Right in my own backyard.

The adventures husband Peter and I used to have are part of my memories and photo albums. His increasingly confused state — dementia has gained on him — keeps us home now. He has no memories of our trips, nor do my pictures help him remember. Last fall, for the first three days of an eight day visit to daughter Carolynn and husband Bill, Peter didn’t know where he was. We’d lived in that same little village for seventeen years.
* * *

Daffodil in snow.

The first week of this month, Carolynn and her friend Robin traveled to us with inflexible determination to give me a special week “in my own backyard.” The bumper sticker on Carolynn’s new car said “Rescue Mom.”

Before the two left upstate New York early on a snowy Saturday morning, they’d issued orders for me to list anything they could do to help with during their week. Not wanting to look a gift-horse in the mouth, I did start a list, but lost it amongst the clutter in my office. I really wanted to just enjoy them, not put them to work on the pesky tasks that had piled up. That idea didn’t fly.

They arrived  Saturday evening. Sunday was family brunch, cards, and dinner out, but Monday they were all about the chores. Granddaughter Samantha was in town, so they appointed her secretary to their two-woman crew. And then they set to work.

Coincidentally, Leslie provided work shirts for the family crew. From left, Carolynn, Sam, me, Leslie.

They fixed nearly all the meals, grocery shopped, baked bread, cookies, muffins; organized files, cookbooks, kitchen cupboards, and my office; surprised me with muffins at breakfast on my birthday, and planned a birthday feast. (Leslie, around as much as she was able during her busiest time of the year, reminded them about my requirement for tin roof sundaes instead of cake.) Since Sam likes a clean car, I suggested she clean mine. She did,

Twice they shoved me out of the house, once to get a pedicure, once, a massage. I didn’t protest too much.

They gardened and washed windows, we shopped and played cards, watched movies and read, they made multiples of sock bunnies and we fit in “Beauty and the Beast” their final evening.

All in all, that week was a “trip” anyway I look at it. And I’ve got the pictures to prove it.

Over the week the list expanded to two pages. By the end, everything was crossed off, even ‘bake chocolate chip cookies’ that Sam added for herself.

Fluffle of sock bunnies.

 

Appaws! Appaws!

To my mind, there’s no better place to watch a fun little movie than on our couch, and no popcorn better than what I make myself.

While browsing Netflix offerings one evening I settled on “Family Movies.” Husband Peter laughed at me when I clicked on “Pup Star,” the July 2016 AirBud release. But, added to the comforts of home and my own special popcorn, when he saw that one of the stars, Charlie, was a ringer for our Nobby, well, there was no doubt home was the best place to be.

Oh sure, “Pup Star” is geared to children. True, the plot is a rather predictable And, yes, maybe the name of English bulldog judge Simon Growl is a bit too clever, but we childish oldsters really enjoyed the movie. Oddly, Nobby lay down in front of the television when he heard Tiny sing “Wherever you are.”  He seemed to enjoy watching the talented canines, and he thumped his tail enthusiastically. He loves to sing too, but he’s not in their class.  Those dogs could sing and their fancy four-legged footwork was fantastic.

What’s not to love about a movie in which “butt” is the naughtiest word in the film, a sinister dognapper is as scary as it gets, and the only hint of lovin’ is  the tender glances between rocker Charlie and country singer Emily Rose?

Dare I say, those 92 minutes were just plain fun unleashed?

 

High on adjectives!

At the end of the 1950’s, most girls my age swooned over Elvis Presley. I was goggly-eyed over Pat Boone. “Love me tender” versus “Speedy Gonzales.” The popular girls were cheerleaders and majorettes. I played string bass in the orchestra.

Woodstock? Beatles? I scoffed throughout that era. The very idea. I came to love the Beatles, though I never could have endured Woodstock. All that mud! Yech.

Years before we knew each other, my husband went to see Bette Midler in concert. I saw Neil Diamond. Neither of those events were anything like a recent Friday night in our little town.

Roget doesn’t have enough adjectives in his thesaurus to describe the evening: loud, steamy, laugh-filled, hilarious, sweet, joyous, sultry, ribald, brilliant. sparkling, cacophonous, delirious, silly, energetic, sweaty, boisterous, entertaining, and crazy were the words I jotted down.

screen-shot-2016-10-19-at-9-48-23-amNearly twenty years ago, daughter Leslie gave Peter a Squirrel Nut Zippers “Perennial Favorites” CD. He loved it. Even stuffy ol’ me got into it. I turned into a teeny-bopper fifty years too late. Leslie loved SNZ too, but she was a mere thirty-something at the time. This year, as her October birthday approached, I saw that SNZippers were coming to town. Did she and Martin want to go?

Yes they did.

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Squirrel Nut Zippers reborn and on tour!

There we four were, orchestra seats, eight rows back, and there they were, blasting the theater with frolicsome, earsplitting, eyeball-popping, sweat-streaming musical madness.

Many from the audience crammed in front of the stage, dancing, hopping, jiving, singing. It was ninety-plus minutes of laugh-inducing, foot-stomping, hand-clapping hilarity. My tapping foot wanted to dance, but the rest of me played possum.

When I was as young as most of the crowd, I would have sniffed at the music and the antics. But all these decades later, I got the groove…if that’s how one would say it.

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Rock on, Grandma.

 

Any place we go is some place.

When I began writing this blog three years ago I planned to write about our travels and other topics that could fit, however loosely, under the heading wherever you go, there you are.  The scope of that plan has narrowed as if I were looking through the wrong end of  my binoculars. What used to be limited only by our wallets, is now limited because going anywhere at all is an upset to my husband’s worsening dementia.

Nowadays, going to the grocery with me, a meal at a favorite restaurant, a movie at the Lyric, a walk through a different neighborhood, are “trips.” I tell Peter, any place we go is some place!

Travel these days is so difficult that I don’t mind. Peter would like to go like we once did, but knows it wouldn’t be the same. So I show him photos and remind him of the funny things that happened on our travels, our final trip for instance. We headed southwest to the Canyons, with a piggybacked week at Yellowstone.

Yes, there was a big scare, but also events worth remembering and laughing about.

I had to be helped in and out of the vans we traveled in because of my bum knee. Hiking was painful, bone grating on bone. Plus, I huffed and puffed like the magic dragon. I’d trudge a few yards on a trail, then rest. So much for telling our guide that I was conditioned and could hike several miles easily. There were only five in our group and I was the drag, the lead weight, the anchor scraping bottom.

After we got home, I saw the doctor for a follow-up to a stress test I’d had earlier. He asked where we’d been. I told him and said that between my aching knee and my breathlessness I wasn’t able to hike like I used to. “Why didn’t you tell me where you were going?” he asked. “That altitude is tough for anyone not used to it. I could’ve given you something to help.”

“It never occurred to me to call,” I said. “I’m in good shape, except for my knee, and we’ve hiked a lot over the years…”

“But I could have prescribed something  — Cialis probably— so you wouldn’t have a problem…”

“Um-m, excuse me, but why would that have helped me?” 

He explained that the med reduces pulmonary artery pressure at high altitudes, and thus increases ability to exercise in low oxygen conditions.

Oh how we’ve laughed over what might’ve “cured” my breathlessness.

Right in my own backyard.

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A group of friends gathered on a not-quite-so-sweltering day in July to chat and laugh and, not incidentally, eat homemade ice cream. It was an ice cream social in my own backyard.

This was not as far-reaching a destination as some adventures we’ve had. We’ve gone to events in Charlotte, NC, to the theater in Abingdon and Roanoke, we’ve lunched at nearly every restaurant around, we marched in July Fourth parades (we won the top prize once), but we’ve slowed down.

Age, not our fun-loving spirit, has applied brakes to all of us. We’ve experienced the pitfalls and heartaches that Life lays down like a thick layer of asphalt on a sweltering day. We’ve smothered beneath it, but we’ve dug out and gotten up again.

Co-hostess Joanne and I worried about our original plan for the group’s July outing. We’d wanted to have a picnic at Leslie and Martin’s river getaway. We fretted. Would the drive, the terrain, the threat of bug bites, and the distance (50 miles) from home be too daunting? Would anyone want to swim or go tubing, swing or play games?

I took a poll of the half of our 30 members who were here licking their spoons. Five, plus one likely “maybe,” would have gone on that outing. So, ice cream in my backyard was the better idea, as it turned out.

Close to home with second helpings.

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Color July happy.

The peacefulness, the quiet, the river running through all make “The River,” as we call it, one of my very favorite places. Our very small family all gathered there July Fourth weekend — Leslie and Martin, their Samantha and Jeremiah, Sam’s friend Hannah, Carolynn and Bill, Peter and me. Oh, and the dogs Tillie, Huckleberry, Gooseberry, and Nobby.

Such a special time for so many reasons. The holiday weekend was extended because Carolynn and Bill stayed through Friday, and that gave us extra time to do what we do best — eat, shop, talk, play cards, wade, swim, laugh, color, and, did I say, eat?

Color July watermelon red, homemade vanilla ice cream white, and blueberry pie blue. Then add peach pie gold, summer green salad, strawberry ice cream pink, and fresh corn yellow. Add in the grilled shades of beef tenderloin, Polish sausage, and beer butt chicken to picture our feasts.

Coloring July Fourth.

 

Kathie goes west.

In 2011, Peter and I did two back-to-back tours out west to see the Western canyons and Yellowstone. After that, his worsening dementia ended our far-flung trips. And that was the last time I was on an airplane.

But Los Angeles and the 2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists Conference was reason to fly away for a long weekend. I’d won a place in the blogs under 10o,0oo category contest.

Kathie sees the Pacific.

Kathie sees the ocean.

When I received the news, I was thrilled, but I didn’t see how I could go. I thought of dozens of reasons why not: air travel hassles, no fun without someone to go with, could I leave Peter…blah, blah, blah. My daughters, who have never taken my no’s for an answer, said one of them would stay with Peter while the other went with me. Then Leslie suggested I ask Kathie, a fellow writer, who she knew would be a perfect traveling companion. Kathie was delighted to be asked — she’d never been further west than Michigan! — and after some hiccups in her life, she was on board. And so was I.

The laughs began in Charlotte with time to kill between flights. While Kathie bought a Rolling Stone magazine with Prince on the cover, I bought Vanity Fair featuring The Queen. I told her my reading material trumped hers, even though I hated to use that T-word.

Elevator's 'earthquake' button.

Elevator earthquake’ button.

What a fantastic time. We laughed all the way to California, throughout the sessions, and home again. Two full days of the best conference either of us ever attended, two full days of travel. We laughed at the “earthquake button” in the elevator; a menu offering local protein Atlantic salmon; my security scan that made the TSA officer think I’d had a hip replaced in addition to my right knee…or did I, perhaps, have a bomb in my left pocket?

It was thrilling to rub elbows with so many Pulitzer prize winners, hear so many excellent speakers, including Leonard Pitts, and meet so many welcoming people. We felt right at home. Our kind of people.

We each had our share of personal excitement too. I already knew I’d placed as one of three finalists in the columnists “Blog under 100,000” category — I got second — but Kathie won a raffle that enabled her to pitch her screenplay to a Hollywood writer. He was interested in her project, and they’ve been in touch since. Not even a “my people will contact your people” hedging tactic — hooray for Kathie!

And, hoo-ray for Hol-ly-wood!

 

National Society of Newspaper Columnists 2016 contest winner,
online, blog, & monthly under 100,000 unique visitors category —
“Dementia isn’t funny…caregiver Judith Clarke looks for laughs every day.”

 

Grandma can tell you where to go.

A map and sometimes step-by-step directions are all I ever need to get where I’m going. I don’t need to know where I am on the globe, nor to listen to an uppity woman tell me which way to turn. Generally, once I’ve been someplace I can find my way there again if I need to. Incessant yakking from the bowels of my dashboard confuses me.

We were just going to Lowe’s, for heavens sakes. My car could drive there by itself. But, as I backed out, the harridan ordered, “Go right one block. GO RIGHT ONE BLOCK.” I could hear echoes of my mother calling long ago, “Judith Ellen, come home, come home right now!

I went the way I needed to go. “Recalculating,” cranky-voice said. She was frowning, I know.

“Might be fun to go wherever she says,” I said to my husband.

“How does she know where we’re going?” he asked. He didn’t know himself anymore, he just goes along for the ride.

“She doesn’t know! I didn’t even turn the darned thing on,” I grumbled. “And I don’t need her to tell me anyway.” I continued south and at every intersection she yelled, “Turn back now.” When I didn’t obey, she recalculated very grudgingly.

The  tirade continued until we got to Lowe’s, then she shut up. Not another peep, not then, nor on the way home. I’ll bet she forgot to sprinkle a trail of bread crumbs and couldn’t find the way herself.

I laughed the next morning when I saw this “Speed Bump” strip in The Roanoke Times. That’s my kind of message, homey and welcoming! There’s probably a rhubarb pie cooling on the windowsill.

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Oh ho, oops, apologies are in order. Karen Jacobson isn’t a harridan at all, in fact she’s very talented and funny. Watch this: https://au.tv.yahoo.com/sunrise/video/watch/24209607/the-voice-of-siri-and-gps/#page2

 

Thanks to Dave Cloverly for permission to use his 4/10/16 strip
Thanks also to au.tv.yahoo Sunrise.

 

Easy writer.

He’s a handyman, a carpenter, a Jack-of-all-trades. I’ll call him John. He is also a writer and a motorcycle-riding trout fisherman. He drives an aging little red truck to his jobs.

John has a never-ending supply of tales. One is about some women he has worked for who were more than just a bit flirtatious. He has never known how to  handle that situation. “I’m a bit of an innocent,” he says. One  member of our writers’ group dubbed him “Handyman of Love.” He laughed uproariously with the rest of us.

He joined the group because he wanted to rub elbows with real writers and learn whatever he could about writing. After he submitted a story about a motorcycle ride there was no doubt that he’s got what it takes. To this day he insists he can’t write.

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©webart grab

Several members are married to men who aren’t very handy, so they hired John. Though my husband used to be able to fix just about anything, his skills are lost to escalating dementia. John has helped us out with tasks big and small over the past eighteen months.

Last summer, during an extremely hot spell, he painted our front door, the window shutters, the carport and installed new gutters along its edges. It was miserable weather for outside work on a brick house that radiates heat like a pizza oven.

The afternoon he finished he came around to the back where Leslie and I were sitting in the shade drinking iced coffee. He refused my offer of something cold. We chatted for a while, and John entertained us with his yarns while I punctuated with shouts that these were the stories he should write. He tries to hide behind the excuse that he doesn’t have a “voice.” I argue that his tales are his voice.

While we talked, he mopped his face and neck with a towel.  When he stood up to leave, he said he had to put a clean tee-shirt on. Leslie and I looked at each other. We had no idea why he said that, but he got up, unfurled a shirt he’d had in his lap, and pulled it on over the shirt he was wearing.

He explained. “I’ve got to have a hug before I leave, but who would hug a sweaty handyman?”

That’s a story, John!” I said, and hugged him back.

I figured he’d never write the story, so I did. Someone had to!

596 miles before we sleep.

From Tennessee to the Canadian border, Interstate 81 lays down most of its 854.9 miles in Virginia, 324.9 to be precise. Paralleling the Appalachian Mountains, I-81 follows along Indian and early settler trails. A pretty ride if you’re in the passenger seat, but if you’re the driver zooming along at five or ten or fifteen miles over the limit, you can’t take your eyes off the road .

In Pennsylvania, heavy truck traffic labors up the hills while cars play hopscotch at terrifying speeds. Accidents that tie up traffic for hours are a given, and the drive is bum-numbing for passenger and driver. Until last week, I was always the passenger; now I’m the driver. Peter helped me brake, gasped occasionally, and pointed out interesting sights that I didn’t dare glance at.

Frackville, in Pennsylvania’s Wyoming Valley, was our destination, 379 miles from home, an overnight on the way to daughter Carolynn and husband Bill. It’s 596 miles door-to-door. Our stop was planned, but the relentless rain that jammed traffic into bumper-hugs wasn’t on our itinerary. What should have taken five hours, took more than six.

Driving is the best way to get there. Air travel doesn’t take long if you pay for a direct flight, but add in the drive to an airport, hours-early check-in, another hour to their home, and car travel proves quicker and cheaper. Then, when we return in a car stuffed with a huge pumpkin, three mums, gallons of fresh cider, jars of home-canned delights, boxes of cookies, as well as shopping finds and our bags, there are no added fees to pay.

When we neared Frackville, the GPS insisted on “hard right turns.” Wrong. After two loops on and off I-81, I turned hard left and there we were. Cold rain and wind hurried us inside. The motel was terrific — Holiday Inn Express — and there was a super breakfast bar the next morning.

Three more hours on the road and Carolynn, Bill and the dogs were waiting with big smiles, enveloping hugs, and doggy kisses.

The week was packed tighter than our car on the return — gourmet meals, cards, dominoes, dog walks, laughter, talking…lots of talking…especially when Carolynn’s friend Robin was around.

Maple walnut.

My maple walnut yum!

I’d already decided to drive home with no overnight. It is all downhill. We did stop for lunch at Frackville’s Dutch Pantry, noteworthy for its diner history, and treated ourselves to homemade ice cream.

No more non-stop drives in my future, though. Unh uh. I was reeling when we arrived. After 596 miles, my pillow called and visions of the week danced through my dreams.

We don’t play with a full deck.

Wherever a bevy of women of a certain age gather there’s sure to be laughter. A group of dames I consort with, thirty-three if we’re all present, has had some uproarious times over the fourteen years we’ve been together.

Screen Shot 2015-07-25 at 8.52.52 AMA splinter group of us play canasta one Wednesday a month at O’Charley’s. This card-playing arm of the bunch has been “melding” for eight or ten years. Naturally, we’ve, um, matured and some, or maybe all, of us have become forgetful or addled or maybe even doolally.

Many can’t shuffle the cards any more thanks to arthritis and other problems, but we do have several battery-operated card-shufflers amongst us. They make the most annoying sound and seldom work properly. When we use them people in the adjacent bar look our way.

Everyone in our foursome this past Wednesday — AJ, JoJo, Leanne, me — forgot some rule: deal thirteen cards or eleven? is an eight worth five or ten? what’s wrong with two wild cards and two naturals in one meld?

Screen Shot 2015-07-25 at 11.15.24 AMOur silly mistakes kept us laughing, but then we veered to a discussion about memory loss. Because my husband has dementia I’m considered the “expert.” Someone asked how you would know if forgetting was just old age or a sign of dementia?

I told them that counting backwards by sevens was a test Peter’s doctor always does. Several years ago, he could count backwards so quickly that she would stop him when he got to 51 saying “Well done, good enough.”

“Why I could never do that,” AJ huffed. JoJo agreed, and I knew I wouldn’t get below 93 without pencil and paper. Leanne, the best of us at numbers, started counting, and soon we all helped by “air writing” the figures. We laughed hysterically at ourselves, four women on the shady side of seventy who couldn’t do simple subtraction. We managed to count as far as 65. “We did pretty well, didn’t we?” Joanne said.

“Yeah, but it took all four of us to do it,” Leanne said.

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I love it when stars align, four-leaf clovers stand taller, and blog post ideas spring from unexpected sources. The bit of trivia below came from the widower of a dear friend who always had a joke and who I long ago dubbed the group’s “Raconteur Royale.”

Common entertainment [in the good ol’ days] included playing cards. However, there was a tax levied when purchasing playing cards…applicable [only] to the Ace of Spades. To avoid paying the tax, people would purchase 51 cards instead. Yet, since most games require 52 cards, these people were thought to be stupid or dumb because they weren’t ‘playing with a full deck.'”

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