Living naturally

Every once in a while I have to stop and think about how grateful I am that I was raised in a household that wasn’t guided solely by the medical community, and recent events have made me even more appreciative. I realize how fortunate I am that I do not have to adhere to the generally held beliefs and fears that prevail in today’s society about healthcare.

I suppose I see the world through a different ‘lens,’ and one that others find hard to see through because of their upbringing. A lens that advocates for clean, healthy eating and living, but other than that, assumes that the body will fix itself…or it will not. Sometimes, the best ‘remedy’ is to intelligently do nothing. Rest/sleep, water, fasting and sunshine can do a lot to promote health. And they don’t cost a thing.

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Dementia and hallucinations

I saw a question on a favorite caregiving site about how to handle a loved one who claims to be seeing dead people.

If you are not familiar with the practice, don’t laugh, because people with dementia – especially the Lewy Body type, see strange things all the time. Once, my mother swore there were spiders or bugs all over the ceiling, and another time she recounted the conversation she had with her mother, who passed away in 1948.

She also erroneously claims that she just washed her hair, or took a shower, ate a huge meal, or walked uptown. So the issue is not whether or not what they say is real, it’s your reaction to what they say that is in question.

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Coffee and tea may cause arthritic-like pain.

Back in October 2012, I hurt my left knee prying myself out of the bucket seat of my car just once too often. I should have moved the seat back rather than twist my leg to get out, but as they say, that’s Monday morning quarterback.

As the days and weeks and months went by, the pain grew worse despite visits to the chiropractor and daily doses of Advil, which I hated taking. I got some relief from the Velvet Antler supplement my friend recommended, but the stiffness persisted to the point where I resolved I’d just have to live with it.

I have a hard time going down stairs, can’t kneel under any circumstance, and am unable to walk for more than a half-mile without suffering for it later. 

That is until now. Today. Three and a half years later. What has changed? I find this hard to believe, but I’ll tell you, and I promise, every word is true.

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Photos and special memories

The hairs on my arm stood on end. Tears began to form and I struggled to keep them at bay.

It started, as most days did, with my mother calling me “Mother.”

I laughed. “Good morning, Mama. But I’m Hillary – not your mother.”

“Oh, yes. I know. I don’t know why I always call you Mother in the morning.”

“It’s O.K. You smile when you say it.” I grinned at her and she grinned back. It was going to be a good day.

More and more she was becoming like a sweet child. Always wanting to do her best, asking at the end of the day if she was a good girl, embarrassed if she made a mistake, or spilled something or forgot things. And when she couldn’t get the words out, I’d just shrug it off and say, oh, we’re both tired – you’ll remember what you wanted to say in the morning. Then I’d yawn, more for her sake than my own, and wish her a good night and sweet dreams.

After washing and dressing, she sat at the table as I made breakfast. “Oh, this orange juice is soooo good!” Breakfast is her favorite meal, and I just love making it for her because she always finishes everything on her plate, and shows visible and audible enjoyment. “Mmmmm. You have cooked my eggs perfectly!”

Never mind that for almost every single day of the four years she has lived with me I have made the exact same food for her: a glass of freshly squeezed OJ, a cup of real English tea with milk and a teaspoon of sugar, two fried eggs cooked in coconut oil lightly dusted with Himalayan pink salt, two sausages, three halved cherry tomatoes, a slice of sharp cheddar cheese and a piece of gluten-free bread with butter. I don’t know where she puts it all, but she maintains a steady 125 pounds on her 5-foot-1-inch frame. Occasionally, I try another menu, but she always misses the standard one, and if she misses breakfast for some reason, she always asks for it at lunchtime.

Because she continued to ask about the relationship between us, I told her that I was her baby, but all grown up with gray hair. She squinted a little as she said, “You’re my mother, right? And when you died, you got married again.”

“No. I’m alive. And your mother is in heaven with her mother, and her mother’s mother, and her mother’s mother’s mother. And one day, you and I will be there, too.”

“Do you believe that?” she asked earnestly.

“I do,” I replied honestly.  Some religions believe that we keep coming back to life again and again, and there were certainly times I thought that maybe we were sisters, but now we’re mother and daughter, but I wasn’t going to get into that with her.

“It’s so confusing!” she insisted

I was beginning to see that the discussion was not getting anywhere fast. “Hold on, let me show you.” I went to her bedroom and took a photo of the two of us at my graduation. “That’s you and that’s me.”

“I didn’t know you graduated from college. Where did you go?” Mother always thought that a degree was the key to all riches in life.

“Rutgers.” I could see that she was very pleased. She continued to tuck into her breakfast with a satisfied look on her face.

“We’ll have to start looking at all the pictures Daddy took. It’ll be fun!”

“Mmmmmm,” she responded, and I didn’t know if she was commenting on the photos or the food she was enjoying.

I took the opportunity to go out to the garage to look through a huge black steamer trunk full of my father’s photography. We had just retrieved it from a storage unit, and my ‘to-do’ for the day was to get everything inside the house. I opened the lid and stared blankly at the contents. There were over a dozen reels of 8mm movie film, a huge box of negatives, and thousands of 35mm slides in carousels, yellow boxes from the developer and loose in a large flat tray. It would take forever to go through them! I sighed and grabbed the tray of slides and small boxes.

Mom was still eating. She savors her food and takes a while to finish. She’s learned that I can’t just sit at the table with her and do nothing, so I get up and down, do the dishes or sort through mail. I plopped the box of photos on my chair and thought of my father.

Dad was a shutterbug extraordinaire. One of my earliest memories is of the day when I wore a dress with polka dots on it which had a little matching doll. He sat me on a high chair in front of a white screen and, with his camera on a tripod, took dozens of pictures of me. I felt like a fashion model as he turned me this way and that, sometimes smiling, sometimes serious, looking up, looking down. And then we did magic! He transformed our bathroom into a dark room. The light was replaced with a red bulb and he put an enlarger on a board over the sink. Of course, I didn’t know what all the things were, but I’ll never forget the smell of the developing medium, or how the images suddenly appeared as he held the photo papers with big tweezers and dragged them through trays of solution he had placed in the bathtub. “Now watch,” he instructed. Dad was the most patient person I have ever known, and delighted in showing me how things worked.

Suddenly, and very slowly, the image took form. It really was magic! “We have to take them out at just the right time – not too soon and not too late.

“I think it’s ready!” I said, with a child’s exuberance.

“Just a moment more.” He sloshed more liquid over the picture. “There now. That’s perfect.” He hung the photos up with clothespins on a line to dry, and only then could we open the door to show Mom.

I digress. The boxes of photographs in the trunk were in no special order and were marked, ‘Virginia 1963,’ ‘Christmas 1954’, ‘Germany’, ‘Andrea’s Graduation 1973,’ ‘Sailing with Scott and Chris 1980’ and memories flitted by as I handled them. Then I fished out one slide from the thousands to hold up to the light. What I saw made my heart skip a beat.

It was a photo of my mother and me at my graduation. It was the exact photo I had just shown my mother in the frame that very morning!

Now, I certainly can’t prove it, but I truly believe, in the core of my being, that my father was right there with me – with us. I mean, what are the odds? The trunk just got to my house a few days ago; I put the task to bring them into the house on my to-do list just last night for today; I probably wouldn’t have started till later in the day, but the conversation with my mother compelled me to do it early; and though the framed photograph has been in her room for years (along with others), I chose that one to show Mom rather than one of me as a baby.

I had to leave the room and sit by myself for a moment. The tears rolled down my face. The emotions I felt were inexplicable, but I have experienced this kind of serendipity before, and it has convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that there are moments when our loved ones who have departed are communicating in the only ways they can. And if we listen, we can hear them.


Pick your battles

I wrote this blog a few years ago during the last election when my mother was still alive. I’m reblogging it because it fits in perfectly with the ‘Growing up in the 1950s’ series I’ve begun on my other site, as well as what I feel about our current media and it’s effect on our society and our personal harmony.

I was talking to my sister Andrea yesterday about the election and what’s going on in the world. She’s been fortunate enough to live in a number of enviable places, including Europe, on a boat in the Caribbean, and now in an RV in the Pacific Northwest. Each of these locations limited her access to a lot of the TV shows and news reports (with the exception, perhaps, of the PBS News Hour), but she’s somehow always managed to keep on top of the important stuff.

Even though I’ve been firmly rooted in Central New Jersey, surrounded by hundreds of TV stations and unlimited access to the internet, I, too, have always tried to be really selective about what what I put into my head. I prefer not to hear about murders and mayhem, so I get my information from PBS, NPR, and W-QXR, our classical music radio station that broadcasts from New York (but with an app, can be heard from anywhere). I figure that if it’s important enough for them to report on a topic, it merits some attention. Then I go to other sources to educate myself further.

Neither of us can just passively swallow the news, no matter where it comes from.


Dad & Me

Perhaps it all stems from the fact that our Dad was in advertising, and was very aware of the subliminal messages that were coming across the airwaves in the 1950’s. He made this little box with a wire to the TV, and whenever a commercial came on, we’d push a button to mute the sound, or ‘blab-off,’ which was what we called the gizmo. I can’t remember many of the jingles from that time frame because I just never heard them.


Dad & Andrea 1956

Once in a while Andrea and I would sneak and listen to an advert, and it was as if we were doing something deliciously naughty. That’s the only reason I’m able to sing the Alka-Seltzer or Winston jingles, two products that were ‘verboten’ in our household. Doublemint, Chevrolet, and Brylcreem (‘a little dab’ll do ya’) were OK. We were safe with those products and wouldn’t be tempted buy them because we had a Mercury, Dad used Vitalis (no greasy kid-stuff for him!), and ladies didn’t chew gum in public.

Do people today realize that even if they are not actively listening to advertisements when the TV is only on ‘in the background,’ that the messages are invading their subconscious?  I am disgusted by all the pharmaceutical commercials that accompany evening television – advertisements that claim to ward off some of the ‘so-called’ unavoidable pitfalls of aging. My sister was lucky that she never really had to listen to all this!

We are bombarded with the promise of cures, tonics and creams for maladies ranging from wrinkles and osteoporosis to low-T and leaky bladder. We are exposed to topics that would never be discussed at the dinner table, and which are invited into our living rooms and given the best seat in the house! OB, ED, COPD, DM, AD, GAD, GERD, IBS, UTI – Do you understand these acronyms because I’m not going to spell them out for you. Depends won’t show, take the red pill, the little purple pill – but not together. And don’t call in the morning, unless the drug you took for anxiety makes you more anxious and maybe even suicidal, and one of the side effects might even be death and remember…we warned you about all this in that sweet-sounding voice when we showed you the couple watching the beautiful sunset with the lovely music in the background.  Sure, it sometimes made you laugh, but that was the whole purpose.

I can actually remember the day that we got our first television. It was delivered and promptly set up in the center of the living room, although there wasn’t much to watch in the afternoon. Turn the dial and almost every channel had a pattern with an awful sound accompanying it. I think I was mesmerized by Crusader Rabbit. The 17” portable Philco TV was a ‘freebie’ when you purchased a freezer. I recognized it from the ad on the Internet; it had that foldaway antennae. $599 seems a pretty steep price for 1956, especially when you consider that you can buy a comparable freezer today at Costco for about $179, and an even larger TV for less than the $159.95 shown here (and in color, too).

My grandparents probably had the very first TV in the neighborhood, and everyone came to their house on Friday nights to watch the wrestling matches from Madison Square Garden. The kids in the family (there were so many of us) got to munch on pretzels and drink orange or grape ‘pop,’ but the coke and ginger ale was for the grownups so they could add stuff to it. Funny how you don’t remember things, but then you see photos, and it all comes back to you. ‘Gorgeous George’ was the big thing (wrestler) back then, and I actually do remember seeing his blonde curly hair being shaved off on March 12, 1959 after he lost a match. I was about eight.

I digress. I was going to start talking about Howdy Doody and Buffalo Bob and Clarabell and Shari Lewis – but I’ll save that for another time and another conversation. (Reminiscing about the past is such fun!)

The point that I’m trying to make is that we need to keep vigil over what we allow into our heads, our hearts, and our bodies.

Yes, we can get upset about terrorism and the Middle East, refugees and illegal aliens, the disparity between the rich and the poor, what’s in our water supply, how the food is tainted with chemicals and that the local Board of Education wants to spend almost $20 million to upgrade the air conditioning and heating systems in seven schools. (Is that even possible?) Or, we can realize that some issues will never be solved by us and are better left to people who are more equipped to handle them than we are.

We should use our energy and emotions to try to change things that legitimately bother us and personally touch us, rather than allow the ‘discord’ of the world to invade our personal peace (space), and possibly destroy our health. We can educate ourselves about candidates and vote our conscience. We can choose to buy local and organic produce and fight for GMO labeling laws. We can be charitable to those less fortunate than ourselves. We can sign petitions that we believe are worthwhile and call our senators to take action on our behalf. And we can use the mute button on the remote.

As Mandy Hale says, “Pick your battles. You don’t have to show up for every argument you’re invited to.”

(Yay!  When I read this to Mom, she remembered some of it!!!)

Would you want to know?


Life is good, peaceful, and creative.  Mom’s been in great spirits.  I told her about Uncle Charlie living to be 104-1/2 (see Feb. 16: ‘Sixty-five today’ blog).  I actually read her the story.  She liked it very much, but she got the people all mixed up and said, “Isn’t it great that he was like me (and she made a little circle with her index finger, which is her ‘shorthand’ for dementia) when he was 60 and then he lived to be over a hundred?”  I didn’t correct her. Maybe you would have. But she started eating more and walking further after that, almost as if being ill was a ‘rite of passage’ that people had to get through to make it to advanced age. Perhaps that’s true.

I remember listening to a CD about someone’s father-in-law, who was suffering from – I don’t know – something…it doesn’t matter.  The guy said that he and his wife told the doctor that they did not want the old man to be told under ID-10044884 FreeDigitalPhotosany circumstance how long he had left to live, which at that point was not long.

So the father-in-law just went on living his life, enjoying his neighbors, his garden, and his family, unconcerned, believing that everything was fine.  Then after months (maybe it was even years, I don’t remember the story exactly) he went to the doctor’s office and it just so happened that his regular physician was on vacation.  The covering doctor didn’t know about the agreement with the daughter and son-in law, and he blurted out all the gory details.  The dear man went home, stopped washing, changing his clothes, eating, and went downhill – fast.  Too bad.  He might have enjoyed being around a little longer.

I’ve read of so many cases where people wished they hadn’t been told about their illness.  In one instance, a husband had six great months with his  dying wife, unencumbered by the ‘sword of Damocles.’ They planned, they dreamed, they created memories.  Did she suspect?  Maybe.  But she never let on.

There was another story about a 69-year-old man who had surgery for cancer and was given only two months to live.  The wife begged the doctors not to tell him because it would ruin the last bit of time they’d have together, and they reluctantly agreed.  He wound up sticking around until he was 86, and died from something entirely different.

I think my father, who passed in 1986, would probably have been one of the people who would rather not have heard the words, “Nothing can be done.”  He decided not to be a guinea pig and checked himself out of the hospital.  He literally went home, never got out of bed again, and just ‘waited for God.’ (Actually, that’s the name of a hilarious BritCom about life in the Bayview Retirement Home.)  He was gone in just six weeks.

I understand that in China, it’s quite normal to tell people they’ve only got a cold.

Then again, there are people who feel that it’s only when you know the truth that you can make plans, say your goodbyes, and burn your journals. My ex spent three years after his diagnosis doing nothing that wasn’t ‘health-related.’ Surgeries, chemo, radiation, feeling sick, more surgery, drugs, doctors’ appointments, bills, more drugs.  Sorry, not my way to go!  And as for tying up all the loose ends… he didn’t even make a will or change the beneficiary on his annuity to his children.  His second wife, who he was divorcing, got it all.  I rest my case.  May he rest in peace. (She was found dead shortly after.  I didn’t do it.)

One surgeon made a comment on the that ended, “…why rob someone of one of the most meaningful aspects of being alive in the first place?” OK, OK, everyone is entitled to their opinion but, please.  Meaningful aspects?  I gave that one a ‘thumbs down.’  I can think of a heck of a lot of ‘aspects’ of being alive that have more meaning.

I guess it’s clear which corner I’m in.  I don’t mean offend or to sound morbid when I write about death, it’s just that somewhere along the line, we’ve lost the ‘natural-ness’ of it – the naturalness of both the ending and the beginning of life.

I mean, when my children were born back in the ‘70s, obstetricians didn’t say in the delivery room, “Congratulations, you have a baby.”  They said to me (if I remember correctly), “It’s little Scottie!  You have a beautiful boy!”  Yes, I bought yellow sheets and blankets and clothes in case “he” turned out to be a “she.”  But I also bought blue and green stuff and would have no qualms about putting a girl in them.  What’s the big deal? (I’ll admit, I never bought anything pink.  Call me a chauvinist.  Macht nicht.)

By the time my second child was on the way, I was asked, “Do you want to know the sex ahead of time?” I think doctors were starting to promote the use of ultrasound at that time.  Mothers would get a photograph to tack to the fridge of the baby in utero showing the little….

“Absolutely not!  And don’t tell my husband, either!” My eyes blazed.  I was ready to do battle.  I knew my husband wouldn’t be able to keep a secret, and I didn’t want to either find out ‘by accident’ or be the last one to know.

Believe it or not, I got a lot of criticism from people.  “How can you plan unless you know if it’s a boy or a girl?”  Plan for what?  The color of the walls? Who cares that they’ll share a room for a while?  I’ll paint two walls blue and two pink…it doesn’t matter!  And if it did turn out to be the ‘wrong’ sex, what would you do?  Send it back? Put it up for adoption?  Of course not.  You’d deal with it. You’d love it.

Christopher didn’t have a name for three days because I was so sure he was going to be a girl.  I was going to use the name leftover from the last time: Kiersten.  I never thought of one for a boy.  They wouldn’t let me leave the hospital until I had one for him, or he might be nameless still.  He’s 44 now.  I don’t think it left him with any lasting damage.

So the question of the day is, “How much detail would you like to know?”  Do you think that in addition to a Living Will, or Directive to Physicians, or Do Not Resuscitate form that there should be some sort of document that people can carry around in their wallet next to their Medicare or Healthcare card?  Something that legally gives the bearer the right to remain blissfully ignorant?

As for your opinions, I do want to know.  There’s a place down below this blog (and all of them) that you can click to comment and let me know what you think – about anything.  I’d love to start a dialog and answer any questions you may have about Natural Caregiving.

Otherwise, next time I’ll tell you how much I love raw Manuka honey.

Sixty-five today

When Charlie turned 100 back in the 1970’s, I went to interview him. There I was, twenty-something, with my whole life in front of me. I’m sure he got a kick out of our meeting.  I wanted to know the secret of his longevity, and he was happy to oblige. 

He greeted me at the door with a big smile and twinkly eyes peering out from his coke-bottle-thick glasses.  His hair was snow-white, but remarkably thick, despite a bit of balding going on at the top.  He wore grey slacks, a professorial cardigan sweater, and a crisp white dress shirt. On his feet were a comfortable pair of sneakers which somehow gave him a youthful appearance, and even though he used a cane to steady himself, he did not lean on it much. Rather, he carried it along for security. 

His home was comfortably messy.  His son and daughter-in-law checked in on him every day and did errands, brought him meals and he had a lady come in once a week to clean, but Charlie was in his own house, surrounded by his life.  Photos and books and collectibles marked his passage through time, and he was blissfully unconcerned about the future. He made me a cup of coffee, and showed me the book he was writing.  It was a hand-written, looseleaf notebook, and each page was titled with a memory.  He told me that whenever he remembered something worth saying, he wrote a few lines about it. He didn’t worry about the order, or the punctuation, or if anyone would read it.  He just got it on paper, and often liked to re-read it himself.  There was a page on his school chums, about his passage from Norway as a stowaway, the day he met his future wife, building the GunderDink boat with his son – all the important parts of a man’s time on earth.  It gave him joy. 

“So!” he said emphatically.  “You want to know how I got to be this old.”  I’ll never forget his words, and he said them this way – almost verbatim:  “One, I have two oatmeal cookies for breakfast.  Two, I drink a glass of red wine with my dinner each night. Three, I enjoy a good cigar every now and then.”  Then he peered intently over his coffee mug to make sure I was paying attention.  “The last is the most important: You should never get to the top of one mountain until you see the next one you want to climb.”

I understood exactly what he meant.  When I was in school, people used to call me ‘the little mountain climber’ and ask if I was named after Sir Edmund Hillary, who made it to the top of Mt. Everest. I can’t say for certain, but it has influenced the way I look at things.  I’ve always quoted Robert Browning: “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?” I am a firm believer that challenging ourselves to achieve a goal not easily attainable is what gives us the most satisfaction.

Charlie picked up a photo to show me.  His look was somewhat wistful.  “My one son and his wife and children live close to me.  My other son died when he was only 60.” 

I mumbled that I was sorry.  I didn’t know what else to say.  To have a son die so young and to live to be 100 yourself must be particularly painful.

“He had no more mountains to climb.”  His meaning was clear, and I had my story.  

I’ll never forget that day.  And today I’ve turned 65. I am a bona fide ‘senior citizen.’ But honestly, I don’t feel it.  I don’t think about white hair (my hair is long and has been going gray since I was 40), or wrinkles (I don’t have a lot of them as I stay out of the afternoon sun and eat very little sugar). I try to get enough fresh air and sunshine and drink lots of water, but I don’t always succeed.  My gourmet cooking days are over.  I prefer whole foods to processed, plain over fancy, raw over cooked. I’d be lying if I said that I don’t miCharlie at 101ss my thirty-year old body and energy level, but I keep active taking care of my 88-year old mother and walking up and down the stairs a million times a day. 

I mostly exercise my mind. Mom always said that only boring people get bored and I know she is right. I have more projects going than there are letters in the alphabet, and that alone will keep me young for years to come! I now have the leisure to do things I couldn’t when I worked in an office in Manhattan. I just have to reel in my enthusiasm and tackle one thing at a time!

So, my prescription for a long, healthy and happy life is to heed Charlie’s advice -maybe not the cigar part, but occasionally something rich and ‘forbidden’ – get out the hole-puncher for your own looseleaf book, and wear sneakers.

Cooking from scratch

Our grocery bill has gone way down over the past year as my mother and I have narrowed our food choices substantially.  Because she doesn’t eat as much as she did before, and her mobility is more limited than it was, I now cook exclusively from “scratch.”  If you are too young to know what that means, I’ll tell you: Cooking with basic ingredients, and using nothing that is pre-prepared. It takes time, and it takes love.  And I have both.

As I write this blog, I am browning beef bones to make a simple brown stock.  The aroma is mouthwatering, and I haven’t added a thing other than heat! Using a recipe from Julia Child’s cookbook, I will add vegetables and herbs and boil it down for many hours into a ‘glace de viande’ – a syrupy, jelly-like glaze which I will freeze into cubes and use to stir into soup or sauce. Bone broth is particularly nutritious, and a good thing to have on hand when Mom is not keen on eating a real meal. I’ll mix it with a bit of rice and veggies, confident that I’m giving her a meal packed with vitamins and minerals.

When shopping, I buy organic items ninety percent of the time. Some will say that it’s not that important to do so, or that there’s hardly a difference, regardless of how the food is grown, but I believe they are wrong. I recall a study done by Rutgers University that showed that organic tomatoes contain almost 2000 trace units of iron versus only 1 (one) unit for conventionally grown tomatoes. Now, the study did not measure vitamins- it measured minerals – but many of the minerals that have been lost in our soil and are therefore missing from our produce have more importance than we have previously given them credit for.  A wonderful article in Biodynamics talks about the comparison and the interrelationships between elements and sums it up quite eloquently: small differences in nutrient levels can mean a lot.

Organic vs Conventional

I’m hitching my wagon to their train – the one which says that students perform better and have fewer absences when they eat organically, the one which quotes doctors saying that their cancer patients have more successful outcomes when their diet is improved. I can see a difference in my mother’s alertness and strength when we avoid ‘junk’ and I don’t think it’s my imagination.

I did say that my grocery bill has decreased, and it has, because I don’t buy anything I don’t need. However, I do choose the very best quality, and that’s not cheap.  My mother taught me that there’s a difference between cheap and inexpensive, and I do love to get things on sale. Yet added to that advice is what my dear grandmother told me, “What you don’t pay to the grocer, you will wind up paying to the doctor. ”  Point well taken!

I grill free-range chicken or wild salmon, or make a meatloaf or hamburger out of grass-fed chopped beef. Mom drinks organic milk and comments every time on how delicious it is. I squeeze her a glass of fresh grapefruit juice in the morning, and the taste alone is incomparable to something out of a can or bottle.  The tastiness of the food I make encourages her to eat and drink more – an important factor for the elderly.

The organic, pasture-raised eggs I give her cost more, but eggs themselves are a near-perfect food.  They have been found to contain almost everything a body could need, with the exception of Vitamin C and niacin.  Not only are whole eggs a source of complete protein (they contain a full range of amino acids), twelve vitaIn order to make an omeletmins including all the B’s plus A, D, E and K, choline, biotin and folic acid, selenium and iodine, magnesium and a lot of other stuff. They also contain the important Omega-3 fats. (And, if you’re worried about cholesterol, they have been shown to increase the amount of HDL, or “good” cholesterol.) Boil a large one for 6-1/2 minutes and you have a perfect soft-boiled egg and no pots to clean! How easy is that?

Years ago when I learned that most fat people are actually starving to death, I had a hard time getting my head around that concept. Our bodies need certain things and if we don’t get them, we will scan the horizon and consume things that don’t do us any good.  If what these studies say is true, and I believe they are, then we can get more nutrients from less of the right kind and quality of food, and the fact that Mom seems to be eating smaller portions of my ‘from scratch’ cooking should not be a concern.

She may not be filling up on breads and cakes and cereals, may not crave sweets and gooey desserts, not pig out on cookies and chips, and she’s not as ’round’ as she once was, but she has a grip of iron and an arm of steel, and I’ll bet she would win if we arm wrestled. I may challenge her just for fun.


Let us cultivate our garden.

Some days are harder than others… Today was ‘one of those days’.

Sometimes I get kind of blue. I realize the inevitable will happen one day: my mother will pass, and I’ll grieve, but Life will go on and I’ll be OK. Sometimes I feel depressed because I recognize that my mother could possibly live for another ten years, and I’ll be 75 years old and still taking care of her! Then I feel guilty because of my depression about that!

I grabbed my journal and wrote furiously for about an hour. Writing has always been my way of letting off steam, clarifying feelings, setting goals and working out conflicts. I couldn’t even tell you what I said in it other than I ultimately realized that I was living in the future, worrying about things that I don’t have to deal with today.

All I really have to do is take care of today. Be in the moment. Practice mindfulness.

Yesterday, I took a book off my library shelf that I found in my attic when I moved into my home back in 1982. It was a Literary Guild Book from December 1929 and I’ve been telling myself for over thirty years that I would read it. I finally did.

The book was Candide by Voltaire. Inside the front cover was a copy of Wings, the Literary Guild of America monthly magazine, which said that the edition was “the finest piece of book-making ever achieved in the United States.” At the time, it cost twenty dollars, which would be $276.63 today. Amazing.

Even though Wings reviewed Candide as “an established masterpiece, and the “quintessence of all the books in which wisdom, wit and malice are brought to bear upon the spectacle of human life,” to me, it was at first glance absolutely ridiculous! It was like a grown-up cartoon where no matter what you do to the main character, he keeps popping back up.  But I kept reading.

The secondary characters are stereotypical and caricatures of the aristocracy, the clergy, Jews, Protestants, religion in general, the government, bankers – Voltaire leaves no one out! (Which is why he was imprisoned and banished several times in real life.) He makes fun of everyone, and even in the face of robbery, murder, floggings and worse, Candide recites what Pangloss, his philosopher teacher, taught him as a young boy, “All is for the best.” (If you truly believe that, I suppose you can rest easy, and though you still may suffer, your suffering will not be in vain.) Halfway through, I found I was actually enjoying the book.

The conclusion to the story sets everything right, as far as I’m concerned. When all the loose ends are tied and Candide and his troop are living quietly in the country, boredom strikes and makes them long for their days of excitement. Candide meets a farmer and his family who are living each day in perfect contentment, tending their fields. He reflects on their industry and the farmer’s prescription for freedom from boredom, vice and need. They do not pontificate, moralize or sermonize. They do not indulge in long political and religious discussions. They simply live and work, enjoy each others company and the fruit of their labor.

When he returns home Candide shares his insight. “Let us work without theorizing,” one of the characters says in response. “It is the only way to make life endurable.”

I like the translation of my edition, rather than the one I found on the internet. Mine reads: “The whole small fraternity entered into this praiseworthy plan, and each started to make use of his talents.”

Occasionally though, Pangloss starts to philosophize about how each event is linked with all the others for the best possible outcome. Candide interrupts him. “Tis well said,” said Candide, “but we must cultivate our gardens.”

I must remember that line.  It’s a good one.

Is it really that simple? To do the task before us without concern for the future, or fear of the outcome? To find certainty in the fact that we are doing all we can, the best way that we can, at this moment in time? is that the best possible world? Can Candide and Pangloss BOTH be right?

I am reminded of what Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, calls “mindfulness.” He says, “When we are mindful, deeply in touch with the present moment, our understanding of what is going on deepens, and we begin to be filled with acceptance, joy, peace and love.”

Sigh. I feel better already.

How can you sleep so much????

Is it normal for a person with dementia to sleep so much?  Is it depression? Is it illness? Should I let you stay in bed? Should I make you get up? 

These are questions I’ve asked myself now and again over the past year. I have searched the Internet to find answers from other caregivers in the same situation.

The answer, as always, is that ‘it depends.’

Mom is in late-stage Dementia with Lewy Bodies, which can possibly go on for years.  One of the earmarks of DLB is excessive sleeping, but another trademark is the on/off, up/down behavior. I just never know with Mom; she could surprise me tomorrow by staying awake all day and talking up a storm.  But today, she’s been sleeping almost non-stop for 24-hours, and even the music she loves hasn’t disturbed her or enticed her to stay awake.

One blogger I found said that Provigil helped her Dad with daytime sleepiness until this advanced stage, but even if Mom took meds (which, as a Christian Scientist, she does not), this drug would not help now. In a sense, both this blogger and I have arrived at the same place from different directions.

It’s just amazing to to me that someone who goes to bed at 7:00pm and awakens at 7:30am can take a nap directly after breakfast, get up for lunch and then want to go back to bed.  I often tell Mom she has to sit up in the living room for a while and I prop her up with pillows.  We walk around the house for exercise but after about 50-feet, she’s ready to collapse onto the couch.  If it’s cold outside, I sometimes have her sit in a chair in the vestibule so she can get a few minutes of fresh air and sunshine.  (When it was nice and warm, we’d take a ride in the car and get an ice cream or do a few errands.)

When Mom is like this, she is usually still groggy at dinnertime so I’ve found that soup is about all that I can give her. I make sure it’s homemade with good vegetables and no chemicals.  She loves milk, so if she really doesn’t want to chew and swallow, I’ll encourage her to have a bit of rice pudding or some fruit with cream or perhaps a smoothie.  The saving grace in all this is that she loves eggs and I rarely have to prompt her to eat breakfast, so she at least gets in one good meal a day!

One thing I am insistent about:  I make her drink water throughout the day.  I put a little juice or a slice of lemon or orange in the water.  Or I give her freshly squeezed grapefruit or orange juice. She’ll never say no to a cup of tea with milk and sugar, or some herbal tea for a change of pace.  Sometimes she only takes a few ounces, but that’s better than nothing. After she drinks, I make her sit up for at least ten minutes.  I once read that lying down right after consuming liquid can cause pneumonia. I think that happened to me back in the 90’s, so I’m very careful about this!

Still, I wonder. I wonder whether I am doing all I can for her.  I’ve taken her to senior care, but she doesn’t participate.  I spent a good amount of time, money and energy trying to find things she might be interested in – everything from coloring books and markers to simple word games and crossword puzzles.   I tried to interest her in knitting, crocheting, card and board games, movies on VCRs she owns and DVDs I’ve bought of things that she used to enjoy, and books-on-tape.

I’ve spent time at a local healthclub and tried to put her on an exercise bike. She can’t do that anymore, so she sits and watches me work out.  At least, I reason, she’s out of the house in the company of ‘healthy’ people who are not complaining about aches and pains all the time. In the past, I’ve dragged her in her transport wheelchair to church and events and museums, to the boardwalk and the mall and the movies, but I think I get more of a workout than she gets pleasure in attending.

Now that it’s cold outside, I have trouble getting her into the car by myself, so she doesn’t accompany me to the market – or anywhere.  I’m looking into buying groceries online and having them delivered so I don’t have to leave her at home with someone in order to pick them up. That will be one more thing removed from her life – hopefully only till the weather gets warm again.

I like what another blogger said: “Sleep is Nature’s way of dealing with the hard parts of life.” This blog is about Nature’s Way.  So I’ll lead her, encourage her, appeal to her sense of doing what’s right, and sometimes I’ll put my foot down a little…but I’ll always tell her I love her.

And I’ll let her sleep.