Sunday, May 30, 2010

You Always Need a Place to Start

My mother loved to cook. She could make a feast fit for a king out of nothing. Mom worked as a cook on a ranch for several summers from 1977 through the early 1980's. She cooked for John Medearis and his family (4 sons 16-25)and usually a hired hand or two.

I had come for a visit during her second summer. We were just finishing lunch. Johnny was in his early twenties and was grumbling about eating to much. My mother smiled and told him he could leave the table whenever he chose. He just had to push away from the table.

I remember this good looking slender young man looking very anguished at her comment. Finally, he responded, "I dieted all winter to loose the weight I gained last summer."

Mom just laughed. It thrilled my mom that these hard working young men gained so much weight eating her cooking. They were never late to a meal! The times I visited the ranch, the boys would usually come in a little early hoping to get a head start on the meal before the others got there.

Mom had a collection of recipes and a few treasured cookbooks. Watching Mom cook - she would add some of this and some of that. I remember asking her why she needed a cookbook when she never followed the recipe. She looked puzzled that I didn't know. Patiently explaining "You always need a place to start."

I treasure the recipes that are in her handwriting and the little notes she would sometimes jot down. In some of the cookbooks she had glued recipes she found elsewhere and liked and made comments about other things that were happening. For a Christmas Present I scanned the recipes Rita and I have, and then retyped them and made copies for all the grandchildren.

Cookbooks are great sources of family and cultural history. Imagine my delight when I found a link online to "Feeding America: The Historic American Cookbook Project". This collection has also been added to the Library of Congress site.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

What I Learned Caring for My Mother

Today would have been my Mother's birthday. I have been reflecting on her life and my family. As with many reflections I can see and understand things better in hindsight than I did in the moment. Perhaps it is because I gained more tools from the actual experience for dealing with daily life.

Care-Giving has been a complex part of my life. It has been diverse and individual as there were people we interacted with. There is no right way nor is there an easy way to take care of someone experiencing Alzheimer's Disease. It is stressful for all concerned. My younger sister was a great strength to me as we dealt with how Alzheimer's affected our Mother.

I think that a crisis brings up old unfinished business between family members. It acts to bring things to the surface. Things we have been stuffing most of our life. Unfortunately most of us struggle with the resurfacing of painful memories and issues when we least know how to deal with them. We often don't know how to mend the cracked places. In some cases the fissures widen as our world rocks from the shocks of our personal earthquakes and only rubble remains when the aftershocks settle.

"An earthquake is caused by a sudden slip on a fault. Stresses in the earth's outer layer push the sides of the fault together. Stress builds up and the rocks slips suddenly, releasing energy in waves that travel through the rock to cause the shaking that we feel during an earthquake." Earthquake Facts

The stresses in our individual lives and the stresses as a family rub against each other until things open up releasing energy that rocks our world. In biology stress refers to the consequence of the failure of an organism – human or animal – to respond appropriately to emotional or physical threats, whether actual or imagined.

What Causes Earthquakes
"Parts of the San Andreas fault system adapt to this movement by constant "creep" resulting in many tiny shocks and a few moderate earth tremors. In other areas where creep is NOT constant, strain can build up for hundreds of years, producing great earthquakes when it finally releases."

Yesterday I was telling my husband about experiences with my older two sisters and how I viewed their treatment of our Mother. Those family connections had been broken and severed for many years. And with Mom's death became final.

As I look at lessons learned, I have tried to use this insight in a positive way with the extended family that is a part of my life now. Like others before me and others who will follow me, it is a work in progress.

What I learned from my Mother was no matter what, she loved all her children and she mourned that her relationship with some of her children was estranged. Naomi Feil said people with Alzheimer type dementia who are in the final stage of life, are trying to resolve unfinished issues in order to die in peace. In the workshop I attended she encouraged us to start at this moment to take care of any unfinished business in our own lives.

I have learned that sometimes our relationships require us to make a decision. Are we going to work on changing the dynamics of the relationship with the hope of making it better, or are we going to move on?

Friday, May 21, 2010

Legacy Project - Across Generations

The Legacy Project has three banner programs: Across Generations, Life Dreams, and Our World. The Across Generations is a project that explores the connections with others. It encourages closer relationships between generations. They strive to examine ways to celebrate the special relationships that can be forged between young and old. The goal is to develop closer relationships between generations of family and community.

The center piece book for Across Generations is the book "A Little Something" (Softcover edition is titled "Something to Remember Me By"). the website has many free articles and activities. They also list available workshops as well as other support materials.

The Legacy Project has an annual contest"Listen to a Life Essay Contest". The next contest starts September 2010. Go online and read some of the winning essays from past contests. I am really excited about this program.

Something to Remember Me By : [An Illustrated Story for Young and Old

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Finding Unclaimed Money

I have always enjoyed treasure hunts even when I don't find the treasure. This morning my husband and I were watching Good Morning America. One of the segments was on Unclaimed Money. These are the five sites they recommended checking. I didn't find any money but I knew several people who were listed. (pension)

Happy hunting.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Favorite Kitchen Tools

Cutting up food for another person can sometimes take longer than the other person wants. Getting the pieces small enough, similar size and doing it consistently. Then I discovered a tool that is in most kitchens. The pizza cutter. I used the pizza cutter to cut pancakes, waffles, some vegetables, hamburger patties and jello jigglers.

I shared this tool with Mom's daily caregivers, they all loved it. My favorite pizza cutter was a promotional gift, it has a hand guard and is completely plastic and comes apart for washing.

I always tried to have colorful place mats for Mom's meals. She loved bright colors. Many of them had different textures that she enjoyed touching. It also helped with clean up.

The stick immersion blender is great for making smoothies and blending soups. When Mom lived with me I used it daily, in fact I had two of them.

I always made sure that Mom had snacks several times a day. jello jigglers, raisins, baby carrots cut up, pieces of cheese, summer sausage. I looked for protein finger foods.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Loving What Is

The title of Byron Katie’s book resonated with me on so many levels. When my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s I was devastated. All of a sudden I was responsible for taking care of the one person I had leaned on all my life. She had always been my greatest supporter. Now I was responsible for Mother’s well being. Providing for her and if possible finding a way that she could still experience happiness and joy in her life. I was committed to caring for her as I grieved for the loss of the articulate expressive woman I knew.

I missed the woman she was, I missed being able to call her for advise. Throughout all the changes she kept her sense of humor and her loving spirit. She touched countless people. Strangers would stop us in the stores. Many would recount their own stories. Many just wanted to give her a hug.

I know when I was caring for Mom I was often functioning at survival mode. I did not know how to achieve more. Some days it was all I could do just to get through the day. It is during these times that you need to take extra care of yourself. It means finding a way to get the needed respite so that you can continue to care for your loved one. Finding time to sooth and restore your energy and refresh your soul isn’t just a luxury. It is critical for both your own well being and the well being of your loved one.

It is also during these vulnerable times that family dynamics usually take center stage to play out. Sometimes taking care of yourself and your loved one also means addressing the past and the unfinished business of family relationships. Families in crisis often need to work through painful family issues and memories. These memories and feelings frequently resurface during times of crisis.

We have stuffed our feelings and memories so long that we are surprised when they erupt in our face. We often are at a loss of how to resolve these issues of anger, resentment, feelings of rejection, competition and jealousy.

Byron Katie’s book “Loving What Is: Four Questions that Can Change Your Life” has some thoughtful suggestions for exploring personal issues and stories. There is never a convenient time to examine the feelings we have stuffed. If we leave these issues unresolved, family crisis’s often result in bigger rifts and greater pain for all involved.

Friday, May 7, 2010


Mother's Day is fast approaching. I think about my step children - this is a difficult day for them. They lost their Mom two months after I lost my Mom. I was so much luckier. I was in my fifties and my stepdaughter was 17. I don't think it matters how old you are the pain is still there and you feel cheated that the time has been all used up.

I was very close to my mother and still miss her so much. I miss her laughter, her courage and her love. There are still times, I don't want to be the adult, I just really want my Mom.

Writing helps me reconnect with my memories and helps me see where I am. It helps me heal. As I think back on past Mother's Days - I remember flowers, lavender soap, Baskin Robbins Ice Cream Cake. Feeding the ducks at the local park. Most of all I remember the laughter.