Monday, February 17, 2020

American Pickers/Fun with Mom

We moved Mom into a new Assisted Living community last August. We liked the old one, but the company that owns it decided to change the way they determine the cost for care, and Mom's fees more than doubled*, so we had to find somewhere new. I used a service that helps families find facilities, visited several around town, took Mom to visit two, and she chose where she wanted to move.

The process was easier this time because she was a willing participant (until the day of the move when she had second thoughts, but we got through that). Unfortunately, the new place was at the end of a renovation process, and the elevator was to be out of service for a few weeks. Instead of moving directly into her 3rd floor 2-room apartment with a balcony, she ended up in a 1-room efficiency for 3 weeks.

Her biggest complaint was that she could only watch one channel on the television (The History Channel). This was my fault – I didn’t want to have to mess with Comcast more than once, so I figured I’d get it hooked up once she moved into her real apartment. When we plugged the cable that was in the wall into her old cable box, THC was magically on her television but, without a proper remote (that she wouldn’t know how to use anyway), she had no way to change the channel. So, for three weeks, I heard daily complaints that all she could watch was The History Channel, and why did I think she wanted to watch American Pickers and shows about alien landings all of the time.

We finally got her moved upstairs, and basic cable installed. But guess what? The basic package from Comcast does NOT include The History Channel. Then all I heard was daily complaints that she couldn't watch American Pickers, and that was the only show worth watching in all of tv-dom. We upgraded her, and now she has access to pretty much whatever she wants to watch, which consists solely of American Pickers, Ancient Aliens, and a Soundscapes music channel that plays wallpaper for your mind music and shows pretty pictures.

Now—if only she could figure out the remote.

*Interestingly, Mom has far less care at the new place and is much healthier than she was at the old one. She’s more independent, happier, physically stronger, and less likely to fight with her caregivers. I know that with dementia things tend to slide along on a plane until a decline happens—and when it does, it’s usually not a steady drop but a precipitous one. For now, I’m going to enjoy this time of relative calm.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Finding Joy

Today is Mother’s Day – my 27th Mother’s Day if I’m counting. I am at the beach with my sweet husband and my wonderful girls, so today should be a good one, right?

We drove down yesterday. Sara and Rick were in one car. Hannah, Spike (beloved diabetic cat), Bella (beloved dog with heart issues) and me in the other. Bella was very excited to be going with us. She is always sad when we leave her, and when she saw me putting her doggie car seat in the car, she jumped in and wouldn’t get out. She stayed in there a good hour before we left.

By the time we got to the beach house, Bella was obviously not breathing well. About twenty minutes after we got here, my sweet puppy died.

And now, today, my mom fell out of her bed and is being taken to the ER for x-rays. It would be a drag for Mother’s Day anyway, but with me being seven hours away, it’s worse. She’s probably okay – she really didn’t want to go to the hospital, but agreed to go, “just in case.” My brother, who lives in Knoxville, will be down there if there are any major issues, and my amazing neighbor is going to go over to St. Joe’s to check on Mom. But still…

So, I have lots of reasons to be sad and anxious today, which makes it the perfect day to find reasons to be joyful.

I’m not saying I shouldn’t feel the feelings. Every hour or so I’m washed over with sadness about Bella, and that’s a good thing. Feeling sad means I loved her, and I want to honor that. And it’s okay to be anxious about my mother. But I can’t let these feelings overwhelm me to the point that I can’t find joy.

So, here’s a list of things that I’m joyful about:

That I’m in a beautiful place with my family
That the sun is shining
That Anthony will be here in a couple of days, completing the family unit
That we all get along so well
That there are love bugs all over the deck…well – making love, apparently
That Spike is asleep on the ottoman
That I have a job that I absolutely love
That I have really wonderful friends
That I got to eat a croissant today
That I have a church that feeds my soul

There are more. But this is a good start.

RIP sweet girl

Saturday, September 8, 2018

The Right Next Thing

This morning I attended a meeting of The Order of the Daughters of the King. There’s a lot to say about The Daughters that I’m not going to say here, but for now, I’ll tell you that we are dedicated to prayer and service, and we meet once a month, September – May. 

The guest speaker today was from the Atlanta Mission ( There’s a WHOLE lot more to say about the Atlanta Mission, and I highly recommend you check out their website and help where you can, but that’s not really the point of my story today.

Before our guest speaker, Michelle, was introduced, Sue Burtenshaw, the wife of the late Fr. Noel Burtenshaw, spoke for a few minutes. Fr. Burtenshaw, who passed away a couple of months ago, was a beloved priest at St. Martins. Sue had come to thank The Daughters for the amazing reception that the ladies of our Order arranged for Fr. Noel’s funeral, and she also gifted us with some “Noelisms” that she had captured over the years.

Here’s the “Noelism” that caught my complete attention this morning:

Choose the right next thing.

Our group and the Endowment Fund from St. Martins donated all sorts of home goods to the Atlanta Mission to help women who are moving from their shelter program into their own apartments. There was more than Michelle could take in her car, so I offered to load whatever I could into my SUV and take it to the Atlanta Mission offices after the meeting.

When I got to the offices, Michelle wasn’t there yet, but there was a woman sitting on a bench in the shade. She wanted to know if they were open today, and I told her I had no idea but asked her if she wanted to sit in my air-conditioned car while we waited for Michelle. She declined because she was charging her phone and waiting for a call from her son.

When Michelle got there, we unloaded all of the stuff with the help of this lovely, soft-spoken lady, Leah, who was waiting for her son’s call. Leah has two children. Her 12-year-old daughter, who has some mental health issues, lives with Leah's mother. Her 8-year-old son lives with his father in Atlanta. Leah needed help.

The Mission offices are not open on the weekends. Michelle and I had discussed taking all of the donations to her house so she could take them to the office on Monday, but in the end, we decided to go ahead and take them to the office today. Had we not, I don’t know where Leah would have gone.

When we left, Michelle took Leah to the Mission’s emergency shelter so that she could get the services she needed.

As I was leaving, I gave Leah my best wishes and told her she and her children would be in my prayers. She told us that things were hard. And she told us how startlingly easy it was for a family to fall apart. I told her that she had taken a step today towards asking for help and getting the help that she needed.

Let me be clear. The only thing I did for Leah was that I treated her with respect and caring—something I try to do for anyone I meet. But what was really remarkable was what Leah did for herself and her family. It takes a lot of courage to ask for help. It will take more courage to accept help and to develop enough self-awareness and self-love to make lasting changes.

But the only way to start is to CHOOSE THE RIGHT NEXT THING.

I’m like every other human on earth. I screw up all the time. I make terrible choices. I deliberately avoid what is good because it’s hard.

It doesn’t help to beat ourselves up about our past. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t learn. That’s not to say that we don’t need to make amends and ask for forgiveness.

But the only thing we can control is what we do next.

So, take power in your ability to CHOOSE THE RIGHT NEXT THING. And then choose the next right next thing.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The Writing Life

There  is a quote from Henry James’ book, The Art of Fiction, that says to be a good writer, one needs to “try to be one on whom nothing is lost.”  I try. I really do try. It’s a struggle for me because I’m always somewhere else. I’m either listening to the song in my head, trying to figure out how to solve whatever challenge has presented itself or daydreaming about what I’d do if I won the lottery.

In an effort to make the documenting of all of the things that haven’t been lost on me easier, I’ve taken to carrying around blank index cards a la Anne Lamott. Unfortunately, I still have just as many blank cards in my various bags as I had when I placed them there. The one tool that I do use, however intermittently, is the notes function on my phone.

I recently perused these notes, to see what it was that I thought needed to be documented. I share them with you now, and you can decide for yourself if anything has been lost.

The first few notes are a shopping list for the ingredients for Pancho Villa Stew; a line of text that reads “Lg itns16122v 15.7 cubic feet,” which must be something other than the measurement of a human large intestine, but I can’t for the life of me figure out what, exactly; the pin to unfreeze my credit reports; and the name of a movie, Leningrad Cowboys go America.

Based on the dates, these notes were taken prior to my determination to not lose anything. The next one, though, is a real gem: Crab piles of beige and hold sand flecked with sparkling bits of broke. Shells. Dog pees. Insult to injury, die one she killed last night. This is prize-winning stuff here.

Next are more shopping lists, a quote from Jack London, a shopping list, and then the details of a dream, written as a list: Dream. Final Exam. Hospital. Not dying. Go to bathroom. Come back person waiting for me. Crack head on floor. Find me under bed. Exam over – crying. Back to Dolly’s house. Keep dog cause she’s being a pain.  At least I didn’t die, I guess, and I got to go to my grandmother Dolly's house, which makes it the best dream ever.

More shopping lists follow (I shop a lot I guess), and then the inexplicable, “While you were sleeping. My crazy Uncle Irwin who fell asleep in the Mac and Cheese.” While You Were Sleeping is one of my favorite movies, but I don’t have an Uncle Irwin, that I know of. And certainly not one who fell asleep in the Mac and Cheese (although I do know someone who did).

Another list: fun, charcoal, beer, being corn. Seriously? I get the charcoal and beer, and maybe I could purchase fun somewhere, but being corn? Something was definitely lost here.

The most recent note actually makes sense to me, maybe because I wrote it just recently about an elderly woman at the rehab center where my mother was recovering from a fractured pelvis. She was tooling around in her wheelchair and rooting through the uneaten trays from the kitchen looking for dessert. She found a piece of cake, and my mother and I watched her enjoy it. She was clearly in heaven. I just hope she isn't diabetic.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017


My mother is in the hospital again. She just moved back to her home after being with me for about six weeks following hip replacement surgery. Three days after being home she fell and fractured her pelvis in two places. According to her, she was just hanging up her coat when she lost her balance.

Of course, it’s obvious to me, and to my siblings, that her townhouse isn’t the place for an 82-year-old woman with limited mobility. The sunken living room and the many stairs going up to the bedrooms and full bathrooms are more falls waiting to happen.

It’s also obvious to my siblings and me that her companion is…well, in the interest of avoiding slander and/or bad language; suffice it to say that we’re not fans.

But today Mom made it clear to my brother and sister that she doesn’t care what we feel, worry about, want – she’s going to do what she’s going to do and if we don’t like it, well, so what?

So where does that leave me? Angry, to be sure, and hurt. But what about the bigger picture? It’s easier for my siblings – they don’t live here, so they don’t have to decide on a day-to-day basis if they’re going to check on Mom, go to the store for her, make sure she has her prescriptions, etc. And when Mom was at my house right after her surgery, she told me she didn’t know what she would do without me. I promised her she’d never have to find out.

Now she’s making a decision that maybe shuts me out. She doesn’t want my opinion, and I can’t just be silent if I think she’s unsafe. And to be honest, I don’t want to be manipulated. Do I jump every time she needs something that her good-for-nothing “boyfriend” won’t get for her because he doesn’t like the ethnicity of the customers at Kroger, or doesn’t want to use the gas to go to the pharmacy? Am I allowed to say something then or am I just supposed to swoop in, save the day, and then shut up again? Am I allowed to point out that if she falls and breaks something doing a normal thing like hanging up a piece of clothing, maybe that means it’s time to make some hard decisions before she hurts herself more? Apparently not.

That makes this relationship something different than I thought it was. That means that Mom wants something different than maybe I’m able to offer. That means that maybe I won’t be able to keep my promise. And I don’t know what to do with that.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Prayer Requests

A dear friend sent me a text today, asking for prayers for a family member who is having some health issues. Now, I believe in the power of prayer. I know of an instance where a very powerful prayer warrior got his prayer circle together – probably circling the entire United States, if not the world – and prayed a brain tumor to change colors so that the surgeons could tell the difference between tumor and brain tissue. I myself have had some remarkable, life-changing things happen in response to prayer. But while I know that prayers for her family are in order, I’m not sure that’s what my friend really needed.

I think that she might have just needed some encouragement. Someone who loves her to say, “I totally understand why life sucks right now.” Or, “Gosh, you’ve worked so hard forever, and you’re one of the best people I know. This just isn’t fair.” Or maybe even “You sound like you need a break—how can I help?” But it’s usually easier to ask for a prayer than an ear.

We don’t like to complain. Someone always has it worse than we do, and it feels wrong to bitch about the fact that your house is a mess because no one will clean it but you; or that the mortgage is going to be late again because the power bill was higher than expected; or that a family member is sick and you’re worried, of course, but it’s really hard to get your own stuff done because you have to take care of him/her. Saying any of that out loud feels petty and whiny. Even the big stuff like major illnesses or job losses or *add your own big thing here* can sound bad. This is especially true in the era of Facebook and Instagram, where we put forth our shiny, happy, selves and only rarely expose the painful, dark side of our own lives. Showing the darker side makes us look weak and desperate for affirmation.

But let’s give ourselves permission to text, or better yet, call a friend and say “Man. This really crappy thing just happened and I need to vent. I need someone who loves me to listen to me without judgment. I need some encouragement.”

I hardly ever give myself permission to do that. I’m supposed to be the positive one. And I’m sure my stupid issues are nothing compared to someone else’s problems. So, I’ll just keep it inside. My blood pressure is up, I’m not sleeping well, and I’m angry all the time, but I’m definitely NOT going to bother anyone else with my stupid problems lest I sound like the whiner I believe I am.

So, my friend (I know you know I’m talking to you), I will pray. In fact, I’ll pray for your whole family. But mostly I’ll pray for you and that you know that all you need to do is pick up the phone and text or call. You can count on me to answer, and to commiserate, and mostly to understand. Because I love you. And I know you’ll do the same for me.