Parental Journal 119 from Planet Elderly: Still Can’t See Mom

Friday, January 15, 2021

It has been a long time since I last saw my Mom. I understand the cautions that must be taken to protect the residents and staff where she lives, but not seeing her has become worrisome. The attempt to visit via phone one time showed me that she can talk on the phone for a very short time, but is more focused on what is going on around her.

I wonder about her all the time. Is she doing any walking at all, or is she permanently in a wheel chair? Does she still have a good appetite? Is she still staying up until beyond midnight and sleeping in until almost lunch time? Does she ever ask about me? Will she recognize me the next time we visit?

I don’t call to ask those questions. Staff are busy and I hate to bother them with a phone call. I know that if there are any major changes, they will let me know. We have regularly scheduled conference times, so I will wait until then.

Meanwhile, I truly miss just sitting next to her and watching her watch everyone else…eavesdropping on conversations…snoozing… enjoying a visiting music group or scheduled activity. I miss having lunch with her…doing her nails in her favorite pale, frosty pink color.

I hope we will have time in the months ahead to continue those things…or at the very least, to have some chatterbox visits again. Meanwhile, I drop by with flowers…disposable panties…personal care creams…and candy now and then. They are given to a front area security person who lets staff know that Pearl has had a delivery. Each time I stop by I leave with tears in my eyes.

Today I will send an email to ask if there is any word about when visits of any kind might resume. I know it’s hard for headquarters to predict and give the okay to communities. At least staff and residents are getting their vaccinations. I think I read that here in Missouri, people age 65 and older will start getting theirs soon.

Most days I walk around shaking my head. Chaos in DC…threats of more violence in the days ahead…worsening numbers with the original virus and now concerns about variants…millions of people in economic peril…small businesses barely hanging on by a thread…a new administration that has so much to do in such a divided nation.

In a way, it’s fortunate that with her dementia, Mom doesn’t remember what happened ten minutes earlier. She no longer asks questions about anything. She simply lives in the moment. I need to do more of that.

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What We Will Not Miss About 2020

2021 is here and most of us are concerned about witnessing any further acts of far right extremists, ready to get vaccinated, grateful to hear a new president with a vocabulary beyond the fourth grade, and hoping to share hugs with friends and family sometime in the next 12 months.

There is a lot about 2020 we won’t miss. On New Year’s Day I was thinking about what I definitely will not miss about 2020. I sent the inquiry to some gal pals to get their input as well.

As for me…

I will not miss “government by tweet.” As soon as Donnie started tweeting in 2016, I rolled my eyes and thought, oh boy…here we go. And it never stopped. As luck would have it, as of yesterday his Twitter account has been permanently shut down. Too bad it took so long.

I will not miss being obsessively tuned in to political news morning, noon, and night. I felt like I was obsessed with a tragically comedic soap opera. With the siege of The Capitol Building January 6, there was no more comedy. We witnessed a tragic event, and now we watch as our political leaders try to clean up the mess…a mess enabled by those who would not correct the lies and confront the conspiracy theories believed by over 70 million Americans. Congress and media/social media personnel–you know who you are.

Whether he’s removed from office under emergency circumstances or exits after Biden’s swearing in, I am SO not going to miss Donnie’s limited vocabulary which has been fodder for comedians for four years. “Fantastic” “Great” “So great” “Wonderful” “Beautiful” “Unbelievable” “Tremendous” “Like nobody’s ever seen before” “Bad” “Very bad” “Fake news” “Hoax” “Terrible.” Once he is gone, we can more easily ignore any media/social media coverage he gets. We can focus our attention on a better educated, more experienced administration that has pledged to serve all Americans. Amen to that!

From Gal Pal Bonnie M…

What I won’t miss about 2020 includes:

*Masks…masks poking my eyes; masks making my glasses fog up.

*Hearing the daily death tolls. For some reason, I cried when I heard 300,000.

*Watching the do-nothing Republicans enable Trump on and on and on, and some are still doing so.

*The lack of hugs, hand shaking, inability to kiss family hello or good-bye…the inability to even SEE family and friends.

*Watching Trump try to talk while moving his hands back and forth…his hair…his orange face. HIM.

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From Gal Pal Patti B…

Patti and pal Mango

I will not miss the ridiculous spending on things I just had to have or the news said I must have. Here are a few examples:

*Early in the shutdown, I was told to buy cleaning and disinfecting supplies. Ten months later, I have more than a gallon of bleach, some bottle of a heavy-duty chemical I would have never bought before, and over 100 disposable gloves.

*I now have several pricey candles I thought I needed to try for their scents. They remain unused.

*Zoom meetings revealed a weakness in my computer. As a result, I now have a wired gaming headset and a conference style mic. Both continue to be less than satisfactory, but better than what’s in my computer. I returned the push button earbuds I bought earlier because I couldn’t figure out how to use them correctly.

*There is a huge bag of bread flour in my pantry that I will use…eventually. Before March 2020, I tried not to eat bread, but learning to make no-knead bread became an obsession.

*In 2021, I will not need to buy almond extract. I may never need to buy it because I purchased a very large bottle in 2020. Nor will I need to purchase cinnamon, hand sanitizer, or sweatpants.

“So long…farewell…auf wiedersehen…good-bye” to 2020!

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The Ugly Consequences of the Trump Administration

January 8, 2021

It has been two days since so many of us sat glued to screens as we watched the U.S. Capitol under siege. It is incredibly sad and humiliating to admit that this event was not a surprise.

Yes, Trump is unfit for the job. Many of us knew that in 2015, yet the times we live in, and the fear he instilled in others, gave him opportunities to wreak narcissistic havoc.

For most of us, the things we do have natural and logical consequences. With the help of the electoral college, Americans elected Donald Trump as president. It has been a daily tweet-filled roller coaster ride ever since, one with dire consequences for our nation. And just as we were ready to put it all behind us, we witnessed a siege fueled by lies, conspiracy theories, bully tactics, and mob mentality.

It is said that all great nations and empires fall. Is this the beginning of our fall? Or will the years ahead help this nation of complexly mixed cultures, races, religions, ethnicities, languages, political extremes, and gender identities to heal?

We have a long journey ahead.

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Photography Hobby

January 2, 2021

The photography hobby continues, but it’s far more difficult to get motivated to go outdoors during January. Brrrr! I’m enjoying books and websites on the topic, though. November and December were surprisingly mild, so here are some shots I’ve made in recent weeks.

(All photos subject to copyright laws.) Click on photos to see a larger copy.

January 1 2021. We had a bit of an ice storm. Not too serious here in Columbia. This is the view out back of my place.
A little girl found some wonder in the beauty of The Magic Tree at The Crossing, Columbia MO Dec. 2020

Here’s a photo of the Magic Tree itself. (My first attempt to take photos at night. Most did not turn out well, but I learned a lot and had a great time mingling with folks.)

Sunset Photo – west side of Columbia MO Dec 2020

Sunset west side of Columbia MO December 2020
Sunset at Twin Lakes Dog Park Pond Dec. 2020 Columbia MO
Dog Park Happy Dance on warm December day 2020 Columbia MO
Dog Park action, warm December day 2020, Columbia MO
“Deeply Rooted” – Exposed Tree Roots near Dog Park Columbia MO Dec 2020

Time for a large cup of homemade hot cocoa.

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A New Year Ahead with a New Blog Title

December 28, 2020

About five years ago I found myself driving home from visiting my folks and mumbling to myself, “Geez, I’m so glad to leave. I feel like I’ve been spending time on another planet. Is that ME in a few years? Crap!”

And so it began, the realization that I was getting older and my folks, well, they were not only really old, they were declining cognitively and blissfully unaware of it. So I started a blog titled “Drifting Toward Planet Elderly,” and wrote about my family’s journey with dementia. It was part family history, part therapy for me, and an opportunity to share the journey with other families dealing with dementia.

These days there is not much more to write about my parents and their journeys. Dad died in 2016 and in 2017 I moved Mom to Columbia, MO where I live. She is 94 and her dementia is advancing. Fortunately, she’s doing okay; she is safe and content living in a wonderful skilled nursing community called Woods Central at Lenoir Woods. Today she was scheduled to get her first dose of the COVID vaccine and I’m sure she complained about it.

Not wanting to end the blog just yet, I decided to change the name. I am now a resident of Planet Elderly, so why not explore the good, the bad, and the ugly about being an elderly person in the U.S. at this time? A little angst, a bit of humor, some poetry, a few shared cartoons now and then…who knows what will turn up? There may even be some posts from some of my gal pals who are also dealing with the good, the bad, and the ugly of growing older.

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Parental Journal 118 from Planet Elderly: The Visit that Wasn’t

Wednesday, December 16, 2020 – late morning

I thought it was a bit odd when I received an email telling me that in-person “chatterbox” visits would resume. I was happy, but then I thought, wait a minute. Our COVID case numbers are going up…here and in lots of other places in the U.S. Maybe it’s because we are close to Christmas and they think things are okay enough for residents to visit with family and friends.

So I got myself on the schedule to visit with Mom at 1 p.m. on Mondays and Fridays. I picked up a small bouquet of yellow carnations on my way over to see her Monday, and shortly after I arrived, the health services coordinator came out to tell me she had just been informed that Mom’s community could NOT have visitors. She was very sorry. I said, “I totally understand,” and I did. The number of cases in our area has gone up too much, so to keep everyone safe, Lenoir administrators gave orders to cancel chatterbox visits. I gave her the bouquet to give to Mom.

What surprised me when I turned to exit the building is that my eyes teared up. I fought back the tears all the way home. I miss her so much, and I feel like her cognition is fading away faster than I realize, and I’m not there to hold her hand or make her laugh.

I know Mom can’t say sentences longer than three or four words anymore, but I was looking forward to seeing her surprised to see me…smiling…and then watching her glance around, sort of following me as I chat about this and that. That’s become the norm during our plexiglass chatterbox visits. But there was no visit Monday.

Although I won’t be able to see her for a while, I know she is safe and well cared for. With her advancing dementia, she is pretty much unaware of what’s going on. She probably continues eavesdropping to the conversations around her…watching people come and go…drifting off for naps…joining in on some activities…participating in music events…and enjoying her lunches and dinners. I imagine she is still a night owl and thus sleeps past the breakfast serving time most days. And I know she is not always nice to staff when she is irritated about something.

I also assume that she probably doesn’t think about me much because she can’t remember things. But when staff tell her, “Pearl, you have a visitor. Jeanette is here to see you,” she then knows me as her daughter and realizes she hasn’t seen me for a while. She is always happy to see me, and I am always delighted to see her smile of recognition.

Don’t have any idea of when we will be able to visit next, but that’s okay. I’m going to repost here one of my favorite photos of her taken in August 2019. I have a copy on my fridge. It makes me smile.

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PANDEMIC TIMES – CHANGING HOBBIES

Monday, November 30, 2030

My two old guys, Cinnamon and Winston. Nov. 2020

C and W enjoying some pandemic down time….20 hrs. per day!

From French to Sourdough

Prior to the pandemic, I spent two years trying to re-learn French. It was a great hobby and I studied it every day. I even attended an evening class for adults once per week, watched a ton of YouTube videos, and worked with a few books. It was fun.

Then the pandemic arrived and I said to myself, “What for? When will you ever use French? You’re old. You may never even get to Canada to try it out in Quebec.” So I stopped studying French, got on the sourdough bandwagon, and had a great time making various kinds of sourdough breads and rolls.

Got some good results with the sourdough starter which is still hanging on to dear life in my fridge. I’ll refresh it today. I promise. But in truth, the bread phase ran its course and I needed something new to learn.

Now Photography

With a bridge type Lumix FZ80 digital camera stashed in my bedroom closet, it was time to figure out how to use it. Little did I know that learning photography terminology would be a lot like learning a new language. “Aperture,” “ISO,” “depth of field,” “focal length,” etc. I’m getting familiar with what most terms mean, but I haven’t mastered using them yet. Not by a long shot. I know I’ll never progress beyond very beginner stage, but I will say that learning about photography and practicing with a newly purchased, slightly used Fujifilm X-T30 mirrorless camera has developed into a very interesting and absorbing hobby.

Once again I’m on YouTube. There’s a ton of very useful information about photography there. Reddit also has several photography sub-groups I learn from, and I am mesmerized by the wonderfully talented photographers from around the world who post images on Flickr.

I’m also developing a new library of instructional and inspirational books:

The Beginner’s Photography Guide by Chris Gatcum

Digital Photography Complete Course by David Taylor, Tracy Hallett, Paul Lowe, Paul Sanders

How I Make Photographs by Joel Meyerowitz

The Street Photographer’s Manual by David Gibson

The Photographer’s Eye by John Szarkowski

Masters of Street Photography, Consultant Editor Rob Yarham

Mastering Street Photography by Brian Lloyd Duckett (He has excellent videos on YouTube. Great instructor.)

Read This if You Want to Take Great Photographs by Henry Carroll

Read This if You Want to Take Great Photographs of Places by Henry Carroll

Many more book purchases to be made, I’m sure.

I’m hooked. No direction or plan. Just hooked on learning and using. The learning is easier than the using, but I’m starting to understand and apply a few things.

Much of the summer and fall was spent taking photos of flowers, trees, and stuff around the house. Then I hung out downtown a few times to experiment a bit with street photography. That is FUN! I also hung out at dog parks so I could practice taking photos of things that move quickly.

Here are some examples of my efforts:

There is an import car repair place in town, and in their front area there are a bunch of old cars being overtaken with vegetation.

Took this shot while walking around the MU camps quad area

Looking up into some trees this past summer

Attempt to shoot early fall snow shower through window

Close-up of a coaster in my livingroom

A close up view of my margarita lime and ice

Here are some dog park shots:

Plus a pooch outside my vet’s place:

Caught a bit of a bicyclist by accident while attempting some street photography downtown

Another street shot. Titled: The Phone, the Purse, the Look

Taken from across the street, I thought this was interesting with pairs: two parking meters with two sets of diners. Titled: Double-parked

Came across a small group of anti-Nigerian government protesters.

Distracted fella at Halloween festivity, rural Missouri 2020

Now It’s Almost Winter

Instead of sourdough bread, I’ve experimented with making naan and English muffins. Easy and fun! Will be making more batches to freeze and enjoy with meals.

And as far as photography goes, I’ll continue to read books and watch YouTube instructional videos. I’ll practice with some indoor stuff, get outside when weather is 40 or above, maybe shoot some downtown night scenes from a warm car, and definitely suit up to go outside if we get some snow.

One thing is certain. Having a new hobby keeps me from obsessing about the political and pandemic chaos we are experiencing here in the U.S. Thank goodness for brilliant scientists worldwide who are creating viable vaccines and treatments. Thank goodness for all the essential workers in hospitals who risk their lives every day. And thank goodness Joe Biden will become our next president on January 20, 2021, joined by Kamala Harris, our first FEMALE vice-president.

Hobbies or no hobbies, 2021 will be better than 2020. I am finally feeling hope.

Street art outside local apartment complex, summer 2020

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Parental Journal 116 from Planet Elderly – Second Major Lockdown: No Visitors

Monday, November 9, 2020 – 8:30 a.m.

With the number of COVID 19 cases rising worldwide, I wasn’t surprised to receive a call telling me that in-person and chatterbox visits will be cancelled for this week. Someone (or some people) tested positive. I’m guessing it was staff, but one never knows.

CHATTERBOX

Mom and I have transitioned back to using the chatterbox system which takes place in the room that was used for physical therapy.

There are two chatterbox set-ups in the physical therapy room. Mom and I have never had a visit when another chatterbox visit was taking place. That’s a good thing. Mom can hear well, so we don’t use the walkie-talkies. We just gab. Well, these days I do most of the gabbing and she responds most of the time.

Wendy brought Mom in last Thursday. Wendy only stayed for a few minutes because things were busy. Donnie came in to relieve Wendy. Toward the end of our visit, Activities Coordinator, Anna, relieved Donnie and spent some time chatting with Mom and me.

Wendy and Mom
Donnie and Mom

The photo above with Wendy bringing Mom into the room shows the kind of expression Mom usually has when she first sees me. It’s as if she is ready to cry. A few times she has.

The photo with Donnie shows how relaxed she is during most of our visiting time. What’s nice about chatterbox visits is that we can take off our masks. We both enjoy seeing each other’s maskless faces.

This second chatterbox visit went well. Mom was engaged for nearly the whole 30 minutes. Since these visits start at 2:30, it’s a sleepy time of day and she is tired. At our first fall chatterbox visit, she was dozing off about 10 minutes into the visit. But that’s okay. If she ever just wants to rest, I’ll play some music from the Pandora app on my phone, and just let her rest. It’s quite common for Wendy and Donnie to join us in our conversations. We chat and laugh about a lot of things and it’s good for Mom to be part of that socialization, even if she just listens.

I’m not looking forward to the winter months ahead. I’m concerned about the rise in COVID cases everywhere and the possibility that my visits with Mom may be sporadic, depending on how often the community finds a positive case among residents or staff. One day at a time.

Mom still knows me and we have good visits. Each one is a gift. I am grateful for this time we still have to enjoy each other’s company. I am also sad to witness her cognitive decline, that long, dark shadow that looms larger as months pass. But she still knows me; that’s how strong her love is.

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Parental Journal 115 from Planet Elderly: Socially Distanced Fall Visits

Saturday, October 3, 2020 – mid-morning

When my friends ask how visits with Mom are going, I am delighted to tell them that we are having so much fun. I do most of the talking, but Mom reacts and responds appropriately, even if she can’t get all the words out.

Since it’s up to me to do most of the talking, lately I’ve been yammering about the fires in California, doing fall garden clean-up, the shocking first presidential debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden, getting my flu shot, getting weekly allergy shots as an experiment, and reading about photography. She is all ears and reacts with wide eyes, frowns, laughter, and short comments like, “That sounds terrible,” or “You will like that,” or “I hope you’ll be okay.” In my book, that’s terrific.

I am very fortunate that she still knows me, can understand conversations even if she can’t remember what was said five minutes later, and laughs with me. We are growing old together in a way I never imagined. It is so meaningful.

Our socially distanced visits are in an enclosed porch area. We could go into the garden area, but Mom likes to be warm. We had one visit on a lovely day outside in the courtyard, but the rest have been in the sheltered porch area away from the wind. Now that day temperatures are getting a bit cooler, staff have made sure she has her winter coat on when we visit. Like many elders her age and her size, her preferred indoor temperature is at least 82 degrees. Ugh.

Masked and in her winter coat. There is a smile behind that mask:

We have scheduled days and times through October. Most likely, the weather will cooperate and we’ll be able to have our enclosed porch visits. Once colder weather arrives, I hope the community will resume the indoor “chatterbox visits” where we are separated by a plexiglass barrier.

At the end of each visit, we give each other big air hugs and we blow each other masked kisses. I leave smiling behind my mask and a little misty-eyed. She is a gem.

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Parental Journal 114 from Planet Elderly: This Is Your Life via Photo Album

Thursday, September 10, 2020 – early afternoon

The twice-a-week visits with Mom are going well. We meet at about 11 a.m. on Mondays and Thursdays and visit for 30 minutes. We are both enjoying them.

Although it took a long time, I finally got around to sorting through boxes and envelopes of old photos. I went through them three times before I was able to reduce them to a chosen group with which to make a photo album of Mom’s life. The album is large, so when I took it to share with Mom, I gave her individual pages so that she could more easily view the photos.

Mom is looking at a page from the photo album

Overall, she was very curious about the photos and did not recognize most of the people in the photos. There was one photo she saw and she immediately said, “That’s my brother.”

I did not include photos of her first husband, Walter, who was my biological father. I’ll put those in the album I make for my life. That said, at one point I mentioned Walter’s name and Mom quickly said, “I don’t think I was ever married to Walter.” All I said was, “Oh…okay,” and I let it go. When she saw a photo of her and my stepfather, Victor, she said, “I don’t think I ever married Victor.” I just showed her the next photo of their wedding day. She looked a bit perplexed, but she did think the dress was “very pretty.”

Here are some of the album photos my 94-year-old mother with dementia has seen recently…for the very first time, according to her.

Mom’s mother’s wedding: Jeanette and Arthur Peters. Jeanette and Arthur had three children, but their marriage didn’t work out.

Mom as a toddler:

Mom, left, and her older sister, Martha:

Love poem I think Victor typed for Mom:

Wedding Day – 1954
Wedding day: Mom, Me, and Victor

Photo of Mom on her honeymoon:

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