FACE TO FACE WITH ALZHEIMER’S

You may recall that back on March 1, we accepted the #40Bagsin40Days decluttering challenge for Lent. We’ve been doing quite well and have come across some interesting and long forgotten items in the process. But, one that I came across yesterday really touched my heart and made me think.

It was a copy of the speech I wrote for an Alzheimer’s Candlelight Memorial Service, about a year after my Mom passed away. It brought back so many memories of that heartbreaking experience, but it was also eye-opening when I realize, as I stare my upcoming 70th birthday in the face, that my Mom had recently turned 71, when she and my Dad moved from Denver back to Sioux City and into our home because neither of them were able to live on their own any longer. The theme of that service was “Face to Face With Alzheimer’s” and I would like to share that speech with you all today. It’s as valid today as it was then as Alzheimers continues to strike so many families. Since this was written, my own mother-in-law and brother-in-law have also fought battles with dementia.

When Alzheimer’s Disease stole Jeannette Williams memory and then her life, she was no different from millions of others facing the same fate…except for one thing. She was my mother.

It started out with little things – lapses in memory – forgetting to call or send a card on my birthday – incidents that we might have found strange momentarily, but quickly shrugged off. She was hundreds of miles away and we only saw her a couple of times a year.

But, in January of 1995 my Dad’s diagnosis of terminal cancer brought my parents from Colorado back home to Iowa…and brought us all FACE TO FACE WITH ALZHEIMER’S.

I know of no other disease that focuses our attention so closely on the human face…because it is the eyes of the Alzheimer’s patient that reflect so much of what they’re going through. In their eyes, you may one day see confusion and the next day see blissful acceptance of their world. One day you see fear and the next day, child-like trust. Eyes that seem to be desperately searching for answers today may, tomorrow, offer an overwhelming outpouring of warmth and love.

Alzheimer’s Disease is often referred to as tragic – destructive – and devastating…and it is all of those things and more. But, over the years, I have come to realize that we can find another side to Alzheimer’s if we try…a side that softens the tragedy, limits the devastation and helps to provide the balance so necessary in maintaining a healthy outlook on life.

Nicholas Spark’s bestseller, “The Notebook”, chronicles the enduring love story of a couple, who in their golden years, suddenly find themselves FACE TO FACE WITH ALZHEIMER’S. It recounts their experiences as they adapt to her gradual loss of memory and function and his discovery that with acceptance of the changes and adaptation to the circumstances, he could, in some way, turn tragedy into triumph. He wrote…”I learned what is obvious to a child. That life is simply a collection of little lives, each lived one day at a time. That each day should be spent finding beauty in flowers and poetry and talking to animals. That a day spent with dreaming and sunsets and refreshing breezes cannot be bettered. But most of all, I learned that life is about sitting on benches next to ancient creeks with my hand on her knee and sometimes…on good days…for falling in love.”

I took my mother out to buy a birthday card and gift for my Dad shortly after they moved in with us. When we got home, I gave her a pen and suggested she sign the card. At that time, her speech and writing skills were waning but not gone. She took the pen and wrote Happy Happy. Love J…and the rest of her name just trailed off. She handed the card back to me and smiled broadly. When Dad opened the card he started to cry. It was so hard for him to accept what was happening to her and to see graphic evidence of her decline. But, looking back, I vividly see what he didn’t see…that as she wrote Happy Happy instead of Happy Birthday, she truly was Happy Happy at that moment. Happy that she was able to give him a card on his birthday just as she had for the previous fifty years that they had been married. And, I know that is true because when I close my eyes I can still see hers shining as she handed the card to me.

I had no idea when my parents moved in with us, to what extent Alzheimer’s had altered their lives but I quickly came to realize that my mother had very little ability to care for herself at all at that point. She did not know how to run her own bath water and get in the tub or how to select appropriate clothing and put everything on in the proper order. Since Dad was too ill himself to continue caring for her, I found myself in an abrupt role reversal situation. As I helped her into the tub that first time, she looked at me with the faith of a child, just as I must have looked at her decades before when the roles were reversed, and she said, “You’re a good one.” That scenario brought tears to my eyes at the time, but those words are one of my most treasured memories today.

The following year, after my Dad had passed away and my mother had moved to a nursing home, we had a birthday party for her. She really didn’t understand what was going on or how to open a gift or even what they were once someone else had helped her open them. But, when we sang Happy Birthday, her eyes lit up and she got a big smile on her face and she started singing along with us. That was a Happy Happy moment for her, in spite of everything.

Eventually, the progression of her illness brought her to the point where she could no longer command her mind or control her body. She was unable to feed herself or to walk without assistance. In a very short time, she reached the point where walking to the dining room, even with assistance, was too difficult and Hospice ordered a wheelchair for her. She began having difficulty eating and seemed to be forgetting how to swallow. Yet, even then, her spirit was indomitable. At that point, she seemed to make a conscious decision that enough was enough. Up to then, in spite of everything that was happening to her, there was a spark in my mother’s eyes that you couldn’t miss. The staff who helped care for her often commented on it too. Her face always lit up when we walked in and even though it had been years since she called me by name, I could feel her love by looking in her eyes.

When we went to visit her on Sunday, November 2, 1997, there was a chill in the air and a tiredness in her eyes that I hadn’t seen before. It was trying to snow and she was gazing out the window as if she were looking at something that the rest of us couldn’t see

On Wednesday, November 5, Mom laid down on her bed after lunch and went to sleep.

Losing my mother to Alzheimer’s Disease was a very painful experience…but the lessons of life that we learned from that experience offer a special pain reliever that, over time, has been very helpful This experience has taught us, first hand that devastating diseases do not lessen the value of human life…that a distressing end to life as we know it does not have to be a time for anguish and regret. There is value in human life at any stage or in any condition and that value is love.

Later.

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RANDOM THOUGHTS ON COMING OUT OF HIBERNATION

As terrible as it is, I realize that I have become lazy and unmotivated during this past winter. I DO NOT like winter and prefer to wrap up in my blanket and read, get on my laptop, watch movies or whatever…anything rather than go somewhere. That is exactly what I said I would never let happen when I retired. But now, hallelujah, spring is officially less than a week away. Time to shake off that lazy personality that I do not admire and spring forward. Today is the first day of the rest of my life.

I got back on the treadmill this week. I have one of those big milestone birthdays staring me in the face this summer and I intend to meet it head-on. My friend, Fred, used to always quote that TV commercial, a body in motion tends to stay in motion. So, I best get moving again.

When we got back from Texas, I harvested the remainder of the herbs that I had planted at Christmas time, cleaned out the Aero Garden and, last week, replanted with lettuce and kale. It’s up already!! Aren’t you excited? Well, it’s a small amount, I know,  but, hopefully, enough to tide us over until we can plant outside.

Yesterday, I started the vegetables for this year’s garden. So many plants – so little space. Should be interesting. Now, once I replenish my supplies, I can get some flowers started. Can hardly wait until we can get outside and start planting. I know – that will be awhile. But, how uplifting to get the process started anyway.

Still working on my 40 Bags in 40 Days de-cluttering project. Got a little behind but did some catching up today and DEFINITELY WILL catch up and complete by the end of the 40 days. Today is the 15th day and I think I’m at 13 bags right now. Not too bad!

And, here’s a big one. I got back to my writing this week. In fact, this afternoon I even submitted an excerpt from what I have completed so far to a publisher for possible feedback. What are the odds? Probably not great, but better than if I didn’t even try.

Now, if I can just get motivated to finish our tax stuff and get it to the CPA!

Yep…I’ve definitely come out of hibernation and it feels good!

Later.

The Road Less Travelled

road-less-travelled3We’ve just returned from another road trip and, once again, so thoroughly enjoyed the option of taking the road less travelled.

Last February, we drove to Texas and chose the road less travelled because we wanted to avoid as many major metropolitan areas as possible – especially Dallas. So, in the process, we found ourselves on many back roads, most of which offer a variety of interesting areas missed when taking the faster, busier interstate routes. For example, we never would have discovered the mysterious “Forbidden Zone” I wrote about back then had we not taken that route.

We often choose to travel the Nebraska back roads on our way to Denver as well, in order to avoid some of the hectic semi activity on Interstate 80. And, this trip was no exception. We drove from home to Kearney, NE, travelling Nebraska highways rather than Interstate. We enjoy seeing the country churches and the family farmsteads and prefer the slower pace that these roads bring to life.

This year, on our return home from Denver, we decided to travel by way of the Black Hills. We wanted to visit Hot Springs, the southern Gateway to the Black Hills…mostly because we had never visited that area, but also because we had been told that it is in the Banana Belt of South Dakota. For whatever reason, that sounded intriguing. So we did. We spent just one night there but we did a lot of driving around exploring the scenery, soaking up the history and experiencing the small town lifestyle that the area had to offer. It was quiet and thoroughly enjoyable.

At dinner that night in Hot Springs, Ken asked me how I felt about doing a little exploring on our way back to Sioux City. Over the years, we have made numerous trips to the Black Hills, always via Interstate 29 and 90. This time, he wanted to do something different…to return home via Highway 20 across Nebraska…just to see what it was like. So we did!

Once again, The Road Less Travelled offered us a new adventure with lots of intriguing eye candy along the way. Beautiful farmsteads, old barns, small towns and loads of beautiful fall foliage. After so many years of always living our lives on fast forward, there is something so very enjoyable about slowing things down a bit. There is so much out there to see.

It was a fabulous week, ranging from visiting wonderful restaurants, the arts district, Botanic Gardens and various other adventures in downtown Denver to a step back in time in the hills of South Dakota and along the back roads of Nebraska. We’re home again now but the “high” of our just completed vacation remains. I had to smile, watching Ken out on the deck grilling last night…in the dark, now, as fall closes in on us, but still enjoying his Bluetooth music and his glass of wine. We will begin planning our next road trip soon, but, for now, our “staycation” is pretty enjoyable too. Life is good!

Later.

Turning 60

We have a book on our coffee table that I wrote several years ago. When I was turning 60, I was determined that I would not make it a “dark day” as so many others I know have dIMG_2269one, but a celebration of life. We planned a big get together in northern California and rented a vacation home overlooking the ocean. It was a great time and Ken, Sue and Ron all followed suit in various locations when their time came to “turn 60.” The book is actually a compilation of photos from those trips as well as meaningful quotes, etc. It makes me smile every time I look through it.

Today, I turn 69. Where have those years gone? So much has happened in our lives during those nine years. And, today I celebrate our victory over those things. It is not with a fancy beach vacation but, sometime life’s greatest celebrations are the small ones.

This is probably going to sound silly to many, but, for whatever reason, I have always wished that I were a runner. I’m NOT a runner-never have been, but I admire those who are. The last time I decided to try my hand at running was about 30 years ago. I bought some shoes and went our for a run in our neighborhood. It was cold out and I ended up sucking in so much cold air that I got pneumonia. Yep. I’m not a runner – or any other kind of athlete for that matter. But, I still, to this day, WISH that I were a runner. So, this morning, on my 69th birthday, I laced up my shoes and went out for a run. Now, mind you, I am using that term loosely. It ended up being more of a run/walk, but, the point is, I DID it. I celebrated my 69th birthday by doing something, in my own way, that I really wanted to do. Ken and I both, during these past nine years, have learned that life is a gift. It is something to be cherished, used responsibly and celebrated. Birthdays are something to look forward to – not to be dreaded.

So, that said, I now have a full year to figure out how to celebrate that next big milestone on the horizon. Game on.

 

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE FOOD

When I set out to do my best to reinvent retirement, it never occurred to me that one of the things this would involve would be our eating habits. I mean, ever since I was diagnosed with cancer I have focused on healthy eating. But, over the last several months, we have entered a new adventure of experimenting with the Paleo lifestyle. We are not fanatics by any means, but lean toward this lifestyle whenever possible. And what is fun is that both Kelli and Matt are doing the same thing so we are constantly texting and sharing recipes. The last couple of nights have been phenomenal.

First Kelli shared a recipe she made that sounded so good it turned out that we and Matt and Sara both tried it on the same night…Creamy Roasted Red Pepper Zucchini Noodles. IMG_2034It was unbelievably good and we will definitely make it again. It is Zoodles with a sweet red pepper and goat cheese sauce to which we added broiled garlic shrimp.  What’s not to like…right?

Tonight we experimented with a recipe that Matt sent…Buffalo Chicken Casserole. Crazy good and unlike anything we have tried before. It is spaghetti squash with chicken, veggies and eggs plus HOT SAUCE.IMG_2037

It is so uplifting to have the time to research and experiment with new cooking venues. I love to cook. I love knowing exactly what is going into my body. I love that Ken is getting into not only experimenting with new healthy lifestyles but also is getting into assisting with the process. It is healthy and it is social. It is FUN!! I may, from time to time, share additional recipes that we experiment with. It is a NEW twist on life. It is another example of Reinventing Retirement.

Later.

VIENNA WAITS

My initial post on this blog almost a year ago now, announced my impending retirement. blog quote smallA friend commented by welcoming me to Vienna with the lyrics to the entire Billy Joel song. It’s a great song about slowing down and taking time to live….hence retirement…and my favorite part of the song is

And you know that when the truth is told
That you can get what you want or you can just get old”

I bring this up now because that friend, Howard Jones, released his second book today…”Searching for Dunderhead” and that is an inspiration to me to push forward on my own project. It has long been my dream to write a book. In Howard’s case, retirement has allowed him to climb mountains, sail the seas, go on safaris, become an accomplished photographer and write two books. (I think it’s two) He personifies the lyrics, “You can get what you want or you can just get old.”

I follow numerous blogs on the subject of reinventing retirement and, regardless of the names…Encore Voyage, One Mom’s Journey, Out of the Frying Pan, they all seem to have one common thread…the quest to live this new life we’ve been given to its fullest. For many people, that means travel. For others, a second career path, adventure, or following a dream. Regardless, it seems we’re all searching for Vienna via our own path. And that’s pretty exciting.

“And you know that when the truth is told
That you can get what you want or you can just get old
… Vienna waits for you”

Later.

MINE EYES HAVE SEEN THE GLORY…

No one spends any time thinking about the fact that they can see. Right? It’s just a blessing that we enjoy without thinking about it. But consider all of the glorious things you experience in life because of your ability to see them.  The faces of those you love…the magnificence of the oceans…the majesty of the mountains…the happy, the sad, the beautiful, the ugly and on and on and on. It is so hard to comprehend life without sight.

I have been forced to live with the knowledge of that possibility becoming a reality for some time now, though I had never really given it a lot of thought. It has been years since I was diagnosed with Dry AMD …earlier than most…but in the last several years, because of the rate at which it is progressing, I have been warned repeatedly that I am at high risk for Wet AMD, the more advanced and serious form of the disease which often leads to loss of central vision.

Following cataract surgery last June, I was given a new lease on life with the correction of my vision to 20/30…not as good as many experience but a significant improvement for me. But, my euphoria was short-lived when my 6 month follow-up showed that the improvement I had experienced last summer had completely disappeared. My eye doctor believed that the AMD might have advanced to the Wet version and scheduled me into the Retina Clinic. That was a cold day in February when I checked into the clinic expecting bad news. So, I was extremely excited when the doctor, following his exam, told me that he was virtually certain that it had not yet progressed. But, because of the rapid deterioration of my vision, he wanted to recheck in a month. So, I did that – today.

One of the ways that they have you monitor the progression and watch for changes is through the use of an Amsler grid. You cover one eye and look at the grid. All of the lines should appear straight and all areas sharp.

If you experience any waviness in the lines, or areas that are gray, it can signal major problems. I will admit that I have never bothered much with the grid. Despite what they told me, I never really felt like it was going to become an issue for me. But since January, I have been doing a better job of checking so was quite upset to discover that some of the lines had now become a little wavy. That is why, when I showed up for my appointment this morning, I was once again steeling myself for possible bad news. But it wasn’t. Well, it was, but not THAT bad.

He still believes that my AMD has not progressed to Wet, though, again, cautioning me that it is a very strong possibility. What he believes is causing my vision issues right now is a macular pucker or wrinkle, known in scientific terms as an Epiretinal Membrane. He believes that it accounts for the waviness I am seeing in the grid as well as the fuzziness in the vision in my right eye. It can cause swelling in the macula and hence, distortion in your vision. The good news is, he said that it appears as though there has been a small decrease in the amount of swelling since my last appointment. Hopefully, there will be more. No guarantees. I did google it when I got home to look for possible causes and treatments. I noticed that this sometimes happens following eye surgery. Hmmm. Could it have resulted from my cataract surgery? He didn’t say that and I am not a doctor but sounds like a possibility to me. I also found that in some cases with severe loss of vision, they can perform surgery to remove the wrinkle, thereby restoring some of the vision you have lost but it appears as though that is a last resort. Whew – so here’s the deal. It is NOT, at this point, Wet AMD. There is a possibility, if some more of the swelling recedes, I will regain some of the vision that has been compromised. And, if not, I will ask if I might be a surgical candidate. So, that said and done…there is still hope, on a number of different levels. And, as long as I have hope I am OK. Hope springs eternal someone once said and that works for me!!

Later.

 

EYE ON THE PRIZE

Last week I spent some time talking about the ability of the smallest of things to offer a spirit of adventure…like the Forbidden Zone, the Ghost Shrimp hunting and the crawfish boil from our recent Texas vacation. We’re home now, but that doesn’t mean the adventure has to end. Many of you won’t “get” this, but I just purchased a Jiffy greenhouse and some plant stakes and am really excited about beginning this year’s gardening adventure.

IMG_2011As much as I LOVE the beach, coming home to find the snow all but gone was incredibly uplifting and now March is upon us…the beginning of meteorological spring. So, I’m gathering my equipment and getting ready for a great gardening season. Just need some seeds now.

Gardening really is an adventure at my house because the cards are definitely stacked against us. We have limited space. We have a myriad of trees which shade nearly every square inch of our lot. We have an abundance of rabbits. And, the squirrels…I can’t even begin to explain how surly and combative they are and how much they LOVE to destroy everything we do outside. From our landscape to our potted plants to our garden and EVEN eating our deck, our hoses and electrical cords. Yes, it’s a battle. But, every spring I accept the challenge again with the renewed hope that this year we will come out on top.

If we had more space, more sun and greater knowledge, I would plant so much more. But since all three of these things are in short supply, we will probably stick mainly with tomatoes and peppers once again. I really, really would like to do at least a few green beans and zucchini though, so I probably will. And, if I can keep the squirrels out of the pots, I will use them for fresh herbs once again. Who knows, maybe we will even experiment with a few other things.

Yep. Call me crazy, but I look at that unopened Jiffy greenhouse and smile at what it represents. I am excited for the coming of spring and the gardening adventure that it will bring. I have my eye on the prize, critters be damned!

YOU’RE GOING TO COOK WHAT??

PouringCrawfish2Continuing some of the tales of our latest Texas adventure today, I can’t fail to mention our Superbowl Eve experience…our very own Crawfish Boil, compliments of Kelli and Brett.

They had introduced us to crawfish a couple of years ago when we spent a week-end in Galveston during one of our visits. We went to an outdoor bar where we were served two big buckets of crawfish. Talk about a “Big Gulp”! I had never eaten crawfish before and was not at all certain that I wanted to, but I’m a player so I decided to dive in. Well…partially dive in, I guess. I’m told that diehard crawfish eaters suck the head. I just could not wrap MY head around that so settled for just pulling the meat out of the tail. It was GOOD and I count that as one of my more memorable experiences. But this year, Kelli and Brett wanted to take it one step further. My sister and brother-in-law were driving up from North Padre for the Super Bowl and we were planning our own Saturday night Crawfish Boil. What an adventure!

With crawfish season just getting underway in Texas, Brett was able to go out and buy a HUGE bag of crawfish – 15 pounds to be exact. They put those in a big cooler and washed them thoroughly. They would be added to a very large pot of boiling water later. We would use the grill for that in order to keep the entire operation outdoors. Crawfish Boils can be messy affairs.

We added small red potatoes and small ears of corn to the water and brought it to a boil. The crawfish are added last. I have to admit that I had almost nothing to do with the preparation of this meal. This was all Kelli and Brett and they did an awesome job.  Since eating crawfish can be a messy experience it is best done outside with newspapers spread on the tables. So, that is what we did – except that we ate in the sun room rather than on the patio. February evenings can still be a little cool.

They brought in large platters of the delicious critters and we all just dug in. Does this not look like a great adventure? Like many other things, it is as much about the experience as it is about the food. It was a first for most of us and what a great time we had.

As I said yesterday, retirement is not a time to just sit back and rock. It is a time to get out there and explore – to experience new things. It’s a time to have fun and enjoy life. And that is exactly what we are doing.

Later.

 

FORBIDDEN ZONE – Trespassers Will Be Prosecuted

 

686108749_51165706df_z[1]Having the freedom to spend some time traveling now that we are retired/semi-retired, is allowing us to experience some new things which from time to time will pique our curiosity and offer just a bit of the spirit of adventure, no matter how small. Like these signs we saw posted every few feet on a several mile stretch of Texas highway 287. Suddenly it was like we were being transported into the Twilight Zone. (I’m sorry – I guess you have to be old to understand that reference) But we couldn’t help but wonder what in the heck the Forbidden Zone was. So, of course, I googled it – several times. Never did get a clear answer. I did find one response that indicated there are some massive pigs in there. Another reference mentioned Big Foot but I’m sure that was tongue in cheek. One forum suggested that someone claimed that he knew the secret but was afraid to post it. The best I could determine is that it is some sort of Water District and there is research of some kind being conducted there. But if so, why not put up signs that say water research area. Why Forbidden Zone? So very odd, yet interesting.

Speaking of odd. While walking the beach one day, my sister and I noticed two ladies engaged in, what seemed to us, to be very strange behavior. One had what appeared to be a piece of pvc pipe which she was using to fling sand at the other. And, they weren’t kids. They were every bit as “senior” as we – maybe more. As we got IMG_1966closer I could see that the one with the pipe was sticking it down into the sand and then as she pulled it out she flung sand and water toward the other lady who then bent down and picked something up.  I just couldn’t walk by and not ask, so I questioned them about what they were doing. Turns out, they use this pipe to suck Ghost Shrimp up out of the sand and use them for bait. They offered to let us try it but we declined, knowing how foolish we would look. However, after talking about it and googling it, we decided it might be kind of fun to try – not to mention a source of free IMG_1963bait. So we did. What a crazy scene that was as we attempted to figure out how to suck those things up out of the sand. It’s more difficult than it looks, let me tell you. We all tried our hand at it, with, eventually, some success. But, my son-in-law, Brett, is the one who really got into it. He even drew a crowd of people who, like Susan and I had done, approached him to ask what in the heck he was doing and to watch him do it.

Little things – both of these – but so interesting and so fun.

IMG_1984Yep – retirement is not a time to just sit back and rock. It is a time to get out there and explore – to experience new things. It’s a time to have fun and enjoy life. And that is exactly what we are doing.

BTW – did you know that you can drive and camp on the beaches in Texas?

Later.