Fly, little bird, fly

atlI knew we were in trouble when the plane made yet another merry-go-round swoop, circling the sprawling Atlanta area, waiting for clearance to land. Flight attendants buckled into jump seats; the red warning light kept crew and passengers tethered. The kind man in the aisle seat directed the overheat vents toward my daughter, who sat, motionless, rigid, palid, gripping the armrests. The plane dipped and banked as the tiny houses below whirled in a colorful, patchwork kaleidoscope. 

I rummaged in the seat pocket and ferreted out the crumpled white bag and thrust it into action just as my daughter lurched and wretched. The plane made a final swoop, straightened, and frazzled passengers exhaled a collective sigh when the wheels finally bumped the pavement.

After the plane rolled to the gate and passengers crowded the aisles, tugging open overhead bins, a flight attendant offered up a bottle of water and dampened paper towels.  My flummoxed and abashed daughter sheepishly apologized for the disruption. The kind man in the aisle seat patted her arm, told her he had daughters of his own at home, hoped that she felt better and that her college visits would go well.

This was one of the first of many adventures my daughter and I shared when we started the exciting — yet daunting — challenge of narrowing down her long list of potential colleges. Our trip to Atlanta was flanked by visits to LA and Little Rock, Oklahoma and Louisiana.

For this mom, packing a suitcase and heading out to visit a campus was a perfect excuse for packing in another memorable trip with my soon-to-grad-high-school 544935_10201065829750800_270859203_ndaughter. I was racking up mileage and memories while she earnestly tried to picture herself in the campuses’ hallowed halls.

We dusted ourselves with white powdered beignets and bustled through the bawdy crowds on Bourbon Street. We posed under the Hollywood sign and marveled at the seaside, hilltop view in Malibu.

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We sampled street food and hailed yellow cabs in New York. We yelled Boomer Sooner and warbled “Oklahoma” as we crossed Red River to visit my mom’s alma mater.  At the campus bookstore, my daughter bought a coffee mug to cart home for her grandmother.

Together, my daughter and I trampled across the Lone Star State on long, lovely, weekend road trips. We’d pin on name badges and meet up with bouncy tour guides who rattled off college facts and pointed out campus amenities.

During The College Hunt, my daughter kept a huge whiteboard, using it to chart applications, essay deadlines, acceptance letters, and scheduled visits. She tallied tuition costs, national rankings and potential scholarship opportunities.

I was giddy to be part of The Hunt, thrilled that my serious, studious and pragmatic daughter was weighing the pros and cons of each school and not swayed by whether the football team made it to the Final 10 or if the party scene was adequate for a sheltered kid from the suburbs with strict parents who would soon dismiss curfews and make her own decisions.

I was honored to be part of The Hunt, humbled that my daughter wanted me to ride shotgun on visits as she narrowed the field. We visited small towns and big cities; Campuses touting co-ed dorms and religious classes. We visited party towns and sleepy hamlets. As the months went by and airline miles grew, more bright, red Xs colored the board when potential destinations didn’t make the cut.

It was really no surprise when one university rose to the top of the list — and after an impressive and impressionable campus visit — my daughter was officially smitten with her No. 1 choice. I was secretly relieved that my daughter’s ultimate selection was not taking her out-of-state or across the country.

I felt the same when we visited the campus — some intrinsic feeling that this was my daughter’s place, that she belonged here, that this is the school I secretly hoped she would select. I kept my opinions to myself and carefully gauged my daughter’s reactions when we visited classrooms, dorms, Mabee Cafeteria. I was pleased when she met two other girls on the visit, the trio chatting like longtime chums.Riverwalk-Umbrellas-Texas (1)

Likewise, I met up with a wonderful and charming group of parents. Under colorful umbrellas on the meandering River Walk, we spent a pleasant evening dining and sipping margaritas while our kids were off learning more about their potential college. After our amazing weekend visit, my daughter was giddy and excited on the drive back.

I came home from work one day to find my daughter dragging the whiteboard down the hall to stow in the garage. She filled out her acceptance form and started envisioning herself a Trinity University Tiger. Soon high school T shirts were replaced by a TU jersey. When she posted about her decision on social media, it started to sink in; I started to believe it. The Hunt was over. My daughter had made one of the most important decisions of her life and a whole new adventure was about to begin.

Unbelievably, I soon found us packing up the family sedan, buying dorm room essentials, and she was off. My baby, my little girl, my daughter was about to grow up.

I have not once regretted my daughter’s choice of schools. Trinity has been my student’s ideal match. As a mom, I am amazed and awed to have had the privilege of watching my daughter’s transformation from shy First Year to confident and capable Senior in the four years she has called Trinity and San Antonio home.

I think about those early college visits when my smart, but very shy,  daughter wouldn’t even consider a dorm stay to learn more about the school. I think about the lunches in crowded cafeterias, when my shy kiddo was hesitant to join a table of other parent-student teams. I think about that Atlanta flight, thinking then, that there was no way my daughter could leave home and travel across the country. She was too young. She’d never find her luggage at baggage claim. She’d lose her airline ticket. She’d get snatched while hailing a cab.

I think about that Atlanta flight and remember how worried I was — not that my 17-year-old was sick from turbulence — but that stern and severe gut punch every parent gets when they finally realize they’re about to have to let go and let their child figure out how to find the air sick sack on their own.

My daughter’s four years at college have been, quite simply, amazing. Once she made up her mind, she set forth on her educational journey, seizing every opportunity, embracing her quest for knowledge in the classroom and through her associations with a stunning group of professors, administrators, friends and colleagues. She has experienced dorm life, sorority sisterhood, frat parties, afternoon teas, fine dining, nights of take-out pizza, her first crush, first apartment, grocery shopping, budgeting, and balancing the transition from student to soon-be-grad.  She has learned the yin and yang of work and play, juggling and prioritizing and keeping it all in perspective; (something her driven, OCD-prone mom has yet to master.) I am in awe of my daughter’s drive, determination and dedication.

My daughter is loyal, trustworthy and does what she says she will do. She thinks critically, analyses aptly and has a world perspective that many my age will never possess. Through Trinity, my daughter has become an intrepid traveler, studying abroad in Germany and Spain. She wasn’t snatched while hailing a cab.

She did, however, get stung by some strange insect while sunning in a Madrid park and her ankle swelled up like a tree stump. (No, this neurotic mom did not board a hastily booked flight, though it was tempting when I first saw the texted pictures of the swollen and misshapen ankle.) My daughter and her host family managed just fine without me, and she recovered to enjoy an incredible summer. She has hundreds of photos documenting her adventures. At the end of the trip, my traveler’s flight back was uneventful and non-turbulent. She never even needed the white bag.

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Through college, my daughter claims a close posse of smart and amazing friends who have become her second family. They are ambitious and humble, loyal and funny. After graduation, they will scatter like dandelion seeds on the wind, to do great and wonderful things. They will, no doubt, keep in touch. These friends will remain, lifelong and true. Likewise, my daughter has assembled an impressive team of mentors — professors and staff and colleagues and associates from whom she has learned so much. It is to these amazing minds she will, no doubt, continue to turn for professional and personal advice in the years to come. She is a part of something special: A legacy of learning. A community of caring. Alum of an outstanding university that fosters the very best in its students.

For my daughter, Trinity has provided an incredible education; a place where she was encouraged to explore, experiment, learn, listen, engage, evolve — and become herself.

In a few days, my husband and I will pack a suitcase. We’ll be making another road trip. This time, we’ll gather with other proud parents, watch through misty eyes as our baby, our little girl, our daughter, accepts her diploma. Four years of tests and teamwork, research papers and projects, exploration and adventure will be acknowledged. We are proud of our daughter’s scholarship. We are proud of her perseverance. Mostly, we are proud that she has become the person we always hoped she would be. She is capable and confident, able to take on life’s blessings and bounty and bumps in the road.  She is Herself.

And this mom has absolutely no doubt my daughter will be able to find that little white bag should she ever need it.

Fly, my little bird, fly. You have wings and places to go.

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The Resistors

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He was tall with a handsome, craggy face and piercing blue eyes, reminiscent of a 60s matinée idol. He stood at the back of the growing throng, scanning the crowd. When I approached, he tipped a ball cap emblazoned with the distinctive USMC logo.

“Why are you here today, sir,” I asked.

“Because I am an American,” he responded without hesitation. “This is my country. I served in Korea. I voted for Mr. Trump, but I am concerned.”

The decorated veteran gestured to the crowd, the numbers in front of the Fort Worth Omni Hotel increasing as cars pulled into the circle drive, depositing tux-clad and cocktail dress-attired guests. Across the street, the crowd was increasing; people edging their way into the mix, the group growing as more stood, shoulder to shoulder, many holding handmade signs and posters. Many posters included zip codes. Written in thick, black Sharpie, several signs proclaimed: “I am NOT a paid protester.”

The Marine gestured to the crowd.

“This is our country. These are my countrymen,” he said. “We are all different. But we are all Americans.”

I thanked the Marine for his time and sidled through the crowd, winding my way through the enthused chanting and the dancing posters.

I wanted to see for myself who “those people” really are. I had driven downtown to see, firsthand, what I have spent weeks reading about — the protests and protesters; constituents demanding town hall meetings with elected representatives; people concerned about health care, education, the environment, liberties, free press, religious and immigration rights.

I wanted to see the faces. I wanted to see just who was making up the purported “fringe contingent” — these consumers, gobbling up “fake news” while the White House is spewing “Truth” at an unprecedented press conference and a campaign-like rally. I wanted to see the poster makers and pink cappers. I wanted to see the so-called Snowflakes. I wanted to determine for myself if this Movement that I have never before witnessed the likes of in my five-plus decades is simply a small spark that will soon be stamped out or a sizzling, soon-to-be-blazing wildfire sweeping across this wonderful nation of ours.

I ambled through this crowd in my hometown yesterday, joining hundreds who gathered outside the Omni where a tony Republican fundraiser brought the well-heeled and well-connected; the big names and big donors. It also brought out the sign carriers, the presumed rabble rousers, the protesters, The Resistance.

I met a group of ladies, wearing TCU purple — retired school teachers who said they were marching for education and their concern for Betsy Devos’ appointment and what will become of education in this era of privatization. They want a town hall meeting with Kay Granger.

I talked to a college student, sporting a hot pink “She Persisted” T-shirt.

I chatted with teenagers who stopped to participate on their way to a friend’s Quinceañera at a neighboring hotel. The trio of girls, wearing matching silver dresses, was escorted by an earnest young man in tux.

“We came because we have to,” he explained. “Our parents were immigrants. We are Americans. We are worried.”

Many are worried. The posters tell their stories. They want to know what is happening behind the scenes in a government that seems to have too many secrets, casts too much blame. What will happen with immigration, health care, social security, education, civil rights, the press? They want to know what their local representatives are doing as executive orders are flung out like fast-food. They want to know about Russian business ties. And yes, Mr. President, they do want to see those tax returns.

I looked around at these protesters — peaceful protesters who kept sidewalks, doorways, roadways clear; thanked police officers who protect and serve and make sure Americans are allowed their right to assemble, to peacefully protest.

I talked to a well-spoken, highly educated financial planner — a downtowner who had come to see what was happening in her “own back yard.” Her 20-something sons are both attorneys, one of whom lives in Washington, D.C. and has a close perspective on the history-making playing out in tweets, headlines, and on social media.

“I almost feel sorry for Mr. Trump,” the downtowner admitted. “He was used to getting his way as the head of his company, issuing orders and making sure his wishes and demands were carried out. I’m not sure this is what he bargained for.”

Whether our President bargained for the protests, the posters, the pink hats and all of this pontificating, we really don’t know. I do know that what I saw in Fort Worth yesterday was in no way a “fringe group” flinging insults, inciting violence, or disrespecting anyone.

The group I saw — these Resistors who are being disparaged by many, including our President — are my neighbors. They are the same people I see in the produce aisle at the neighborhood grocery store; the same people cheering in the stands at the high school football game; the same sharing a hymnal in church pews on Sunday morning.

The people I saw at the Omni were families with children in strollers; seniors sporting walking canes; Millennials tugging on dog leashes. The people I saw are a cross-section of our country. They are young, old, black, white, Latino. They are Republicans and Democrats, veterans and teachers, preachers and retirees. They are housewives and booster moms, soccer coaches and students. The protesters are united by a common concern for our country, its future and well-being.

The Resistors are leaving their cul-de-sacs, apartments and dorm rooms and taking to the streets, demanding town hall meetings, writing letters and making phone calls in record numbers to remind elected officials that we, The American People, are no longer asleep at the wheel.

Mr. Trump, you have roused Americans from our apathy; you have awakened many of us from our political slumber — and despite differences, many are marching, arm and arm, in cities across our country. To borrow the words of our POTUS, The American People are determined to Make America Great Again, one poster, one call, one letter, one voter registration, one cast ballot at a time.

I went downtown to see the protesters yesterday. I saw The Resistance. The Resistors are Americans.

The Resistors are Us.

#Resist #Neverthelessshepersisted #Rally #Voting #Democracy

Posted in Activists, Politics, Protest, Rally, Resist, Trump, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Chicken scratch — A new coop to call home

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The chickens have officially crossed the road.

 A green ceramic chicken nested on my grandmother’s kitchen counter for as long as I can remember. She and my mama bought the fowl on their once-in-a-lifetime trip across the border to Old Mexico, as my grandmother called the colorful country she wanted so much to visit.

img_6335When my own mama and I took one of our many jaunts to Mexico’s beckoning sun and surf, I bought a similar yellow chicken in San Miguel de Allende. The chicken sat on my mom’s table before she told me to take the bird for my own chicken-themed kitchen.img_6334

For years, the yellow hen was stuffed with crinkled and wrinkled receipts before online banking and smart phones made balancing the check book with register and calculator obsolete. “Put it in the chicken” was a reminder to my family to deposit those pesky paper receipts. Now, my mama’s and my grandmother’s chickens are roosting, side by side, in a kitchen hutch; a reminder of my family’s rural roots and humble beginnings.

These past few weeks, I have been making a new kitchen mine, alphabetizing the spice rack and trying to find the damnable missing Tupperware lids. But with this ceremonial unpacking and placement of the chickens, I am “outing” myself and letting all know that we have almost officially moved. There are still a few hangars dangling in closets and a stack of dog-eared boxes marked “donations” waiting to be hoisted into the trunk of the car, but the old house is almost empty; this new one almost full.

We bought the old house when we made the decision to take on the full-time care of my mom — or my little mama — four years ago. We sought out a big house with plenty of room to merge households; plenty of room for visits from extended family; plenty of room for friends. We sought out a big house so my mama could maintain her privacy and dignity, and we would have room for our daughter to entertain friends and where, we too, might maintain some semblance of a social life. Funny thing about illness and disease and dementia and dying. It kind of makes people uncomfortable. Visits become quicker. Soon the doorbell stops chiming.

You see, I always wanted a bigger house where I could host dinners and parties and those holiday cookie exchanges with the cute take-home bags. With a bigger house, I’d be the one to host the family reunions. fzm-wooden-scrabble-letter-tiles-02The relatives could come visit anytime, and we’d stay up late and play Scrabble and trade “remember when” stories. I wanted a bigger house where I could have The Ladies over to play Pokeno or host a book club meeting.

I have always loved houses; been fascinated by the stories they tell and the history and secrets they harbor. As a pony-tailed 8-year-old, I was obsessed with an abandoned Victorian in my small hometown. img_1885My friends and I would ride our bikes through narrow back alleys, stash them in the hedges and sneak into the creaky, creepy old house though an open basement window. We’d live out our princess fantasies in the rounded third-floor turret room. A visit to my hometown always includes a drive past this beloved dwelling. My mama captured the house on canvas, presenting the painting to me on a long-ago Christmas morning. It remains one of my most cherished gifts.

Houses have always been my fascination. img_9093I started collecting tiny ones on various travels. Friends added to my diminutive dwellings and these tiny houses remind me of people and places that warm my heart.

My husband says he can always tell when I have been out house hunting by the tell-tale smudge on the end of my nose. An empty house enthralls me, and I am grateful I have not been arrested for peering into curtain-less windows and pressing my nose against dusty, rusty screens. I like to envision what a little paint and elbow grease might accomplish if  I somehow held the keys.

Yes, I wanted a bigger house, and yes, maybe, because I bought into all the hype. Yep, I drank the Keep Up With the Jones’ KoolAid. Isn’t that what we’re supposed to want while we’re chasing this American dream of bigger and better? Make more, spend more. Want more, buy more. Have more, impress more. We invite people over to ogle the granite counters, the stainless, the La Cornue range, the big screen, the Kalamazoo grill.

As I have spent the past four years caring for my mama, I have also spent four years carting box after box after box after box of my mama’s life’s worth of possessions to Goodwill, Salvation Army, Mission Arlington, the DAV. I have spent four years, in a big house, full of stuff, empty of people. I have become painfully aware, that someday, my own daughter will be thrust into this horrible nightmare of dismantling her mama’s life. What will she choose to keep of these objects I have collected these many years? Will she be burdened as I am with the enormous guilt img_5523of stuffing clothes into a gaping box or trying to decide which well-loved books to dust off and add to her shelves? Which pictures? Which china? Which mementos? What will become of these tiny houses that whisper stories of my life?

I have come to the stark and sterile realization that while we are surrounding ourselves with “stuff” and buying bigger houses to put it all in, when all is said and done, none of it will matter. We come into this world with nothing, we will leave with nothing. I catch glimpses of Death lurking in the sneaky shadows of my mom’s room, watching, waiting.  I know now, none of it matters. None of it. Not the big house. The nice car. The designer clothes. Not the status handbag, the fancy china. the crystal goblets. The Yeti.

Looking for ways to simplify my over-complicated life and the juggled and jangled days of work, care giving, and dwindling time with my little mama, yes, we have moved. We have, as they say, “downsized.” I have purged my possessions, my complications, my expectations. I have foisted furniture and out-of-date fashions on friends; carted books to the library for the city’s annual sale; struggled with decisions like whether to keep the paisley place mats and plastic tubs filled with my now 21-year-old’s childhood scribbles and macaroni art. I have finally learned that, for me, yes, less is more. I have learned that just because you have a big house, it does not mean the people will come.

In a few days, a “For Sale” sign will go up in the yard and slow traffic on the busy street. The rooms are empty now. The big house I wanted so much echoes with silence. I have packed our things, but more importantly, I pack with me memories made in that bigger house I wanted so much.

I will think of my mama’s mornings at the kitchen table, watching birds outside the window. photo-1img_9065I will think of my smart, studious daughter, sitting cross-legged with her laptop, homework papers splayed across the coffee table. img_6004I take with me a cozy image of my husband stretched out on the sofa, our Lucy dog curled beside him, her head nestled against his chest. I will remember the flag waving on the front porch on July 4th, us marveling again over my husband’s baked beans and how he finally mastered my Daddy’s Southern potato salad recipe. I’ll think of fireside naps with my little mama; watching her doze across the room, flickering flames casting her sleeping profile in a golden glow. I’ll remember nights after the family was in bed, the house quiet save the hum of the refrigerator and the periodic thunk of the temperamental ice maker. Curled under a plaid blanket in the stillness of a dark and sleeping house, I marveled at the twinkle of tiny lights on our Christmas tree, warmed by memories of holidays past.

I have come to realize that where I live and the house I occupy is not as important as who I share it with.  I am grateful for my family — and the true friends who have stood by me when life got messy and complicated and unfriendly and unsociable. Thank you to those who have been on this journey with me and my little mama — and have offered care and compassion, support and encouragement. We are taking a new path now, and some of you will not follow. Our travels take us down different roads. My address is changing and with that, I am sure some will not bother to transfer me to the new Christmas card list. I was included because we lived in the same zip code for a time. It’s okay. I’m learning that the people who are supposed to be in our lives will be. Others are just passing through on their rush to Somewhere Else —  that bigger house perhaps. Godspeed to all, wherever you roam and wherever you call home.

I’ll be in a quirky little house in an “iffy” transitional neighborhood. It’s not in a gated development and for me, it doesn’t have to be. The houses that appeal to me most are filled with love and laughter, take-out pizza boxes and a fridge littered with children’s drawings held up by magnets from the PTA, the vet, the neighborhood dry cleaners. The houses that appeal to me are comfy and cozy, a cat curled in the window sill and life’s clutter making it unfit for magazine covers; a house where friends are welcome and you aren’t afraid to drop a few crumbs on the carpets. The houses that appeal to me are Homes, made real by the people inside who are busy living and learning and loving and taking all that life throws at them with humility, gratitude and sometimes, a little humor.

Yes, I have a new address. My family and my pets and my carefully chosen “stuff” that reminds of people I love and the places I have been will be with me in this new/old place that will now be home. My home is humble and simple and my mama’s and grandmother’s chickens are proudly on display in a kitchen that is purposely void of granite and stainless.

If ya wanna stop by, I’ll turn the coffee maker on, if ya don’t mind our chipped coffee mugs and that our old-style drip machine doesn’t do Frappuccino.

Yes, the chickens have crossed the road.

They made it just fine…….

Posted in Alzheimer's, Alzheimer's Association, Alzheimer's Disease, Care for the Caregiver, Caregiver Burnout, Caring for a parent with Alzheimer's Disease, Caring for aging parents, donating during a move, downsizing, Living with Alzheimer's, moving, relocating, tiny houses, Uncategorized | 5 Comments

A dog tale

Yesterday about this time, I was convinced I was about to be mauled by a pack of wild dogs on an isolated stretch of lonely highway.

After a few warning growls and menacing barks, the dogs turned tail and settled into a clump of tall weeds in a culvert along the rural road. The dogs did end up playing a huge part in this shaggy dog tale, but I didn’t know it at the time. Under skies darkening with threbeforeboothatening clouds, the day’s light weakened as the wind whipped my hair. I buried my cold, cranky hands in my jacket pockets and trudged along the road, heading away from the dogs and back toward the discarded piece of white plastic that had brought me to this cold and lonely place.

I had been tromping up and down the road for hours. I was cold. I was hungry. The weather was getting worse, the hours getting later, and I couldn’t find what I had come here to find. The unplanned excursion was set in motion by a phone call I had received earlier in the day.

My daughter, a college student in a distant town, was heading back to campus after holiday break. She was making the five-hour trek in her grandmother’s 1998 Nissan Altima. My husband was accompanying our daughter back  and would hop a commuter flight home. A few hours after my travelers pulled out of the driveway, I got the call.

“We have a problem,” my husband blurted, his tone tense, his voice frantic.

I held my breath. My heart pounded. I braced for bad news.

Husband hurriedly explained that daughter had run over a large piece of plastic, and it had lodged under the car. They had pulled off the highway; my husband crawling on hands and knees under the vehicle to dislodge the plastic. The car was fine, they were fine, my husband explained, but during the melee’, his phone was missing. They hadn’t realized the phone had been left behind until they stopped for a rest break. Now, three hours into the trip, the phone was somewhere on a roadside, near a mangled piece of plastic that resembled a discarded antifreeze container.

I forfeited my place in the pharmacy line, rushed to the phone store — and with the assistance of an employee and iCloud — found that the phone was somewhere along Chisolm Trail Parkway near the small town of Joshua, about 45 minutes from home. The green dot on the iCloud map indicated the phone was near Farm Road 904 on the service road shoulder, slightly south of the tollway cameras.dot

It seemed simple enough. I’d hop in the car, head to Joshua, find the phone, and be back home before college kid slipped the key into her dorm room door.

Blaring Sirius Classic Vinyl to keep me company,  I took their same route, checked mile markers and found my exit. I eased off the road, close to where the iCloud dot indicated the phone should be.  I parked, got out and scrutinized the area, looking for the phone, housed in its black, leather case. I soon located the plastic container that had set this whole scenario in motion, lodged in a clump of weeds along the fence line.

I texted my husband the picture, and he confirmed this was the container that had delayed them and that I was in the right place. The phone should be there, somewhere near the edge of the road.plastic

Step by careful step, I searched, imagining myself like those forensics experts on TV crime dramas, combing small sections for small clues. I found a discarded Modelo bottle, a charred piece of wood, a Coke can and small pieces of trash — the usual highway flotsam. No phone. I kept looking. Kept walking. I called the phone repeatedly, listening keenly for the distinctive ring above the howling winds and rush of traffic. No phone.

As I was warming up in my car, tollway security showed up. I explained my plight, and the men assisted in the search, the three of us fanning out in the area indicated by the iCloud dot. I checked again and the dot was there, right where we were searching. We were puzzled. We were in the right place, the signal was strong, and the phone should be easily visible. I called the number again, and we all listened for the tell-tale ring. No phone.

The security Samaritans soon had more pressing roadside matters and bid me farewell.truck I resumed the search, fighting biting wind, my dwindling time, my rising frustration.

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The dogs, hunkered down in the clumps of grass, watched from their roadside den, but didn’t bark or growl. Disappointed, empty-handed, I got in my car for the drive back.

Later that evening, I checked iCloud, puzzled to see that the map dot had moved from its earlier location. It was still near the service road, still in the vicinity where I had been searching, but further south, closer to the tollbooth cameras. It didn’t make sense that the dot was moving. There were no homes in the area. No one had responded to the missing phone message I had added via iCloud. The battery was strong, the phone still on. I called the again and got my husband’s voice mail.

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I also called a tech-savvy friend and told him about the day’s adventures, asked his opinion. I shared my puzzlement that the phone seemed to be hiding in plain sight, and told him I was convinced that if I could have one more go at it, I could find it. I reasoned that if I could go back, I might be able to find the phone before the battery konked out. I had been a Girl Scout leader. My troop and I had earned the Geocaching badge! My friend offered to return with me in the morning. Perhaps the two of us could find it, he offered.

Early this morning, we headed back to Joshua, iCloud indicating that the phone had moved yet again overnight. The phone was now, distinctly, on the other side of the toll cameras; north of where it had been the night before. We were perplexed, but determined, arriving roadside to sunny skies but a biting wind, scanty temperatures. We started our trek down the steep embankment, scanning for a smear of black against grass glistening with the dusting of a light overnight frost.

After an hour or so, we got back in the truck to warm up, disappointed and disheartened that this might not end the way we hoped. We checked iCloud again. This time, we activated the “lost phone” signal and set out again, straining to hear the distinctive tone.

We were farther from where we had started the morning’s search, but the dot indicated the phone was somewhere close to a small pond and a clump of trees, far from the roadway. The location where the plastic piece lay discarded was at least two football fields away. If the phone was lost on the shoulder, we were now a long way from the initial location — and that first map dot.lswithtollbooth

We kept walking, searching and listening, when my friend abruptly stopped.

“Listen,” he urged. “Do you hear that?”

I whipped the hood off my coat and strained to hear what he was hearing as he took huge strides across the grass to the fence line and a small stand of trees. I caught up with him and before I heard the distinctive, rhythmic ping. It was coming from the woods, away from the road, past the fence.roninwoods

“It’s in there,” my friend confirmed, gesturing to a thicket of trees. The area was overgrown, dense with underbrush and brambles. The sound was coming from the woods, beyond a barbed wire fence.

“Should I go?,” my friend asked.

He hesitated slightly, bent down, and as I held down the bottom wire with my boot, he shimmed through the fence. He disappeared into the thicket as I waited, listening to that rhythmic pinging. I got my own phone out and called my husband’s number. The woods rang with sound.ronfence

In a few minutes, my friend was back, beaming, holding up a black leather phone case, triumphant. I helped him scramble back through the fence, and like gleeful children, we examined this prize we had worked so hard to find on this crazy, calculated, treasure hunt.

The case was scuffed, weather-worn, slightly mangled, and tooth-marked.

Tooth-marked.

My friend and I looked at each other and confirmed, in unison, “the dogs.”

The dogs, who had barked warning the day before, had evidently found the phone alongside the road and taken it. When I first arrived, they already had the phone. The dogs had watched me in my frantic search, the phone safely hidden in their grassy lair. The map dot moved because the dogs were moving the phone, much like my Shepherd at home carries her prized toy from room to room and takes it with her to her crate. The dogs — or one of them — had nabbed the phone and were roaming with it. The map dot was moving because the phone was moving. I couldn’t find the phone because the dogs had it all along.

We took the phone out of the tattered case, and I called my daughter at school.  Though the case was worse for wear, the phone worked fine.

“Oh, my goodness, you found Dad’s phone,” my excited daughter chirped.

I relayed the strange story, told my daughter we’d surprise her Dad when he arrived from the return trip. My friend and I took a few final pictures of the woods were he had found the phone covered in a litter of leaves.phoneinleaves

The trip home didn’t seem to take as long. The wind had calmed, the sun was shining. We cranked up the heater and the radio and sang.

The look on my husband’s face was priceless when we presented him with his well-traveled phone; showed him the screen shots of the moving map dots; pictures of the dark, dense place where his phone finally came to rest.richard

“Yeah, they really chewed up your case,” my friend said. “You’ll have to get another one.”

My husband smiled and shook his head.

“Are you kidding? Look at it,” he said. “I’m gonna keep it. When people ask me about it, think of the story I’ll have to tell. They’ll never believe it.”

I was almost mauled by a pack of wild dogs on an isolated stretch of lonely highway.

Believe it.

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Posted in Friends, How to find a lost phone, Lost phones, true friends, Uncategorized, Wild dogs | 4 Comments

A cup of ice and The Hoo-ha

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She requested a cup of ice.

A cup from Sonic, to be specific.

“A tall cup of crushed or chipped ice,” Stephanie wrote in a Facebook request on Oct. 23.

Tonight, this sweet lady is gone, and, like many, I am grappling with the certainty that nothing is guaranteed and that our tomorrows are never promised.

Stephanie and I worked together at The Dallas Morning News. We were Metro reporters when big city newspapers still cared about covering smaller stories about little people in suburban towns. Stephanie was smart and witty and one of the kindest people I have known. We socialized at work outings and met for dinner once in awhile, less in recent years as fate and industry layoffs took us to new jobs and different circles. We last ran into each other one night at a local department store, shopping for lingerie. We went to a nearby diner for a catch-up dinner.

In recent weeks, I had planned to take Stephanie and her roommate a meal. I had planned to pay her a long-postponed visit. She was going to talk to me about life insurance.

Today, I have been remembering Stephanie for her strength, courage and focused determination to battle a cruel and sneaky disease that ravaged her body. Cancer zapped her strength and forced this self-reliant, independent woman to ask for help from friends, old and new, for big things and small — like cups of ice on dreary evenings. Through Facebook posts, I watched Stephanie grow in her Faith and surround herself with many friends and her church family. These thoughtful and generous souls helped Stephanie so much these past several weeks.

Even during her fierce battle, Stephanie reached out, messaging and texting, asking about my health scares, offering encouragement as I care for my mom who suffers from late-stage Alzheimer’s. Stephanie offered ideas, information on treatments she had read about, support to make my caregiving duties a little easier.

I was caring for my mom the night Stephanie asked for that cup of ice. I couldn’t leave home to get the ice, and tonight, my selfish and burdened heart is weeping that I couldn’t fulfill this simple request. I am mad at myself — and at our inherent selfishness as busy and important human beings. In our busy-ness and chase, we keep ourselves from making the most of dwindling moments and missed chances. This lesson is a bitter pill, and I swallow the truth of my myopic — and sometimes misdirected — perspectives.

Through Stephanie’s journey, I realize that many things we fret about and worry over are so incredibly trivial when it comes to The BIG STUFF. I get flustered if someone cuts me off in traffic or when my work day has been tedious.  I complain about minutia. Stephanie — the fighter — dealt with The BIG STUFF with grace and humility and faith.

Stephanie — the fighter, the crusader, the writer– shared her story and cancer battle publicly via social media to remind other women to take care of their bodies, to see their doctors, to not ignore abnormal symptoms. She reminded us to talk about our “Hoo-has” — and because of her — many of us did. I scheduled my mammogram and Well Woman visit because of Stephanie and her testimony, her not-so-gentle reminders, and her very public and rugged battle.

Through her frequent Facebook posts detailing her struggles, Stephanie reminded me to find beauty in each day, cherish my family and friends, and embrace life’s abundance and simple blessings. To Stephanie, a cup of ice — a tall cup of chipped or crushed ice — was a blessing that particular October evening. That cup of ice reminds me how many, many things we take for granted. Another friend delivered the ice to Stephanie that night. God has now delivered Steph from her earthly pain and suffering, and I take comfort knowing she is now at peace.

Yes, I have learned a lot about life and love, strength and courage from Stephanie these past months. Tonight, on the way home from taking my mom to another doctor’s appointment, I stopped at Sonic.

With a tall cup of crushed or chipped ice, tonight, I am thinking of Stephanie. Godspeed, my friend. I’m sorry, and I am grateful, and I thank you. You made a difference, Steph. Hoo-ha.

 

Posted in cancer loss, chemotherapy, death and loss, fight like a girl, fighting cancer, helping a friend who has cancer, losing a friend to cancer, losing a friend, death and loss, cancer, fighting cancer, uterine cancer, losing a friend to cancer, taking life for granted, death and dying, fighting cancer, well woman visits, cancer symptoms, Uncategorized, uterine cancer, vaginal cancer | 6 Comments

My mama’s shoes

Little girl in her mother's high hells shoes

Two overfilled cardboard boxes, taped and confined, have been harboring in the trunk of my car for months.

I catch sight of them when I stash a sack of groceries or stow a bag of bird seed. I know they are there, but I slam the trunk shut with defiance and forge on.

The boxes are there, waiting. They do not contain priceless treasures, expensive merchandise, family heirlooms, or things I need to unpack. They are, my mama’s shoes.

Like orderly soldiers, I found them, neatly spaced, side by side, on the closet shelves, in the house she once called home.

When I opened the closet doors, the white boxes beamed at me like rows of straight, even teeth, smiling from their lofty perch.

One by one, I surveyed the rows of boxes, each neatly labeled in black or red marker by my mama’s gentle hands. I recognize her careful, left-paw printing — elegant, artsy lettering befitting her organized, yet artistic, nature. Each box boasted its contents: Navy blue pumps. Tan flats. White sandals.

They are, my mama’s shoes.

My mama lives with us now, in a room that houses her now-small world. These boxes of shoes remained at the house she once called home long after we moved mom in with us, attempting to navigate this New Normal of caring for an aging parent.

My mama’s house is full, yet empty  — filled with artifacts of another time; relics of my mom’s life before Alzheimer’s claimed her memories, dignity, independence — even my mama’s shoes.

When I can carve out a little time in the bluster of my busy life — and can muster the courage to shoulder the pain of dismantling my mama’s life — I spend an hour or two at her house, trying to whittle down all that was once hers.

We finally turned off her phone line, cancelled the cable, transferred the utilities into our name. I’ve packed up dishes that now fill our kitchen cupboards. Always a voracious reader, a few of her favorite books line our bookshelves. Her oil paintings of sun-streaked desserts, majestic mountains and windswept beaches hang on our walls, reminding us of the days when my mom loved to travel; days when she perched in her upstairs studio, smearing paint onto blank canvases. My mom’s clothes hang in a small closet in her room now.  A few pair of lonely shoes huddle on the closet floor.

At my mom’s house, the dusty museum that was once her life, is being taken apart, room by sad and lonely room.

On this day, I am struggling for strength to take down those white boxes. I lift the lids to find my mama’s shoes, carefully wrapped in tissue paper, nestled heel to toe, toe to heel . I remember the navy pumps she wore with her tailored, navy suit — the ones she wore to important meetings as a contract negotiator for the federal government, high heels clicking into elevators and conference rooms. The tan flats were her go-to choice for khakis and pantsuits. I remember the white sandals being cast aside onto colorful towels when we’d roll up pant legs to wade into foamy surf on sandy beaches in Mexico and California.

These simple white boxes tell stories of my mama’s life. I feel like a thief, stealing them from the safety of the shelves. Box by box, I take them down, opening each box lid for a peek inside, then relegating them to the big cardboard box splayed across her bed. It is a painful process, and I wince as the big box fills. These are, my mama’s shoes.

Relieved of their white boxes, the closet shelves are empty now. The gaping maw of the closet mirrors the gaping hole in my soul as I take apart my mom’s life. In the room that was once hers, on a bed she will never sleep in again, I bury my face in my mom’s striped blue robe and sob, damning the disease that is taking her, stripping away small pieces; claiming her and carting her off as we cart away her things, box by bulging box.

Two overfilled cardboard boxes, taped and confined, have been harboring in the trunk of my car for months.

I drive to the donation center and pull into the parking lot. I sit in the car and try to talk myself into the task at hand. It is hot, and ripples of heat shimmer on the asphalt.

I watch a mother and young child come out of the store. The mother lifts up her child and balances the curly-headed toddler on her hip. They hurry on to their car, and the mom ushers the little girl into the back seat, strapping her into a car seat, keeping her safe.

I think of my own mama, across town in her small room in the house we now share. My mom is more my child than my parent now. I care for her as she used to care for me. Fate has reversed our roles, and I am content to be my parent’s parent; grateful for these days I can show her love and help ease the pain of this horrible disease. As she did for me, I now do for her. I will complete the tasks that God has put before me. I will, in time, pack up her life and haul it out, box by box.

I put the car back in gear and pull out of the parking lot onto the busy street. On this day, I am not ready. Today, I am just not strong enough to say goodbye.

Two overfilled cardboard boxes, taped and confined, have been harboring in the trunk of my car for months.

They are, my mama’s shoes.

moms-shoes

Posted in Alzheimer's, Alzheimer's Association, Alzheimer's Disease, Care for the Caregiver, Caregiver Burnout, Caring for a parent with Alzheimer's Disease, Caring for aging parents, Living with Alzheimer's | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Running, Running, Running.

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A turquoise-clad bottle, perched on the counter beside the Keurig and the coffee pod rack, reminds me to unlace the running shoes and hang up the game.

Running, Running, Running.

I have stopped running. I have stopped running because of a water bottle.

For months and months and months, I have been running — not the healthy improve-your-time/improve-your-health running so many fit friends and family members engage in. No, my running has been senseless, fumbling, frustrating, mind-numbing, fill-the-hours, cram-the-calendar, jam-the-to-do-list running. Running, Running, Running.

It took a sweet little lady in a baby blue pantsuit with a car trunk full of water bottles to get my attention. Because of this water bottle. I have, finally…. simply. Stopped.

It has been a rough week at our house with my little mom not feeling or doing well. For those who don’t know — my mom, who suffers from Alzheimer’s Disease, congestive heart failure, COPD — lives with us, and I am her primary caregiver. I am blessed to have a helpful family and caregivers who stay with mom while I work, run errands, grocery shop and try to maintain some semblance of household normality. Running, Running, Running.

We moved mom in with us three years ago because she could no longer care for herself or safely live alone as Alzheimer’s claimed more of her dignity and daily life. We could not bear her spending final days in a nursing facility, so we bought a house to accommodate a merged household. Like new parents, we brought my baby/mama home and set up shop. Running, Running, Running.

These three years have been, truly, the best of times, the worst of times. Those who care for an aging parent know: The job of parenting a parent is not for the faint of heart. It is often during these frantic, frenetic days that we who care for others lace up the running shoes, start making laps, and never look back. We are Running, Running, Running.

Now, this water bottle on my kitchen counter is reminding me, I have to stop.

Mom’s caregiver and I had rushed mom to yet another doctor for poking and prodding, another antibiotic, another round of steroids. I had taken the morning off, and had planned on heading to the office after I got mom back home; planned on working late to make up the hours I had missed despite a restless night of breathing treatments and scanty sleep. Running, Running, Running.

As my mom’s on-duty, nighttime caregiver, I have learned to navigate on a few hours of sleep. I often feel like the parent of a newborn: stressed, sleep-deprived, concerned that I am doing things right, doing enough. I juggle the demands of a full-time job, family, household, mounting bills, piles of laundry. Running, Running, Running.

We were checking out at the doctor’s office front desk, and I was cramming my wallet back into my purse and fumbling for keys when I noticed the friendly lady, chatting amiably with the receptionist. She turned, took a look at me in all my frazzled, frumpled, no-sleep-for-days glory.

“It looks like you could use a water bottle, too,” she said.

“A water bottle?,” I asked, puzzled.

“She crochets water bottle covers,” the receptionist explained. “They are so cute.”

“Follow me out to my car, and I will get you one,” the friendly lady offered simply.

As the caretaker pushed my mom down the corridor, I took longer steps to keep up with the spry and sprightly senior in the baby blue pantsuit.

“Tell me about these water bottles,” I asked, resorting to my old Reporter Days ways.

“Tell me about your mom,” the little lady challenged.

I briefly explained our situation, relayed the days’ events, chattering about prescription pickups and worrisome doctor reports.

As we made our way down the long hallway, my companion shared her story, too. She is 82, living in Arlington, driving to a Burleson nursing home each day to spend afternoons with her 87-year-old sister, now paralyzed and bed-ridden. As they talk away the hours, she makes cozy water bottle covers in bright and cheery hues.

“My sister took care of me when I was a little girl,”  she explains. “I take care of her now, just like she took care of me. I take care of her like you take care of your mom.”

We paused at the end of the hall and the little lady in the baby blue pantsuit turned and took my hands in hers.

“You are taking care of your mom, but don’t forget to take care of you, too,” she cautioned. “Slow down. Go to a movie. Go out to eat. Spend time with friends. Do something YOU want to do. Sleep. Don’t work so much. Have some fun. Laugh. Stop rushing. Stop running. Start living.”

I nodded and felt my eyes well. I fought back a tsunami of emotion and exhaustion, feeling naked and exposed, standing in the middle of a hospital corridor.

A kindred spirit in baby blue recognized my Achilles’ heel: My need to make my mom well, take care of her, fend off disease and ultimately, death, has kept me running like the proverbial hamster on the wheel. I thought if I could only go a little faster, do a little more, try a little harder, work a few more hours, fold a few more towels, I could turn back time, hold off Fate, and keep my mom, my family and myself safe. Running, Running, Running. In my arrogance and ignorance, I was running too fast, missing the whole journey, the scenery and sights along the way. Running, Running, Running, I was missing it all.

I took a deep breath, caught up with my new friend at the end of the hall. Together, we headed across the parking lot, stopped at the car, and she opened the trunk. A mound of beautifully covered bottles peeked from a box, resplendent in their jeweled- and rainbow-toned hues.

“Pick out one for you, dear, and one for your mom. Pick out one for her caregiver, too,” she offered, gesturing to the bottles inside the trunk.

“Oh, no. I can’t let you do that. Let me pay you — let me buy them from you,” I stammered. “Let me at least make a donation for supplies so you can make more.”

“No, dear, no.  I don’t do this for the money.  I see someone who needs their day brightened, and I give one away. They are my gift. You needed one today. These are for you. Take care of your mom. But take care of you, too. Remember to live, too. Stop running.”

We walked back to the building where my mom and the caregiver were waiting. I handed a blue water bottle to my mom, a purple one to our caregiver. We thanked our new friend for her kindness and asked a passing nurse to take our picture. We huddled under the hospital awning around my mom’s wheelchair and smiled faintly for the camera.

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The little lady in the baby blue pantsuit turned and walked to her car.

“Going to see my sister. You all take care now,” she said. “Remember what I said, dear. No running.”

I stood beside my mama and watched the lady drive away, the white sedan zipping across the parking lot. She rolled her window down, waving a final farewell before disappearing into the bright, morning sunshine.

That afternoon, I did not rush to work. I sat in a booth at my mom’s favorite diner and watched her munch French fries and a cheeseburger. When she napped, I napped, just like I used to do with my sleeping daughter in the bassinet beside me. I rubbed lotion on my mom’s arms and looked into her eyes, capturing the moment in my mind’s eye to save for another day. I went to dinner and to see a play with friends, pelting strangers with popcorn and laughing like impish children. I hugged my husband a little tighter. Looked at my grown-up daughter in a new enlightened way. Texted friends I had not seen for weeks, giving them an update on my mom, admitting, finally, that I can no longer keep up the facade of Running, Running, Running.

A turquoise-clad water bottle sits on my kitchen counter — this tangible reminder of a chance meeting with a special lady who reminded me that it’s okay to be human. It’s okay to slow down and not get everything on my “to do” list done. Most days, it’s okay to not even make the list. No more Running, Running, Running.

Yes, I take care of my little mama. Yes, I do it gladly, and will continue to do so, giving freely and loving without reservation all the days of her life. I would not trade this time I have with her. But, I have stopped running. Stopped running. Stopped. Running.

A turquoise-clad bottle, perched on the counter beside the Keurig and the coffee pod rack, reminds me to unlace the running shoes and hang up the game.

I have stopped running. I have stopped running because of a water bottle and the sage words of sweet little lady in a baby blue pantsuit.

Running, Running, Running. No more.  I am choosing to live.

Posted in Alzheimer's Association, Alzheimer's Disease, Care for the Caregiver, Caregiver Burnout, Caring for a parent with Alzheimer's Disease, Caring for aging parents | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment