Tuesday, December 23, 2014

A merry, but puzzling little Christmas

This isn't actually the way I had envisioned Christmas 2014...

The kitchen remodel isn't even started, and the dining room is still stacked with boxes to go into the back storage shed, which also hasn't been finished, so I can't use it yet. I have left all but the most pressing housework go indefinitely due to everything being in a state of incompletion. My kitchen linoleum floor is disgraceful, and there is electrical hardware and miscellaneous bottles of stuff cramming the counters, where in previous years were my recipe books, baking pans and gift boxes of holiday breads.

Not this year...oh, well...

And no, I didn't decorate, for the first time in, gosh, I don't know how many years. Yes, there is my Advent wreath I made out of candles from Bath & Body Works, and some now rather dry rosemary garlands I picked from my backyard at the beginning of the season. Next to it is a carousel-type picture holder, with images of Tiggy during her first Christmas with our household, as she peeked out from the high branches of the Christmas tree as an adventuresome kitten.

And my career is still in a state of flux, again...

To beat back any despair over the state of things, I am using the people in my life as an anchor, and doing whatever I can with them, and for them. Whenever I've done some rearranging to accommodate the remodel crew, I've been astonished at just how many blankets, pillows, items of clothing, etc., I'd totally forgotten I had. So, off to my church they go, with heartfelt blessings. Here they were for years in a closet, or for even a couple of decades, and someone out there really needs these things! What a reality check, and it helps me to be more grateful about just how good my life really is.

A couple of years ago, I posted how I felt my Facebook/1972 high school friends had helped me through a holiday funk. Well, they're doing it again. As frivolous as it seems, FB is the second thing I log into in the morning, and I really take to heart all the life events of my old friends. Their struggles, challenges and triumphs are mine to share everyday. *Gosh, I'm getting a bit teary, here.*

And there's my roommate, who has become a real, dear friend in the past year and a half. My next-door neighbors are the best, and I can't imagine the neighborhood without them. For the past 40 years, the neighbors to my left have seen my son grow up with their youngest son. We've been to parties, the wedding of their oldest son, and exchanged support that only comes with this kind of relationship. The neighbors to the right, an elderly couple from Chicago (though the wife was actually born in Sicily), have been there nearly 35 years. Sandi, God bless her, still bakes and cooks like crazy from scratch, and I can always count on a lovely gift assortment of elaborately-homemade cookies every Christmas and Easter time (including that one cookie that has a hard-boiled egg encased in the pastry). Sam, her husband, is a retired bartender/construction contractor, and is keeping a watchful eye on the projects at my house. He's more than a bit of a busybody, and we've butted heads over the years, but I love this guy; he's like a wise uncle.

The sweetest turn of this year has been my recent joining of an RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) class at St. Robert Bellarmine Church, about five blocks from the house. It's been far more than simply returning to Catholicism; in about three months a small group of us have shared our spiritual journeys, from our hearts. On December 14, at the 5 pm Mass, Fr. John Collins presided over our Rite of Acceptance and Welcome. One of the younger men later said he "felt intense" being up there in front of the packed congregation. As for me, at one scary point, I truly thought I was going to faint--really. Thank goodness my sponsor was there with her hand firmly on my shoulder! Never had I experienced such a feeling of intimacy intertwined with such a public declaration.

And then...next evening, there was a 180 from solemnity to unbridled fun. One of our group hosted a holiday party at her house. I brought a bottle of Tullamore Dew (nothing but the best for this occasion!), along with plastic shot glasses. Every bit of surface was loaded with food and wine from every member's household, the rooms were wonderfully crowded. Holiday games, small gift exchanges, conversation circles large and small...and, yes, shots of Tullamore Dew! I wish more weeknights could feel like a weekend, as this one did.

So, I'm off to see some long-lost in-law relatives in San Bernardino Christmas Eve, then hopefully making back for 11 PM Mass. Christmas Day will find me with my son, daughter-in-law, and the "outlaws" (what I lovingly call her parents).

In the new year, I really have to have a vacation, even a modest one, since it occurred to me that the last was in 2008. Here's what I have in mind, inspired by a business-related visit to St. Teresita's in Duarte recently:


And, so, to everyone a blessed holiday, however and wherever you celebrate, and..Slainte!


Friday, November 14, 2014

"Three Score," Coming Up

December 4th is coming up fast. Unless I can come up with a way to mark the day that will surpass, or at least rival, the way I celebrated my 50th, the event might fade way unnoticed. What a revolting thought! I'm still a little kid at heart on "my day;" it might as well be a legal holiday.

There seems to be something about the start of a new life decade that causes people to take stock of their lives, to reconsider, and re-route the process if the old way seems, well, old. At 40, I had finally finished my B.A., and at 50 I was considering if my relationship style was fostering my well-being.

Now, facing 60, and with no intention of voluntarily retiring or slowing down, I'm just wondering if all the pieces of the puzzle are fitting, and, if not, what to do about it. Maybe I'll just start a new puzzle -- now there's a thought.

Okay...that being said, I'll fill you in with what I've been up to in the meantime.

The home renovations continue on in fits and starts. Those of you who are not in my Facebook circle can also follow my progress in pictures on Houzz.com. The exterior color has been well received; the husband of a family across the street came over to shake hands and congratulate my progress so far. The neighbors on either side of me have given me positive feedback on how it's like a dramatic facelift for the "old girl," and even passersby slow to smile approvingly.

Tomorrow, November 15th, I'm taking an irrigation class at the Theodore Payne Foundation, to give my future cactus planting in the front a good start. It's been fun to look at others' native landscapes, as I drive around town, and I've already gotten some starting ideas. Under the dining room window, I'm going to put in three medium-sized agave plants. They will be striking in offsetting the newly-unveiled windows without concealing them. Then, in front of the agaves, I want some small, flowering ground cover. All around these, to keep the weeds at bay, I'll put down some white pebbles.

Inside, the bathroom is finally done, with the new shower door providing the finishing touch. Then, the kitchen will begin next week (or so), some more interior painting, and then I think I'll step back a bit, to catch my breath before the holidays and turning of the year. A dear friend just recently volunteered to help with ripping up the old carpet in the hallways and the living and dining rooms, which entails also temporary rearranging of the heavy furniture while we also remove carpet stapling and apply the Minwax.

And then, there's Mom. Physically, she's actually looking a little better, but I've lost her (something I've blogged upon in previous posts). She chats and smiles, and then she turns on a dime. The short-term memory loss shows itself, especially with the night-time "sundowning." Professional experience aside, I find no comfort in knowing that it's a "common" feature of advanced dementia. Previews of upcoming shows she used to watch--Bonanza, Jeopardy, Wheel of Fortune--are often too painful to see. I also avoid looking at various photo albums, including a small one dedicated to pictures from Mom's retirement party in 1990. They underscore the loss of the person Mom once was, seemingly not all that long ago. The profound sadness and loneliness I carry has recently hit me hard. It's at these times I realize that Mom probably felt this in the late 1980s, and up to Grandma's death in 1996. And then I feel sharp guilt for the amount of support I feel I maybe didn't give Mom during her own caregiving days. Oh, Mom, I didn't do enough...I'm so sorry. I'd used being "busy with my own life" as an excuse.

That's where dialogues with other baby boomers, and reading material in my AARP magazine and on their website is invaluable. Then there's socializing, avoiding too much isolation, and renewing the spiritual aspect of my life. I have begun attending St. Robert Bellarmine Church, as a way to return to my roots. For reasons lost in family folklore, I was originally baptized as an infant, and due to convoluted family politics, I never was allowed to explore Catholicism. The Church's dogma and ritual always intrigued me, beckoned to me, and I have recently begun RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults)classes. I have tried to explain this "calling" to myself, and only find that there is a mysterious resonance and peace I feel when I'm at church and in the company of other adults who are embarking on a similar path. That, and the charitable projects in which I'm becoming involved just makes me feel good.

More on all this later. I wish everyone peace.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

History -- on the backs of old recipes

Last night was yet another exercise in insomnia. But -- it turned out to be a delightful fun time to indulge my inner history geek!

After finally coaxing my mother to sleep (another topic for another post or two), I was tightly wound-up and irritated, and wondering if I was going to be able to be alert for the work crews, who continue to valiantly press toward completion of the bathroom.

Oookay, rather than lying on the sofa (my regular sleeping place for the past eight months or so--another long story)and feeding my gotta-get-to-sleep urgency, I put the time to good use. The Vietnam Veterans of America were due in the morning for another pick-up. In preparation for the next planned chaos--the kitchen demo--I've been thoughtfully culling through the cupboards and drawers. There's lots of vintage kitchen utensils that I'll probably seldom use, if ever. When I pick up one of them, however, the memories of my grandmother or mother using them for everyday or holiday meals come flooding back, in the form of visual and even olfactory (a fancy word for smell)recall. These tools form a huge part of my own personal history, and so I can't bear to part with any...when the kitchen is redesigned, I just have to make room for these things...for another fifty years of family history...

So, back into the drawers went the old Christmas cookie cutters, the potato masher, the whisk, for decades-more of reprieve.

What did get ruthlessly packed into the VVA boxes included a set of china that I never liked; a plastic cup with "West Side Story" on the side, from a date at the Pantages Theater (because of the jerk-ex-boyfriend of which it reminded me); a wall dispenser for paper cups that has been hanging, unused, over my current kitchen sink; and some artificial flowers that will have no place in the new bathroom decor. Purged! What a relief!

With those boxes pushed out onto the porch with all my might, and my hands aching from the effort, I turned my fascination to the metal recipe box--approximately a foot-plus long, and stuffed with what I first thought were only index cards written in my paternal grandmother's curly turn-of-the-nineteenth-century cursive. Again, I'm not a culinary enthusiast, and my first impulse was to simply add this to the to-go pile.

Hey, it was nearly 1 AM, and it seemed I wasn't going to nod off any time soon. Where was the harm in taking a look at these recipe cards, most of which I'm sure contained recipes my grandmother wrote down, but never tried? Maybe that will provide the necessary boredom to induce sleep.

Tucked among the cards, to my fascination, I found a large number of clippings from the Buffalo Evening News (now simply the Buffalo News). I've tried my best to scan these -- and one I tried to enlarge a bit.

What riveted my attention were not the ingredients for rhubarb pie or Lobster Newburg, but the printing on the back of each one. Each one was like those holes that kids used to peer through fences -- tantalizing bits that made me imagine what had been cut off. There were only a few dates, but the names of famous people made me realize just how important the Buffalo Evening News and WBEN (930 AM) were to my parents and grandmother. Kenmore, the small village just outside Buffalo from where my family made its way to California in 1963, was very small, and these media were vital to keeping local folks current. These were bits of the mosaic of who my family was--and what went into making me who I am, even today.

This ad for the "new Brillo pads" looks like something that fed the 1950s housewife archetype -- cue the music from the "Ozzie and Harriet" episodes.

Again, because it was the recipes that were being cut out, much of the text on the back was eliminated. But you can see evidence of how WBEN-TV Channel 4 teamed up with the newspaper to inform folks of the meeting of then-Vice President Nixon and then-Senator Kennedy. Also, one some night or another, "Herbert Hoover" was "honored tonight." Because we have a recipe for "Beets in Orange Sauce" on the back, we won't ever know more than that. Lowell Thomas contributed to the airwaves. Lady Olive Baden-Powell, head of the Girl Guides, visited the Girl Scout Council of Buffalo. And, in recognition of more serious issues of the times, we could read that the lieutenant governor of South Carolina was taking a stand against integration of the public schools...

Below, more ads. Does anyone of my generation remember Ivory Snow? As far as Musterole goes, a Google search informed me that it was the predecessor of Vicks VapoRub. The guy reaching out of his 1960 Rambler almost looks like he's using a drive-up ATM. And below the L & M cigarette ad, there's a fine-print blurb for a "$20,000 Westinghouse Vacation Home, "with built-in Westinghouse kitchen, Spacemates laundry equipment and clean, comfortable baseboard electric heating for carefree vacation living." I could see Don Draper from Mad Men hanging his hat here.

Below is the thing I tried to enlarge a little, but I'll help you 1950s car enthusiasts out here. These ads were mostly from dealerships, but there were a few private-party transactions. Among the offerings; 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air convertibles, 1958 and 1959 Impalas, and a 1959 Mercury coupe convertible going for $1300.

In the late 1950s, TV was still in its infancy, so radio was still the way to pass an evening, or provide the backdrop to a party. We could count on Roy Rodgers, Bob Hope, and dramas like "The Whistler" to fill the void. WBEN provided all this to the Buffalo and Niagara Falls area:

As a nod to my Buffalo origins, and love for all things historic, I have also added WBEN, Reminisce Magazine, and Buffalo (Evening) News to my Twitter and "liked" Facebook pages. It was, in the end, a pretty good night.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

My First Notes from Home Remodel 101

I've been in this "class" for about two weeks now. Here's a peek at some of what I've learned so far:

1. Once you start this process, once the first nail is driven in or the wiring pulled through, your life is not the same. And your time is sure as hell not your own.

2. When the crew goes home for the day, you can check and double-check the carpet for stray screws, pieces of plastic, or whatever. Then you can vacuum. You will still step on something in the middle of the night. Flashback to the days when you stepped on some of your kid's Lego pieces. Not fun.

3. Pacific Standard Time (PST) is not the same as Worker Standard Time. And when someone says, "Let's talk. I'm on my way," it's good to try to nail down that statement in miles, minutes, or hours. It means the difference between twiddling one's thumbs and getting things done in the meantime.

4. The work being done to the house is on a bigger scale than anything before. My parents did a little redecorating in 1974--painting, installing wall-to-wall carpeting and drapes in the living and dining rooms--following my grandmother's death. That was all. The same makeover happened in 1994, following the Northridge earthquake. Structurally, though, the house has been untouched over the decades. Feeling like a bit of a pioneer, I cast a very wide net to gather information and resources. The first big mistake I made was starting out with a interior design department at a big-box store and an independent general contracting firm simultaneously. There were a lot of gaps in who-would-do-what communication. About a week ago, to cut down on the craziness, I committed to one contractor to do it all. A hard lesson learned.

4. Don't get tripped up by "niceness." If you don't understand Construction-ish, ask for a translation. If it's not clear, ask again. And don't worry about "being a pain," or feel upset if a worker gets defensive. They deal with lots of folks like you who are putting a lot on the line--their money and their homes, for starters--and these workers have to also answer to their bosses, time frames, budgets, etc. I try to use a healthy dose of empathy to keep the professional relationship healthy. Still, homeowners have a right to get things straight in our minds, if only to lessen the rising feelings of panic, especially those that show up in any bizarre dreams or insomnia.

5. If something doesn't look right, ask, by whatever means necessary. Late yesterday afternoon I happened to turn on a hall light, and was shocked to see moisture, dripping, and water-blistering from the ceiling and down along one wall. My thoughts and words were something along the lines of,"WTF? When did THIS happen, and why didn't anyone say anything to me?" Long story short, my mom's caregiver thought I was aware of this, and my contractor hastily explained that it was a water pan in the attic that overflowed...blah, blah, blah...

6. Breathe! I've simply got to practice what I've preached for years to my clients. By the time I got on the phone with my contractor (see above) I was so livid, that I'm ashamed to say that I didn't really listen to what his explanation was (Mom's caregiver said he had "screamed" at the workers in the attic). I'm sure we'll mend fences, but for now I just need to cool off.

7. More on #6 above, I think I could learn a lot from Tiggy. When gearing up for these efforts, I was concerned that Tiggy--used to her peace and quiet--would maybe bolt out one of the doors or hole up traumatically under some furniture. Well, my baby has surprised me! At the beginning of each day, Tiggy selects a vantage point, out of the way of foot traffic, and enjoys the show. Then, when the crew departs for the day, she has lots to smell, such as foot tracks and equipment stacked along the walls. Lessons here: acceptance, calm, differentiating between what can be controlled and what cannot at any given time. I've decided on a morning slow pace routine: coffee, reading of the day's Daily Word message, allowing some cuddle time with Tiggy, and making an inventory of feasible to-do's. How successful am I at taming my frustrations? Let's just say it's a process.

9. I have to remember that something as complex and multi-systemic as a home remodel is not going to get done in a matter of days, or even weeks. This is not dress-making; this is bringing a 91-year-old structure up to current building standards. I'm not a patient woman; I owned that fact a long time ago. So, I just have to keep my expectations for completion realistic.

10. I'd been waiting for "a good time" to regrade the house, but such a time really will never come. There are always issues with work, family, one's own hesitations. When I find myself questioning, "What have I gotten myself into?", I try to remind myself of how this difficult phase will make a positive difference in the other aspects of my life. So, I just press on...

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Home upgrading, sharing living space--making me a better person

I have posted much here about my home, and my deep connections to it.

When my family--paternal grandmother, parents, older brother, and me--moved here in January 1964, we established a suburban compound of sorts, almost hermetically sealed. Due to complex dynamics, we were actually quite an isolated family unit. I may have mentioned in other posts that this is why I actually fled the house for my freshman year in college, and that word "fled" is a deliberate choice.

Fast forward many years, I'm back to stay. It's my firm resolve to have this residence where my mother can live out her days in as much comfort as possible, and where I can pursue my own "second half."

What brought about my change of heart? It happened almost imperceptibly over time. Some of it occurred with the shifts in the emotional atmosphere as certain family members would pass away, and others would move out--and then come back, drawn to the house's potential, I think.

And then, there was the game-changer-- the introduction of a roommate in 2012. My son's old bedroom was valuable, but wasted, space. I had a female friend occupy this room for about a year, and there has been no going back since then. Aside from the relatively small monthly income, it been an eye-opener, an end of the innocence.

You see, from 1964 to 2012, there were no extra-familiar occupants. The family made up a kind of secret society, with our own implicit lexicon, routines, and rules about the physical environment and the people within the walls. The city-assigned address, as I said before, was the compound. The fact that we rarely entertained, and I was discouraged from having friends over--overnight, or even for the day--further fostered the isolation.

After my female colleague/friend moved out of town last year, I found another congenial roommate--a guy! It occurred to me just recently that with the woman, I always used the word "tenant," and with my current occupant, I have shifted to "roommate." This maybe be food for thought about the level of compatibility. When Mom first heard that we were to have a man in our midst, besides my gentleman friend, she was anxious and highly resistant. Since then, she has accepted the idea, and actually considers him part of the family and home.

My roommate (I shield his privacy by withholding even a first name) has added a warmth to our current composition. Asides from sweet gestures, like bringing small, gifts to my Mom--a bouquet at Easter, occasional chocolates or pints of her favorite ice cream--his presence has compelled me to be mindful of how I share living space. Before, with the previously-mentioned family, we just sort of stumbled over each other, and frankly, were pretty intrusive--often downright disrespectful of each other, now that I think about it.

Over time, my family of origin took our home, and each other, horribly for granted. I was smacked in the face with this fact for the first time when I went away for my freshman year in college. I was a terrible roommate! If I could find that woman on whom I inflicted my unconscious behavior, I would kneel before her and beg forgiveness.

My current roommate has not only lent his gentle spirit, but his fresh perspective. It has been useful, including for how I am managing this upheaval with the progressive home remodeling projects. He has been most forgiving of the inevitable noise, the dust, and the parade of workers. The first benefit is that we will actually be getting air conditioning to make the summer more bearable--for the first time since the house was erected in 1923.

So, I consider this not just a home upgrade, but a personal one as well. Long overdue!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Estancia cabernet, Vivaldi en espanol, and this fork in the road

The past two weeks have been intense. Work-related life from a suitcase is a rather "different" (putting it politely) routine for me. So, what I'd like to say at this point is that I have at least taken away a few nuggets of pleasure.

While on this sojourn, I have had some fleeting moments to savor a wine that is new to me -- Estancia cabernet. I researched it, and places like Bev Mo are sold out of this variety and vintage -- no wonder, if any of you have had the good fortune to taste this.

Then, there's 104.9 FM, XLNC1, broadcasting to the San Diego/Baja California region. Those close to me know that music, especially quality classical radio broadcasting, is very important for me. It provides a calming backdrop for my day, whether I'm working at home on my computer, in the car, or...wherever.

When I lost the signal the other day in the "North County" from my beloved KUSC, I began station-surfing for an alternative, and came up with XLNC1. It's a wonderful station I encourage folks to check out; you also can listen online, as I'm doing now. Where else can you find bilingual announcers presenting classical renditions of works by great composers like Vivaldi, Brahms,...and the Beatles and Freddy Mercury? Yesterday, I heard a Lennon-McCartney song done artfully with full orchestra and chorus. A little while ago, I heard a strings-and-piano version of The Stars and Stripes Forever.

On a serious note, I'm (re)evaluating my most recent career move. I've gone on record as saying that pursuing full-on employment is my intention until I'm 100 (literally!), and I'm sticking to this position. It's important to me for reasons beyond the obvious (income), those including socialization and cognitive stimulation. I've seen too many folks I know retire, and then have their outer and inner worlds implode, and that scares me beyond words.

While I'm been very far away from home for my orientation, my mother is being well-cared-for, and the air conditioning is finally being installed, overseen by my "outlaw" Hal. Next is the electrical revamp of the 1923 wiring. After that, Hal and I will contemplate the kitchen and bath overhaul.

I've kept in touch with the home front during my breaks by phone and text, and have been astonished with the level of homesickness I've experienced. Even now, as I look ahead about six hours to my return to San Diego for the third week, I'm not exactly looking forward to it, which is uncharacteristic for someone who usually loves to travel. Perhaps I shouldn't have been so candid here, I don't know.

So, as I contemplate my next step, I always have my music. I'll keep in touch.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Mustard Seed as a Reset Button

My life has been rather frightening lately, and I have been seeking tokens or images that will help serve as anchors and inspirations. At about 4:15 this morning, I awoke and thought of the two above pieces of jewelry that have been stored in my dresser drawer, unworn for literally decades. Even at such an early hour, I got up and retrieved them, and even though I haven't worn anything but earrings for a long time, I'm resolved to make these my signature pieces from now on.

The small pewter cross was my maternal grandmother's. When I saw it again, I recalled the woman who, in the depths of the Great Depression, and with a sick husband and toddler daughter (my mother), decided to go to work rather than accept the welfare that was offered her. With only a high school diploma, she worked her way up in the New York State Welfare Department, first as a clerk, and many decades later, retiring as the head of that agency's accounting department. Grandma was feisty, smart, a woman of faith and self-confidence, and she wore this cross all the time. Her image is with me much of the day, and I'm trying to hear her courageous voice as I face the days ahead. Here she was in 1975:

Mom continues to hang in physically, with the tenacity she inherited from Grandma. The bracelet is one she had in her jewelry box, and I remember being fascinated as a child by the tiny globe charm with the mustard seed in the middle.

The Book of Mark gives this version of Jesus' parable, "He said, 'How will we liken the Kingdom of God? Or with what parable will we illustrate it? It’s like a grain of mustard seed, which, when it is sown in the earth, though it is less than all the seeds that are on the earth, yet when it is sown, grows up, and becomes greater than all the herbs, and puts out great branches, so that the birds of the sky can lodge under its shadow.' ”

Mom never really told me about this story; I had to find it out myself in my own meandering, lifelong spiritual quest. The small size of the seed, and how it comes to benefit nature, sort of calls to mind my diminutive mother. She, too, held together our often-fractious family, and forged her own nursing career in mid-life, against many odds. Mom became the the tree, one might say, whose branches provided nurturing and strength to the four generations that have passed through our family home. In the pictures below, Mom is the small, dark-haired nurse on the left.

So, as I have decided to wear these heirloom jewelry pieces, I want to recall the strength of my mother and grandmother, and be worthy of their legacies. Recently, especially as I work toward beginning the upgrades on our longtime home, I've begun to doubt myself. I wonder if I'm really up to the challenge of taking on the role of lady of this house. It's been my vision to have Mom live out her life here as comfortably as possible, and to make this place a residence to be proud of, and pass to my son and daughter-in-law. Also, when the caregivers aren't here, and I'm doing Mom's care myself, I wonder if I'm "doing it right," and if Grandma (who passed in 1996) is approving of how I'm taking care of Mom, her child.

Like many therapists, I have to chide myself to practice the interventions I give my clients. From now on, when the useless "What if I can't?" refrains begin playing in my head, I have to consider another text:

"He replied, 'Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.'" -- Matthew 17:20, New International Version.

Grandma and Mom each started at their crossroads with little or nothing, and ended up having beautifully successful lives. It's time to recall that, and step out in boldness.

Usually, when I doubt myself, I have to admit it's late at night, it's been a long day, and my fatigue and overwhelm are doing the talking. So, to wear my grandmother's and mother's jewelry, touch it, and honor them in my daily actions--that's the best I can do.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Changes to Plan

I'm struggling on to get my home improvement project off the ground, and it's costing lots of time and frustration. Tomorrow I'm going to be exploring PLAN B (what a way to spend a "day off!"), but in the meantime I've found ways to siphon off my irritation and the adrenaline by-product.

I've decided to just spend all my non-working time here at home, doing whatever I can MYSELF. Painting, ripping up the yucky carpet, sanding down the floors to make them look "distressed." Hey, there are all those shows I've watched, books I've acquired, not to mention all the wealth of info on YouTube. I can do this! (I almost feel like I channeled Rosie the Riveter with that last statement) Provided I know I'm in this effort for a long haul, what's the rush? And doesn't it figure that the larger the amount of sweat equity I invest, the more pride I will feel in my home once it's done.

Check out the tool above. Over this past Memorial Day weekend, my gentleman friend made the ultimate chivalrous gesture--he began the first round of lawn removal. Bless his macho heart, he was out there in the midday sun, trying to use my lightweight hoe to take up nasty, entrenched clumps of weeds, when my beloved longtime neighbor and friend came over and loaned us this serious implement. It was handmade for him by a friend, with the blade part measuring 5 " wide and 10" long. The solid handle is 36" long and 6" in diameter.

It served Chuck's purposes well, and the neighbor kindly said we could keep it at my house to continue our efforts to tame the Cascadden Jungle, front yard as well as back. I can't wait to use it myself!

In the meantime, I'll get out the long-unused roto-tiller, and fire that baby up.

I finally made the formal acquaintance of the gentleman at the end of the alley, and plan to pick his brain about how to duplicate his success with the beautiful cacti on the front of his property. People seem to be pleased when asked about their work, and it will be another way to cultivate a neighborhood friendship.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Psalm 121

After I was accepted into La Verne College (now University of La Verne) in 1972, I gleefully marked off each calendar day until mid-September, because I felt like I couldn't get out of Burbank fast enough--or far enough. That day Mom and Dad packed my stuff and me into the back of the 1971 VW, and we headed to the freeway onramp, I waved ecstatically from the back window to some kid standing on the corner. I remember he looked somewhat bemused, but he returned the wave nonetheless.

And yet, here I am, back in Burbank again since 1988, and in no rush to consider leaving again.

Lately, with the challenges of caring for Mom, who is now slipping away from me a little bit more each hour with her physical frailty and dementia, I treasure the very safe idea of home -- this house, this community of Burbank, even the foothills behind Sunset Canyon and Brand Park. When we moved here in 1964 from upstate New York, I was fascinated with the hills as a geological formation, and tagged along with my father up at the De Bell Golf Course, or my "big brudda" to Stough Park.

Decades later, as a single mom, I took every opportunity to hike with my young son behind Brand Park, and didn't mind when my car's back seat acquired a messy payload of sticks, pine cones, or other souvenirs from nature.

Now, with family responsibilities and work demands, I find the hills calling to me again. The other day, after Mom's faithful caregiver arrived, I seized the precious hour's time before my first client, and escaped to the Canyon Grille at the golf course for breakfast. The early morning sun...the quiet...the rolling green of the course outside the sliding glass doors, already open to allow the birdsong to waft in...

No matter how much I chafed against Burbank and its hills as an adolescent, they were still here, waiting for me when I was ready to return home. When competing appointments, cell phone calls, health issues, mounting projects and household tasks seem to bury me, the hills are always there, waiting. In the Sixties, many called places like this "Nature's Church," and I'm more inclined to agree as time passes. These foothills are where you're likely to find me these days when things in town get a bit too much...

I recognize and respect that readers of my blog have diverse spiritual beliefs; nevertheless, for those who will accept it, I offer the following as a calming thought for today, and every day hereon:

"I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth. He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber. Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord is thy keeper: the Lord is thy shade upon thy right hand. The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul. The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore." -- Psalm 121

Monday, April 14, 2014


I'm doing more than mere "spring cleaning" these days. I've begun a full-scale, ruthless purge.

Previous posts have seen me discuss the curios and cheap furniture items that have gone to the Vietnam Veterans of America or Out of the Closet. Now that, thankfully, I've run out of those items, and my living room has breathing room, I've turned my attention to even more annoying things cluttering up my home office and my bedroom.

When I see the number of things in my email inbox--unread, read and "to be answered," spam, etc., etc., my eyes glaze over. Seriously, the count is getting toward the 5,700 mark, and so I've begun my counter-offensive -- making one daily task to "unsubscribe" to at least ten senders, especially when I either don't know them, or "I'll get back to this one later" becomes the knee-jerk response.

Ditto my list of bookmarked websites. As my career and personal lives have wended their ways forward, and my interests have changed, I just haven't kept up with paring down the site addresses cluttering up my PC. Poor thing--no wonder it's slow. So, tonight it's click-delete time! After I've taken in the lunar eclipse, that is.

And then, there's this dress you see. Back in 2006, when I was still on the loose in the dating world, I was swept off my feet by someone. I won't go into details, because the memory of this person would only serve to stir up anger that's best left in the past.

Anyway, I was invited to a full-on gala--dinner, awards, testimonials; in short, it was to have been a "magical evening," even though that term is too often and too easily used.

After work one day, I went to Nordstrom--and I can count on one hand the number of times I've crossed that store's threshold. During a two-hour spree, I bought this Empire-style dress (I know my photos don't show it off properly)--satin bodice, chiffon-y lined skirt. Even though I was still in my size-14 days, it flattered me, and I felt like a princess for the first time since I was a young girl. A pair of black heels (my very last pair, I should add!), black stole, and slinky black hose completed the ensemble. I was gorgeous, and ready to "go to the ball." The fact that this single outfit cost me more than all the clothes--in total--that I'd ever bought in my adult life didn't trouble me at all. This was an important evening, and I wanted to be a proper lady escort.

Two days later, I got a voice mail. In a terse, 15-second message, my date simply said he wanted to take someone else. That was it. And I never heard from him again.

The dress promptly went into the closet -- way to the back. In time, I actually forgot I had it. A few months ago, I was surprised to see the original zippered bag with "Nordstrom" printed across the front, and with the shocking price tag still attached to the dress. So, out it came.

No, I wouldn't wear it. First, I'm happily a few sizes smaller now. And second, I've been with someone--my gentleman friend Chuck--who I believe truly deserves me. I won't stand for being disrespected--ever again. Now, at my age, I can love with my heart and my head.

Tomorrow, during a break, I'll take the dress to a local consignment shop. Let's see how much I can recoup, and silence the visual noise that still resonates.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

What Being an RA "Newbie" Has Taught Me - Rheumatoid Arthritis - Health Monitor

What Being an RA "Newbie" Has Taught Me - Rheumatoid Arthritis - Health Monitor

Well,golly gosh, even as old and jaded as I am, I still haven't lost the capacity to be thrilled.  Here's me, featured in an article!  Except for the few times in my life when I've written letters to various publication editors and had them printed, this is new for me.  And there is a little talk about the possibility of me actually authoring my own pieces. After all, writing, my beloved means of expression, has taken a back seat lately, and I want to change that.  It saddens me that I have several drafts of things in my computer, slowly ripening, still waiting to be harvested.

My association with Health Monitor Magazine began quite accidentally, when I picked up a copy in my doctor's office about a year ago, and took one of their readers' surveys.  It led to a couple of phone calls, and then this piece. 

Few things make me happier than sharing real-life experiences to encourage others, along with the work I do as a therapist.  "Letting one's light shine" is such a satisfying way for us to help each other enhance our quality of life.


Friday, March 28, 2014

Old-looking, slightly distressed, but still beautiful

No, I'm not describing myself at the moment.

This is about my latest obsession. A set of rolling kitchen shelves, to be exact...four casters, a frame, and three spacious shelves should do it.

While I'm waiting, impatiently, to commence work on my house, I'm taking pleasure in finding inspiration wherever I can. TV shows. Magazines. Catalogs. Impromptu reconnaissance missions, like this afternoon's visit to Pasadena's Restoration Hardware store.

I'm sure I could easily pick up an easily-to-assemble unit at one of the mid-range stores, but the thought of putting a particle-board, or worse, plastic thingy in a kitchen that I've crafted to be rustic Spanish--appalling!

At 4 PM today, I saw it -- my inspiration, at Restoration Hardware. Yes, it was in the form of a coffee table, but it had the appealing distressed-looking wood top. And I didn't dare look at the price. Restoration Hardware is a gorgeous dream store, but it's way out of my league, price-wise. But, hey, there are no monopolies on dreams...the faded tint of the wood was just right, sigh...

Adding to my nostalgia-driven decision process was the 1920s music playing over the store's sound system...a very savvy marketing technique, if you think about it. I was carried away, swaying to the music of another time.

So my solution? Build my shelf unit myself! Time to visit my local Home Depot to get some advice, and bum the nail gun from a good friend. I'll take some measurements, and put together a sketch in the notebook that's getting filled up with all my projects. I've already looked up prices of casters, and addresses of some recycled lumber businesses where, hopefully, I won't be laughed at when I go in and ask just how much (or little) wood I need. But I can also tell them about the wood I'll need for the floor patch when the floor heaters get taken out.

Seems do-able, and fun.

And that in-store music really got to me. I've been listening to it for the past couple of hours. Here's some to share:

Thursday, March 20, 2014


The way I feel with my new "bod" is having some unexpected ripple effects.

Resolved: to ditch my overly-long, circus-tent skirts, and buy some of those sleek pencil skirts! And soon! There! It's on record on the internet. No backing down now.

In my travels the other day, I saw a woman who, shall we say, has a shape not unlike mine. She was wearing a pencil skirt -- and a pretty damned short one at that! And she, as Rod Stewart would croon, "wore it well."

So, I thought, what am I doing hiding behind my old rags? I'm seeing women of all ages, and shapes, stepping out and being bold. Even my favorite magazine, More, aimed at a "mature woman's" readership, is showing some good-looking threads.

And isn't that a lot of what I've been talking about in my blog posts -- boldness and confidence?

The TV ads for Ross, Burlington, and TJ Maxx are calling to me, louder all the time.

Since I'm pushing toward some new goals in 2014, it's time to step forward -- in colorful revenge beauty. And with my new red lipstick, which garnered quite a few compliments yesterday.

Maybe I'll post some pics soon.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

When Life Bites, Buy a Lipstick

Life hasn't been going the way I'd like lately. Among the frustrations, I've begun to despair that my beloved homestead will not get her long-deserved facelift anytime soon, and even if it does happen, the plans may be drastically altered. Not something I want!

Until about two months ago, my tantrum might take the form of binge eating. Now, I've found another way to channel any anger...

Revenge beauty!

Because of some potentially serious health concerns, I've been in consultation with my primary care doctor for symptom relief. He has been the first doctor to frankly confront me about my excess body mass, and its connection to my aches and pains. I got on board with his recommendations, and I'm almost 20 pounds lighter as a result (and more to go before I reach my goal weight). Even my face has lots its chubby-chipmunk contours already. Cue the West Side Story song, "I feel pretty...".

Today, I felt particularly grumpy; not a good frame of mind for the business I'm in. During a much-needed break, I was in Magnolia Boulevard's "Burbank Village" cluster of antique shops, not to empty my wallet, but to window shop for ideas for the house. I'm a woman who couldn't care less about shoes (gender traitor!), but stores with "old stuff" just beckon and reel me in. Unfortunately, the store I'd specifically driven over to visit was closed for the day due to redecorating. Now what?

Standing at Magnolia and Avon, I almost headed back to the car, until I saw a high-placed neon sign in the next block down, with the word "Besame." What was this? Why not find out while I was there?

Opening the front door, I felt as if I'd stepped into a parlor set in the early 1920s. There were chairs almost identical to some of the furniture I have in my living room, dark hardwood floors, posters of lovely ladies of the Silver Screen era, and matching paneling on the walls. A slender, dark-haired woman named Gabrielle was presiding over the counter, featuring displays of antique cosmetic packaging in the case below. They all looked exactly like some of the lipstick tubes and compacts I grew up seeing on my mother's and grandmother's dressing tables. They had always tantalized me as a child, if for no other reason than I was forbidden to touch any of them. But Mom's and Grandmother's sitting in front of their mirrors seemed like such a serious ritual, and I wanted to be part of that so badly. I wanted admission to this mysterious sisterhood of full-on femininity. Mom used to watch the Loretta Young Show in the afternoons. I always longed to be like that lady, floating toward the camera in her yards and yards of gauzy chiffon... Never mind that I didn't like little girls' sewing projects, regularly got my Sunday School dress dirty playing in our basement coal bin, or had three rowdy neighborhood boys as my best pals...I wanted to feel beautiful.

Gabrielle allowed me to try on a bit of American Beauty red lipstick. Red? Timid soul that I am, I'd always stuck with purchasing mauves, deep pinks, and brownish hues. But this was different. With such a brief, simple act, I felt Loretta Young-glamorous. My day turned around at that moment. I got it; a simple bit of primping did work wonders. Sold!

We chatted some more, Gabrielle and I, and then I felt I had the wherewithal to get back to my day.

So, I've been converted. I'm now a red-lipstick girl. Never mind this current trend toward "nude" make-up. That reminds me too much of the whitish lip gloss of seventh grade. Besides, I don't want to look anemic.

I've read at various times that during difficult times in history--the Depression, immediate post-911, the recent recession--cosmetic sales, particularly lipstick, have actually increased. With my own sweet experience this afternoon, I can see why. To discover (or be reminded) of one's own beauty is such a transformative, deeply personal moment.

I promised Gabrielle I would post about my experience. And no, of course, I will not gain anything by it, save for the enjoyment of sharing it with others. Visit www.besamecosmetics.com.

The lipstick is still on, and I'm almost reluctant to wash my face tonight. But I will enjoy this American Beauty as much as I did my first lipstick, a frosted pink tube from Yardley, a gift for my 13th birthday in 1967. Such sweet memories.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Rethinking my Stewardship

I've been considering shutting down my Facebook professional page for some time, and today I have taken that step. Perhaps, in the future, when the dust settles in other areas of my life and I can rethink some of my goals, I will bring back "The Turbo-Charged Rocking Chair" with a sharper focus.

Life and time is increasingly precious for me. Even when leaving Mom's caregiving out of the equation, I'm finding myself vacillating between the two extreme states of being either in frantic motion or exhausted unconsciousness.. So lately, I've been considering the parable of the stewards in Luke 16:1-13. I want to maximize every moment, and get more done without feeling that I have to sacrifice accuracy--or more importantly, my physical and emotional health. Perhaps the concepts of mindfulness and efficiency might be useful here.

I owe this to God, my family, my friends, my profession--and to myself.

I wish you all a blessed and productive day.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Learning a New Lexicon

Often, magazines like AARP Magazine and others suggest "learning new things" as a way to keep one's brain sharp. For example, there's taking an art class at the local Parks and Recreation center, or becoming more fluent in Spanish at adult school. Well, my brain should be really stoked come the end of the year, if I can successfully navigate my latest adventure.

*Drum roll, please* My newest obsession is my long-overdue, very-needed home renovation. Not merely a vanity exercise of seeking matching pillows and drapes, this project will involve addressing things like replacing the original 1923 wiring, installing energy-efficient windows (to eliminate the draftiness and cut my utility bills), and finally installing air conditioning. Seriously, I don't think I can survive another summer, nor have friends or business contacts visit, when the temperature tops 90 degrees in the living room. I also can't endure being embarrassed over the appearance of cracked tile in the kitchen and bathroom.

I also seek to maximize the 1,300 square-foot space by knocking out three walls.

"Down to the studs," joists, load-bearing. These are only a few of the terms I've learned in the past 30 days while interacting with various professionals related to this endeavor. I already knew knob-and-tube wiring from growing up in a home with my electrician father.

In addition to my presence on Pinterest, including my board "For my 1923 vintage house," I've gotten hooked on Houzz, and plan to use this as yet another resource for revamping Casa Cascadden. I pre-record and watch HGTV and DIY networks whenever I can, including "Rehab Addict" with Nicole Curtis.

And, to add to the fluency in Construction-ish, I've downloaded an online construction dictionary, to assist me in being an informed and intelligent home improver.

Take a look at my profiles below, if you will:

http://www.houzz.com/user/valarie-cascadden. Follow this link to see more of my evolving thoughts on my project.


And, first and foremost, it's important to me that the home's 1923 vintage character be preserved and enhanced. Stay tuned for eventual "Before" and "After" views. It's time for Casa Cascadden to be escorted into the 21st century as the grande senora that she is.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Psst...got a steamer truck? I got some knickknacks.

The proposed revamp of the house is still awaiting the financial negotiations, but that doesn't stop me from dreaming, and making some minor changes here and there in the meantime.

My brother has been the delighted recipient of some of the antique future -- a gateleg table that was shoved, neglected, into a corner in the living room because there was just too little space for it; an Edwardian chair with a lovely floral cover; and a little glass-topped table that my son used to store his Game Boys and Tetris cartridges in. Kevin and I are in agreement that items like this should be kept in the family. It would be unthinkable to donate them, or worse, post an ad on Craigslist and have some looky-loo try to take them for 15 bucks. As I age, and need to take deeper breaths, so I see my living space as needing, well, more space. When we moved in here in 1964, the environment became uncomfortably like a museum. Furniture was packed into the living and dining areas, family curios placed on the shelves on either side of the fireplace, and I was given a stern "don't touch anything, don't move anything" order. No wonder I rebelled as a college freshman, and took off in the summer of 1973 for a hitch-hiking odyssey (another story for another time!). I felt stifled physically and mentally, and couldn't get out the house fast enough.

Decades and life milestones later, I have distanced myself from those feelings of imprisonment, and actually love this place. As I told my brother recently, I plan to only leave here "in a body bag."

This morning I was up at 4:00 AM, before sunrise, and before work. I culled through drawers and cabinets in the dining room, and the living room shelves. There are so many things that are dear to my heart, having seen a certain spice jar, or perhaps a ceramic figurine, since I was little. They are part of family history, points of reference when different family stories are told. They are as much a part of the home as the structure itself.

And yet, there were other items which have crept into place among the treasures. Candle holders, generic-looking vases, and various white elephant items that came home from too many an office holiday party. They were weeds crowding out the flowers. Gotta go, all of 'em.

My rule of thumb: if I don't remember who gave it to me (or am actually trying to forget the giver), or if no sentimental feelings for this item arise, it's out the door.

Still, it was fun sitting on the floor, looking through some books. I will never give away the Merck's Manual or the medical encyclopedia Mom got when she went to Glendale College for her midlife career change into nursing, nor the sadly unfinished series of books by Mary Canon about an Irish dynasty. I also found a Reader's Digest March 1971 issue, which featured an article about my cousin Peter Cook, and the then-pioneering corneal transplant surgery that treated his keratoconus. Marking the place in the magazine was an article clipped out of the Buffalo Evening News, with a photo of Peter reading to his daughter Karen, who was 2 at the time. Besides the article about Peter, there were some pieces relevant to the era: "Angela Davis: Making of a Martyr" and a Book Feature, "Kent State--Campus Under Fire," by James Michener.

What a great piece of history! I was almost losing track of time, I was so transported back into time (my junior year at Burbank High). Into the Brass Box (see my November 10, 2011 post, if you haven't already) the Reader's Digest went.

I packed up four boxes of stuff, destined for one of my favorite places, the Helping Hands for Animals Thrift Shop on Burbank Boulevard (http://helpinghandsforanimals.com). It's a clean, orderly shop, unlike many places where things are tossed around and left on the floor. The shop is run by David, his mom, and their two Shepherd dogs Jack and Dionne, who amble around and make customers' acquaintances.

And then, there's the matter of that coffee table! Circular and nondescript, it does nothing for me. It's gotta go, too, ASAP.

I want to replace it with a steamer trunk, kind of like this one.

Oh, sure, I want it in good shape to grace my living room. But like me, I want the trunk to look seasoned, like it's been around a while, and all the better for it.

I've asked David, who says they get them in the shop frequently, but that they get snapped up quickly. So, he suggested I call frequently, and come in as soon as one appears. Easy enough, since my office is about a mile away.

I'll let you know when I've scored my prize.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Treasure-Hunting in Mom's Closet

My phases usually strike in the early morning, fueled by dreams or vague ideas shaped in the first waves of morning consciousness. And they have occurred at regular intervals over the past couple of years.

They are my rearranging of anything in my path or field of vision -- pictures, furniture, curios. The only "thing" that escapes me is Tiggy, who usually runs for safety behind the couch until the whirlwind passes.

I'm currently on the hunt for a couple of wall-hangings that were among the many my mother and grandmother did in the 1970s, during that craft's height in popularity. Once I find the one with Nippper,the RCA dog staring into the gramaphone, it will be prominently displayed on a living room wall, and the one with the grandfather clock retired to the storage box. My astrology-adherent friends would say my Sagitarrius longing for change is being expressed; I think I'm tired of the visual status-quo, and just want to freshen up the living room.

Rummaging through the catacombs of a certain walk-in closet was a heart-warming trip back into family history. The above box, musty cardboard in remarkably great shape, has a trove of knitting needles of every size. Looking at them, I can transport myself to our old living room in Kenmore, New York, or to the end of Mom's bed, as I watched, mesmerized, as Mom's rhythmically created sweaters, Christmas stockings, or afghans. No matter the family calamity of the moment, Mom's knitting needles provided me a sense of continuity and stability.

Another box contained a miniature library of how-to booklets -- how-to make pillows, pom-poms, as well as Mom's unfilled wish, "Sewing for Little Girls." Bless her heart, Mom tried her best to make me a girly, domestic female, but it didn't quite take the form she imagined. My interests have always gone more toward pursuits like gardening or carpentry.

I've got some more nooks and crannies to search for the elusive latchhook, but I will find it before the day is over. Stay tuned for a picture of it.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Carrying On

I'm sharing the above because of the unexpected effect it's having on me right now. And the fact that Mozart's Requiem is streaming online as I write this underscores my thoughts.

Mom has subscribed to this publication for probably the past 40 years. She has quietly, privately, and consistently held to her own beliefs in God, and has found the daily passages to be of comfort and inspiration to her. When her subscription came up for renewal not long ago, I did not hesitate to renew it for her.

Since recent events, however, Mom really doesn't read anymore.

Still, the bimonthly little packet keeps arriving without fail, and I now find myself its holder and daily reader.

Today, I found myself unexpectedly moved to some tears as I recalled images of Mom sitting on her bed each morning, regardless of how busy she was, reading that day's page.

I found yesterday's page especially applicable to her life--and mine--right now, and the transitions that seem to be occurring day by day. I'm aware that not all my readers consider themselves spiritual, or that they do so in their own ways. With love and the best intentions, however, I offer this page for your consideration:

My love to all of you as you move through your own transformations.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Coming up: Cheeseburgers, Fries, and Coconut Cake

Mom's home again.

These last 18 days have had a profound impact on us both, mother and daughter. I had times where I was relieved, thinking of Mom's recuperation as a much-needed respite for me, then feeling guilty about this, and then arguing with myself about how useless and irrational my thoughts were.

Still, I felt a warmth when I watched Mom being wheeled up to the front door by the medical transport staff. That's where things got interesting. As much as I love our 1922 house, its doorways and halls were not built wide enough to accommodate most wheelchairs, let alone full-sized gurneys. So the burly gentle giants on the job had to bundle Mom up and do a blanket-carry down one hall, making a turn into another hall, and deposit her as gently as they could onto her hospital bed. As I'm sometimes inclined to do in tense situations, as I watched this process, I nearly got the giggles, with an image of a sack of potatoes coming to mind. Summoning my therapist-demeanor training, however, I was able to keep a straight face as her oxygen was reattached, and I thanked the transport staff heartily as they left.

Mom seemed distinctly under-whelmed with happiness to be home. Her first utterance was a two-part question, "Now what am I supposed to do? Am I going to be stuck here now for the rest of my life?" This caught me off-guard, and so I used my fall-back smart aleck humor to respond, "Well, what do you want me to do? Send you back to the place [meaning the rehab facility]?"

You have to understand that Mom and I have had a history of sparring with each other, tossing such barbed humorous comments, and they have usually served to take the edge off any uncomfortable situation. This wasn't the case this time. Mom stared blankly, and so I tabled the attempts at levity. I handed Mom the gift bag that had sat under the Christmas tree in her absence. She got teary when she recalled that she had spent the holidays away from home, for the first time in her entire life.

Perhaps if I distracted Mom...I quickly turned on the TV, reminding her that she could now watch her beloved Bonanza and Gunsmoke reruns, each of which she has easily seen several hundred times. Thank goodness for TV Land; except that, while we ate lunch together, I became uncomfortably aware of just how many commercials this station runs about funeral planning, Life Alert systems, and life insurance for retired folks. All Mom could say was, "Yeah, retirement's for the birds. Take my advice and don't get old."

Thank goodness for the hospice nurse supervisor who came to visit later on. At the rehab facility, I'd been handed a sheaf of discharge papers, including a confusing medication list, and no fewer than six bubble-packs of pills. Sitting in Mom's room, I was wondering just how I was going to organize everything to avoid any mistakes in dosing...and, frankly, panicking more than a little. The nurse took her time, and after visiting with Mom, sat and walked me through the medications, one by one, and also showed me how to give Mom the breathing treatments she will get three times a day for a while.

Esmeralda came back today, too, to resume her caregiving. As I retreated to the other room to try to catch up on some of my own paperwork, it lifted my spirits to hear Mom brighten up a bit and get into a lively catch-up conversation. Again, I recalled how many times as a geriatric case manager, I encouraged adult children to find opportunities for their elderly parents to socialize. Despite Mom's history of saying she never minded to spend time alone, perhaps this recent serious illness left her feeling more vulnerable than before, and so she will indeed benefit more than ever from visits from friends, family, or the hospice chaplain.

Mom's 89th birthday is coming up on January 15. While at the rehab center, she told everyone she could that she wanted nothing more than a cheeseburger, french fries, and a coconut cake. The cake--a small, square one from Pepperidge Farms--is in the freezer, ready for the festivities. A friend has volunteered to provide the best cheeseburger he can find. And dammit, I intended to herd my entire small family into the house for that important day.

These moments are becoming more precious by the day, too precious to let slip by.