappearing Fish -- Solved!

Paris, Swishy, Face, Sully, Margaret -- only two of the fish in this picture are still there, the two all-orange ones on the left, Rosie and Oslo.

The five named, along with Lord Patu disappeared. The first to go were Swishy and Margaret; they disappeared last winter. Why they were gone, we couldn't tell. We never found their fishy bodies.

An acquaintance gave us nine HUGE goldfish to grace our pond; it wasn't long before two of them were killed, and their bodies we did find, but uneaten. That sounds like a cat to me, and I still believe that's what happened to the big fat fish.

But when Paris (the white one) disappeared, I was very puzzled, because Paris was too dumb to even come to the surface for food. Then Lord Patu, who was quite handsome, being half black and half orange, was suddenly gone, too. And the water plants had been knocked over. A raccoon?

The mystery was solved last Sunday as we watched football in the front room, whose front windows overlook the fish pond. Suddenly Alex shouted "Look at the pond!" and we turned to see a Great Egret in our little front yard, stalking the fish.

As we all rose to our feet, the bird saw us through the window and took off, looking as big as a house, snowy white against the blue-green shadows of the eucalyptus.

I guess I can't begrudge the loss of a few 10-cent feeder fish to an egret -- it was more of a tribute to our attempt at making a living habitat than an affront.

I wonder if that's why we didn't have any GPS toads in the pool this year?

And Now What Do You Do?

I probably could have finished NaNoWriMo on Thanksgiving, but instead we went to have dinner with good friends.

There was plenty of leeway, and much of the night before last I spent thinking, dreamily, about what I would write yesterday, and that was plenty of subject matter -- more than enough to reach the requisite 50,000 words. I reached 50,517 last night by the time the Steelers-Dolphins game began. After champagne to celebrate, we watched that mud-wrestling match for a while, then said, "Pfft," and went to bed.

This was my seventh attempt at NaNoWriMo. My daughter talked me into the first one; after that I was hooked. November has become a kind of "retreat" time -- a time to take stock of my hands and my brain and my ability to follow through with a project, and that is just all good, and it feels good to be done, the story (such as it was) told.

That story was garbage with a capital G. I had no beginning, no ending, just started from where last year's NaNovel left off and started rattling, letting the words pour out. Too many of them echoed the tragedy and sadness of this past year; more than once I found myself spilling tears as I wrote, even though the venue of silly fantasy should have been light-hearted and laughable.

It wasn't hard writing this year. I would just ensconce in my favorite comfy chair, open the laptop, and go away, to a different dimension, leaving all else behind -- except for the word counter, of course. When I would reach 2000 words, I'd find an "ending sentence" for a chapter, and then go back and name the chapter I had just written. And then shut down the machine and walk away.

Now done, re-reading what I wrote over the last month, I see how much I still miss my sister, and how her death left me with a well of loss. I also see echoes of my desire to help people, to let them know how precious they are in the scheme of things.

Informed thus, it will be interesting to see how this next year unfurls.

*Still wordy after NaNoWriMo, oh well.*

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Garlic Weekend

It was the breakthrough.

Back east, one of the few consolations I had each day was Tony's Cottage Inn. Not only did they have some of the tastiest meatballs I ever had in my life (and I savored Tony's food since I was a little kid -- 40 years or more ago) but their salad with house dressing burned itself deep into my psyche. While I was nearly dying of heartbreak back there so much of the summer, I ate at Tony's often, the distinctive taste of the salad -- with chicken, with fried calamari rings -- soothing my stomach and my soul. While all else was going to hell in a rickety wheelbarrow, Tony's flavors remained the same.


All my teenage and adult life, I'd tried to reproduce that incredibly savory house salad dressing. And failed. I tried a little wine vinegar with oil, salt, and pepper; I tried garlic powder and olive oil and salt (and sometimes a little vinegar); I tried oil and minced Christopher Ranch garlic in a jar with a bit of salt ... nada. Didn't taste the same.

Saturday, on a hunch, I ground up 6 cloves of garlic, covered them with extra light olive oil, added a teaspoon of salt, and added enough water to make about a third of a cup of dressing. Shook it well, and waited for it to steep in the fridge for about an hour and a half ...


Tony's apparently uses freshly crushed, mushed garlic for that incredible taste. I made a salad with it for our every-two-weeks potluck yesterday, and only a few shreds came back, for Alex to taste, and demand that we have it for dinner today.

Well, that was a bit after Bernie came out to observe me readying a "chuck cross rib roast" for the oven. "Could you put some garlic in that?" he asked.

"Sure," I answered, and proceeded to make a slurry of jarred minced garlic and water and inject it into the roast.

I made the new salad dressing and drizzled it over the salad.

Oh, garlic.

No vampires for us, and damn, it all turned out so good.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Something To Look Forward To

Only four months away.

The almond harvest is wrapping up; the air is a lot cleaner. We've had to close the bedroom window almost the whole way because the nights have been so chilly.

Waking up and walking around the house with cold feet make me dread the true onset of Autumn weather and then :-- ugh -- Winter, so I console myself with remembering that our "winter" is really pretty short, and that by next mid-February, all kinds of stuff will be blooming, and the air will be thickly scented by almond blossoms.

Cruelly, I noted this to a good friend in Pennsylvania, and she bitterly replied to my email thus: "Four months from now we'll be wondering when the next snowstorm is going to hit."

Well, that's why I'm here in Central California, now isn't it?

Sunday, October 07, 2007

The Time of Year: Getting Ready for NaNoWriMo

When life hands you lemons .... You know it's just about time for National Novel Writing Month!

The first year I tried the NaNoWriMo challenge, which is to write a 50,000 word novel in the 30 days of November, I had an opening scene and an ending paragraph, and some ideas for filler -- "word count" -- and that was it. The journey was sheer drama as I was freed to write dreck such as I had never imagined ... well, no. I had imagined it, I just never would have had the gall to type it out, if not for the promise that no one else would ever have to see it. It became autobiographical in spots, wildly romantic in others, and though it ended up being a good book, that first whack in November of 2001 STUNK.

2002's prospect was decided on in December of 2001, when I suddenly had become a writer and had nothing to urge me on. The Piker Press was founded the next spring, and having had that encouragement, NaNoWriMo 2002 was a welcome activity. I wrote "Time Traveler" in 21 days, buffeted by the passion to tell the tale.

In 2003, I vowed to have fun with NaNoWriMo, and wrote "Character Assassin," which remains my favorite book. It needed almost no editing -- just a spell check. It's also a great example of a writer's retreat: for nearly 30 days I just spent examining what my characters in various stories were like. (And it was indeed fun!)

2004 I breezed through "Out With The Trash" thanks to Wendy Robards, who gave me her mornings to work on character development. OWTT still needs a final edit, and a strengthening of one chapter, but you know how editing goes. Especially when you're writing other stuff, and that year, I was working on the second volume of Aser Stories.

NaNoWriMo 2005 I started one self-indulgent story, switched to one that would provide the Press with material, and then just gave up. I regretted that a lot for the next year.

2006 I thought about a serious venue, then opted in favor of following Aser and Danner to a bar. I figured I could go from bar to bar in Midgardian realms and get a lot of beer and word count. Little did I realize that Aser and Danner would run right into a murder mystery! It was really an exciting and amusing month, following them around and writing down their adventures.

I'm tempted to do that again this year. I like Danner and Aser, and Aser's friend Margot the Troll. And I never got around to spa-hopping with them last year, as the murder mystery delayed the start of their journey. And at the end of the book I wrote last fall, they'd managed to pick up a new ensemble character, Harn Ashwood, who became fascinated by the shaman way of life and probably needs an education on what that really means ...

Hoo. Now I can really hardly wait.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007


Purple beans.

Are they edible? I don't know. But when I saw them, I was intrigued. The flower is purple and lavender, and sweetly beautiful.

I saw these when we were back in Pennsylvania for my sister's funeral. I have always associated purples and lavenders with her; I don't remember if she said that was her favorite color back when we were kids, or that her chocolate-colored hair and blue eyes just were set off by the color.

Anyway, I found this photo tonight while going through my pictures, and thought of her, and told her I loved her, and cried again.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

One Lucky Pup

Absolutely, there are no photos to go with this entry. Nothing in the world could make me want to provide other people with the images in my head.

Saturday morning after Staff Meeting, Bernie and I thought it might be a good idea to take the dogs for a walk in the brisk autumn air. The dogs thought so too, so we set off across a local house construction site -- not active, not when this county leads the nation in foreclosures and the real estate market is deader than Count Dracula -- so that the dogs could run off leash and take a nice crap in the weeds of Lot # 15. All was well, but then ...

There is a huge pile of compressed dirt that has made for a lovely lookout for over a year on the far western side of the proposed housing development. It's a great place for flatlanders to walk up and see the surrounding countryside. Bernie decided to walk to the top, and of course, the dogs followed him. I mumbled something about "You guys really make me nervous" because the trio of males was skirting the part of the pile of dirt where dirt has been mechanically scooped out, forming a cliff of clay.

As I began walking away from the path to the top up the side of the hill, Howie scooted back down the little trail to be with me. Of course. But then the other "Of course" is that Sebastian, deep in the throes of off-leash chasing Howie, instead of taking the path, tried to come down the hill.

He slid about two feet, could not stop his downward progression to the edge of the dirt cliff, and decided that he could do best by jumping -- straight out into the air, about 12 feet above the ground. I screamed as I saw him drop, his drunken-fruit-bat ears flaring in the wind of his fall.

As he fell, I saw compound fractures, a broken back, multiple legs broken, a frantic seriously injured dog having to be transported in a blanket stretcher to the nearest emergency vet a half an hour away.

Then he stood up. Fell. Stood up again. Staggered toward me, limping. I made him lie down, and sent Bernie and Howie to get the car so that we could transport him. His right front foot, his lip, chin and one forearm were scraped to brushburns. He's a good dog; he lay still under my hand, just twisting his head so that he could watch Bernie and How out of sight. I prayed to St. Francis to intercede for the stupid pup.

A few minutes later, Bernie pulled his car across the construction site with Alex, whose appearance the pup could not resist. He jumped up, and although a bit wobbly, climbed into the car with her.

Having seen him fall, his condition seems nothing short of miraculous to me. I'm going to have nightmares about this incident for the rest of my life, but he is fine. Nothing is broken, and he's been inviting beatings from Howie all weekend.

Dumb ass dog.

You can't imagine how glad I am that he's all right.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Five Strengths in My Writing

Wendy Robards suggested the mental exercise "Five Reasons I'm a Strong Writer."

I don't usually bother with memes, but it got me thinking about why I think I can write. Once I got to thinking, I started comparing writing to visual arts -- I haven't had a lot of problems writing 50k words every November since 2001, but art work? It's like pulling teeth and I usually get so stressed out about it that I have to take a shower after coming up with some lame cover image.

So what makes the writing side stronger?

Number one, I get a tremendous kick out of telling lies. This is why I prefer fiction to non-fiction. Understand, I will NOT lie to someone about my actions or in court or stuff like that, but to entertain myself, I can and will fabricate facts, dates, experiences, you name it. (Ask Bernie.)

Two: Boldness. When I am typing, I am strong. I leap into the blank page like a maniac with a machine gun, blowing holes in the emptiness with no fear or compunction. Shotguns, machine guns, arrows, rocks -- when I think of writing I think of projectile weapons.

Those first two rather go together, because I'm a stage-junkie. I did not venture into Theater Arts when I was in college because given a stage and an audience, everything else fades -- food, drink, rest -- screw it, the energy that flows from an audience is the greatest high in the world and I can't get enough of it. Not good. However, in print, I can be an action hero to my heart's content, presenting whatever facade I like, and imagine an audience as large as I like.

Three and Four are practical: Vocabulary, and Grammar-and-Punctuation. I've got a wide range of words, and know how to put them together. Lots of writers have great ideas but shoot themselves in the feet every time they try to put those ideas on paper because they don't have those basics. Both as a teacher and as an editor I have found horrific the mistakes I see when people try to express themselves.

Five would be my idealism. I believe in goodness, in surmounting terrible odds, in love, in self-sacrifice. I believe that the thoughts of our hearts are worthwhile, and should be scattered on the ocean of humanity like a fountain of rose petals brightening an endless flotilla of boats. I hope that at least some of my writing has given people joy, or at the very least, a chuckle. "If I can make someone in the world laugh, or lift their heart," I told someone when I was 17, "then I won't have had a wasted life."

I guess I still feel the same way.

Now, why doesn't that work with visual arts for me?

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Autumn Harvest

In Pennsylvania, the first autumn color is appearing. The dogwoods are already turning red, and along with the sugar maples' color dotting the mountainsides, are heralding the sure change of seasons.

Last Monday, the 17th of September, I got an email from Jan's nursing home, asking me if I would make a voice recording of me reading that the nurses could play for Jan, as she had been becoming very agitated the last several nights.

They thought it might reassure her, and calm her. I agreed to try, and picked out a book to read; Bernie felt sure that we had to have all the necessary programs already on my big computer to make a CD. All I needed was the time to read, read, read -- which I thought might be difficult considering how rocky my voice sounded after that blasted cold and lung infection, but I was willing to give it a go, and read Jan "The Egyptian," by Mika Waltari.

Good old story-telling tale, that one, and I smiled, thinking of how to inflect the voice of Sinuhe's slave as he expostulates, "Your talk is as the buzz of flies in my ear." I wondered if Jan would chuckle at that phrase.

But when I awoke the next morning, an email from the Area Agency on Aging said simply, "Call us. Urgent."

It was time for the news I least wanted to hear, that I knew was coming, that I had prepared my heart for, but that broke my heart anyway. During the night, my sister Jan had died.

They told me it happened like this: she became agitated in the night, as she had for those "few" nights; but this time, she reached around and yanked the feeding tube from her side. (Remember, since early July she has refused food or drink.) They took her to the local hospital and re-inserted the tube, and checked on her every couple minutes to make sure she was all right, given her heart problems and her breathing problems. She was doing all right, she was doing all right, and then voila! Twenty minutes after the last check, she suffered her fourth heart attack, and this time, was gone, gone, gone.

Wow, who else pulled that stunt? What ever happened to the man who, recognizing he had terminal cancer, stopped eating and drinking, had a feeding tube put down his throat, kept pulling it out, and finally, struggling to stop the ministrations, had a heart attack and died? Oh, him? Jan's and my father? Why, how coincidental, didn't his death happen exactly nine years and 3 days before?

I call myself crazy with grief; I view my thoughts and mutter that I'm letting my imagination mingle with mere coincidences, but frankly, I think Dad was coaching Jan, there in spirit, whispering instructions to her. I'd cuss him out, but I'd then see him pointing a finger of one of his strong but graceful hands at me, saying with all his intensity, "And if you were me, you wouldn't have??"

Well, of course I would have, you old smartass. I've wished Jan could be well and free of her disability since I was old enough to wish anything beyond my own stomach.

One day this past summer, as I was sitting with Jan, she was holding a whispered conversation with an imagined someone. I can't remember what it was that I heard her say -- something about leaving, or getting things in order, or something that bespoke of an ending. "Jan," I asked her, "are you talking to Dad? Is he here talking to you?"

No, I didn't ask it as a way of drawing Jan out. I tried to make it sound matter-of-fact, but I don't doubt that I sounded annoyed. I wanted Jan to have a chance to make friends, have a couple more years of life that comprised more than a chair and a toilet. Jan didn't answer; she clammed up for the rest of the afternoon. Well, she always did like Dad best.

I told the air (the nurse being out of the room for a change) "Dad, knock it off."

Well, I don't think he did, and

now Jan is gone.

Well, gone from me.

My dear, dear sister.

Along with the color that heralds autumn, this is the time of year that the dogwood bears fruit, elongated red berries that will feed birds well into the first snow of winter.

With the change of seasons, the relationship that finally was allowed to blossom between my sister and me has been harvested, a fruit of love and attachment that will have to be my sustenance for the rest of my life when I think of her.

She was beautiful, and I loved her more than I was ever allowed to tell her until this past summer. I have no doubt that she is still beautiful, and now I can tell her how much I love her every day.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

"Ugh, Hound Puppies," said Howie.

I got Sebastian to lie down, promising him a belly rub. Howie was less than thrilled with the prospect of proximity to the 11-month-old pup.

Only me saying, "Stop, Howard, stay," kept him in the picture. He hates photographs, and really hates posing with the kid.

However, the picture is good in that you can clearly see how much bigger Sebastian is than Howie these days, and the cute little puppy of last year undoubtedly has a bit more growth coming, and weight, as well.

Had I but had the camera in hand this morning I could have harvested shots of an energetic and extensive beating that How administered to Seb; the striped fiend would pin Sebastian to the carpet, gnaw on his head, his neck, his shiny black legs, then turn away, sneezing -- and when the pup would scramble to his feet, afix the back of Howie's head with his border collie daddy's stare, How would spin, leap, and crash chest to chest with Sebastian and knock him down again.

Sebastian loves it. As soon as Howie turns his back, Sebastian starts stalking him, staring, unblinking. If Howie doesn't move, Sebastian will rush him, and poke him on the cheek, then turn tail and run like mad. This was one of the reasons I didn't get any photos of the beating this morning: Sebastian ran away around the back of the dining room table, and Howie followed him, nipping Seb's buns twice around, both of them running as fast as they could.

I laughed until I was coughing too hard to stand up straight.

In spite of the "Oh, I loathe this puppy" posturing, when we go out for walks, Howie has begun to wait for Sebastian to catch up to him when they are off leash for a run. If we keep the pup on leash so that Howie can have some private sniff-and-mark time, Howie now just stops and stands, looking back at Sebastian, as if to say, "Well, what are you waiting for?"

Today's only update is that we began stacking this year's firewood. It's almost all small, light stuff, and we got halfway through the pile before the sun came around and the flies found me. That's a good morning's work. I'll start a third rank of wood on Monday, and then we'll be good for heat until next fall ... unless we have a freak winter. Total cash cost? $200.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Ahhhhh, Sleep!

White was on my mind this morning when I woke, took a breath, and felt no pain, and didn't knock myself out coughing.

White, like this mock orange blossom, white, like puffy clouds in a dark blue sky in summer, white, like cool bleached cotton that reflects the heat.

I pulled a favorite summer outfit from the closet, a long white cotton shirt and light tannish gold linen trousers to wear to church, feeling as though I'd had a reprieve from prison.

Yesterday, I needed no medication all day long. Of course I took the prescription stuff the doctor ordered, but not OTC antihistimines or cough suppressants or pain-killers. At midday, I swallowed a nutritional supplement that has quercetin, bromelain, and vitamin C -- something we used to suggest at the health food store for respiratory congestion, but that was all. At bedtime, I took some Advil Cold and Sinus, a dextromethorphan cough suppressant, and some doxylamine succinate (Unisom) ... and then read until I fell asleep. I woke twice to cough during the night, but the rest of the dark hours, I slept, and dreamed and dreamed and dreamed. When I would wake, I'd smile at having been able to sleep and doze off again.

This morning, I felt GOOD. Not a hundred percent, mind you, but GOOD.

Being able to sleep is vastly underrated until you find that you can't. Then you long for it as though it was food, or love, or money when you can't even afford a pair of JackInTheBox tacos. Now combine that with not being able to breathe normally, and you have a very sad existence. Thus, this morning, with both sleep and breathing, was like a national holiday and vacation plans and a bouquet of roses all in one.

In addition, I've been in touch by email with my mother's pastor, and it turns out that before he became a priest, he worked in long-term nursing care with a specialization in gerontology. He understands Alzheimer's victims, and he can minister to my mother even in her dementia -- he won't be hiding from her, hoping he's not called to help out. Indeed, he plans on picking her up and taking her to visit my sister -- he's not forgetting about her, either. And at the end of his email, he asked if there was anything he or the parish could do for me.

The nice dreams I had last night, the feeling of returning health this morning, and such incredible kindness -- there's nothing more I need here. God is good, and as this morning's first reading told, His ways are hidden, and inscrutable, but always make sense in the end. If all the grief of this summer was meant to lead up to my sister's spiritual needs being tended to, and my mother's spiritual needs being made known, and my realization again that living is about joy in existence -- why, then, the grief was nothing at all in comparison with the reward.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Yeah, Who Gives a Honk


That's the sound my throat produces when I try to talk. The one-day fever and a couple coughs my grand-daughter experienced and passed on have translated as four days of fever and a cough that has turned me inside out.

At least today I was able to eat without feeling like retching. I made a soup of green beans, potatoes, and ham, and that first cup of broth this morning was like heaven, tasty and soothing. The coughing thing was the worst so far today, abrading my throat and making me wrap my arms around my ribs to alleve the worst of the pain. At that, I felt better today than yesterday.

After my temperature began rising again yesterday, I woozily made my way to the doctor's office, where I was told that my lungs didn't sound good, here take a course of antibiotics and use this inhaler for a while. I myself would have waited out the weekend to see how I'd fare, but Bernie told me to go to the doc. He was right. I'd have been a lot worse off if I'd have waited until Monday.

They tell me I'll feel a whole lot better by Monday.

I hope so, cause I feel like shit.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

My Mother, the Source of All Nuttiness

I call this a "self-portrait" of sorts.

Always off-balance these days, always being knocked off my feet.

Today the bank which oversees my mother's trust fund emailed me to tell me that they had finally found someone who was willing to extend to Tere homeowner's insurance. (Her long-term previous carrier dropped her for nonpayment last April -- no one at that point realized she wasn't paying her bills except her creditors) Well, as long as they could inspect and approve the woodburning "stove" she has. ( I can visualise the previous insurance company dancing around a fire burning up her policy, chanting, "We're free, we're free! Don't put no blame on me!/ No way, no way! We will not have to pay!")

The bank added that an inspection would not be necessary if I could assure them that the woodstove would be removed from the premises and all would be well.

IT'S NOT A DAMN WOODSTOVE!!!! The beast in question is a huge furnace that could swallow a Volkswagon Beetle! It can burn coal or wood, and it is so old that when it needed serviced three years ago, my mother could find no one -- NO ONE -- who knew how the damn thing worked. It is a museum piece. Mom ended up fixing it herself, God knows how.

How is your mother planning on heating her residence this coming year? the bank asked.

HTF would I know? My mother has Alzheimer's and refuses to admit it, is impaired and refuses to admit it, should not be living in that house alone and refuses to admit it. There are no men with butterfly nets to catch her and take her away to a safe living arrangement. Everyone looks at me and asks me what I am going to do, but I have only one question for them that no one can answer: "Who is going to chloroform her and trundle her off to the nursing home?'

Her court-appointed lawyer has already warned me off. He'd love the hours of payment for litigation, but still smilingly pointed out that Ma can still dress herself, keep herself clean, and -- when he visited -- her house is still tidy. Obviously he didn't ask to use her bathroom. Or eat anything from her kitchen. Geehhhh.

I'm going to send in the furnace inspectors, and see what happens from there. The neighbors are afraid of my mother setting fire to her dwelling, and thus endangering theirs, but they are totally unwilling to complain to authorities about her being a nuisance or a danger. What, the daughter who lives 3000 miles away is supposed to say she's a nuisance? Cut me a break. If they can put up with her vagaries, I guess I can, too.

No one in the previous eight years was interested in hearing me rant that she was incompetent to take care of my sister or herself. At this point my sister is safe, and still alive. If what testimony I've given to this point was invalid, I see no reason to set my hair on fire at this time.

*Falls down with a thump into the comfy chair to fight off the cold contracted from Lillian's first day at school.*

Monday, September 03, 2007

10K for Labor Day Blues

This year, I was hyped for the Piker challenge of writing 10,000 words over Labor Day weekend. This year, as every year we've done it, I failed miserably.

I don't even know why I try. Labor Day Weekend is loaded with End-of-Summer stuff. There was the balloon launch from the local park on Saturday (yes, I could have used that for word count but I hate writing non-fiction), and a very open Sunday.

Pictures were the big thing for Saturday, and a long ride to exercise Dink, and after that, I was just about worthless until the evening, when I decided I would slam-dunk some word count in writing down family history. Wrong move.

Remembering family history means remembering who you heard it from. Well, since I heard it all from my mother, it meant that my attention was focused on her voice. But just writing exorcises my nightmares, so I spent Saturday night in peace.

Sunday was a night's sleep destroyed by nightmares, as having started the piece on family history changed "writing" to "obligation" and to further wreck my sleep, the moon was hideously bright. When I did sleep, I jerked myself awake, and when dawn came, I was too afraid of nightmares to relax again. I even bit the tip of my tongue as I once jerked awake from a nightmare.

Sorry, you can't write on that kind of preliminary. At least I can't .

There was nothing purgative about it. It was just hellish.

Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome isn't at all fun.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Hope It Wasn't a Mistake

The latest addition to our household is a refrigerator.

It's a shiny great black beast, a Samsung. They arguably make the prettiest appliances. This model is so new that Consumer Reports hasn't even rated it yet. Whoops. We never buy stuff we don't know anything about. Right?

When we went to look -- just look, mind you -- at fridges, Bernie reminded me we weren't going to buy a refrigerator that day. We were going to take our time. "Yes," I agreed, "and we're not even going to look at the Samsungs."

Half an hour later we were owners of this Samsung. I didn't even have to ask Bernie, "It followed me home, can I keep it?"

It has the ice-maker/water-dispenser in the door that we wanted. The french doors open to a wide, wide storage area. At the bottom is a goodly sized freezer drawer. It has glitzy blue lights and you can set the temperature for both the freezer and the regular fridge. You can rearrange the shelves in a cute way.

Gosh, I hope we didn't blow this year's budget on a lemon.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Dog Days of Summer

It's been hotter than the proverbial scorched bat from hell the last couple days.

My parents used to tell me not to trouble the animals in August. "Dog days," they called them, days when it was so hot and miserable that a dog just wanted to lie in the dirt in the shade and be left alone. But these two dogs have an air-conditioned house, so I didn't mind pestering them for a photoshoot.

Before swimming season is over, I want to get a picture of Sebastian in the pool. He swims like a chicken in an agitator-washer, splashing madly and getting nowhere, but unlike a chicken, he loves it. But it was actually too hot (106+ degrees) the last couple days to let the dogs expend that much energy. Sebastian splashes while he treads water and bites at the droplets in the air, but Howie swims with speed and determination -- to chase a tennis ball, and then run around the pool for victory laps afterwards. Too crazy, boys, you gotta wait until it's only 95 or so.

This young man is 10 months old now, and has a riveting stare. Sebastian has discovered that People DO things. Interesting things, like throw tennis balls or feed goodies, or go for walks, or tickle his puppy sides, or play bite-fight.

He chases swallows at the park as they swoop for insects (ignoring the gallumphing pup, of course) and feels compelled to try to herd Howie, who gets fed up and comes to sit by my heel.

When Sebastian gets excited, his ears mostly stand up straight -- kind of like you'd expect a drunken fruit bat to look. And if you return after a trip outside the house without him, or in the morning to greet you, he emits (involuntarily, it seems) a deep, loud "Bow-wooooooo-0h-oohhh!"

He's bigger than Howie now. You can really feel the substance of him if you push him. But his build is still puppyish, and when Howie gives him his morning beating, he can still knock Sebastian onto the floor, the better to pretend bite Seb's ears and throat and legs. However, Sebastian has all the energy of a puppy to bring to the tussle, so he wants to keep playing long after Howie has had enough. Again, Howie retreats to my heels, knowing I'll deal with it, and tell Sebastian to settle down and behave.

A veteran of many photos, Howie knows that I can give the order "OKAY!" and he will be released from holding still. In this shot, you can really tell he was begging me to be allowed to leave the side of that insolent pup and the face of the mysterious clicking machine.

While I write this, Howie is sprawled on my bed. He opens his eyes now and then to make sure I'm still here, then dozes off again.

And now and then, I turn from my desk to look at him, to make sure he's still there. Best dog I ever had.

Monday, August 27, 2007

The Pet Laptop

My laptop is home, safe and fixed, ready for 10k for Labor Day.

That's the annual Piker Press bums' challenge: To write ten thousand words from Friday morning to midnight Labor Day. Any words. Poems, stories, opinion -- whatever.

It's kind of a warm up for NaNoWriMo, when we write a novel in a month. Sort of gets you remembering what a gas it is to sit down and hammer out a bunch of words ... primes the pump, so to speak.

I've never managed to hit the 10k over Labor Day weekend, but I did have one day (the last writing day for me) last November when I pounded out an amazing rush of over four thousand words. They just poured out -- and were coherent, too, which astounds me.

This past week I managed to cough up a story and a poem. Woo.

I'm looking forward to sitting with my laptop on Friday and just leaping, word-wise, into a fresh new blank document.

In family news, my sister is reasonably comfortably ensconced in a nursing home. I've been in contact with people from the home and from the Agency who are Jan's legal guardians. She's receiving decent care, and she's alive. I wish she could survive at least through Christmas; our mother didn't bother with Christmas the last couple years. Wouldn't a Christmas concert be nice?

My mother's neighbor thinks it's time for me to start calling my mother again. I wondered if that was true, but then today was so shaky and dippy about having to go out into the world by myself to pick up the laptop and go to the store --- no, I'm still a wreck, and there's no getting around that. One does what one can.

This one did what she could today, and now is done until tomorrow.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Fish, Drama, and Who Knows What?

It's not often that I obsess about food.

Today was an exception.

Well, I think. Are there are a lot of other days that I obsess about food, and I just don't remember them?

Anyway, today, from the time I got moving until I got back from the ranch, I was thinking about fish sandwiches. McD's. And then I admitted I really didn't need the fries, so I was going to make fish stick sandwiches: four fish sticks on a hamburger bun with white american cheese and a hint of tartar sauce. I picked up buns at the store, piled into the kitchen -- and discovered we had not one damn fish stick in the house.

I was too tired to make another foray to the store, so I made do with pre-cooked shrimp, tortilla chips and mild salsa, and a pile of strawberries. Well, that took care of my late breakfast, but what about the main meal of the day?

Close on to late afternoon, I wheedled my son-in-law to go to Mc Donald's and pick up a fish fix. With fries. Truly, I want to nominate him for sainthood. The two fish sandwiches and fries have done great things for my mental attitude and my mysteriously thinning midsection.

Maybe it was the late evening drama yesterday, when Dink started to colic and we had to rush to the ranch to walk him and get the vet to him ... until about 11:30 pm. So tiring.

Maybe it was going out to see Dink this morning, finding him feisty and fine, and hopping on him for a gentle 45-minute ride ... which I haven't done for what, months? Energy expended = fish sandwich passion.

Or maybe it was because my sister was being transferred today from the hospital to a nursing home, and one of her last utterances when I was back east was a vehement comment about getting a fish sandwich. "A fish sandwich," she said to no one in particular. "And some fudge. Fish, and fudge. Yeah."

I don't do fudge, Jan, but I thought of you with every bite of fish sandwich. You're alive, and some day you'll know how much I miss you.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

A Rose for My Sister

One of the finest pinks I've been able to photograph with my digital camera, and this one is for my sister.

She hasn't died, although no one is offering a lot of hope for her. "She's a little better," they told me today. She's trying to cough the gunk out of her lungs from the pneumonia she developed, which is an improvement, I guess.

The hospital is ready to release her to a nursing home now, and the one they've located seems to be decent.

I wish she could go someplace nice, where the air conditioning keeps things cool and people have gentle voices, and might even listen when she feels the need to talk. She really is entertaining when she wants to talk -- the fabrications she comes up with are incredible. And even her snippets of muttering make you wonder what she sees in her mind. She was talking about it being over 200 years since (she?) was in the Holy Land the last day I was there with her. She won't be drawn into conversation often, though. You'd have to be content with what Jan wants to be heard.

If only there was a way for me to be back there during visiting hours, and then home again to be with my husband and daughter and son-in-law and granddaughter.

So it was a day of good news, for a change. Not only of Jan, but also I got a call that my laptop can -- CAN! -- be fixed, for a pricey but Not-The-Price-Of-A-New-One cost. "Do it!" I nearly shouted. And then did mental backward handsprings around the room. (They're safer than trying the stunt in real life)

Can't wait for the beast to be back in my hands. I've set up the new studio/bedroom with a queen-sized mattress and a heap of pillows to lean against, and it just itches for a woman with a laptop to lounge back and write stuff.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Enter the Harpy

Quiet, peaceful day.

Well, until about 4pm, when Lonz called me to let me know how things were back east. He told me that Ma had told him that Jan was not doing well, and might die soon. (Wow, she was actually able to retain that information??? And convey it??? Good day for Ma!) I confirmed that sad information, and Lonz was sympathetic, as well as resigned to God's will. He's seen a sister and a couple of his brothers die from cancers. Lonz knows well how iffy our life in this world is.

But Lonz's surprise news was that he stopped to visit Ma, and happened to arrive just as Ma's caseworker was leaving. Lonz told me that as soon as the woman was out the door, my mother flipped her off. He was shocked; I was not. I've heard her venom poured out about the people who are trying to help her; all he's heard is the venom poured out about me.

Ma told him she was going to get the station wagon (which still sits in her garage -- I THINK I was able to snag all the keys to it) started again. "No, you can't," Lonz told her. "There's something wrong with it. And besides, you don't have a license any more."

"That's right," she said to him, "Sand had the sheriff take my license from me."

"No, it was the State," he reminded her. "The State took it away."

"Oh, no, my friend Mona told me that Sand[y] went down there and told them to take away my license."

Yep, good old Mona (pronounced "MONNA" for whatever reason -- I've always pronounced her name correctly out of the barest shred of respect I've ever hand for her as a person, though she could never get it through her stupid duck brain that I'm not 'Sandy' but Sand) has been coaching Ma and helping her revise her perceptions of reality.

I was in the room when Mona (who is a friend because she is married to the man who was Dad's best friend when he was growing up) called my mother to tell her that Ma didn't have Alzheimer's (Mona being a medical specialist, of course), that no one had a right to sell her truck (Ma should call the Sheriff, the State Police, the dealership, et al), and that 'Sandy' was behind it all because I was after Ma's money. I heard this because the harridan was screaming it into the phone so loudly that my mother held the receiver away from her ear. "Don't you trust her!"

My mother put the phone to her ear again and said, "I'm sorry. Who is this again?"

That was actually funny, in a Joke About Alzheimer's kind of way, but Mona didn't bat an eye (or if she batted, there was no indication of it in the levels of her screeching voice), just went on with her diatribe.

Well, darling Mona (visualize a harpy on acid) has been visiting with Ma and filling her head with all kinds of poison about me. Lovely. Just what we all needed.

Bernie has given me permission to use any and all foul language if that old nutso skag calls my cell phone. She began berating me when I answered my mother's phone one morning (so that my mother would finish her breakfast and not be distracted from eating) and my response was to hang up on her. That memory still gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling.

I have loathed this woman from my earliest memory, when I was still a toddler. She was shrill, and stupid, and annoying, unable to grasp that I understood every word she was saying and despised them all.

Nothing has changed, and apparently, the antipathy was mutual.

Mona Jury, for the record, is a total nutcase asshole, and is fucking with my mother's last times.

May God judge her justly.

Which is not to say that I'm upset about her poisoning Ma's mind -- she is at least one more pair of gimlet eyes on Ma to make sure she's okay. But that care does NOT offset the damage she is doing. I wish that she and I were the same age. I think I'd beat the shit out of her.

Hmm. She reminds me of the guy with the stainless steel teeth in that old James Bond movie, only not so coherent or good-looking.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

As of Today

As of today, my sister, Jan is still alive.

As of today, the Agency on Aging may have found a solution to caring for my mother in her home for as long as that is possible, until her Alzheimer's renders her incapable of living outside a nursing facility.

As of today, I feel better. I had a scary bout of panic at about 4 am, but it subsided with prayer. The rest of the day I felt well enough to do laundry and clean up the kitchen -- especially after my son-in-law, the saintly John, went with me to administer my horse's medicines.

Hell, he didn't "go with me" -- he was the one who smoothly took the horse's head in hand and gave him the two antibiotic salves in the affected eye and the oral paste anti-inflammatory. He did it quicker than the vet did. Far frickin' quicker than it took me and Kathy the Mad Horsewoman to give the horse first aid on Tuesday, when we found that Dink the Stink had rubbed his irritated "fly-eye" into a full-blown crisis.

Oh, yeah, I needed more stress.

Yesterday, Mad Kathy called and told me that the ranch manager had strongly suggested I call a vet to look at Dink's eye. I did so, and Pioneer Equine Hospital amazingly sent a vet to see Dink within two hours!

Dr. Luke Bass examined Dink thoroughly, for all that he (the vet) seemed to be only about 12 years old (perspective, perspective) and prescribed two antibiotics and an anti-inflammatory for the old pony.

Last evening, Dink tossed me around while Alex held his head as best she could to administer the medicines. This morning, and this evening, my son-in-law (may his name be engraved in gilt forever) did the administering, and made it look like magic. Dink didn't toss him around, and the procedures took only seconds.

At one point, and I am not exaggerating, Dink was flinging his head about, refusing to let the second course of antibiotic salves be put in his eye. John calmly tucked Dink's nose into his armpit, and then proceeded to apply the salve. Presto, hey, it was done!

Maybe John needs a new deodorant.

Or maybe I need to nominate my son-in-law for sainthood.

I do know that Dink's eye looked better this evening than it did this morning, and better this morning than it did last evening.

There is no reward great enough to pay John back for the stress reduction of today. God is going to have to pile that one on him, and may He do it speedily and sumptuously.

As of today, I felt like I might be able to function normally again one of these days.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Slow Going

Probably I have used this photo before, but I like it, and I was gone when the Turk's Cap lilies bloomed this summer.

My emotional fragility (and the accompanying physical weakness) has really surprised me. I suppose that I should look on this time as a valuable learning experience ... and maybe I will, someday. But in the present, it just feels sad and vulnerable.

I had a heartening email from the Agency on Aging who are Jan's guardians: they said the nurses called them from the hospital and asked if there was anyone who could come read to Jan. They were sending out a call for volunteers to do that. I hope they find some folks willing to just go to her and let her hear their voices.

I find myself wondering if I will recognize her on the other side of this life. I hope she does, and I hope that she will remember that I love her.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Times of Redemption

The Area Agency on Aging -- which is my sister's legal guardian -- emailed me today to tell me that her doctor and her specialist were asking for a DNR order.

Do Not Resuscitate.

Jan's breathing, and subsequently, her heart, have failed three times. The last time occurred less than two days after I returned home. She's been on a ventilator to keep her breathing since.

The Agency asked me for my opinion, as a family member. They will make the ultimate decision, and if they decide that the DNR is appropriate, they'll take the request to court next week, maybe Monday or Tuesday. At that point, the breathing tube would be removed, and Jan would be left to go to sleep, and let her heart stop ... again.

I've been sliding up and down the scales of Grief: shocked, then angry, then weeping, then accepting, then thinking, "But what if they actually followed through long enough with This treatment ..." Then I cry some more.

Hell, maybe she'll rally over the weekend, and the order will become moot. It could happen. It could.

When I called my pastor and told him about the situation, he said, "She should not have a DNR order until she has a chance to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation and Communion." Then I told him that Jan had never been allowed to be instructed for that. He questioned me about what her spiritual life has been like, and has she an understanding of right and wrong? I told him that Jan (in my opinion) has never been capable of "sin" -- not in the strict sense of the wrong, which would require serious matter, knowledge of sinfulness, and deliberate choice of the sinful action. "Oh," he said, "then let her go home!"

Once she's "home," you see, she won't be blind anymore, and she'll be able to "get" jokes, and talk to anyone at all without the cloud of her brain damage between her and others. She'll be strong and able to run and play and dance. She'll be so beautiful, you can hardly believe it.

Through the days of sitting with her in the hospital, I saw her beauty so clearly, without our mother jumping in between us like some frenetic yapping demon, as she did throughout our lives. I got to hold Jan's hand in silence, praying for her, had the glory of her sitting up to listen to me read to her, had the joy of Jan taking my hand and putting it to her head and holding it there, felt her hug me as she hadn't been allowed to do since I was little-little. I combed her hair, and stroked her face, and loved her so much -- up close, personal, unabashed. Heart-breaking to think that we had such a short time to love ... but at least we had that. I told her how much I loved her, and there was no "Mom" there to tell me to stop acting like a fool being mushy. At least we had that.

My mother-in-law called, and though a mere two months ago I might have thought, "Now what does that woman want?" now I answered the phone gladly, for Regina has been simply stunningly supportive as I face these end-of-life issues. I told her about Jan, and she (amazingly) echoed my pastor's thoughts. And when I told her that I had no idea how to tell my mother about what was going on, she told me not to worry about it, as my mother is in her own little world now, and doesn't understand what's going on day to day. She seconded (well, actually, it's like fifthed or sixthed) my doctor's orders to stay away from Mom. (By this I know my mother is still ranting about how I've wickedly short-circuited her lifestyle.)

After 30 years of edgy contact, my mother-in-law has become a beloved friend. I would be a fool not to marvel and be grateful for the forgiveness, the acceptance, and the love.

In these end times, there is still beauty, and wonder, and redemption.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

I'm Home

California does something for me.

The sweet breeze in the evening, the wash of cool air in the morning ... the warmth of Bernie, snuggled up tight against me as I wake, the enthusiastic welcome of my granddaughter Lillian when she hears my voice...

I had a brief but virulent panic attack this morning, heart hammering, breath short, vision spinning. Alex drove us to church, where I only broke down into tears twice. Fr. Peter Carota hugged me after church, (that would be the second time I broke down) and gave me a blessing for healing.

He told me to give my hurts up to God to handle, to let them go, and told me that letting go was an act of prayer.

Okay. I'm letting go. I'm praying.

Still Mad, All of Us, But I'm On My Way Home

August 4, 2007

Well, I made it to the airport without getting lost.

They said to be at the airport at least two hours before my flight was due to leave. I was worried about an accident holding up traffic on the way to University Park airport, so I allowed another hour for travel, with leeway for getting myself turned around and ending up on the far side of State College.

As a result, this sweet little airport is going to have to occupy my time for the next two hours. They don't expect one to go through security more than about a half hour before the flight leaves. (!)

I must say that so far this airport is lovely. Unhurried, staffed by pleasant, happy people -- what is this? The land that rush hour forgot?

There is even a wireless network here. The only drawback is that its subscriber page doesn't work. I wasted some cell phone minutes calling their technical support, and the fellah on the other end just said to try it again. Wow. That's profound, especially when the damn page doesn't work.

Oh, well, I didn't need to read the daily funnies that badly anyway.

Last night my friend Lonz called to tell me that he'd been to see my mother, and had taken her to see Jan. He told me that Jan would have nothing to do with her, and wouldn't even let her touch her arm. That's sad. I don't know if it was because Jan was grumpy, having been moved to a different room, or if it was because Jan has been enjoying not being shouted at or bullied. Hard to say. Mom didn't want to "waste time" just sitting with Jan (or reading to her) so Lonz took Ma home. Mom told him what the names of all the trees were that they passed on the little mountain road he took, but spent most of her time complaining about how I was trying to steal all her money, and how I cared about nothing but her money. And she also complained that I hadn't come to visit her, even though she knew I was in town.

In point of fact, I missed running into her and Lonz at the hospital by about ten blessed minutes.

No, I didn't go see her after she flew into a rage about her truck being sold. Neighbors and friends told me the horrible things she was saying about me, and I had no desire to subject myself to the ravings of an angry dementia patient whose past decisions were responsible for my sister's battered psyche and physical illness.

Guess I'm still furious, too.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Homecoming Eve

I love this picture of Howie.

It's been a long time since I dressed him up. I must do more of that in the near future. He didn't mind when I dressed him in the shirt, or in my old sweatshirt -- it was the camera that bugged him.

I'm done here in Pennsylvania. I've done what I could, and now it's time to go home and heal up emotionally, and regain my strength physically.

I wanted to sit with my sister through her crises, be there for her if she was dying -- not that I think the poor isolated woman needs specifically ME, but she did need someone to keep her company in the darkness of her blindness and fear. I read to her, whether she was asleep or awake, my voice droning on, stopping only to get a drink to wet my throat. She listened, and seemed calmed by the reading. Three days ago she began to assert herself, muttering the sentences of her thoughts, often talking over my voice. She was taking care of herself.

Jan is very independent-minded. She wants to take care of herself -- when she's ready to care at all, now -- and trying to do for her is likely to get a very negative reaction. The one time we got her to drink, we did it by letting (and helping) her raise the cup to her lips; she's wanted to help with her bathing, taking the washcloth from the nurse; today she even swabbed out her own mouth rather than let the nurse mess with her.

For my mother, I managed to sell her truck and her extra property, giving her a few more $$$ in her trust fund. I fought for her right to live independently as long as she can, and let enough people know about her condition that the whole town will be looking out for her. She appreciated my actions far less than Jan did, and the hateful things she said in her dementia still pain me, even though I know that she's saying them out of paranoia and a lack of understanding.

The rest of their stories is up to them. Jan will have to keep learning how to cooperate with her caregivers, and my mother is in the hands of God. I don't know if either one of them will survive the year, frankly. There just isn't anything more I can do.

Except pray. God grant them both peace and joy in their seasons, however that is to pan out.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Jibbering in the Shadows

I was looking through my pictures on this computer, trying to find one that came even close to how I felt today.

This was a Paint program rendition of a dream image I had some years ago. The oil painting of it is still hanging unfinished on the studio wall. Well, was, I remember now that in my absence from home, Alex has taken over my old studio -- the painting must be stacked against a wall in the new venue.

In the image, a distant someone stands alone in a shadowy field, and though the sky is blue and has clouds, the dark background is not illuminated. The field in which the figure stands is a-jitter with color.

I've done this image first in dreams, then in Paint (a couple times, trying to nail down the shapes) and then in pastels as a preliminary to the oil painting. I no longer recall the flavor of the dream that generated it, but it will do as a symbol of today's trial.

I woke at a good time, about six. And then I didn't want to get out of bed. I huddled with the pillows and tried to sleep, but any time I saw a shadow pass by the window of my hotel room, I jerked with a sensation of an electric shock, wincing. I told myself I had nowhere I had to be until visiting hours at the hospital, but I couldn't fall asleep again. I got up and turned on my computer, looked at my usual lineup of sites, and then fell into a full-blown panic attack.

Heart hammering, stomach roiling, hands shaking -- hell, not just the hands, trembling all over -- and a terror at having to walk out the door. Every time I stood up I felt dizzy; every time I thought about having to talk to someone my vision blurred with tears. I bargained: after Bernie calls at his break time, I'll get moving. But he didn't call (problems at work) and when I knew I couldn't talk to him, I wept.

By 1 pm, I got myself timidly out the door, and went to see Jan. And though she was interacting with the nurses to a greater degree (some progress, anyway) my voice was shaking as I read to her, and the dizziness was increasing. The nurse who came in to check Jan's medications looked at me and said, "Are you all right? You don't look too good."

She took my blood pressure, which, for a wonder, was fine. And recommended I go back to my hotel and rest. Jan had fallen asleep, so I agreed.

The rest of the afternoon I spent in my darkened hotel room, twitching and trying not to think. I looked up "dizziness" on the web, and the Mayo Clinic site listed panic attacks as a possible cause. Duh.

Bernie called on his lunch break, and sympathetically reminded me that I haven't taken a day off since I got here. Well, then, I guess today was the day.

Shall we call it an "accumulation of stress?" Then, shall we add in that I know I will be going home in just a couple days, and want that travel so desperately that I cry when I think of it?

In the evening, my good friend Barb stopped over to the hotel to talk with me, and her eloquent, uproarious way of describing drama took me out of my dumps to laughter; she helped me realize again that I've done all I can do, and that if I have a friend like Barb, by God, that's one hell of a life's work.

The dizziness has subsided with the passing of the panic. Tomorrow I have one more meeting to attend; I'll spend the afternoon with my sister (she's getting the Aser stories, as we've finished "The Crystal Cave") and the evening with my sister-in-law. Friday will be for a last visit with Jan, and packing.

And then home.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Down, and Up, Hoping For a Steady Rise

Saturday, Jan was back on a ventilator in ICU.

Her blood-oxygen levels weren't doing well. She was uninterested in my reading, her eyelids only flickering when I told her I was there. Most of the time I sat with her, I was wiping away tears with one hand while I held her hand with the other. She didn't "fire" me, she didn't snatch her head away in anger. She seemed not to care.

She went to sleep soundly at about 5 pm, so I left, and went to sit and chat with my sister-in-law and sip wine for a while, then returned to my hotel, and after talking with Bernie, took a sleeping pill and settled in to read for a few minutes and try to rest, try not to stress out about going to visit my increasingly combative mother and take her to church.

At 11 pm or so, the phone rang, startling me out of my doze. It was the hospital; Jan had taken a plunging turn for the worse. They were taking her for a CT-scan to see if they could figure out why she was ... dying. "It's very serious," they told me, "but we'll call you if the situation worsens."

I fell asleep and woke again at 4 am. The phone had not rung, so presumably she hadn't died. I fitfully dozed and had panic attacks until 6, then got up and paced and wanted to puke until 8 am, when I called the hospital and asked them how she was.

Better, they said, but not good. I asked if I should try to rally our Alzheimer-impaired mother to visit her, and the nurse said, "Yes." In other words, it's time to say goodbye.

Since my mother had gone on a rampage about the disappearance of her truck, and was currently in the mode of "Hate My Daughter Sand With a Passion," I called her closest neighbor and told her the news. To my surprise, she told me that Tere wasn't even remembering that Jan had been ill, she was totally obsessed with her vehicles, and for everyone's sake and sanity, would I please stay away.

I was a bit stunned, but they are actually closer to Tere than I am, so I agreed. I went to church, and then, at noon, went to see Jan. When I walked into ICU, I approached Jan's room, and saw that her bed -- was empty. My heart froze, my eyes welled up -- would she have been taken to the morgue so soon?

A few steps more, and I was stunned -- Jan was there, sitting up in a chair beside the bed. Sitting up straight, her face serene.

The nurse, who was putting a blanket on Jan's legs, turned to me with a huge grin and said, "Can you believe this????"

She rallied, she did, and she was simply, simply beautiful to me. I couldn't keep my eyes off her. After about 3 hours, she began to nod off to my reading, and they put her back into her bed.

Monday she was stronger, and wanted me to stay later than usual -- how unusual! And today, she was moved out of ICU, and she was talking -- talking! She used (with help) the potty (and she was annoyed that the nurses took so long to understand what she was wanting) and later, she was talking aloud, in her 'normal' patter, about the "Holy Land" and it having been "200 years" as well as telling the nurses who were moving her, "Wait a minute. I have something to tell you. I have my own Home Showcase."

She was congratulated on that accomplishment by all.

God grant the improvement holds through the night.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Rain and Tears

Sunrise over the ocean?

No, instead it is a streetlight lit automatically over a parking lot during a dark midafternoon thundershower.

They have those things here; at least this week they do. The weather has been very dry for weeks, but this area (can't bring myself to say "we") has had a spate of thundershowers rolling through the area. The sun comes up, the sun is overshadowed by lumpy clouds, the dark gray shreds blow in, and with a light and sound show, rain buckets down like the scenes in the beginning of "The Matrix" or movie scenes of a storm at sea.

I savor the storms when they arrive; we don't have them in the Central Valley, not very often, anyway -- maybe five or six in a decade. While this storm was going on, I was completely countercultural and opened the drapes of the window-wall of my hotel room all the way, turned the chairs to face out and watched the storm play across the hills.

My mother always told me that I was born during a thunderstorm; I've often wondered if there is some connection between that and my overwhelming sleepiness when I start to hear the peals of noise following lightning. I relax, I'm filled with a sense of well-being, I want to curl up and smile, and drift into dreams.

But not like the dreams I had last night, that were the most horrible and ugly and heart-breaking that I have ever had in my life. The emotions of the dream bled over into my waking, so that my chest hurt with the sadness, and just pondering the images of the nightmare turned me to bitter, hopeless tears. I wept through my morning shower, and though I felt less pain after the tears, I was periodically moist-eyed throughout the day.

No thunder-dreams that one. I know the well-spring of that dream: all the emotions that rage and chase each other through my days here. Fury, frustration, guilt, fear, regret, the fleeting wisps of hope, the deep piteous gratitude for passing words of kindness, the disappointment of the low moments -- God, I feel like a war zone, a black and white movie image of the trenches of World War I. Weren't they always in the rain, too? As if the soldiers dug into their deep, gravelike earthen protections in fear and misery needed downpours to drown their wounded as they lay beside them?

I don't mind the rain on my journey here. I wish it would thunder at night loud enough to penetrate this nearly sound-proof hotel room and send me uplifting dreams. Maybe I'd wake in the morning rested and ready to attack the day, instead of going from sadness to horror to awake to the promise of more misery in the daylight.

The update today: Mom's caseworker and I hammered out a "plan" that will allow my mother to stay in her home until she screws up royally enough to unequivocally be sent to a care facility. And Jan had a stomach-feeding tube installed surgically, so that they can get that damned tube out of her poor nose. She was too groggy for me to visit her longer than necessary to find out she was doing all right, so I didn't stick around and read today.

Mom didn't answer her phone when I called her. Oh well.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Day to Day, Remembering

That was my mom and dad, just a couple months after they were married.

Mom has always said that they sat for this photograph because she was feeling sick and faint as they climbed to the top of a lookout tower above the Juniata River, I think just before that river joins the Susquehanna as they make their way to the sea. I used to know the name of it, but I can't recall any more.

Mom was already pregnant with my sister, Jan, when this picture was taken. Dad was handsome, Mom was a hottie. They both still enjoyed dressing snappy for an outing.

I called Mom this evening, rather than go visit her, because I needed a mental health day for myself. Not mentioning that I was in a hotel 12 miles away, I had a nice conversation with her. She knows I visited, but she does not at all realize that it was only yesterday I took her to church. She knows Jan went to the hospital (at least for that moment) but said she was glad she'd heard nothing, as "no news is good news."

Indeed, I had no news for her. Jan is still in the hospital, though out of intensive care, still refusing to eat or drink. Sustained by a tube through her nose to her stomach, Jan is indomitable, fractious, in command, whacking the poor nurses every time they touch her. She is damn mad, and letting us all know it.

I read from Mary Stewart's The Crystal Cave today for over five hours, stopping after each chapter for a water break to soothe my throat. Through some of it, Jan dozed, and when she would awake, startled, my voice was going on and on. Jan is -- although I know she's pissed -- listening to me read. I like to think that hearing me read eases the transition from her dreams to waking. In her dreams, I'll bet she can see and walk and jump and and have great adventures; waking to blindness and weakness must be a horrid experience. "I'm a vegetable," she moaned today after one such waking.

She didn't bop any nurses today, but she still won't so much as taste food or drink. Every touch aggravates the shit out of her, and she is as hostile as a wounded porcupine. Jan wouldn't let me hold her hand or stroke her arm today. But she didn't tell me to "Shut up" or "Get out" or fire me ... I can only take that as a good sign.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

A Season to Mourn

This bird is named a "Boat-Tailed Grackle."

In the truncated language of my local dialect, we (at least those of us who didn't just call them blackbirds -- grouping them with red winged blackbirds, blackbirds, starlings, and cowbirds) called them "bow-tails." I always thought it was because their long fanned tails looked like the ends of a big bow tie. But as I learned the real name, I had no idea what boats had to do with the tails of these birds, nor do I at this present time.

What I do know about them is that when they arrive in the spring, you know that winter is finally broken, and hearing their characteristic 'click' and 'buzz' call in the mornings of March or late February mean that violets and troutlilies will soon be blooming, promising another season of new life.

This one was prowling in my mother's yard in Pennsylvania a couple weeks ago. The grass was still green, though a bit parched at that time.

The green of my mother's yard is brown now. They have had no appreciable rainfall in an area where rain is supposed to happen every three days or so at least. Flying in to Central Pennsylvania on a little commuter plane, I looked down and saw not verdant fields and lawns and forests, but ugly brown expanses. Not good.

For a while the weather services were predicting rain for tomorrow, but they've backed off that again. "Well, maybe, but not likely," is the forecast.

Another season of new life. How I wish that there was some bow-tail to herald such for my mother and my sister! But as my mother's lawn has withered, so has her grasp on reality. It's funny, she can still dress herself and keep herself clean, but she can't remember that she's not allowed to drive anymore, or that Jan is in the hospital recovering from two heart attacks. She knows she can't find the keys to her little truck (I removed them all after her license was suspended) but Sunday morning I caught her trying to use the car keys (from the monster station wagon that is inoperable in her garage) to open the truck and drive herself to church. She knows, at least at some level, that she is no longer allowed to drive, but the "core personality" that Alzheimer's is exposing believes that rules are made for "other people." Mother will do what she will, as she has always done.

I took her to church, but it was nerve wracking. She is having a hard time understanding what I say to her. She can't figure out how to do what she needs to do, but she won't admit that she's having problems. After we went to church, I cleaned her kitchen table and her sink, which were filthy. Watching me wipe down her table with paper towelling, she said, "Here, this is what I use," and tried to hand me a disgustingly dirty, many-times-used wad of paper towel. I tried to tell her it was too dirty to use, but she didn't understand. Finally I just took it from her and threw it in the trash, and then scoured her sink with cleanser, trying not to gag.

Each room in the house is in some sort of disarray, with dozens -- maybe hundreds -- of plastic grocery bags filled with unknown contents in every conceivable corner.

Everyone who knows her is scared of what she will do next, because inevitably, her stubbornness and denial are going to run headlong into some sort of disaster.