Friday, December 19, 2014

Hello, Mail Delivery!

Marz changed out the faded photo that marked our mailbox slot.

Any Trekkies out there who can name the episodes shown?

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Groundhog Hot Pads

When I walk on the floor at work every morning, people look at me receptively but without recognition, like, "You seem friendly... who are you?"
It's like stepping into the film Groundhog Day, in which Bill Murray's character has to relive the same day over and over and over again (except I'm there by choice and I could leave).

It's a little odd to start at the very beginning every single time.
Truly, if you have Alzheimer's every day is the first day of the rest of your life. Sometimes, every minute is.

I relate to the Bill Murray character when he tries too hard at first to make things go "right", the way he wants them to.
At first I tried to make every Activity a vaudeville act. I didn't let things unfold on their own. 

After 2.5 months, I've calmed down... Sometimes I let the residents be, on their own or with each other, and it turns out I'm getting more done. This afternoon I sat at the sewing machine while the residents watched Oklahoma and finally finished sewing up a few more hot pads, with fabric the residents cut:
Blogger Crow sent some of this fabric ^ to us as a gift, and all the fleece filling sheets inside too! (Bless you, Crow.)

I had thought the residents could give these hot pads to family & friends for Christmas, but only about a third of the women regularly participate, and I don't want to create ill will by unintentionally leaving someone out. I can imagine two families sharing an elevator and one having a hot pad and the other not...

Today I decided that it would be logistically easier and in some ways nicer if we give a hot pad to each of the dozen nursing assistants instead. Godknows they deserve heaps of thanks and praise.

Aaaand... another entry in the Famous Person Bitten by Animal Co-star category, from here (Lady Gaga bitten by a slow loris a few posts back).

P.S. This is blog #200 in 2014. How 'bout that? It's #1,748 overall.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Life in the Cold

Me, standing in front of the bus this morning, tugging on the hook on the bike rack that holds the bike in place: "@*%$!"

Bus driver gets out of bus, comes to help me. Tugs to no effect. "These get frozen sometimes. Sorry, you can't put your bike on, it'll fall off."

So, no big deal, I locked up my bike at the bus stop and I'll bus home, but I prefer to bike off work stress. 

On the bus, a young woman tells me her screen door was frozen shut this morning. We laugh that people in Arizona don't have to deal with this.

"My sister-in-law's from Texas," she tells me. "Once when she came up to visit, her windshield frosted over, and she didn't know what to do so she threw hot water on it! Luckily it didn't crack... but of course it didn't help."

Grand and Glorious

(WAVES =Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service)

Well, yesterday was pretty OK: 
my moment of glory came when I was wiping down the Activities room and a resident came by, took a whiff, and approvingly said, "Bleach! My husband is going to love you."

Many residents with Alzheimer's, however, have lost their sense of smell (classic symptom)--now I know for sure because even standing next to the bucket of bleach water, when I asked, they said they couldn't smell it.

Marz said I smelled like a swimming pool when I came home, and I have the inevitable splashes on my black trousers (of course I'd worn plain black, even knowing I was going to be using bleach... (Z: because it's much cheaper than alcohol)).

Then in the evening bink took me along to costco and I loaded up on heavy things like t.p. and laundry detergent, ...and it's a grand feeling, in its way, to be prepared. 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

"This is going to be wonderful."

Boy, I don't feel that way ^ at all.
The week before winter solstice, the anniversary of my mother's death, sometimes weighs like a lead suit... It's been twelve years, and I didn't expect it to be heavy this year, but the combo of giving a lot of myself at work plus the unusually gray wet weather is depleting my cheer.

I believe in giving sadness its due but this feels more like a hungry ghost sucking my life force, not an honest sadness.

A while ago, I was muttering at work that something wouldn't turn out, a resident said, "Don't say that! Say, This is going to be wonderful!"

I usually resent people telling me to cheer up, but when someone with Alzheimer's says it, well, it gave me pause. Maybe I'll try that, I thought, and filed it away.

So, this morning, I am pulling it out and making it my mantra. And now I am heading out to the bus (rain yesterday + freezing temps overnight = bad biking).

As I wrap this up, it occurs to me, maybe I should feed the hungry ghost, even if it's an imposter of honest grief--I'm going to leave some grapes out for it---that seems like something it might like. It can make Minnesota grape salad! 

Have a wonderful day!

No, really. I'm going to try to.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Minnesota Musters Its Wits

You heard about #Grapegate, didn't you? 
The New York Times published Thanksgiving recipes from each state, and for Minnesota, they picked Grape Salad (with sour cream & brown sugar, broiled, yet!). Thousands of outraged Minnesotans wrote to complain. 

I happened to see the piece, and while it never occurred to me to write to the NYT about it, I did think it was off.

A recipe with fruit and dairy, sure, but more like this "Fruit Salad" I once ate a ton of at Thanksgiving:
1 can cherry pie filling
1 can pineapple bits
a tub of Cool Whip
1 bag mini-marshmallows

Imagine my delight to see my choice confirmed by Maud Hart Lovelace in Emily of Deep Valley--one of the Deep Valley books, which are practically documentaries of life in Mankato, MN, in the early 1900s.

The year is 1912, and the socially awkward orphan Emily is  is fretting over what to serve a group of girls she has invited over.

She thinks,
"The other girls served such novel refreshments––cheese fondue, shrimp wiggle, rice pilaff, and marvelous concoctions of marshmallow, pineapple, and whipped cream mixed together. They learned about them from their mothers who served such things at luncheons."

Take that, NYT! Minnesota's own Joyce Lamont even has a recipe for a similar Pineapple Molded Salad in her book. >

(Speaking of weird, though, Emily ends up serving friend frogs legs.)
I read Emily of Deep Valley for the first time last night and loved it better than any of the related Besty-Tacy books.
Unlike them, it's quite dark---after high school Emily can't go off to college like the rest of her friends because she can't leave her grandfather who raised her. (He seems to have some kind of dementia--it is mentioned that Emily is used to having the same conversation with him over and over.) 

Once Emily's friends leave town, "Depression settled down upon her, and although she tried to brush it away it thickened like a fog.

She only begins to emerge from it when a Shakespeare line pierces the fog:
"Muster your wits; stand in your own defense."

A good Minnesotan sentiment.  _______________________________________________

[It doesn't matter and Emily never mentions this, but it's from Love's Labour's Lost.]

Nasty Things: Flu Season

"The kids from downstairs daycare can't visit today," I told one of the grown-ups, "because some of them have the flu."

"Their poor mothers!" she replied.

It's not fair but it's true that nice things are nicer than nasty ones.* 
This woman can be hard because she's always asking for her family. (The problem being, I'm struggling to balance the needs of the many with the needs of the one, and she's a "one".) But she's also nice to others--she pats me on the arm--and I go out of my way for her when I can; whereas with a less nice person, I tend to choose the needs of the group.

I'm going to go out of my way tomorrow to clean the Activities Room where I spend most of my time. Sanitation is not all I would want it to be at the residence, so I'm going to do it myself.

Or, actually, I hope, not by myself. Lots of the women seem to enjoy housework (or, maybe, to find it reassuringly familiar?). 
I expect some of them will be willing to don rubber gloves and help wash down all the surfaces with bleach water.
* "Nice things" from Kingsley Amis, Lucky Jim, a book which Marz comments "is not itself full of nice things."

1965 bleach ad from here

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Darling Gift Tags from Prehistory

One of 9 gift tags > > >
my archaeologist friend Dr H. is offering--free download at her site––of her cartoon versions of prehistoric engraved burial plaques from Portugal and Spain. 

Bear, You Complete Me

me with a bear pillow made by the Sewing Group at work
I. The Bear Project

I didn't expect doing activities with people with dementia to be so much fun. Tiring, but fun. It's entirely different from being a nursing aide, when I had to get (or try to get) people to do certain necessary things, like eat. 

No one has to do activities, and a lot choose not to. Those who join in are usually pretty happy to be there. 
(Usually. Moods fluctuate, and one day a normally happy woman slammed her scissors down in anger. 
So then we did something else.)

People are really into these bear-pillows we're making to give to kids. The fabric is printed with a bear, as you can see. The sewing group cuts them out, I sew the pieces together on the machine, and the sewers turn them right-side out and stuff them. 

People like making them more than hot pads, which are a bit too abstract. The bears are evident at each step of the process, whereas the hot pads only come into being at the end. Still, people enjoy handling the fabrics.

Some people who don't want to or can't do any of those steps come sit with us and keep us company. The other day, The Sound of Music was playing in the other half of the room, and we all ended up singing a lot too.

II. On Display

I'm conflicted about taking photos at work.
For about a month, I stopped taking my camera into work. Until then, I actually hadn't realized that legally, for privacy, we're not supposed to take photos of people. I was misled by the fact that the business maintains a FB page, residents who live there sign photo releases, and the Activities Dept. (my boss & me) are supposed to take & posts photos. 
The page is for families and, the for-profit company acknowledges (though not on the FB page), for marketing.

It's weird to me that they post photos of people with dementia who don't understand what FB is. Their families OK'd it, though, and it does provide a sense of connection, I admit, which is important.
I still don't know, though... I think a lot of the people I work with would not want to be seen in the condition they're in.

Recently, an aide suggested we put up a photo board in the activity room, and I think that's a great idea. Visitors and the residents themselves can see what's been going on, and if someone doesn't like a photo they're in, we can easily take it down. As it is now, they don't even see themselves on FB.

I've just started bringing my camera in again, for my own sake, so I can get a sense of completion.
People without short-term memory don't--can't--care about the completion of projects. I could take the bears apart every night and we could re-sew them the next day, and that'd be fine with them. (well... "fine" only because they wouldn't realize it).

At first I thought it was just the families who would benefit from seeing a finished hot pad or bear, and that I was planning such projects for their sake, but I've come to realize that I need to see some results too, or my efforts start to feel uncomfortably pointless. 

So, for now, I'm recording what we're doing for my records, and just this week I gave my boss some FB photos that are complimentary of the residents, that show our work, and that I took with the residents' permission. Next week I'm going to take my laptop to show them their photos *on* FB and see what they say.
Stay tuned...

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Walk Slow. Talk Slow.

Walk slow, talk slow. Marz came up with that slogan for me at work. I've slowed down a little, but sometimes I get into such a spin, even the residents tell me to slow down.

"Have you stopped for lunch yet?" one asked me. "You need a break too."

Another said, "Stop! Take a deep breath!"

I need to accept that I can't spend time with everyone, everyday. But in the next few days, I do want to at least offer everyone the chance to send a Christmas card to a friend of family member.
 My original ambitious plan had been for everyone to make a Christmas card. About a dozen people did, in fact, but I'd have to do one-on-ones with the others (because they don't like group activities, or because they need more guidance) to get them done, and I just don't have the time.

Yesterday, instead, I bought 70 cards at the Thrift Store (10 cents each!), and I will offer people a choice of two or three designs.
I will do this in a relaxed manner. Yes, I will.

Then, if I have time, I'll go outside with a couple people who love to walk. It's warm: 40 degrees!
I read that if people with dementia get 20 minutes of direct daylight, that reduces symptoms of agitation and sleeplessness.
(I'd say, for people without dementia too.)

Not only do I not have time to go on walks on worktime, in MN often it's way too icy and cold. So I want to take advantage of the warm weather. 


I shall imagine myself the lovechild of a slow loris + Mr John Wayne:
 P.S. Lady Gaga reportedly bitten by a slow loris on set of new video

Friday, December 12, 2014

Thursday, December 11, 2014

"all these lovely things"

"We know all these lovely things," she said, 
"but," spreading her hands in frustration,"where can we put them?"

--S., living with Alzheimer's 

Art Sparker pointed me toward an interesting possible response:
artmaking at places like Creative Growth, including the work of artist Judith Scott > > >
 "a visual artist isolated from outside influences as a result of the impact of deafness and Down’s syndrome."

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

And say, OK then

I took the bus past the Capitol in St. Paul yesterday morning on a field trip with the residents, . . . and then in the middle of the night, I took the bus back to meet Senator Paul Wellstone, to ask him how he keeps working for good, against the tide, when so many haven't. 
In my dreams, of course. Wellstone had been dead these dozen years, like my mother.

He leaned into me, put his head against my head, and recited a poem, so quietly I couldn't catch the words, but the feeling was like the feeling of Kaddish, a Jewish prayer traditionally recited in its original language for the dead. 

I learned Kaddish after my mother died, from a Hebrew-speaking neighbor.
The first thing that surprised me about Kaddish is that it never mentions death. It says something like, "the key is in the window."* 
(G-d made this; all say, so be it.)
The second thing is that it says it in Aramaic, not Hebrew, so even Hebrew speakers don't understand the words they're reciting.

I woke up out of the dream a little late, but in time to write this down before going to work. 

This is the world I live in. 
OK then.

Water + ink in midair ^ by calligraphy artist Shinichi Maruyama
*quote from Allen Ginsberg's Kaddish

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The 8:34 a.m. Bounce

OK, I feel better.
Those of you who are teachers are laughing at my last post:
underpaid? overworked? isolated? poorly supported in work you love?
Welcome to our world!

Anyway, on the way to work (I have to get started in a minute), I thought I'd at least talk to my boss about my concerns, and otherwise seek out reality checks---I really don't want to build up such a head of resentment that I boil over.

At least I don't have to teach to tests..

From here 

The 7:24 a.m. Bumble

Marz and I watched Rudolph last night--didn't remember it at all from childhood. What a freaky story--I loved it! especially the line, "Bumbles bounce!" 
(Even though what happens to the Bumble, having all his teeth extracted by a hermaphrodite elf dentist, is really gruesome and surreal.)

I woke up feeling bumbly, having dreamed I was being paid $1.44/hour. 

I'm just starting my 3rd month at work. I'd thought I'd be OK with my low pay: 
with the 15-cents raise I negotiated for my starting salary--all they could pay, they said, "to someone with no experience in activities"-- I make $1 less per hour than the City paid me to check coats & bags.

I see my job as a paid internship, to learn and get experience with people with dementia. But I guess I'm building up some resentment.
Trouble is, I'm getting experience, but I'm not learning much except what I teach myself (which is a lot), and what the residents I work with can show me (which is also a lot, but not, of course, analytical).

 Most of my coworkers don't seem to know more about dementia than I do––some, less––and those who do know more are busy and I rarely see them.

My boss tells me I'm wonderful, which is nice, but I don't want praise, I want some on-the-job training, which they implied I'd get (since I had "no experience"). Instead, she seems to think I'm already doing everything right––researching, planning,  shopping for and leading activities, from stretch class to sewing group––and has nothing to teach me. 
(Could this be true? Is this a pitfall of being a middle-age worker with a young boss?)

I'm not sure what to do about this low pay, no training. 
If nothing else, I'll just keep reading and watching videos about dementia, learn by interacting with the residents, and look for a better-paid job in 10 months. And bounce like a Bumble.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Tie Up Your Sheep

I bought a sandwich baggieful of mismatched teeny Christmas ornaments for $1 at the Thrift Store today. When I came home, I set up a wee creche at the base of the tabletop cone of sparkles, also $1, also from the Thrift Store.

Someone had wound gold wire around the sheep so it could be hung on a tree. Though the sheep looks like a fiery-eyed prophet, possibly named Cujo, the care with which it is tied up is worthy of entry in my file Humanity Is Not All Bad.

It's unrelated, but it reminded me of this saying of the prophet Muhammad, a saying I've always liked:
"Trust in God, but tie up your camel." 

You know, don't bug the deity with the stuff you can do for yourself; or, don't think being all one-with-the-divine excuses you from mundane tasks. 

A Buddhist saying along those lines is, "After enlightenment, the laundry."

The version I heard in the Catholic church is, a guy prays his whole life to win the lottery. He never does, and when he dies and goes to Heaven, he confronts God, saying God should have rewarded his faith.

God says, "I would have, but you never bought a lottery ticket."

Word, God, Rock

 "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." --John 1:1, KJV

I.  I've always loved the opening of the gospel of John, but last night I was lying on the couch staring into space and it occurred to me, what if we lived in a culture where Word wasn't God?

Would we be so very afraid of going "out of our minds"?(dementia: de = out of + mens = mind)

Polls show older people fear Alzheimer's more than cancer.
Of course the Big A comes with all sorts of horrors––"memory loss" is just the tip of the iceberg––and is scary enough on its own. 
Still, I wonder . . . what if we, as a culture, weren't so worshipful of intellect? (I don't mean Americans value intellectuals, but we generally supervalue the take-charge  functions of the brain).

R: God on Top: Diagram of Perception by Robert Fludd, 1619
L: Baby in water, from World Water Day
I got thinking along these lines because my father recently told me that he will end his life if he gets dementia because, he said, "I value my intellect too much. I see no point in life without it."

We've never agreed about this, but I understand his identification. He was a professor of political science. 

One of our biggest fights when I was a teenager was over my question of whether rocks have souls. Actually, the disagreement wasn't about whether or not they have souls, it was about whether or not it was worth asking the question.
He said it wasn't: if we couldn't figure out the answer, it wasn't worth thinking about.

But I've also been disturbed by the Protestant Christian pastor who leads a worship service at the senior residence once a month.
Only a handful of people attend, and about half of them live with Alzheimer's. It's my job to hang around with them. 

The pastor talks and talks and talks. She makes no concession to the fact that half the congregation can't understand what she says. (I almost wish I didn't: her Thanksgiving sermon was on the theme of "our" Puritan heritage.)  

After that service, I asked my boss if the pastor knows she's talking at people with dementia.
My boss said yes, she's told her more than once. 

"Can I wait in the hall and just stick my head in now and then?" I asked.
She said I could.

I'll bring my prayer beads and try to get out of my mind.

"Monk at Golden Rock," (Burma/Myanmar)" by David Lazar

Sunday, December 7, 2014

What Is This?

A mysterious donated item: do you know what this is? I don't!
It's stamped "sterling", and ... is that mother of pearl? The narrow end obviously is meant to slide into (onto?) something, but what? A cane? A baton (it'd be awfully heavy, though)?

Saturday, December 6, 2014

208 - 183 = 25

Since I'm so close, it's a whim of mine to publish 208 posts this year like I did last year. This is post #183, so that's only 25 more--one a day. 

I like to chat in the morning before I go to work, and Marz, if she's even up, is not a morning person.
This morning, a little show & tell.

I bought the owl neck muffler I'm wearing from a friend at a craft sale yesterday. It'll be great for biking to work.
More crafts! I was walking around thinking, We could make this at work... (or not).

The fleece gave me an idea for meaningful craft activities---the residents and I could make simple fleece blankets to donate to ... children's cancer wards? Homeless shelters? I'll have to research it a little.

The EVERSHARP pen set from the 1940s comes from a resident's family who was going to throw it out (along with everything else, including an emesis basin---this explains some of the donations we get at the Thrift Store). 

I seem to have become an unintentional pen collector. These pair nicely with the space-age Lady Capri I got at the Thrift Store: they look like WWII bombers and she looks like a girly rocket.

OK, time to bike off to work.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Another Marz Look-Alike

Marz doesn't agree with me, but I think she looks very like the person in this painting.

L: Girl with the Red Hat by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665/1666

R: Marz in Oregon, 2012