Friday, September 30, 2011

The Fortress

When I popped in to see Mom this morning, she insisted I go out back to see the progress on the fence. Perry has completed the back portion and one side. And it looks amazing! I cannot get over how much better Mom's yard looks with the fencing up. I told her it is like a frame for her trees and plants. Plus, and it is a very big plus, Mom's backdoor neighbor's harassing dogs are hidden from view.

Perry came while I was there. He told me Mom is referring to the fence as The Fortress. I will concede that an eight foot fence after about 38 years of nothing is a big change. But I am not exaggerating when I repeat how good it looks. (I wonder how long it will take the dogs to figure an escape route?) Mom expressed concern that she would no longer have a breeze, but she sat out on the back porch last night and allayed her own fears. The forecast finally indicates a little fallish weather, with highs in the 80's and lows in the 60's. Ma will have to bundle up! I hope she enjoys many days of sitting on her newly private back porch.

Here's a pic Karis took of us sitting on the porch in the lovely 90 degree weather last Sunday evening. We sat out for quite some time until Mom suddenly asked, "Is it too warm for you?" To which I replied, "Yes."

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Nifty New Feature

My brother Bill asked me the other day about the picture of Mom edging the grass with her scissors. I tried to find it on my blog, but didn't have time to look back through everything. Today it occurred to me that our good friends here at blogspot might have a gadget for that. So now over on the right-hand sidebar at the top, there is a search bar for this blog and links posted from it.

A search for Chuck Norris turned up three hits (who knew I talked about Chuck Norris so much?), one of which is the pic my brother was after. Cool! I just love the 21st century.


In the world of People-Oriented versus Task-Oriented, my mom falls decisively on the Task-Oriented side of life. She has always been very active and productive. Mom loves to have a project going.

I remember when we first had Karis and I was trying to lure Mom into coming to our house. We lived right down the street. She never came by to see us, and it hurt my feelings. I repeated to myself, "I know she loves me. I know she loves this baby." And I resorted to subterfuge and trickery. I asked Mom to come recover a chair for me. Then I asked her to do another. It worked! I have pictures of Mom holding Karis as a baby at my house, pretty much because she came for a project.

Mom has really enjoyed the big (monumental) project of having Perry redo her house. He is out in the backyard now, working on a fence. Mom doesn't want our dogs in her house, so she wants the yard fenced. I think she will enjoy her backyard more now that it is enclosed. Her neighbor's dogs have annoyed her for years. Years! I wish she had fenced across the back long ago, just for her own quality of life. I wish her many days of unmolested back porch sitting.

Mom has not been idle herself. She ripped the lining apart from the Target curtains that were hanging askew in her dining room, then finished the rough edges by hand. Now she is cleaning mildewed furniture. She will sit and work for a while, then move to Dad's red chair to catnap and store up some energy for another burst. When I was over on Tuesday, Mom was working on the curtains and was happy to listen to World magazine's new radio program online. On Wednesday though, wiping the furniture while she sat on her bed took her entire focus. She did not enjoy the radio program even though it was one of her favorite World writers. She said she couldn't follow it. By the time I left around 10:45, she was resting in the big red chair.

Hard work and productivity are simply part of who Mom is. I suspect she will have some sort of project going until the day she can no longer lift a hand. That day might not be far off, but Mom will be blowing and going until then. Go, Mama!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Mother I Never Knew

There are so many things I don't know about my mom. I learned something new this week. As I was going through Mom's books, I thought this one looked cute. And funny. Quaint. I set it out on the bookcase by the door.

Mom noticed it and told me she read and re-read this book when she was pregnant with me. Mom was 43 when she had me. My brother was 1-1/2. My other siblings were, hmm, 8, 10 and 14? Dad was 42 and not happy that Mom was having another baby. Mom said he was upset with her. (Hello? Two to tango? Personal responsibility? Basics of human reproduction?) Anyway, Mom said the book comforted her.

Who knew? I told her I'd have to give it a read myself.

How Chuck Norris' Mom Does Yardwork (Part Deux)

Sometimes even Chuck Norris' mom gets cranky.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

So Tired

My mom is so very tired. This week, when I was there at the house, I noticed Mom catnapping. She would do something Mom-like, such as dragging the rake to the end of the driveway. Then she would take a few swipes at some leaves, drag the rake back to the garage, come inside, and sit in Dad's chair.

Tonight she was telling me what projects she is working on. She showed me a piece of furniture from which she is bravely attempting to clean mildew. (I personally think the mildew has destroyed the finish and it will have to be stripped, but Mom is not hearing any of that.) In between telling me about her projects, Mom fell asleep in Dad's big red chair. Then she would wake up and talk some more.

I asked if she remembered Dad saying, "I don't know why I should feel so tired." Mom didn't remember him saying those words, but she did remember how Dad would nap off and on throughout the day. Just like her. I remember hospice explaining that they spend all their energy on ADL, the activities of daily living.

Tonight Mom asked Karis to go to the grocery store for her. I think that is a first. Mom seems to be cutting out things. She sent me to the bank for her earlier this week. Now Karis to do her shopping. Seems to be a trend. I'm glad she's asking for help. I'm so sad she is tiring. Today at church I heard Mom answer someone who asked how she was doing: "I'm slow and I'm tired."

Tonight as I visited with Mom in between her dozings, I was reminded of the beautiful Billy Joel lullaby we heard on the cruise. And of the John Muir quote I read in Alaska:
"Death is a kind nurse saying, 'Come, children, to bed and get up in the morning' - a gracious Mother calling her children home."

I know there is no way to call it.
I know there is no way to call it.
I know there is no way to call it, but tonight the end seems close to me.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Blow-Off, Gma Style

Last Sunday, Karis was on a weekend trip with her nanny family. Mom arranged a ride to church with some sweet friends. I don't know if I've mentioned, but Mom does not enjoy hanging out and visiting after church. And don't try to tell me it is because of her advanced age or physical condition. I don't remember Mom ever hanging out and visiting, anywhere. She is not fond of social situations and I really don't think she places a high value on personal interaction.

Knowing that their grandma is hard to catch on Sunday mornings, my kids usually try to see her before the service, or during the meet and greet time, or immediately after the service. You have to be quick, because Mom sits in the back section and makes a beeline for the door. Riding with Karis has slowed her down a little, because she has to wait for her driver, who does, in fact, enjoy hanging out and visiting. Mom usually manages at some point to give Karis the eye, and then they leave.

No such hindrance Sunday. Mom's friends call her The Queen, and when The Queen is ready to go, they go. Ev made the mistake of trying to catch her grandma as she made her break for the door last Sunday.

As Mom was walking out, Ev approached and said, "Hey, Grandma!" (If anyone is reading and is not from around here, that means, "Hi, Grandma!") Mom's friend stopped and said, "It's alright Ann. We have time for you to stop and talk with your granddaughter." Mom just kept going, tossing back, "We've spoken."

What? Ev said she hadn't talked to Grandma since earlier in the week. My daughter has brought it up several times this week. We talk about it and laugh about it, and I hug her and tell her how much I love to talk to her, but I know it has to sting. I've always been really good at blowing people off. I see now that I learned my skills from the master.

Another Thought: As Ev and I talked it over again this evening, I wondered if Mom was experiencing pain and didn't realize it. I maintain my theory that pain has to be really bad for Mom to notice. She did have the pain that kept her awake Sunday night. Maybe it was beginning Sunday morning/afternoon and although she couldn't identify it, it made her extra prickly. It's a thought.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Day After

Today I went over to Mom's after dropping Ev off at school. I pulled up to the curb around 8:30 and the house looked dark. Karis had already left for classes. As I was gathering my things from the truck, I looked up and saw Mom

raking the pine needles off the driveway.

Guess that pain's better?

Mom said she had a great night's sleep, with no pain and no morphine. She had just finished her breakfast on the back patio and after a few pulls on the rake, she came inside. We sat and visited for a few minutes until she said, "I think the garage is locked." Which might sound strange to those unacquainted with the language of the passive agressive, but translated it means, "The supplies you need to get started are in the garage. You will need the key. It's time to get to work." So of course I got to work!

Perry had patched together and painted a set of our old bookshelves to match the living room. I set them up by the front door and loaded in the books Mom has given us from her treasure trove. Along with Mom's childhood breakfast table, it makes a nice library corner. (It occurs to me I should have taken a pic. Will add that tomorrow.) And so continues the weirdness that is moving into my Mom's house before she moves out. At least this part was mostly her stuff.

While I was setting up and filling the bookcase, Mom was puttering around the house. Then she sat down in Dad's chair for a nap. After that, she went out to sit on the back patio and listen to the birds. I went out and sat with her for a bit, then asked if she wanted to go to the bank. She had checks to deposit. Mom hesitated and I offered to just go for her instead. She gratefully asked, "Would you?" That's a first. (Not the gratefulness; the wanting me to do something for her that she considers her domain.) Off I went to the bank, then popped in to Panera for some take-out for the two of us, plus Mom's favorite asiago demi-loaf.

I returned to Mom's house before noon to find that she had already eaten lunch. She got hungry while I was gone, so she warmed up Karis' leftover fried rice from the weekend. She is one resourceful woman! Mom was happy about the Panera's food and declared she would eat it for dinner.

Mom did seem sort of foggy today. She talked to me about a situation that has been worrying her. I don't know all the details because I wasn't present when the initial incident occurred, but I do know that Mom misconstrued some people's words and misunderstood some intent. Then she focused on her worrisome perception of the situation and let it tie her in knots. I think the situation has been resolved and I know communication is hard in the best of circumstances, but I was surprised at all the misunderstandings.

Mom also didn't hang onto details very well during the morning. At one point she asked me where the kids were. I told her Nate and Meg didn't have to go anywhere today, so they were at home. She asked, "What's the special occasion?" I told her it was just the Tuesday schedule. Then when I got up to go to the bank, she asked if I needed to go pick up Nate from school. Nope, he's at home today. Later when I left to work with a couple of students, Mom asked again if I was going to pick up Nate from school. Uh, no. Each time I explained where Nate was, it seemed like new information.

And then there is the quote for the day.

Mom: "It would be terrible to have...that disease old people get."

Gwen: "Alzheimers?"

Mom: "Yes!"

Monday, September 19, 2011

Downhill Slide?

Karis sent me this pic today. She said it reminded her of Grandpa. I agree! Except much smaller.

Meg and I went by to see Mom after Meg's chemistry class (first college level exam today). Mom slept some while we were there, then she told me that she was having troublesome pain. She said it kept her up last night. (Loren later filled in that she had sat up all night reading Harry Potter, not able to sleep at all.) She said it took away her appetite today. Mom said she was looking forward to Nurse Christy's vist. She was planning to tell Christy about the pain and see if there was anything she could do. She especially was interested in something to help her sleep. Mom said she thought this was the cancer taking over. She called it her "first taste of death", saying it was a new thing to her.

Mom said she thought the timing was good. I asked her to explain. She said she was glad the house was finished. She thought I might be spending more time there soon. I thanked her for telling me about the pain and told her I was counting on her to let me know when she needed me. Of course, what I wanted to do was burst into tears, run home to pack a bag, and come back to stay with her. But I can't do that to Mom. She would hate it and probably hate me. I have to wait until she really, really needs me; until she can absolutely no longer make it on her own.

I will go tomorrow morning and stay until early afternoon. Mom has some jobs she wants me to do, so that will be a good cover. I'll also talk with Karis and ask her to call me if Mom needs me in the night. Christy showed Mom how to take some morphine to ease the pain and help her sleep. I encouraged Mom to take it so she can have a good rest. I reminded her this is not a toughness contest. She laughed and said that's what Christy said.

Mom called tonight about some other business that has been worrying her. She was excited to tell me that she laid down and had no pain. We'll see how the night goes. And we'll see if this is just another bump in the road or if it is the start of the downhill slide.

Saturday, September 17, 2011


Mom and Jan have been friends for a long time. When Jan's kids took her car away, Mom would take Jan for her Friday hair appointments. (I wonder if Jan ever told her kids that an 89 year old friend was driving her around?) When it got harder for Jan to get around, we took her to a couple of movies. One kid was assigned to escort Grandma and one kid was assigned to escort Ms. Jan. They learned the joys of sitting on the top row.

Now Jan is in an assisted living home. Karis took Mom to see her on Friday. Karis texted me a few highlights during thier visit. I don't know if Jan has always had such a way with words, but her perspective sure is funny.

Mom and Jan discussed how all their possessions are labeled with the name of one of their kids.

Mom: It's amazing the pleasure you can get out of their enjoyment of your things.

Jan: That is so true! They are so happy taking my things.

Mom was telling Jan that she is losing strength. Jan assured her, "It happens in the worst of families."

Then they enjoyed "happy hour", which involved pie.

Ah, friends!

Educational Philosophy

The other day, Mom was commenting on the heavy load of books Karis carries in her backpack. I agreed and said Meg, Nate, and Ev are the same. I thought back to my own school days (daze?) and said, "I don't remember carrying a ton of books like my kids do now." That's when Mom let fly with:

"I told Loren, 'Don't even bother bringing those books home.'"


Attempting to remain calm, I asked Mom what she meant. She said she told Loren she didn't think it would do him any good to bring books home from school. As in, you don't need to study or do homework. I asked, "How did that work out for him?" Mom laughed and answered brightly, "Well, he graduated!"

You know, I always thought my slacker approach to studies in high school was due to my own passive-aggressive nature and general lack of interest. I had discovered early on that it was impossible to please my dad with grades. My sisters were amazing students and had ruined the curve for the rest of us. I would bring home all A's and one B and my dad would ask, "Why did you get a B?" Eh, not so motivating. But now I wonder if my mom's less-than-enthusiastic approach might have played a part as well, although I don't remember her saying anything about blowing off school to me.

Interestingly enough, without much effort or concern, I managed to graduate in the top ten percent of my class. I'm sure it helped that my class numbered about a thousand students. Also interesting, I went on to get a college degree in elementary education. (Imagine my surprise to find that college required a lot more effort than high school!) I taught first grade, preschool, tutored, homeschooled my own children, and now work as an educational therapist to help struggling students.

Maybe it is one of those pendulum swings, where we take on the opposite philosophy as our parents; sort of a knee jerk reaction. Or maybe it is one of those situations where, by the grace of God, an unhealthy pattern is not carried over into the next generation. Whatever it is, it's different. It will be interesting to see where my children go and what they do with their educational heritage.

[I should say in Mom's defense that reading was very important to her. I saw her reading a lot. She read aloud to us as children. She took me to the library and provided me with good books. And Dad completely paid for my college education.]

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Guest Writer

Tonight's post was written by Karis on her Facebook account. Too good to miss.

there was a giant roach in the kitchen and i screamed and just stood there trying to decide if i should kill it or run..i was then pushed out of the way by my grandma in her nighty rushing past with a fly swatter. she beat it.

Oh, the mental image. I love those two and their whole symbiotic roomate situation. Thelma and Louise, take a note; this is how it's done.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

H Po

My kids and I are big Harry Potter fans. Karis has read all the books many times. (Five?) Meg is rereading now. Nate listened to them all this summer in time to go to the midnight premiere. Ev is reading now, in deep on the fourth. I read all the books just ahead of Karis. Now we can add another family member to the fan club.

Karis came home around midnight last week. Usually she meets Mom in the hallway, up from bed for a bathroom run. This time, Mom was sitting up.

Karis: Grandma, have you been to sleep yet tonight?

Mom: Uhhhhh, no! (pause) Harry rode a broomstick for the first time. I guess that's why I'm so excited.


Monday, September 12, 2011

Hair Day

In my family of origin, we have naturally big hair. Really, we have got it going on. My sisters have a lovely rich shade of red, my brothers are more strawberry blonde, and mine wanders from red to brown to blonde, lately settling on gray. But color notwithstanding, we've got some wild and crazy hair.

Throughout childhood and school years, I really didn't know what to do with my hair. I fought it. People who cut my hair fought it. We lost. The hair won. I attended high school during the years of "feathered wings". My hair did not feather. It did not have wings. At some point in my adult life, after having children, I read the book Curly Girl and learned to embrace my crazy, wavy hair. I found a stylist who knows what to do with this mess. I went for years happily scrunching my hair and enjoying the unstyle.

Sometime in this past year, though, I've changed. I don't know why, exactly, but I didn't want rumply hair anymore. I think I just wanted something, something, to be controllable. I wanted to be able to wake up to a new day, and be able to count on something to be the same as it was yesterday. So I took a picture of Jenifer Anniston's long, angled, bob look to the girl who cuts my hair. Kelly Marie gamely said, "We can do that," and cut the heck out of my hair. She is amazing and my unruly hair is tamed.

So tame, that when I saw a bunch of friends from high school on Saturday, after we had said "hi good to see you who are you again how are you," one of my friends immediately asked, "How did you get your hair so straight?" Pretty funny! Pretty noteworthy. Pretty telling.

I don't know how long this hair stage will last, but for now I've got one thing in my life straightened out and under control. But just the one thing.

Postscript: Shonda! You called me out.

Before (two years ago in CO with the fam):

After (this past weekend in Surfside with my high school peeps):

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Still Burning

Still miles away. We are still safe.

Here is a well-done slideshow on the situation so far.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Plan

In case you didn't know, Texas is on fire. You can see it here. Sometimes I suspect the news media of exaggerating disasters, but I can tell you we see the smoke. The sky looks strange. Tuesday morning there was ash on my car. Two boys on Nate's football team have had to evacuate their homes. (Being Texans, they still showed up at the football game, pulling trailers full of their earthly possessions behind their vehicles.) This is the real deal.

Karis texted me Tuesday afternoon.

Karis: Don't worry. Grandma just informed me that if a fire came, she'd just crawl down into the culvert. [The culvert is where a little creek next to Mom's yard runs under the street.]

Me: Good to know. It's always good to have a plan.

Karis: Yeah, Grandma said she'd just hunker down with the snakes and turtles. Asked if I'd join her.

Me: And you said?

Karis: Where else would I go!

The fires are miles away from us, so I'm not worried. Especially not now that The Plan is in place.

Sunday, September 4, 2011


I can't remember if I've written about it before, but I've been shocked to discover over the past few years that my mom is a racist. I don't remember ever hearing Mom or Dad say anything negative about other races in my childhood years. I'm very thankful that they raised us without racial prejudice, which makes it all the more baffling when I hear Mom now. For a while, she would just mention innocuous things, which I would politely ignore.

Then there was an incident when Dad was hospitalized in Houston a couple of years ago. Mom kept commenting (loudly) about all the different races represented in Dad's care team. And then.

Mom (thinking she is complimenting): These people have taken such good care of Dad. (Insert race here) people just like to serve.

Gwen (hissing): Mom! Don't say that!

Mom (taken aback): What would be a nicer way to say that?

Gwen (begging): Just don't say it! There is no nice way to assign a personality trait to an entire people group based on their skin color! Please just don't say things like that.


Fast forward a couple of years. Karis told me about a recent interaction with her grandma.

Mom/Grandma: I'm going to call the city and tell them to clean that (insert another race here) graffiti off the road sign in front of the house. I agree with Rudy Guliani that it should be taken care of right away.

Karis: Grandma, don't call it that!

Mom actually told me of her plan, using the same identifying racial group. I asked her how she knew it was from that group. Different language? Nope, just looked like it.

Oh boy. I'm glad she has Karis to be her external filter. BTW, the city cleaned up the sign right away. Even without the intrinsic filter, Mama's got the mojo.

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Finished Project

As I was helping Mom clear the front bedroom, I came across these wooden bookends. I wandered out to where Mom was sitting, and asked her about their history. Mom laughed and said, "That was the only craft project I ever finished!"

That makes me smile. And it explains a lot concerning my own extreme crafting disability.

Figure of Speech

Mom has really been in and out this week. Perry texted me Tuesday that he was finishing up in the laundry room, so I could get the last bedroom ready. Wednesday morning I went over to Mom's after taking Ev and Meg to school and Nate to educational therapy.

Mom was happy for me to move things out. She carried a few light items, sat on the bed to work on something, then said, "I need to go sit down." A few minutes later I heard the blood pressure monitor going. Her pressure was a little on the low side and Mom was feeling weak. She sat in Dad's red chair for the rest of the time I was there. I still had the closet to clear, but needed to go pick up Nate, drop him off for a football game, work with a student before meeting Meg at the chiropractor and picking up Ev and...well, anyway, I had to go.

Perry texted me Wednesday night that Mom wanted him to wait until Monday to start on the last bedroom. Huh? I never did really get that sorted out with Mom. Perry started on the room today. I asked Mom this morning why she had told Perry to wait until next week and she said, "Oh, I don't tell Perry. He tells me." Again...huh?

And other odd things like Mom carrying in an old, folded flag and insisting it was the flag from Dad's funeral. She wouldn't believe me that Bill had it at his house until I texted him and heard back. Okey dokey. She was also very strangely particular about who could do what. I could move things from the bedroom, but I was not allowed to move a dresser or the bed. (Lest you think Mom was worried about my back or anything, let me clarify that she was concerned I would ding the walls.)

This morning Mom was excitedly taking me from room to room, showing me what she has been working on. I commented that she must have had a burst of energy, and Mom said, "Yes, it's like being pregnant. You have good days and bad days."

There you have it.


Karis brought this shirt back from Summit for her grandma. Today is the first day ever for Mom to wear it. Wonder what she has planned?