Geranium Whispers on a Fantastic Friday

Change, rain-kissed geraniums, and the sorrow of Alzheimer's in this week's Fantastic Friday offering.This Friday’s post from July of 2009 was selected for two reasons. First, it shows how much life has changed in the last 7 years. Second, I love this picture. Rarely does this geranium plant produce such a perfect bloom and even more rarely are the blossoms so beautifully rain-kissed. Enjoy!

Geranium Whispers

On this rainy Friday morning, I bustled around the house, opening window shades. The clouds were thick and the house was gloomy, so I eagerly coaxed the weak light that penetrated the clouds inside for a visit.

When I opened the shades to the patio, the blossoms of an heirloom geranium took my breath away. Mom gave me the plant over a year ago, when she still lived in her own home and had no idea she would soon break up housekeeping. Decades before her mother, Josephine Newell Hess, had given her a slip from the plant her mother, Cora Rose Newell, had given her a slip from in the 1940s.

Had Mom waited one more winter, it might have been too late to pass on the plant and the history behind it. In the past twelve months, Alzheimer’s has taken its relentless toll on her memory, stamina, and abilities. Our daily phone calls get shorter and shorter as she finds it increasingly difficult to hold up her end of a conversation. She still loves to read and do crossword puzzles, but has no interest in visiting friends or going new places. Quilting and jigsaw puzzles confuse her. She can’t make decisions.

Slowly but surely, Alzheimer’s is turning my steely, determined mother into a soft, hesitant whisper of a woman. But this morning, when I opened the shade and those bright red blossoms waved at me, they comforted me and reminded me that all is not lost.

“She’s with you,” they whispered. “She’s right here.”

“Thanks,” I said, and then I waved back.

I Miss Your Dad

Mom doesn't converse like she used to, but last week we had a sweet, substantial thoughtful conversation.In her prime, Mom was a sparkling conversationalist, She easily handled a variety of topics with great knowledge and wit. Her favorites were teaching, gardening, quilting, cooking and baking, reading, history, neighborhood gossip, genealogy, and family.

These days, her unprompted contributions to our Wednesday conversations consist of complaining about her runny nose and asking for tissues, gossip concerning fellow residents, reminders that she needs new library books, smack talk while we play Rummikub, reports of cards and letters received from family members, and stories about either her childhood or mine.

Every week, I try to draw her out a little while we waited for our meals to arrive at Applebee’s. “Did you fly kites when you were a kid?” I asked last Wednesday, which was a very blustery day.

“No,” she said. That was all.

I soldiered on. “Did you ice skate?”

She nodded. “Once. I fell on my butt/”

I persisted. “Did you roller skate?”

“Yes.” She brightened. “I liked to roller skate.”

“DId you skate outside or at a roller rink?”

“At a roller rink. In Pipestone.”

“Your family didn’t have much money. How did you pay for it?” I asked.

She shrugged. “My brother Wayne took us, I think. He was always kind. And my brother Ralph was a good skater. He could even skate backwards as well as I could skate going forward.”

Our food came then, and we stopped talking. But maybe it set her to thinking, because on the drive home, she brought up a new topic of conversation.

“What year did your dad die?”

“1997,” I replied. “19 years ago.”

“That’s a long time,” she said.

“Yes, it is,” I agreed. “Do you miss him?”

“A lot.” She nodded.

“Me, too,” I said.

“But missing a husband,” she went on, “is different than missing your dad.”

“I’m sure it is,” I said. “And in a way, you lost your husband twice. Once to multiple sclerosis and again when he died.”

“You’re right, Jolene,” she said before going quiet again.

It was the most substantial, thoughtful, and sweet conversation we’ve had in months. I looked at her and smiled. She smiled back.

The Man of Steel, St. Fred, and Wednesday with Dorothy

Fred Hoiberg leaving ISU plus the Man of Steel's reaction equals a memorable Wednesday with Dorothy one of us will remember always.Since the news broke that Fred Hoiberg resigned as head coach of the Iowa State Cyclones basketball team to lead the Chicago Bulls, I’ve been surprised by how many people have asked how the Man of Steel is dealing with the news.

I had no idea so many people knew about the Man of Steel’s obsession with interest in Fred, a native son of Iowa and ISU basketball alumni and legend, affectionately referred to as St. Fred around here.

During the most recent Wednesday with Dorothy, Mom broached the topic shortly after I arrived. “What’s Hiram have to say about Fred Hoiberg leaving?” she asked with a twinkle in her eye.

“He’s handling it better than you might think,” I assured her.

“How’s that?”

“He’s decided to become a Chicago Bulls fan,” I explained.

She snickered.

We moseyed out to play Rummikub in the activity area. We’d finished one game (she won) and were setting up for another when she asked, “How’s Hiram taking Hoiberg’s decision to leave the Cyclones?”

“Well,” I smiled, “he took it pretty well. In fact, he’s reading up on the Chicago Bulls and ready to be a fan.”

She chuckled.

I won the next game of Rummikub, she won the one after that, and then we went to Applebee’s for supper. While we waited for our food to arrive, she  looked at the poster advertising the Applebee’s Hoiburger on the wall. “Wonder how long they’ll keep serving those,” she mused. “Is Hiram all cut up about Fred Hoiberg leaving the Cyclones?”

“Actually,” I said as the waitress brought our onion rings, “he didn’t miss a beat. Just announced when the new NBA season begins, he’ll be a Bulls fan.”

Mom giggled.

I blew on an onion ring and offered a silent prayer as I took my first bite. Thank you, God, for the Man of Steel, Fred Hoiberg, and for using them to make this Wednesday with Dorothy a day one of us will never forget.

The Daffodils Are Blooming this Fanastic Friday

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Friday’s here again, so it’s time for another fantastic post from the past. This one comes from April 2011, a few years after Mom’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis and subsequent move to live with my brother and his family. That chapter of Mom’s life ended this past January, when she moved to an assisted living facility. She is not adjusting particularly well. But as this post points out, she has adjusted before, and I can hope that she will slowly adjust again. And I can also hope that this week, during our Wednesday visit and drive, she will smile to see the daffodils are blooming.

The Daffodils Are Blooming

My daffodils started blooming yesterday, their bright faces raised, impervious to the wind while they soaked in the sunshine. They spoke spring and warmth and light and hope into my winter weary heart. They made me smile.

Then the rain moved in, and everything changed.

These natty soldiers, who had marched beside my house erect and confident short hours ago, were bowed and bedraggled this morning. They shivered in the wind. Tears rolled down their faces and puddled in the dirt at their feet. Their burdens were heavy on their shoulders, so heavy they couldn’t lift their heads to see the clusters of clean, greening grass lining their parade route, cheering their arrival.

They have no idea that sunshine will return.

The daffodils were a gift from my mother the last fall she lived in her house. Before we suspected Alzheimer’s. Before her legendary strength abandoned her. When she still had energy to dig in the dusty, autumn soil for the daffodil bulbs that needed separating. Come spring, the news that I had planted the bulbs didn’t bring her as much pleasure as in previous years.

The first clue, as I look back, that something was wrong in my green thumb mother’s world.

Things moved more swiftly after that. The next fall, Mom moved in with my brother and sister-in-law. The next spring, her house was sold. Her passion for gardening evaporated along with her love of quilting, sewing, jigsaw puzzles, and ordering around her children. When my sister gave Mom an African violet for her bedroom, her response was, “I’m not sure I want that much responsibility.”

Can this be the woman who grew all the roses for our wedding altar arrangements?

“The daffodils are about to bloom, “ I told Mom during our visit two days ago. “The ones you gave me.” On our drive to the library, we saw some blooming beside a small house. “Look, Mom,” I pointed. “Aren’t they pretty?” Her eyes turned warm and bright. For the rest of the trip, and again on the way home, she watched for flowers.

“The daffodils are blooming.” She smiled and lifted her head. Briefly, the sunshine returned.

Two Moments

sweet-nap-873331-mIn the past 7 days, I helped Mom move into assisted living on Monday, traveled to Wisconsin on Tuesday to help out with the our 2-year-old grandson and brand new granddaughter until Saturday, and joined our church Connection Group on Sunday afternoon to make 32 pans of scalloped potatoes and ham for an upcoming fundraiser.

After a week in the whirlwind, I am home alone today.
Catching up on neglected tasks.
Sitting in my comfy chair writing.
Reflecting on the many changes our family has undergone in a few short weeks.

2 moments stand out amongst the tornado of moments that swirled around and above and under and through my heart in 7 short days. The first moment came after my brother and I had moved Mom’s furniture, arranged her room, and returned to take her to her new home. When I announced it was almost time to leave and asked her to wait until I was done in the bathroom. While I was otherwise occupied, Mom grabbed her walker and headed out the door.

A few minutes later,
I found her in the garage,
standing in the 7 degree weather,
waiting to begin her new life with the grit and determination that is her hallmark.

The second moment came during my Wisconsin sojourn. I was sitting in the rocking chair holding our newborn granddaughter while her mommy spent some time with her big brother. I looked down at this little one’s tiny perfect face, felt the soft rise and fall of her breathing against my chest, and breathed in her sweet baby aroma. And there, in the center of a month marked by the gale force change, a calm descended upon my windblown heart.

Time evaporated,
my heartbeat slowed,
my body relaxed,
and I thanked God for wrapping my arms around the gift on my granddaughter’s new life.

All Good Things Must Come to an End

Camp Dorothy Is ClosedScholars attribute the saying “All good things must come to an end” to Chaucer, whose end came a long time ago. Other scholars believe the saying was around long before Chaucer. Whoever first spoke or penned those words, I don’t much like them right now. Because those words–and the truth behind them–have settled upon our family with inevitable finality.

Today, Mom is moving into assisted living.

I told her the change needed to be made during our December Camp Dorothy Extravaganza. Her reply? “I knew this day would come someday, but I didn’t think it would be so soon.” Strange words from an 86-year-old, I thought, until she added, “My mother didn’t go to a nursing home until she was 93. I wanted to beat her record.”

“But, Mom,” I said, “this facility is much different from Grandma’s nursing home.”

We talked for a while longer, and she said she just needed time to think. Then she picked up a deck of cards and laid out a game of Solitaire. I watched her wondering what she was thinking, and how the familiar motions of shuffling and organizing the cards by number, red on black on red, aided her thinking.It must have done the trick because she soldiered on through the day in good spirits. Later that evening, when I was helping her get ready for her shower, she said, “I’m sad, Jo,”

“It is sad, Mom,” I agreed. “What’s making you most sad?”

“I won’t ever see this house again,” she said. And with those words, my heart broke. Somehow, I managed to not cry. I couldn’t cry because getting Mom in and out of the shower is dangerous enough without a camp director, blinded by tears. But my heart was–and still is–cracked in two. My mother, whose decline is partly due to Alzheimer’s, clearly saw what I couldn’t bear to admit during a month of constant caregiving, hard decisions, and anticipated changes. Mom knew before I did that all good things must come to and end, which means this.

Camp Dorothy is closed. Forever.

Rockin’ in the New Year at Camp Dorothy

new year

After a five day break, when Camp Dorothy’s namesake headed north to spend a few days with her eldest daughter, things are ramping up for a rockin’ New Year’s Eve celebration. The fun begins today when the camp director collects Dorothy from Minnesota and returns her to central Iowa’s more moderate climate…not that Dorothy will be outside experiencing the climate any more than is absolutely necessary.

She’ll be sitting cozy on the couch with a footstool under her feet and an extra blanket around her shoulders.

Also arriving at camp on Monday will be a Wisconsin contingent consisting of our daughter, six months pregnant, and her 6’4″ husband. They will be taking over many of the camp director’s activity duties including, but not limited to, playing Rummikub and Uno with the camp’s namesake and operating the television remote control so that episodes of The Price Is Right, Judge Judy, and Wheel of Fortune appear on cue at the proper time.

A stress reliever for sure as the camp director (aka: camp cook) foresees numerous trips to the grocery store as the camp population will double for the week.

And the director will be spending extra time planning a rockin’ New Year’ Eve party. Not an easy thing to schedule considering the camp’s namesake usually goes to bed between 7 and 7:30 in the evening. Therefore, our New Year’s Eve countdown of top hits will need to proceed at lightning speed so that 2015 is welcomed in at approximately 7:15 pm Central Standard Time. If that doesn’t work, Plan B is to blow our noisemakers continually from the end of Wheel of Fortune to midnight to keep the camp’s namesake awake until the New Year can be ushered in the rest of the country’s customary time. The camp director hopes Plan A works because, as daughter of the camp’s namesake, she goes to bed around 8:30 PM and has no interest in staying awake to ring in 2015.

The family resemblance is astounding, don’t you think?

Camp Dorothy will definitely be a rockin’ place to be on New Year’s Eve. If you’d like to join us, come early and bring your Uno deck. If you want to prank the camp with a late night call, the joke’s on you as the camp landline’s been cancelled and all cell phones shift into night mode long before Cinderella’s coach is in danger of turning into a pumpkin. All because Camp Dorothy aims to please it’s namesake and a good night’s sleep is always her number one priority.

Happy New Year from the well-rested Camp Dorothy crew!

Three Birthday Pancake Thoughts for Thursday

Ruth Dorothy

The little girl on the left is Mom’s sister, Ruth. The little girl on the right is Dorothy.

  1. To help Mom celebrate her 86th birthday yesterday, I treated her to lunch at Village Inn. She ordered pancakes.
  2. While she ate the pancakes, she told me about her sixth birthday, 80 years ago exactly. “It was my first day of first grade. My first day of school ever. The older kids–and they were all older kids–spent every recess giving me birthday spankings. It was awful.”
  3. As she ate she looked at me and said, “Do you know what I really want for my birthday? I want to go back to Pipestone and have Mom make pancakes for me.”

Who knew birthday pancakes could reduce the daughter of an 86-year-old woman to tears?

Dorothy and the 5 Little Red Hot Chili Peppers

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Okay, so neither Dorothy (a.k.a. Mom) or I ate red hot chili peppers on Tuesday for lunch. But Mom reminds me often that The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew was her favorite book as a child, so I threw that in. The “red hot” bit just sounded good, so I threw it in, too. But, we did eat at Chili’s, and the weather was hot. So hot that Dorothy, in an impressive break from tradition, ordered iced tea instead of coffee.

Yes, it was that hot.

It was so hot that young moms galore, along with their young mom BFFs, and the small fry that made them moms decided to eat lunch at Chilis. As did some families with two parents accompanying their kids and a few grandparents with little shavers in tow.

That made for a plethora of children.

Beautiful children, all with summer tans and sun-streaked hair. All wearing bright sun dresses or bright, baggy shorts and tank tops, sporting flip-flops, sun glasses, colorful hair ribbons, and gap-toothed grins.

They were well-behaved, too.

I’m not kidding. Mom and I both remarked upon how well the children listened, stayed in their seats, and talked quietly. At least as quiet as kids can talk, that is. We also remarked upon how we weren’t the only ones who decided to beat the heat at Chili’s.

“And the food’s good, too,” Mom said.

Then we eavesdropped on the people in the next booth. “Keep your coupons,” the waitress told the young mom and her young mom BFF. “Today, kids eat free.” The moms tucked the coupons back into their purses while a light bulb appeared over Mom’s head.

“That’s why there are so many kids here,” she said. “KIds eat free.”

Just then the waitress came by with our bill. Mom examined the slip of paper, sighed deeply (as she does every time forking over money is required), and counted out her money. Soon after, we stood to leave. On the way out, Mom actually went a few steps out of her way to address the hostess. “Ma’am,” she said sweetly. “Do kids eat free today?” The waitress nodded. Mom pointed at me.

“She’s my kid.”

The hostess stood, open-mouthed and staring, as Mom smiled innocently. She walked slowly to the door, which I held open. She looked at me and winked. “Well,” she explained with a shrug and a twinkle. “It was my money. It was worth a try.”

Gotta love that woman.

Three Thoughts for Thursday

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  1. Mom demonstrated an advantage of memory loss when someone at our family reunion  showed her the Courtin’ Onions post from last Friday. Her response to the tale that exasperated her when it was first written? “That’s a cute story, Jolene. Thanks for writing it.”
  2. This weekend at a McDonald’s in a city that shall remain unnamed, I ordered the $1.00 soda and handed the server a dollar bill. She said, “That will be 64¢,” rang it up, then handed over a cup and the change. It takes a lot to render me speechless, but that did the trick.
  3. For the next 2 days, I’m presenting and learning at the Iowa Christian Writers Conference with Cec Murphy, Shelly Beach, Wanda Sanchez, Mary Kenyon Potter, and other great workshop leaders. No doubt, their collective wisdom will render me speechless once again.

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