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.