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.

Top Ten Reasons I Hate Wrapping Christmas Presents

Many people absolutely love wrapping presents before Christmas. But I'm not one of them. Here's why.We’re celebrating Christmas with the kids and grands early, so this week is wrapping week…not my favorite activity for these ten reasons.

10.  I grew up trying to force reused, wrinkled wrapping paper that was always too small around boxes that were too big.

9.  Next we topped the wrinkled paper with old bows, all of which had lost their sticky.

8.  We always ran out of Scotch tape before we were done.

7. When we ran out of Scotch tape, Mom showed us how to use masking tape rolled inside out to hold the wrapping paper together. This tactic worked approximately 50% of the time.

6.  She told us to use rolled up masking tape to stick bows on the packages, too. That worked approximately 25% of the time.

5.  All of the above traumatized me, so I now avoid wrapping paper whenever possible.

4.  So I’m in a catch 22 situation: If I seek immediate treatment for my wrapping paper phobia, I will not have time for wrapping presents.

3.  Plus, as a result of the tendon I severed 2 months ago, my left thumb has a bad case of oppositional defiance disorder (ODD) and is in therapy, too. Which means even less time for wrapping presents.

2. Though gift bags are the obvious solution to my gift wrapping issues, I am too much of a cheapskate to buy them. So I’ve developed this habit of saving gift bags from year to year and store them in a big drawer.

1.  Every Christmas season, when I open the drawer and see the big pile of wrinkled gift bags, I realize that I’m more like Mom than I want to admit. And I thought Christmas was designed to gloss over harsh realities like that.

How about you? Do you love or hate wrapping presents? Tell us why in the comment box.

Mom’s Apple Dumplings

My mother made the most delicious dumplings. When a friend called to offer us free apples, I pulled out Mom's recipe. They were as delicious as I remembered.A couple weeks ago, a friend gave us oodles of apples from an apple tree that blew over in the wind. After they were delivered, the Man of Steel helped me freeze a whole bunch of applesauce, 3 apple pies, and 2 dozen apple dumplings. You’ll find the recipe for apple dumplings below.

Mom’s Apple Dumplings

Step 1: Make a batch of Grandma Conrad’s Never Fail Pie Crust. Let it sit for at least 10 minutes.

Step 2: In a saucepan, combine 2 cups water, 1/2 cup sugar, 3 tablespoons butter (or Earth Balance Vegan Stick for a non-dairy version), and 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon. Bring to a rolling boil. Remove from heat and set aside.

Step 3: Peel, core, and slice 6–8 cups of apples. Put them in a large mixing bowl. Add 1/4 cup of sugar and 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon. Mix together until apples are coated with sugar and cinnamon.

Step 4: Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Take 1/4 of the pie dough and roll it into a rectangle about  15 inches long and 8 inches wide.

My mother made the most delicious dumplings. When a friend called to offer us free apples, I pulled out Mom's recipe. They were as delicious as I remembered.   With a paring knife, cut the dough into 6 pieces.

My mother made the most delicious dumplings. When a friend called to offer us free apples, I pulled out Mom's recipe. They were as delicious as I remembered.Fill each section of dough with as much of the apple mixture as it can hold.

My mother made the most delicious dumplings. When a friend called to offer us free apples, I pulled out Mom's recipe. They were as delicious as I remembered.Fold the dough up and around the apples.

My mother made the most delicious dumplings. When a friend called to offer us free apples, I pulled out Mom's recipe. They were as delicious as I remembered.Place 12 dumplings in a 9 x 13 inch baking pan. Pour the syrup over the dumplings.

My mother made the most delicious dumplings. When a friend called to offer us free apples, I pulled out Mom's recipe. They were as delicious as I remembered.Bake the dumplings at 425 degrees for 15 minutes. Turn the oven down to 350 degrees. Continue baking for 30–35 minutes until the apples are soft when a fork is inserted into one of the dumplings.

My mother made the most delicious dumplings. When a friend called to offer us free apples, I pulled out Mom's recipe. They were as delicious as I remembered.Cool and serve with ice cream, milk, or half-and-half.

Two Hot Babes Out on the Town for a Fantastic Friday

This Fantastic Friday get a load of 2 hot babes out on the town for Mom's 67th class reunion held n Pipestone, Minnesota in 2013.

Camp Dorothy’s very own Thelma and Louise are home, dog-tired and sweaty, after a hot weekend on the road. And I mean hot. Really hot. How hot was it?

I’m glad you asked.

If you remember, the purpose of our trip was to attend the 67th high school reunion for Camp Dorothy’s namesake. The reunion supper was held in Pipestone, Minnesota’s historic hotel, the Calumet Inn. The Calumet was restored some years back, and just got a second facelift, courtesy of the folks at Hotel Hell.

I’m not making this up.

The weather turned hot, hot, hot on Saturday with heat and humidity both in the upper 90s. So the camp director made a recognizance run before the festivities, to scope out parking spots and the quickest, most stairless route for Dorothy. That done, the clueless camp director returned to the overnight digs so she and Dorothy could get all gussied up for a hot night on the town. Which turned out to be a whole lot hotter than anticipated.

Because the air conditioning was out at the Inn.

Though the staff had fans to keep the air moving, kept the ice water flowing, and even handed out damp, chilled washcloths, it was still hot. So hot my dress stuck to the varnish on the back of the wooden chair every time I leaned forward. So hot condensation puddles formed instantly beneath cold glasses. (BTW, it’s possible to surreptitiously wet one’s hand in the puddle and trickle water down one’s leg, arms, and cleavage without being detected. Don’t ask how I know this.) So hot the establishment treated everyone to a free round of drinks.

Why we didn’t pack up and move to an air conditioned venue?

Because once octogenarions get where they’re going they tend to stay put. Two members used walkers and three used canes, and though the remainder of the group was surprisingly spry and ambulatory, they were also sympathetic to the limitations of their former classmates.

So there we were, two hot babes out on the town.

One with her dress stuck to the back of the chair. The other swapping stories with former classmates. Both of them enjoying the music provided by a male quartet (with one member who graduated in 1942) whose only nod to the the heat was to sit on tall stools as they sang. Sure, we were hot. But, we were also alive.

What more could two hot babes out on the town wish for?

Three Thoughts for Thursday

Happiness, sadness, and winning in this week's 3 thoughts.

  1. Happiness is balancing your elderly mother’s checkbook on the first try, something you were never able to do with your own checkbook growing up, no matter how often your much younger mother tried to teach you to do it.
  2. Sadness is knowing that if you tell your elderly mother you balanced her checkbook the way she taught you to do it, she won’t even care.
  3. Winning is spending an afternoon with your elderly mother doing what she does care about–Rummikub.

What made you happy this week? Leave a comment.

Top Ten Thing about Wednesdays with Dorothy

Dorothy hot stuff

Every Wednesday I spend several hours with Mom at her new home in assisted living. Here’s a peek at what’s best about Wednesdays with Dorothy.

10. The staff at the assisted living facility is friendly to me and loving towards Mom.

9.  Getting to know other residents who live there has been delightful.

8.  Mom treats me to supper.

7.  Mom’s favorite game is Rummikub and the primary colors on the tiles make me feel so happy.

6.  Mom’s second favorite game is Uno, and when she wins she gives an evil laugh because she knows it will make me laugh, too.

5.  At least once a visit, she looks around and says “I can’t believe Genworth* is paying for this” with wonder and delight.

4.  Mom still has a great sense of humor. (See #6)

3.  She takes great joy in looking at pictures of her great-grandchildren and showing off the cards and crafts they send.

2.  When we are together on Wednesdays, I know without a doubt that I am where God wants me to be, doing what he wants me to do.

1.  Mom loved and cared for me in my early years and being able to reciprocate that love and care in her last years is a gift to both of us.

*Genworth is her long term care insurance company.

Fantastic Friday…The Dream of a Lifetime


Funny, isn’t it, how our preferences change over the years? As a kid, a day like the one described below would have been a dream come true. Today, even more than 7 years ago when this story first posted, the thought of 3 McDonalds meals in 1 day turns my stomach. How about yours?

Wednesday morning, my brother and mom picked me up at 6:15 to attend my uncle’s funeral. We spent most of the day on the road. In the course of the trip, we realize a dream that would make most seven-year-olds salivate. We ate three meals at McDonalds.

In our family, this accomplishment is earth-shattering news. My siblings and I spent most of our childhoods begging to eat at McDonalds. Since the closest one was 25 miles away in Sioux City and money was tight, our pleas fell on deaf ears. Except, of course, when Mom had saved up for a big city shopping trip. Then, if we were also running short of the straws for Dad, we ate lunch at McDonalds with strict orders to save the straws, ketchup packets, plastic spoons, extra napkins and anything else not nailed to the floor.

Our taste buds have changed in the intervening years, so we weren’t thinking of Golden Arches when we started out Wednesday.  Later, my brother said he did have the Clear Lake McDonalds in mind since his mother-in-law would be there with her breakfast gang. She was, and we had a nice visit. My yogurt cup was delicious.

We arrived at our destination around noon. With the post-funeral light lunch three or more hours away, we decided to get something to tide us over. Pipestone, Minnesota’s dining options are limited. Once again, we chose McDonald’s. Their side salads are pretty good, I discovered.

At the church, Mom had time to visit with her sister-in-law before the funeral. The service was sweet and touching, a good end to my uncle’s life lived long and well. The cemetery was beautiful with dozens of fern peonies buds opening to the warm and welcome sun. During lunch back at the church, we chatted with relatives more than we ate and didn’t leave until after 5:00. By 8:30 we were close to Albert Lea, hungry as bears. Mom suggested we stop at the travel plaza that housed several fast food places. We agreed, but we weren’t hungry for Pizza Hut. We were hungry for Cold Stone Creamery ice cream, but after quick waistline checks we shook our heads.

Our third option was–you guessed it–McDonalds. I ordered a salad with grilled chicken, then caved and added a large fries to split with Mom. As we carried our food to the car, my brother said, “I think this a new record. Three McDonalds meals in one day.”

At that moment I realized we are getting really old. Forty years ago, a day like this would have thrilled us. These days it makes us green around the gills. No doubt about it, we’re slipping. I have proof. We didn’t even save our straws.

What childhood dream would be a nightmare for you now? Leave a comment.

The Daffodils Are Blooming this Fanastic Friday


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.

Why I Need the Man of Steel

Hiram & Jolene '11I called Mom from Kohl’s last Wednesday. “I’ll be there in about 15 minutes, ” I said. “As soon as the battery in my watch is replaced.”

“My watch needs a new battery, too,” she said.

Why hadn’t she told me that yesterday when I called to ask her if she needed anything.

I bit my tongue, and replied, “That’s too bad. See you soon.”

15 minutes later, I greeted her as promised, “Hi, Mom!”

“Where are my clothes?” she demanded.

“What clothes?” I said, surprised.

“My clothes are too hot. I’m roasting,” she said motioning to the heavy turtleneck sweater she was wearing. “I need some cool tops and some summer nighties.”

So a couple hours later, after a few rousing games of Uno (we each one a game), after a trip to Saylorville Lake to watch boats going into the water on this first warm day of spring, and after supper at Applebees, I returned her to her digs. Her watch in hand, I headed to Kohl’s once again.

The shopping trip was successful–3 new shirts and 2 new nighties, all of which fit her–but the watch was toast. Mom accepted the death of her watch with resignation, and before leaving, I tucked her, clad in her new nightie, into bed (at 7 PM).

Once I was home, I related the afternoon and evenings activities to the Man of Steel. “Her room really was stuffy,” I ended.

The Man of Steel nodded his head. “Did you turn down the thermostat in her room?”


“Ah, no.”

We both laughed.

And that, dear readers, is just one of the many reasons I need the Man of Steel. The name of this particular reason?

Common sense.