Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Notes from Field and Fen, official arrival of Spring blossom

Time to report on the great outside world -- in the park where I walk, to be exact.

This is the first day that trees have leafed out officially, looking like actual trees rather than rough outlines of foliage. I love the winter shapes of trees, but when they bust out with leaves, that color is worth waiting for.

So Andy being all set up with his crosswords, safely ensconced in his big wheelchair at a table, radio on to a good program, afternoon snack over, etc., I nipped out for my mile to two mile walk, figuring that for a few minutes here or there he will be fine. And he was. I usually bring home digi pix to show him, so that he can have a bit of memory of where he used to walk. He likes to do this, which I probably wouldn't, but that's him and this is me! impossible to get him there nowadays, without a van chairlift dealie, so pictures have to do virtually what we can't in reality.

And on the paths, there are Bradford pear in full fling, flowering cherry everywhere, no need to go to the Tidal Basin to see them. Magnolias are over now, blown out by two hot days, but red azalea and white same which I don't like too much, but anyway they're doing their best, like people you don't like much but have to be fair about! and on the way home, right by the mailbox a nice group of iris planted by Japanese neighbors who have the most elegantly organized tiny front yard, with ordinary plants, sedum, iris, daylily, but arranged with a great eye.

Speaking of the great outside world,my current solo art exhibit, a retrospective covering about 25 years, has had a sale, yay. Oddly enough, one of the most recent works, and my first sale of yarn art, I'm so happy about this.

It's one of a series of masks, one created with various telephone wires and beads, one knotted and knitted from mason twine and copper wire, and this one, knitted with single length of yarn, designed as I went, using yarnovers and various other knitting ideas, in a kind of shield shape, ending in a massive Icord which curves back and around to show facial features, great fun to do. Hard to photograph with my current digi, but that hasn't stopped me up till now.

There is simply nothing more happy for a fine artist who never accepts commissions, never makes "art to sell" but out of her own inner drive exclusively, whether or not it finds kindred spirits, to have someone say, oh I want that piece enough to take it home and live with it! it's like drinking champagne, only better.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Despite all, it's Spring!

The few days since HP came home from the rehab have been um, exciting, with discoveries right and left, mostly about our steep learning curve at using a Hoyer lift for someone with no response in the lower body, and little ability to maintain himself sitting, and about life in a reclining wheelchair, which is great for letting him recline and take a nap or a change of position when he needs to. Hard on my back, since reclining is mechanical not electric! too heavy for me to get in and out of the house, so inventiveness will be called for. And the physical management of a person using a wheelchair goes far beyond the simple mobility, but I won't get into the personal stuff. Suffice it to say that this ain't for wimps! especially since HP is in early dementia now. I've suspected this for some time, but it's now official. No point in fretting, can't be fixed, can't be helped, just live for the good parts, and his sunniness is one of the good parts.

What I'm doing to maintain my own body is: eating real meals, which are pleasurable to cook for two -- today lunch, main meal, that is, was lovely rolled up white fish, which has a posh French name which I forget, Jacques Pepin makes these, with a sauce of sauteed ginger, shallots, scallions and turmeric, along with mixed steamed Chinese vegetables and mashed potato. Grapes and bananas for dessert.

I was very amused, in view of HP's severe heart condition, when various food people and case managers (!) asked me about heart healthy food, did I know about them, and when I explained what our normal diet is, they said, oh, you know about it, I guess! But I think moderation in all things, including moderation! and if he wants a boiled egg for breakfast, dammit, he can have one. and I reserve to myself the right to a nice little glass of wine,white or rose, whatever I feel like, in the evening. Just one, a lovely civilized pleasure.

And self care involves seizing the chance to keep walking, really good for keeping your back in one piece when you're using it as much as I am. I'm still figuring out when and if I can leave HP for a few minutes. If he's sleeping reclined, he's perfectly safe, and I can be away for just a few minutes, I now think. And once we get the home health care people used to us all, and the physio, that can be a chance to get out for a short while.

Yesterday and today, hot weather, in the 90s, and plants arrived in the mail, yay, so I got HP near the patio door (can't get him out there without help until a second ramp arrives) so he could see me planting the strawberries in a hanging basket, moving a few houseplants out of doors for the season -- the scented geranium will probably be okay now, and I planted a gift of Italian parsley in a pot, and the bucket out front is the whips from bush cherries, which I'll put in tomorrow when it's in shade, no sense in killing myself this hot evening.

The HOA landscapers have already done their Spring burn and pillage, so my new stuff should be okay! please note near the bucket the little inland beach out there, from my shore trip the other week, clam and other shells. And, out back, scenes of more than one season at once -- our one and only tulip blowing out and the yellow allyssum in mid flow, with the brand new parsley and the newly outdoor scented geranium, and the sage putting out new leaves -- it will have great purple flowers before long -- and the butterfly bush, Davidii, juuuuuust starting to wake up, also wonderful purple flowers before too long.

All in all, what's not to be optimistic about? all this feverish garden activity in an area the size of one postage stamp out front and two postage stamps out back...and great neighbors, exchanging gardening plants and tips, and visiting with HP at the same time and helping get him out on the patio and back yesterday, and wonderful doctors who VISIT YOUR HOME, that is not a typo, and a great home nurse, and nice health aides, and a terrific physio who is also a bird lover -- tamed a cockatiel which is now a friendly little guy.

Our new life is very different, much more filled with people, that part is hard for me to get used to, but they are all skilled and friendly and with a lot to them aside from the work they come here to do.

Our new doctor's husband, a mathematician, fancies learning pastel painting, so I put them onto a wonderful artist, friend of mine, great in pastels, and a good teacher. And I am freecycling my case of Rembrandt pastels, wonderful stuff, wooden box, lovely old fashioned thing, to him. I don't work in pastel, they were given to me by the granddaughter of an artist who died, I took them out of art fellowship, really, and now they need a new home. This stuff is worth, if you buy it new, several hundred dollars, but it belongs with a new person, and since it came to me as a gift, it goes out as a gift.

So my new mantra: what were the good things that happened today? and it's surprising how many you can find, among the heartbreak and rage and fear and other not so good things that tend to creep in. It's okay to let them in, good and bad, and recognize them and gently ask them to stay a while, and then saunter away, leaving us ready for a new day.

Friday, April 24, 2009

HP home where he belongs!

HP made it home Wednesday afternoon, delighted to be here and see his cats and the house -- he's a ground floor resident now,complete with hospital bed, Hoyer lift, special wheelchair, etc., but he's so happy to be back eating at his own table, his home food, his view of the flowers on the patio.

I'm organizing various people to come to the house, and have found a wonderful home visit doctor who spent FOUR hours yesterday with us doing all the preliminaries, giving good management tips, ordering more equipment she thinks we need, setting up nursing care (again, they had lost her first orders, gah), and what with the phone going constantly with the nursing people and the heart people and the pacemaker people and the home care people and the physical therapy people and on and on, not to mention the learning curve for both of us,this has been hectic. I was thinking that things would be more peaceful at home, hah.

So to celebrate his return home, I'm showing you a few pix taken yesterday in the living room, complete with Marigold the cat who is thrilled to have him back to sit on. And I'm adding in a pic, a white ink drawing on black Arches paper, of Andy napping with Duncan the cat, currently in the exhibit I have in Plainsboro Library Gallery, my last solo there before the new Library complete with brand new dedicated gallery, opens in the next few months.

Friday, April 17, 2009

It's okay, it's only Santa reprised

Ages ago I was talking in here about how it's easy to get into crisis mode and see everything as yet another crisis, particularly if a lot of what's happening has in fact been a series of life threatening crises to a family member.

Like the Christmas I panicked when I heard all the firetrucks and police sirens flying around m street, looked out, and there was Santa on a firetruck waving at me! oh, right, it's Christmas, doh. And I said at that time to remember, oh, it's okay, it's only Santa!

What I'm trying to do now is to look ahead a bit, look for the sparks of joy and fun in every day -- even the worst of days has something good about it -- and try to look at that as well as coping with the crushing responsibilities that currently surround this family.

HP not doing so well, weak, valiantly trying, but things not going quite as hoped. Life will be quite different as of his return home, complete with special equipment, bed, mobility stuff, special wheelchair, and so on. I'm in the midst of massive organization of all the people and stuff needed to make this work, within the limits of his financial resources.

And one of my friends, a wonderful artist, commented recently that it seemed somehow disrespectful, in the midst of our current travails, and that of other friends, for her to talk about her everyday stuff, plans, hopes, work in the studio, and so on. But it really isn't.

It's wonderful to hear about ordinary working days being lived by our friends. It reminds us that all is not crisis, there are ordinary blessedly undramatic things going on right now for a lot of people, and I'm so happy to remember that. And to meet my friends and talk about other things than what's happening to me! and to read comments in this blog about people's reactions and doings!

So, in her honor, and she knows who she is! I dedicate this post, complete with pictures of the sunset at home on April 17, dear little bulbs in bloom outside the Acme supermarket, and the orchid in HP's room admiring her own reflection in the window.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Back from the shore with pix

A blessed friend offered me the use of her shore home on Long Beach Island, NJ, and I gladly took up the offer, went down for a couple of days before HP gets home next week from the rehab to quite a different life from the one we've had.

He will be a wheelchair user, hospital bed required at home, all kinds of assistance to be set up, home nursing, physio, all that. So before that happens to us, it seemed like a great idea to nip to the shore and goof off for a couple of days, which I did.

Monday was a wonderful clear day, sunshine wall to wall, birds everywhere, and I spotted my first Common Loon, in full mating regalia, wonderful bird, black and white, with checkerboard back, but impossible to pic, since they dive when you see them! also other diving birds, ducks, mergansers, etc., all of which were too coy to catch. But I did get a few gulls on the rocks, classic pic.

The house in question was not only lovely inside, as you will see, but is a few steps from the bay side of the island, great for birding, bench for sitting there and everything (this is where people with boats have their slips, but the birds don't care), and a couple of short blocks from the long, beautiful white beach. NJ is a coastal state, so practically the entire eastern side of it is beach, some municipal, some national park beach, some state park beach, all of it wonderful. And LBI is a barrier island, very narrow indeed, just a short walk from side to side.

I really can't do the shore in the summer, too hot and exposed, but in spring and fall it is the perfect destination for someone who likes to stroll endlessly on the sand, watch birds, take pictures of strange creatures, such as the fish you see here, which is about 15 inches long, maybe a skate, maybe not, some muscular item, NOT a shellfish. Small prize for whoever can identify this guy. Very small, since the prize will consist of my grateful thanks!

Tuesday the weather took a turn for the windy and rainy, gah, so it was perfect for reading cosily indoors (Nuala O'Faolain's Getting There, or maybe Almost There, I forget, the book belongs to the house, very good reading, about which more later) and then in the afternoon a trip to the LBI Foundation for the Arts, which had a wonderful exhibition of grade school kid crafts.

Very imaginative projects, ranging from the usual pottery (sea creatures and everyday items such as shoes, rendered in slab and in coil, with a few thrown pieces) to basketry, amazingly good for kids, to Japanese book binding and 3D interior design setups. The only down part was the paintings, which were clearly copies of pictures or photos or something. This is NOT painting, folks! but it's hard for craft teachers to grasp the nature of painting as not something that copies something else as a model....I will save that rant for another time, maybe.

O'Faolain, if I'm spelling her correctly, is a wonderful writer, piercingly honest and even when she's a jerk you have to acknowledge she knows she's a jerk! some of her casual cruelties about her younger siblings really went to my heart, and I doubt very much if she, totally stuck on the damage her mother did to her, has any clue about the damage she has done in her turn to the younger members of her family, and even continues to. But personal issues aside, she truly is a wonderful, very Irish writer, in the lyrical style we kind of expect of an Irish writer. Well worth reading, any of her work.

My car was grateful for a nice long drive at speed, having been chugging about with little local stop and starts for ages now, so the Garden State Parkway speed 65 but you are passed on both sides if you foolishly attempt to drive that slowly, was just up her alley, so to speak. The driver had to get used to it, having also been used to chugging about locally, but this is very good, to keep up that confidence about driving major highways, so as not to kind of shrink my radius!

Presents from the shore for HP: major size clamshells -- they are dredging sand for the beaches from deeper in the ocean, I believe, and they are finding much bigger animals out there than the little clamshells I've always collected for soap dishes. These are HUGE. And some beach glass, a big favorite with me, and a tshirt, just to be as cheesy as possible! his favorite sweatshirt is a canary yellow one with Cape May on it! I hate it, he loves it, wears it all the time he can...well, at least this tshirt is a nice sober blue...and I showed him the collection of beach pix I made, which he wants printed out on a single page, which I will gladly do.

Any little spark of joy is very much to be desired in our lives from next week onward, I think...

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Easter springs eternal --- eggs and birds, too

Every Easter I blow eggs, one per family member, then decorate and paint and do various things with them. We keep them from year to year, so Handsome Son has a collection at his home, and we have ours here.

And this year I did it again. Pix show eggs on skewers drying -- this is an easier way to decorate them, too, since you can turn them as you work. I made extras, since I'm taking these into the rehab for HS and HP and me for our celebration tomorrow, and will give away a couple, too, to anyone who fancies having one.

I use different media each year, depending on the configuration of the planets - one year handmade paper attached, another year spray painted, another year silk dyes, or total allover painting with acrylic metallics. This year it's lines and scribbles and squiggles with permanent markers and dots of acrylic in metallic blues and golds, with the brown of the shell showing through.

One picture shows how I like to display them from year to year, in a glass bowl with shells from the Jersey shore, exactly the way shore birds nest among shells and rocks. The juxtaposition of eggs and the other shore materials just seems a happy one.

Blowing eggs also results in breakfast omelettes or scrambled eggs, to use up the contents. But it's better to empty the eggs, since that way you can keep them for years. The exception to that was when I decorated the (sterile) eggs from my dear rescued cockatiel. They were so small that the contents just kind of vanished without a trace.

E. my cockatiel, was a beautiful lutino -- yellow and white -- whom I rescued from a garage sale. The previous "owners" said she was strange, had never made a sound in the three years they'd had her. Turned out she'd been alone in the spare bedroom, no view, fed only wild bird seed, no toys. As you probably know, cockatiels are highly intelligent, gentle birds, and here was one who had never been played with nor talked to, nor given a glimpse of the outside, nor free of her cage. I just told them, I'm taking this bird! gave them a token amount for the cage, and beat it.

On the way home, less than 15 minutes after leaving the garage sale, I heard those little contented howareyou sort of sounds that cockatiels make when they're feeling good. And within days, after bouncing her on my hand to make her flap her wings and develop strength, she took her first flight in my living room. I had to catch her in mid air, though, because she panicked, not knowing what this flying stuff was exactly, and folded her wings, and began to plummet.

But after that she got the hang of it, had the freedom of the place. Her favorite roosts were typically the tops of any new artworks I'd hung on the wall for storage. She added little tears and nibbles to several handmade paper pieces, which I thought improved them.

She ate every nice thing I offered her, no coaxing necessary, even though it was strange food. Salads, little bits of boiled egg (I know, birds are cannibals!) grains, shreds of a variety of foods, home made corn bread, she loved it all. When I lay down for a nap she would start at my feet, then walk all the way up my body and try to tug off an earring. And when I came home and called her name, I'd hear howareyou,howareyou from wherever she was.

I had three cats at that time,different ones from now, and Boud, from whom my screen name comes (short for Boudicca, feisty British warrior queen, small but deadly, just like little Boud) and E. became friends, with Boud letting E. nibble gently on her nose, purring all the while so I guess it didn't bother her. Interspecies friendship can really happen.

Because of her early hardships and lousy nutrition, E. only lived another year with me, far short of the lifetime she should have had, and died in my arms, murmuring peacefully to the end. She and I were true friends, and I took her out to the marsh to lay her body under leaves by the water and return her to the earth.

It's good to remember the fun in life as well as the hard stuff, and E. certainly gave me a lot of that. Her eggs still survive, pix here, with a regular hen's egg in the frame to show you the relative size. One pic shows the eggs in a miniature Wedgwood cup and saucer, another display idea.

On our Easter dinner table (which we will set up when HP comes home) I usually put out all these eggs plus Limoges porcelain eggs and various miniature rabbits, from Lenox and Boehm, famous Trenton potteries. It's all very whimsical and we like it!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Lesser Celandines and Buddha

This seemed like a good day to walk the labyrinth on the way in to visit HP. Cool but bright weather, spring flowers at peak, and the need for a calm refreshing little while, all propelled me to the labyrinth I've talked about before.

One of the joys of the digi camera when you have a disabled partner is that when you go places he can't get to, you can take instant pictures and he can relive it along with you. It helps that HP is such a generous soul that he loves me to enjoy activities even if he can't be along, and likes very much the instant replay.

So today it's the labyrinth, complete with the little Buddha guarding the entrance, and riots of celandines growing all around. The flags are Tibetan prayer flags, which the squirrels love and haul about, but today they were all neat so someone must have fixed them yet again.

There is simply nothing as calming and helpful as walking the labyrinth. The discipline for me is to keep my eyes only on my toes and what is immediately in view, never to look up, not to plan ahead, just shun all the things that are so anxiety producing in usual life. Just walk, slowly, square breathing, let the labyrinth walk you.

I have never left it without feeling I learned something new. And HP loved the views I'm showing you here. He has been there, one time when he could not walk it, but sat and waited for me, as I walked it for a friend who had died. So that time he walked it virtually in a way, and did again today when he saw the pix.

Neither of us is dwelling on death at this moment, rather we're organizing life.But it seems like a good time and season to say that neither of us ever wants a funeral when we go.

What we will want from our friends is: walk a labyrinth, and plant daffodils in our memory. And tell our survivors that you did it!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

So the other shoe fell today

HP taking a look at the crossword, and the view with the latest cards on the windowsill.

The social worker from the rehab HP is in met with us today and all his professionals, physios,occupational therapy people, doctor, etc., agree that he is unlikely ever to walk again. The few steps he managed with help did not progress, and he is still considered maximum help required, in their language. His future is in a wheelchair with 24/7 assistance required, for moving, personal care, all that.

We will get some help, nurse visits, physios, ot professionals, home health care probably, but the future suddenly is not so hopeful.

He is not convinced,but realizes that he must be prepared to live this way, and to grasp what it will mean for both of us.

His discharge date is April 22 by current planning. Next week I have to be at some of his physio sessions to observe and see what skills I need to develop, too.

There has to be a pony in here somewhere.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Orchids, socks and long memories

Today gave both HP and me an insight into a long life.

His roommate, aged 99, that is not a typo, born January 7, 1910, suddenly felt better and asked if he could join us for a chat, which largely consisted of our listening to some fascinating accounts of his life. HP dozed off once or twice, having done a lot of rehab today, and still trying to recruit his stamina, but I knitted and listened and listened and knitted.

He examined the knitting, put the first sock on his hand, admired the work, and said I had golden hands. First wife was a world class knitter whose sweaters are still worn in the family -- in fact at the funeral home when she died, when the younger generation arrived, the people there instantly knew they must be from Fay's family, because they all wore sweaters in her honor. So the knitting was the real ice breaker.

And then we heard how his father came to the Lower East Side, of New York (RM referred to it as New York, rather than Manhattan, in the age-old way of people who started early life there), followed in 1913 by his wife and four children, from Poland.

His father was a heavy truck driver, worked until he had enough funds to send tickets for his wife and family. RM pointed out with pride that his father waited for his mother, didn't find a new partner in the US and forget his original family. This happened, he told me, more often than you might think. His mother came along with four young kids all the way from Poland, via Ellis Island.

RM eventually moved to Brooklyn, became a taxi driver, "had my medallion" he added proudly, and was married to his first wife for 57 years, until she died of breast cancer, for which he blames the doctors to this day for failing to spot it until too late. He remarried after three years.

At first in his widower days, he went to his kosher butcher and asked him to sell him the same foods his wife had always bought there, and he cooked meats every evening, but he said, after I'd cooked and eaten and wiped down the stove, it was late, I was tired, what's this about. So he switched to salads and Campbell's Soup!

And, though he'd been retired, he went back to driving a cab. went to a widows' and widowers' group in a high school adult program in Brooklyn, met his second wife, who only lived a few years after they married. But he said, I would never speak ill of her, she's dead, after all, but she was a gold digger!

And he asked us if we were Jewish, explained he uses a lot of "Jewish words" which I had figured, since the bits I didn't catch were Yiddish, true Lower East Sider, and asked HP if he would allow a Jewish prayer, which HP of course said, yes, certainly.

He recited a short prayer for HP in Hebrew, and translated for HP: may God in his great power, heal this good man. We were quite teary at this point. And he went on to say he didn't care what was wrong with HP, nor with himself, that was for doctors to think about, he preferred to talk of other things. Big Yankee fan, wearing his Yankee tshirt in celebration of Opening Day today! this is how you live to 99, very healthy attitudes!

His family was milling around as usual, and I heard them say, oh, Dad's back, he's doing better, making friends, this is how he is supposed to be. they were delighted to go off and take a break, since they figured he was doing just fine, which he was. It did HP a power of good, too, having another guy to listen to, and at a tired time of day.

His sons were teasing me that I was some kind of Martha Stewart, with all the plants and twigs and cards on HP's windowsill.

So in his honor, I'm posting the current state of the orchid and the neighboring twigs, wild cherry, wild brambles (white flowers) and dogwood, next to the orchid, now with about six blossoms and more on the way. East meets West in a way, on the windowsill.

And the sock in question, second one now under way. This is a highly secret present for a person who bought and delivered vital cat food at a time when I couldn't possibly shop for the right food, and the three cats were running seriously low.

Never billed me, so I'm retaliating with a pair of Rising Spiral socks which she will like a lot. These are tube socks, size doesn't matter, and I am modeling the first one for your delectation. It's a wonderful mathematical thing: multiple of eight pattern stitches knitted on three needles on odd number of stitches, which creates the rising spiral like magic. Very comfortable to wear, since the spiral is all on the outside, and inside is a soft indentation where the spiral comes.
Do not tell her these are on the way, you guys who know who this is.....

Friday, April 3, 2009

Views from inside

The jury's still out on HP's progress, ranging from possible need for longer term care, to unlikelihood of walking, involving learning wheelchair skills. Big setback yesterday when he seized and scared everyone, but recovered fairly fast, slept away the day.

Another week before they start thinking about definite plans, so I have to learn how to enjoy the next few days with no way of knowing what comes next. So what else is new, I guess.

Meanwhile, back at the rehab, here are a couple of the views Andy has from his bed. He can't quite see the kids' playground but enjoys knowing it's there. He can however see all the cards friends have sent, and the orchid from home which now has four blossoms, and the container of branches I brought in for forcing in water now to put out blossoms - wild cherry, dogwood and one I can't identify which is making white flowers, and the magnolia tree out on the grounds. And a lovely view of sky, which today, with storms coming and going was very exciting, very Constable! if you know your English painting.

With all of which we have to be content for now. and the current comfort reading is a Miss Read book, "Over the Gate." Any Miss Read book is good.