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.

TWO HORSES

canstock16119189Working on my book today, I came across this blog post from July 28, 2010. It brought back memories of several co-workers whose cancer diagnoses came on the heels of my own. The story I included in my post is one I believe I found online. The author is unknown, but it carried a powerful message for me at that time. Both of these friends have since passed on, but the bond we developed through our cancer journeys is one I will always remember.

WEDNESDAY, JULY 28, 2010

Who knew? Who knew when I was diagnosed with cancer 9 months ago that it would just be the beginning of the cancer attack on my work family.

Last week, I asked for prayers for a good friend, just recently diagnosed. Today, another. Receiving a cancer diagnosis is such a devastating blow. You have all kept me going through your prayers and support. I would like to offer that same support to those who are close to me.

I came across this story the other day…

TWO HORSES

“When I was a young boy in Idaho, I remember there was a field with two horses in it. From a distance, each horse looked like any other horse. But, if you stopped your car, or walked by, you noticed something quite amazing. Looking into the eyes of one horse you would have discovered that he is blind. His owner had chosen not to have him put down, but had made a good home for him. If you stood nearby and listened, you would hear the sound of a bell. Looking around for the source of the sound, you would see that it came from the smaller horse in the field. Attached to the horse’s halter was a small bell. It let the blind friend know where the other horse was, so he could follow. As you stood and watched these two horses, you’d see that the horse with the bell was always checking on the blind horse, and that the blind horse was listening for the bell. He would then slowly walk to where the other horse was, trusting that he would not be led astray. When the horse with the bell returned to the shelter of the barn each evening, it stopped occasionally and looked back, making sure that the blind friend wasn’t too far behind to hear the bell. I like to think that, like the owner of these two horses, God does not throw us away just because we are not perfect or because we come with problems or challenges. He watches over us and even brings others into our lives to help us when we are in need.

Sometimes we are the blind horse, being guided by the little ringing bell of those who God places in our lives. And at other times we are the guide horse, helping others to find their way.” – Author unknown

How perfect!!

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.

1 Of Those Light-Bulb Moments

It is certainly not my intent to turn this into a food blog. But right now, seems like my entire world is revolving around the garden and food prep. The more we share, the more they bear so getting creative with our produce is an entertaining new challenge.

I had a totally random thought over the week-end. One of our favorite cool weather meals is Smoky Bacon Chili over baked sweet potatoes. That particular recipe uses a can of Fire Roasted Tomatoes so I try to always keep some on hand. But, on Sunday, a light-bulb moment occurred. Why not try my hand at making some Fire Roasted Tomatoes? I’ve never done it before, but how hard could it be? Right? Turns out, not difficult at all.

IMG_4363

Ready for the grill.

I fired up the grill, selected a dozen or so uniformly sized tomatoes and washed them up. It occurred to me, then, that this might also work well with salsa peppers too, so, as long as the grill was going anyway, why not?

It is a very simple process, really. Just keep turning to char each side of the vegetables and then cover with a towel to steam and loosen the skins.

Once done, pop in bags and freeze.

Not a big deal, but I was kind of excited. I’m not a canner. Never have been, never will be. But I love to experiment with new things and now we can look forward to some home-grown fire roasted tomatoes this fall. So, what’s up next?

Well…this morning I picked some nice banana peppers (Ken’s favorite) and plan to experiment again tonight. I’ve made stuffed bell peppers before but never stuffed banana peppers, so on tonight’s menu…Cheesy Stuffed Banana Peppers. Also plan to make another batch of that delicious Oven Roasted Grape Tomato Pasta Sauce today and then, the pièce de résistance…a big batch of homemade fresh Bloody Mary mix for Labor Day at the Lake.

That should keep me busy for a while. Guess I better get at it.

Later.

Re-Inventing Pasta Sauce

Well, I have been working on re-inventing retirement for the better part of a year now, and a few weeks ago I talked about how we have been re-inventing one of our favs…pizza

This morning I woke up thinking about the bowls full of perfectly ripe grape tomatoes we have been picking almost daily and decided I wanted to try something different with them. There were way too many to just throw into salad, so I decided to make pasta sauce. But, I didn’t want to make just a juicy pan-cooked sauce. I wanted something different. Here is what I did.

I took out a large sheet pan and put as many grape tomatoes as I could fit in a single layer on that pan. I also had a handful of sweet, baby onions that Ken had dug a few weeks ago, so I washed and peeled those to add to the pan. Then, I smashed a half dozen cloves of garlic and threw those on…drizzled olive oil over all and seasoned with salt and pepper.

I popped the sheet pan in a 400 degree oven for about 45 minutes to get the mixture nicely carmelized. In the meantime, I went out and cut a bunch of nice fresh basil to throw into the sauce when I blended it.

I was so pleased with the results. It was nice and thick and absolutely delicious. Now, how to use the sauce. I had just picked a spaghetti squash as well so decided to make spaghetti squash casserole…another one of our favorites. That would allow me to also use some of our bounty of peppers. So, basically, a spaghetti squash casserole is cooked spaghetti squash with your choice of additional ingredients. This time I used Italian sausage, three kinds of chopped peppers, chopped onion, my freshly made sauce, a handful of grated Italian cheese, and some mozzarella to top it off, just because.

It was delicious…and pretty healthy too since you are eliminating all the carbs in the pasta. Another version of this that we love is Buffalo Chicken Spaghetti Squash Casserole. There are plenty of sites where you can find these types of recipes, but one of our favorites is Paleomg.com

So…still loving the freedom of retirement, the time to do what makes us happy including working in the garden, and the fun of experimenting with different ways to enjoy the bounty that we have produced. If you happen to try this sauce, let me know what you think. In our house, it’s a keeper!

Later.

Pizza Night

Sunday is typically pizza night at our house. But this is not the stereotypical “senior citizen” habit of doing the same thing, on the same day, at the same time every week kind of thing. We REFUSE to go there. This is just a “We love pizza” thing and the Sunday night part of it is a throwback to when we were working and it was an easy way to end the weekend. No…we no longer order pizza very often…we make our own, experiment, change it up and just have fun with it. Sure…it is more labor intensive than ordering pizza and takes longer…but we have time. And we enjoy it.

We have done the cauliflower crust. We have made regular homemade pizza crust and grilled it. We have done a spaghetti squash pizza casserole (not really pizza but uses pizza ingredients and it is DELICIOUS). Our pizza toppings range from the traditional to more artisan options like prosciutto, fresh mozzarella pearls and arugula.

So last week, when I ran across a blog post about zucchini pizza crust I just had to try it. Perfect time of year for it, right? And, it was delicious! That said…I plan to experiment with some tweaks next time, mainly because we are basically thin and crispy crust lovers and that seems to be very difficult to accomplish with most of the crusts we have tried. This crust was not crispy, though it did hold up to hand-held eating. I have some ideas that might crisp it up a bit, so will try that next time, but the flavor was amazing. It made WAY more than I expected it to so we have enough pizza for two meals and then some.  We will see how it reheats. But, take a look. Delicious?

If you like to live on the wild side when it comes to cooking, check out the recipe here. We didn’t do the brown sugar tomato part of it, but if you’re into that, knock yourself out. And if you have suggestions on other great pizza experiments, let me know. We’re not just reinventing retirement, we’re reinventing pizza!!

Later.

Getting In Touch With My Inner Queen

This is interesting. Over the past several years, Ken and I have come to enjoy opening a bottle of Rosé on a warm summer night and sipping it out on the deck while we grill dinner. Problem is…Rosé is almost impossible to find in Sioux City, IA for some reason.

Last week we decided to go on a Rosé hunt, visiting several wine stores other than our regulars, Sam’s, Hy-Vee and Wine Styles. Still we came up with only a handful of options…three to be exact, and we had never heard of any of them. Last night, we opened one, and it was pretty good. Not the best we had ever had. We’ve enjoyed wonderful Rosés in Denver and Houston. But, for the mIMG_2389 (2)oney, not bad. It was Mateus Rosé.

I was just doing some research on the Internet and came across a blog post about none other than Mateus Rosé. It seems that Mateus Rosé was the most popular wine in the world back in the early 70s. The Queen of England demanded it. Jimi Hendrix was photographed drinking it out of the bottle. AND…it is said to have been Saddam Hussein’s favorite wine.

The post is a pretty interesting read if you’re into wine, and, really, even if you’re not. It’s a fascinating cultural commentary. blog.wblakegray.com  And speaking of cultural commentary, if anyone knows why Rosé is a big deal in larger cities, but you can barely find a bottle here in Sioux City, please let me know.

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.