Posts Tagged ‘aging’

The Algae Woman


In keeping with my “BLUE”mood, and as Creative Every Day’s BLUE-themed month draws to a close, I have one more item to share – a poem.  After writing  The Algae Woman, it was as if my mind cleared and the mood lifted.  Writing is indeed therapeutic.

The Algae Woman


The Algae Woman


I have become the algae woman.

I’m that person out by the pond every day

As golf carts roll by and the regulars look.

I’ve become the weird one, that woman,

You know, always out in her yard.

What the heck is she doing?


I’ll tell you what she’s doing,

Besides removing algae from the pond.

She’s wondering if she’s old.

She knows she’s the algae woman and doesn’t really care.

Isn’t that a sign of getting old? Or is it just getting careless.


She goes out first thing in the morning in her nightgown

Just to see if there’s any new water lilies.

She figures if a golfer goes by, he won’t even notice it’s a nightgown.

That’s old-person thinking, but at least she’s thinking.

Or she’s careless, or just doesn’t care.


She’s noticing that everything seems like too much trouble.

Is she just old chronologically, or emotionally, or what.

Is she slowing down, or has she chosen to slow down.

There’s a big difference.

But should she care?


Plagued with questions that shouldn’t be asked,

She’s thinking, sorting, observing, saying no thank you.


She’s snipping. Cutting notices from the paper.

Tai chi, yes, she should get back to that.

Concert, yes, she wants to see that.

Drink recipes, she wants to learn umbrella drinks.

Snip snip snip.


The stack of notices sits on the table until finally,

As always, she throws them away.

Why did she cut them out anyhow?

Everything seems like too much trouble.


She stays up until midnight,

But staying out past eight sounds awful.

She doesn’t like to drive at night, but that’s nothing new.

Last year she got lost coming home after dark

On a route she’s driven hundreds of times.

It’s just a whole lot of trouble.

Is it wisdom or age?  Maybe both.

Shooting for wisdom though.

It’s supposed to come with age.

This she cares about.

She thinks about this.


So that’s what she’s doing, that woman by the pond.

She’s pulling out algae.

She’s me.


I’m the algae woman,

But removing algae isn’t as simple as it looks.


The Surreal Conversation


More and more, phone conversations with my parents  (because if you call and Dad answers, the first thing he says is, “Pat, pick up the phone, Susan’s on the phone.” And if Mom answers, the first thing she says is, “Eddie, pick up the phone, Susan’s on the phone.”) are like Marx Brothers movies.  Yes, they feel this zany.

I spoke to my parents this afternoon on the phone.  I haven’t seen them since we got back from Thanksgiving because I’ve been sort of sick, but I have talked to them on the phone several times.  But no one remembers anything so this is how today’s conversation went.

“Susie, you’re home! How are you?”

And right away, after that beginning, I knew I couldn’t have a real conversation.  I couldn’t say, “I got home almost a week ago, remember?  And I haven’t been feeling well so I haven’t been over, but I’ve called you three times.”

So I said, “Yes, I’m home and doing fine.”

And my dad asked, “How is the house?”

And instead of saying, “What do you mean, how is the house?  The house is just like we left it and we were only gone 3 ½ days,” I said – “the house is fine.”

After a few repetitions of the above, I reminded them that Sunday was Chanukah at Wendy and Gene’s house.  My mom said, “Chanukah?” in a worried voice.  My dad said, “Chanukah!” in an excited voice.  And I said “Yes, Chanukah.  Mark will pick you up at 4:15.  Can you write that down?”

So mom headed off to find a pencil while Dad was telling her to find a pencil, and then saying she wouldn’t find a pencil, at which time Mom said she had a pencil, but no paper.  So we all laughed about that.  She got a paper.  And I said, “Write down Sunday, 4:15, ok? Chanukah.”  So she did.  So she says.  I can guarantee you she had not written it down right, or if she has, the paper migrated instantly to an unrecoverable location.

Mom asked what she could bring, bless her heart.  She doesn’t know she’s not capable of bringing anything.  So I said Wendy had everything ready, but I was going to bring something.  The talk turned to food.  I said I was going to make a squash kugel.  Then I had to repeat the words “squash” and “kugel” many times until Dad got it, because he doesn’t hear well.  A discussion of kugel ensued.  Which led to a discussion of helzel and gribenes and schmaltz.  Schmaltz is chicken fat and a necessary component of helzel, which is made by stuffing a poultry neck with a stuffing-like concoction that includes schmaltz, and then sewing the end of the neck up.

Let me tell you, helzel is delicious and probably about 5,000 calories a bite.  But as we were discussing it, I made the mistake of saying “poultry” neck (because you can use goose or duck) instead of “chicken” neck.  That took lots of clarification until dad understood I had said “poultry.”  From there we went to gribenes, which is like the kosher equivalent of pork rinds and it’s a byproduct of making schmaltz.

Then my mom said, “I have a cookbook with some recipes you could use.  Let me get it.” And she did! She read me the recipe for knishes, and then said should she read another? I didn’t bother saying that I could not write down the recipe as quickly as she read it, and I wasn’t making knishes, I was making kugel, and at any rate I had it all on the computer.  I said, “Thanks Mom, but that’s enough.  Just the knishes.”

Somehow we concluded the conversation with another reminder about Sunday.


  • I called my sister right away to tell her I’d just had a strange conversation with mom and dad and realized that from now on, I’ll just make up answers to whatever they ask.  And Cris said that she had told them several times during the week that I was home but sick, which always produces a stricken “Oh, no, is she all right?” Well, no, I was sick but it was minor and not life-threatening although from my dad’s reactions, any illness is life-threatening and the entire fabric of the family could fall apart.
  • Then Cris said she had found a note at Mom and Dad’s that said “Call Cris.”  Cris suspects that that’s why Mom all of a sudden has been calling her three or four times in a row.  She probably finds the note that says “Call Cris” and calls her.  She hangs up and sees the note that says “Call Cris” so she calls her again.  You’ve just got to laugh.
  • AND Cris said that Dad said he wanted to make kugel! So could Cris get him some matzos.  She did, and you can use matzah flour in kugel but I’m not aware you can use the matzos themselves.  So maybe he’s just going to cook the matzos with eggs like we used to eat – because Dad doesn’t really cook anyway.  The whole thing is a mystery.
  • Finally, Mark and I went to an art opening at Metro Gallery tonight where we saw Wendy and Gene.  I asked again what time was Chanukah and Wendy said 6:00.  ” Oh,” I said, “I told Mom and Dad 5:00 and Mark would pick them up at 4:15, I need to tell them the correct time.”  And immediately I said, “But they won’t remember anyway so it doesn’t matter.”

But you know what?  I have to tell them because this will be one of those inexplicable times where they get it right and do remember and expect Mark to be there at 4:15.  So I guess we’d better have the whole conversation again tomorrow.  It’s possible we’ll have the exact same conversation again tomorrow.  Whatever it is, I’ll just make it up as I go.

Aging: When a Home becomes a House


We talk about houses becoming homes: a house is just a building until the people that occupy it bring it to life.  It becomes a home.  The structure is alive with activity, its inhabitants laugh, cry, learn, and grow.  They eat and sleep, and they decorate.  The house is festooned with bits and pieces of its owners:  kids draw on walls, put keepsakes on bulletin boards,  measure themselves on a wall or door jamb near the kitchen; parents put magnets on the frig, pin up their kid’s artwork, add mementos, posters, paintings, and other decor.  Everything that adorns the house tells a story about making that house a home, making the memories.  However, the objects tell the stories only as long as the inhabitants can interpret.  What we don’t now know about my parent’s home, we aren’t likely to learn.

My parent’s home is becoming a house again.  Dad is 91 and while his short-term memory is starting to fail him, he’s articulate and mentally with it.  My mom on the other hand is 86 and her memory has ceased to function.  Mom is a shell of her former self and her home is a shell for her.   My parents have been married 67 years and are very much in love still, but mom isn’t the same companion, the same woman who just a month ago would sit on the sofa with dad holding hands.  So my dad’s home is taking on the identity of a house, simply a structure, also.

Mom doesn’t do any of the activities that keep a home functioning anymore.  Dad knows that.  But so much worse than losing the care that makes this house a home, his wife, the woman who kept the home functioning, is slipping away from him.  And as Dad’s memory slips away, so too do the stories that animate the objects.  Everything slips away from us, the children.  The stories we forget can’t be retrieved. The family history that isn’t already recorded is lost.

The process that robs the house of life is mystifying, upsetting and poignant.   People are starting to slip away.  Just today my mom wondered who that cute little boy Jackson was.   Jackson is one of my grandkids – he lives in Colorado, but he is talked about unceasingly in my parent’s household.  Why? Because my father thinks Jackson is the most remarkable child who ever lived.  Which elicits another “why?”  Because when Jackson was barely two years old, he ran up to my dad, hugged him, and said, “I love you, Grandpa.”  Mom doesn’t know Jackson anymore.  She won’t know Cooper soon, or Annabelle, or my daughter Karen. When she looks at the pictures on the frig she wonders who those cute little children belong to.

It’s funny, isn’t it? That is comes to this?

Mom can’t learn anything, and familiar tasks are quickly becoming unfamiliar. Cooking no longer happens.  My dad, who surprisingly has never operated anything in the kitchen, has tried to help in small ways.  For example, he wanted stew and laid out the ingredients on the counter – meat, carrots, onions. But Mom had no idea what to do with them.  She tries and says she’ll try harder, but she’s losing the concept of trying even.

You find out things you never knew as the home devolves.  I never saw my dad cooking, but it never occurred to me that he couldn’t – or never had.  One of my sisters remembers, in retrospect, that whenever Mom went anywhere out of town, she left food in the frig with labels – “Friday dinner, heat for 30 minutes at 350.”  I never saw him operating the washing machine but I didn’t realize that he couldn’t.  He’s lost in the household without Mom and he realizes it’s too late for him to learn.  He’s in that tricky stage when he knows he’s not remembering and learning – and watches Mom, seeing what may be in store for him.

So my sister who lives in Alaska is here for a week to see for herself the deterioration that has occurred since her last visit at Thanksgiving. She, my sister here in Bakersfield, my brother and I will talk.  There’s nothing we can do at present, but we want to talk and make sure we are all agreed.

My parents have always been adamant that no one will be in their house – there will be no live-ins, no home health, no assistance.  And at this stage, until Mom begins to wander, they do have to stay in their home, or the remnants of their home.  Moving to any type of facility is certain death – Mom is existing solely on patterns and familiarity, the little bit that she still has.  So we have to make sure the house is stocked with food they don’t need to cook.  Nuts, fruit, bread, crackers, peanut butter, milk, cereal, tuna.   We have to evaluate how important bathing is.  Things like that.  And all the while we watch the home slip away.

All of a sudden I realize I need to bring this to a close.  It’s getting a little too close to…to home.  I have to fight to maintain  perspective. I have to remember the long, full, vital lives that built the home.  And I have to remember that while the home slowly returns to the objectivity of a house, a building, a structure, it still lives within us – the children, the grandchildren, the great-grandchildren.

Best of Blog ’09 – Catching Up- Life Changes in a Flash


I’ve missed writing about Challenge, Best Place, Album of the Year, New Food, Change to Place I Live, Rush, Best Packaging, Tea of the Year, Word or Phrase, and Shop.  Why so many?

We were on a cruise to the Mexican Riviera, all going well, when we got an email from my sister saying “sad news,” and then in the body that my uncle had died.  He’s my dad’s only surviving sibling – but my dad is 91 so what can you say?  But then came an email saying “critical, not dead.”  My mom, whose short-term memory is gone, mixed up the message and told my dad his brother was dead.  Then another the next day – my mom had broken her elbow and wrist after slipping in the rain.  She’s 86.

All in a matter of a few days – and dealing with my mom and the fall, my sister and I realized irrevocably that the next step in my parents care had arrived.  We needed someone in the home with them at least four hours a day, at least five days a week.

All I’ll say about that is how do you get someone when your parents keep forgetting they’ve agreed to it?  Is it possible to preserve their dignity?  All I know is that my sister and I need relief or we’re going to crack.  So that’s what’s kept me from doing the Best of Blog, and I’ve missed writing.  Today, the 18th, is the first time I’ve been able to sit down and think.

Challenge I’m in the midst of the challenge of the year right now, dealing with aging parents.  Stubborn, aging parents.  I hope I remember that I’m conditioning myself to be fine with help, fine with anything.  I’ve told my kids I want them to visit me regularly when I’m old but please, don’t get involved with my day-to-day care, errands, cooking, shopping, etc.  Get someone to do this.  Have me live in a place that takes care of things.  The burden my parents have placed on us kids by not even considering they would get old is just about too much.  I’m trying to face the challenge with grace and patience, but it isn’t easy.  My son-in-law’s grandma was hospitalized in this same time period with congestive heart failure, is home now, and on seven meds.  Her daughter, my husband’s mom, says when it’s her turn, just push her out the second story window.  I must tell her that it’ll have to be higher than the second story!  This challenge will be ongoing.

For a sampling of what this is like – before it got as bad as it is now – I have a story posted about my parents which is also recorded for our local public radio station.

Best Place Am I allowed to say my bed, with my wonderful latex mattress, my own pillows and my Chinese silk comforter?  That’s about my best place, besides my bathtub with bubbles.  We didn’t travel much this year so I have no new best places.  It seems like comfort is high on the list, though.  So I’m going to list two things besides my bed and my bathtub.  One is our cabin in Alta Sierra.  I go as much as I can, often alone, and work up there on my art.  I write, sit, watch the blue jays, walk, let my mind go.  I enjoy the silence.  I never even put my iPod on the iHome because I don’t want to break the silence.  My other best place is my studio at home.  We converted the grandkid’s playroom to a studio and I love to be in there working.  My best places are all close to home.

Album of the Year No brainer.  For Your Entertainment by Adam Lambert.  It would be my best album of the year even if it wasn’t any good because I am a glambert, or grambert, through and through.  But it IS good; in fact, it’s fantastic.  Adam’s voice is the most amazing instrument with such a preternatural range.  I love listening to him.  The album itself has so many types of songs on it that it can’t be confined to type.  Just buy it, listen, you will be amazed AND you will be entertained.

New Food This really isn’t a new food, but I’m in the midst of a duck craze.  One of our local restaurants, Valentiens, cooks duck to die for.  I’ll go soon again.  When will I be out of my duck rut?  Who knows.  I love it.

Change to the Place I Live This is so easy!  We have an entire room in our house that we use as a playroom for the grandkids.  They’re getting older now, and the young ones live in Colorado.  I’ve been itching for a studio – so we made the room a studio!  Wow.  An easel, paints, photos, a paper cutter, all my stuff, everything I need.  It’s a new life.

Best Packaging and Tea of the Year I have no idea.

Best Rush I think it is yet to come.  Monday afternoon I’m going to the Leno show and Adam Lambert is the guest!  I may actually faint for the first time in my life.  I feel positively giddy at the thought of being so close to him.  Sigh.  My kids read this and they will think their mom has gone bonkers. But I took my two oldest grandkids shopping today (15 and 14) and someone thought I was their mother, not grandma!  So maybe I can get by with semi-bonkers.

Word or Phrase I’m more interesting in banishing words and phrases than adding them because so many redundancies emerge.  But I will say this – I love the vocabulary that is Twitter – tweets, tweeps, tweet-ups – perhaps because I love Twitter!  I hear that 5% of Twitter users account for 75% of tweets.  Can that be so?

Shop I’d love to be clever about this and tell about my wonderful discovery, but I can’t because the best shop is and will always be Trader Joes.  Trader Joes fans out there?  Here’s a story.  A couple of years ago, my husband, a friend and I were sitting in a church in Rome waiting for an opera concert to begin.  Yes, in Italy.  We were talking and one of us mentioned Trader Joes.  The woman in front of us turned and said, “Did you say Trader Joes?  I love Trader Joes!”  We then discussed our love of Costco, I would add Target and Cost Plus World Market.  That does it for me.

I don’t think I’m interested in being a ground-breaker right now in terms of discovering new things.  I’d like to stabilize my life first is all.  Somehow, I don’t think it’s going to happen, so that brings me right back to the first topic – Challenge.  The challenge is to meet the daily changes that keep coming and coming at me (at us all) with grace and patience.  The challenge is to find the good and the fun and make the most of everything.  After all, the fact that so many things are hitting me at once right now – not-so-good things, must in itself be good.  Because if I didn’t have a large, loving family and people I cared about, I also wouldn’t have the challenges.  I’d be sitting in a sterile, controlled vacuum and it would be boring.

Life is anything but boring.  I’m not knocking boring.  I’d love to experience it for a day or two or maybe even three.  But not for long.

Best of Blog: What book touched you? Annie Dillard’s The Maytrees and Dexter Filkin’s The Forever War


Question for December 4 is What book- fiction or non – touched you? Where were you when you read it?  I need to talk about two: Annie Dillard’s The Maytrees and Dexter Filkins’ The Forever War.

maytrees annie dillard

If the measure of whether a book touched you or not is how many of the quotes you remember, the work of fiction that has stayed with me is The Maytrees by Annie Dillard.  When I was a seventh-grade language arts teacher, I’d tell my students that what we take from a book depends upon our life experiences.  A book read ten years ago can be a whole new book on the next reading depending upon the happenings in our lives, the knowledge we’ve acquired.  So I have to say that aging must have been heavy on my mind last year.  I think I have that worked out mostly,  but it doesn’t mean that books and articles that touch upon aging won’t resonate more than others.

The Maytrees was one of the first books of the year for me, and at first, I didn’t even like it.  I’d never read Dillard – not even Pilgrim at Tinker’s Creek. Dillard’s prose is spare, but as I became accustomed to it, the book began to speak to me.  It builds slowly with characters that seem like a motley bunch and made me question, could there possibly be this many quirky people in one small community?  As I searched my own experience I realized the answer was yes, there could.  Many of us could string together events in the lives of neighbors and friends and decide it has to be fiction because these lives couldn’t be so complicated, messy or strange – but they are.  And The Maytrees, set in Cape Cod I think, or at least a very small similar sea-town that would attract artists and summer vacationers, and perhaps the more eccentric who live year-round, gives us an ultimately believable cast of characters.  Characters who, when you strip the quirks away, are just people after all.

I’m just going to put in a few of the quotes that struck me – probably because of where I am in life.

“Their summer friends in particular harvested facts row on row from newspapers like mice on corncobs.”  This sentence made me remember how good I am at Trivial Pursuit with all these miscellaneous facts taking up storage space in my brain.  How do we get through life without accumulating knowledge we won’t need, or more important, how will we know what knowledge we will need when we are assaulted on all fronts every single day with more information than any one person can process? It’s so easy to get caught up without stopping to think – is this how I want to spend my day? Do I really want to read this article? Watch this newscast? Or should I just take a walk and let everything settle?

And this one: “How constantly, Lou thought, old people claim to have been once young.  It is as if they don’t believe it. ..that old people were old never jarred her, but it shook the daylights out of them.”   Watching my parents and intimately aware of my own thought processes and the position aging has in our society, this sentence made me realize (oh, I already knew it but this brought it into focus) how much time I spend in mild distress at getting older.  I think old age does shake the daylights out of the elderly because every day is a challenge and getting dressed can be an act of courage.  I think we still feel the same inside but our outsides won’t cooperate so in a way we don’t believe we were ever young. And that nicely transitions to the next quote.

“The tragedy of age, Jane said, is not that one is old but that one is young.”  This is profound.  At 63, I still feel like that 18-year-old setting forth on my own, my thoughts are youthful (not the same as immature I hope), I AM young.  But my body betrays me and the disconnect leads to Dillard’s “tragedy of age.”

One last quote from this book.  I’ve thought about this constantly throughout the year.  How many times a day do we say, “I don’t have enough time.”  “I can’t do that, there isn’t enough time.” “I wish I had more time!” This quote about the main character Lou: “Everyone envied her the time she had, not noticing that they had equal time.”

Powerful, huh?  In its simplicity.  Why has this stuck with me? Because we all DO have the same amount of time: 24 hours in a day.  It’s how we use it that matters.  We make choices.  Life is about choices.  If we need more time, we should evaluate how we spend our time.  Simplify.  Discard the time-wasters.  Of course doing that takes the time to think about it, and thinking time is the hardest of all to get.  I frequently told my students that time for thought was not appreciated in our society.  Say you’re at work, sitting at your desk staring into space, and your boss walks by.  S/he asks what you’re doing, and you say “thinking.” How does that go over? Not well.  We’re industrious Americans and should be churning out whatever it is we churn out.

The Maytrees isn’t a great book but it comes close.  At least for me, at this particular time in my life, it came close.  I sure remember it.

the forever war dexter_filkins3

BUT WAIT – there’s more.  I have to include a non-fiction book too.  I know that everyone reading this blog is a thinking person or you wouldn’t be here. You owe it to yourself and to our soldiers to read this eminently readable work of non-fiction by reporter Dexter Filkins.  He was stationed in Iraq – I don’t remember for how long, but over a year I believe – and the way he narrates his experiences takes you somewhere you really, truly don’t want to go.  But you have to go there because thousands of our troops go there in this forever war, and this makes crystal clear why they are not coming home as whole people.  Sometimes literally if they make it home at all.

Read this book and you will “get it.” You’ll have to take this on faith because I can’t communicate like he does about the real hell war is, especially an undefinable war started on false pretenses.  And the complete impossibility of comprehending life and war in an Arab country. I lived in an Arab country for two years so have a foot up, but anyone who doesn’t have first-hand knowledge can come as close as possible with this book.

If you are intrigued, read Desert Queen, a book about Gertrude Bell, and you’ll get the whole thing.

Tiny adendum – I really enjoyed a book called Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives, and The Wild Things by genius Dave Eggers is pretty profound on many levels.  And a great kids book that may  not really be for kids is Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book.  All three easy reading but requiring much thought.  You’re lucky the battery on my kindle is dead, or I’d go on forever!

sum GraveyardBook