Saturday, November 21, 2009

Never too late.

When I went to visit mom on Wednesday she was sitting on the couch. Suddenly she became animated and said, "Oh, I have something to show you." She began wadding up her lap blanket. I was a little skeptical, thinking, okay, mom is having a senior senior moment.
Then, she tucked the blanket between her legs and started squeezing her legs together, and said, "Okay, you squeeze and hold, 1, 2, 3 and one. 1, 2, 3, and two. 1, 2, 3, and four. That's a bladder exercise. You might as well get started now."
Okay, mom, I think I will. Thanks for the tip.
Then she showed me an exercise to help her bone spur, which I discovered is the result of wrong walking. The occupational therapist is getting her to pick her feet up off the floor, and encouraging her to exercise to strengthen her muscles!
It's never too late.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Patience is a virtue, or something like that

In her blog, In Kairos, Joy McCracken spoke to my heart today. Joy is in Africa, learning about herself and passing it on to others, as well as simply sharing the adventures of four months in Uganda going to school.
Joy speaks of patience, and a book, Compassion, by Henry Nowen, who says, in the last chapter on patience,
"Patience means to enter actively into the thick of life and to fully bear the suffering within and around us. Patience is the capacity to see, hear, touch, taste, and smell as fully as possible the inner and outer events of our lives."
Joy says, "I hate being patient because it makes me feel powerless and trapped. Or when someone tells me to be patient I just want to slap them in the face because it seems like an answer you give someone when you want them to feel better or you have nothing else to say. Also, I really do enjoy instant gratification...even though I know that long-term stuff is usually better."
(I love Joy's honest writing and anticipate a book or two or three from her. I was her first editor many years ago when she was 13 and wrote a book.)
Later, she says, "...redefining patience in this way changes it from a virtue some people have and others don't into a discipline everyone can work for."
Ah, discipline. Over the years I have apologized to mom many times for losing my patience. One time she said, "Oh honey, you lose your patience, but you have been very patient."
The long-term stuff.
Like Joy, who in her blog says, "I'm a flee-er," I sometimes wish I could flee, that I didn't have the discipline so that instead of being here for mom I could be in Bamff, Canada for Christmas.
The trick is to recognize small ways to flee. There's nothing healthy about patience turned to martyrdom. With good boundaries, with a clear sense of my own priorities, that have somehow gotten lost in the ongoing drama, I can make it through this without attendant drama, guilt, and crisis. I pray that it is so.
Then it will be time for patience of another sort. Patience for what life continually brings, with or without centenarian mothers, who, when she is gone, I will miss.

To read more of Joy's writing, click on In Kairos in blogs I am following.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The giving garden just keeps giving. Today I "harvested" seeds out of five pumpkins that I had set out for harvest decorations. I got two trays of seeds that I will dry for 24 hours before roasting them with oil and salt.

Finished "The Crying Tree," a book I would recommend. Great writing by Naseem Rakha, an award winning radio journalist, who wrote this book about murder, forgiveness, family secrets, capital punishment, redemption, pain. Doesn't sound like relaxing reading, but well worth the effort.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Release party for Southard Winery

Tonight we attended the opening of the Southard Winery. Below is a photo of their vineyard. Because I have walked by their property for years, it has been a treat to see their acreage transformed into a producing vineyard and winery. I wrote a story about the winery in 2007, a year before their first harvest in 2008.  And then I was able to participate in that first harvest which produced the grapes for the great Riesling wine we purchased tonight.

Doug, Scott, Nicole and Kevin embarked on what so many dream about: a family-run business. Each has contributed to making it a success. It has been so much fun to watch it come true for you.

Congratulations all of you. And thanks for a great wine!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

My neighbor's vineyard, post-harvest, and their beautiful Maple Tree

My contribution: a new flower bed

A wondrous November day. I was working in the garden! in my shirtsleeves. Wish I had a photo, but Ben was gone when I thought of it. I created a flower bed, built a rock border, and realized that my mind was at peace. It also occurred to me that it's really okay to be a gardener and not a professional woman in the work world, "contributing," and being "useful." I decided today that it was okay not to be involved in ministry, that there's nothing more useful to me or this planet, my husband, my son, (even though he's not here), my neighbors, and my mother, than to be working in the garden as much as possible.
Of course, winter is just around the corner, so not much more of this. But accomplishing this much in November was a thrill.

A plot of land to steward

It never occurred to me when I used to grow gardens that it was a year-round task. You plant a garden. You harvest. End of story. Not so. Except here in Central Washington where the ground freezes in the winter, there's always something to do. Even then, when I'm sitting by the woodstove, there's the envisioning of next year's garden, looking at seed catalogs, and dreaming with the other community gardeners what we are going to eat come June.  By March, only four months away, we'll be able to plant seeds inside (if we are so inclined, which I have never been.)
In the meantime, I spent an hour in the garden yesterday cleaning out some of the dirt/grass clods that didn't get tilled and we had piled to the side of the garden. They are annoying, to say the least, and I will have to add dirt back into the area where I am removing the clods....taking a lot of dirt with them.
Then, I'll plant a border for flowers, a haven for the beneficial insects I'm just sure will want to hang out in our garden.
I'm thinking more about the flowers than I am the vegetables at this point because in a way they are just as important--not only for the aesthetics, but a home for insects. It's the same for big farmers. I've read that some farmers are beginning to understand the importance of bordering their large acreages with trees, shrubs, plants and flowers to harbor the beneficials, which seems odd considering how much spraying that takes place. What good is a border to harbor insects, if you just kill them?
Anyway, no spraying in our little plot of ground.
When Jared and I moved her 17 years ago, I was grateful to have a small plot of land over which I was the steward. Jared never got very excited about it because as an adolescent that is not where his attention was focused. His was music. And finishing school. And growing up. But I remember him helping plant fence posts, mowing, burning the tumbleweeds in the fall, shoveling snow. He was a big help.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Still harvesting

The frosty collards below were really quite edible yesterday with a little olive oil and feta cheese. Amazing how they withstand frost. Come winter, I still should be able to harvest a few leaves.
Just received an online list of seed companies, heirloom and otherwise at Skippy's Vegetable Garden, an inspiring gardening web site.
I think this would be the year to start ordering in December, put out a table of seeds in March. It's the end of October and I'm already longing to be out there with the sun on my back in the morning, pulling up weeds, seeing our efforts pay off.
Even with winter as hard and as long as it is here, we will be able to reap the benefits of the garden almost year round. Dry beans, potatoes, carrots, kale and collards are the main ones for now. Two bags of potatoes sit on my back porch "drying" out. But we've already had a few for dinner. Knowing they haven't been sprayed with fungicide and then with some other chemical to stop the sprouting, makes me grateful for those red and gold tubers.
We are still eating the last of the green tomatoes that ripened. I've been amazed at how long they've lasted. I was going to freeze some, but have been enjoying eating them fresh. Only a few left, and then it's back to store bought for awhile.
Made a black bean soup last night. Ben and I went out in the garden after dark with a flash light and dug up some carrots, picked a few collard leaves, and some cilantro. Along with store bought celery and organic onion, and an anaheim pepper I picked before the first frost and some of the tomatoes, it made a great soup.
I feel like looking forward to the garden is what is going to get me through this winter. I know I get a little blue in the fall when the color fades and the storms begin their trek over the mountains, but this year feels especially bleak. I think because of the daily stresses of caring for mom's ongoing and ever-increasing needs. I have cried lately. I have hit these places before. Wanting it to be over. But knowing that once it is...well, then, I'll be an orphan!!
My dear friend, Bonnie, suggested that there are friends of mine who are doing a bit of hand-wringing and nail biting, hoping that mom doesn't wear me out first.
Today I took her to the doctor for him to look at a bone spur on her heel that is causing a great deal of pain. He laid on the floor so he could reach her heel and file it. She had a back x-ray to rule out a fracture from a fall she took last week.
Mom said, "You probably didn't train to be a geriatric specialist, did you?"
He said, "That's part of being a family practice doctor."
"Well, you sure are one now," she said.
Then she told him she would love him more than she already does if he could fix her bone-spur so it doesn't hurt. He loves her, too.
I called Ben to help her get up on the x-ray table. Fortunately, he was close by, just up the road working at someone's home. It's hard for her to move, let alone climb on a table too high for most people. She's moving slowly, but amazing grace, she's still moving.
In the car she said, "So, I just have to let this heal," referring to the "strain" in her back. She is always looking to healing. Always looking to getting better.
Her motto, "Never ever give up."
That's the least I can do.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Giving Garden Awards Banquet

Tonight we had the Community Garden Awards Banquet. That was after we did fall clean-up yesterday.
I was proud to receive the "Golden Green Thumb" award in "recognition of valuable contributions to garden envisioning and photography" and a "certificate of appreciation in recognition of garden management skills."
Ben received the "Golden Water Wizard" award, given to "Dr. Benjamin Francis in recognition of valuable contributions to organic watering systems," and a certificate of appreciation "in recognition of contributions to design and engineering of irrigation systems."
Everyone else got awards as well. Kate and Molly were in charge of the awards and the awards' ceremony.
Molly wrote a speech, which follows:
"The garden--the community garden--or giving garden--was a beautiful thing.
The giving garden started as a desert with a fence and some bushes. It started as an idea from two neighbors. They saw a garden instead of a desert. They saw what could be done, not what couldn't.
When it started the McCrackens and Martha and Ben teamed up and got wood planks and made an outline which turned into a beginning.
We planted seeds, watered and pulled weeds. At the beginning we pictured harvest time and got excited about what it would look like. We thought about salads and foods we could make. But it was just a beginning.
Then the garden became a gift of friend's helping friends. It would give us food and get us closer. All we had to do was take care of it. Each day we worked the seeds and got closer to food and we neighbors got closer like family. It took work, but gave us fun. It put a smile on our faces.
But then we got to the middle where we faced challenges. Earwigs, weeds, and a rodent. It was the hard part and we felt lazy, but my mom and Martha kept us working. We saw the plant partially grown, which gave us hope. We saw beauty and remembered the gift that would come.
Finally, it was time to harvest. We were happy and hungry. We have harvested and now comes the awards night. And we now know that the gift is greater than the work. We have great food and we are closer friends.
So now I remind you that a desert, no matter how barren, can be a garden that bears beautiful food. And I would like to thank all of you for the work you gave and remember that all a seed needs is dirt, water, and a little sunshine from the sun, and us.
Thank you, Martha, Ben, Mary, Joy, Jacob, Sean, Kate and Ashley and God.
Molly McCracken, age 13."

Thanks Molly. And everyone else. The garden was a special garden, not just because of the bounty we received, but because you were in it.

What is the lesson?

It feels as if I'm supposed to be learning something, but for the life of me, I can't figure out what it is. Patience? Compassion? Kindness? When I'm rested, when I give myself margin, when I set boundaries, I have all three. But lately, I feel dried up and sort of desperate.
I have little patience for other people's drama. I've got too much of my own to contend with. For the moment, my compassion is for myself, to find a little place where I am away from the phone, from demands, from needs, from never-ending problems.
Yes, I will miss her. My friend Ted once told me that what I'll miss most is her needing me.

Maples and Pampas

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The right foot

Mom fell last night. I fell last week. Mom's right foot has a bone spur, is healing from a fracture, has had lymphedema. She's off balance.
My right foot has tendinitis. The doc says, "Oh, it's a nuisance, do your exercises."
Mom cries that the bone spur is "ruining her life."
I feel off-balance, trying to balance her life and her needs with mine. It's a dance of patience, compassion, and boundaries.

We cleaned the garden today. Mary, Jake, and I harvested red beans that Molly planted in the spring. We harvested four bags of red and gold potatoes. There are still carrots in the ground, some kale and collards and we pulled some green onions. Tomorrow I'll make a soup from assorted vegis leftover from our abundant garden.
Ben rolled up all the drip irrigation and then burned.
We raked all the squash bugs into a pile with the straw. Actually, we didn't see squash bugs, but we did a few days ago. Fifty or so having a squash bug party on a pumpkin. It was gross looking.
Then while we burned, wondering if the local fire officials were going to come ticket us for burning after Oct. 15, we realized the neighbors squash bugs could easily invade, even if we burned the whole garden to a crisp.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Sometimes I have evil thoughts

I deleted the first part of this post because it was disjointed and stressed.
All I can say is that I am not the only caretaker of an elderly parent who has had evil thoughts.
I'm tired to the bone...even after a two-week vacation.
I love my mom, but it's hard.
The good news.
We moved mom back to her old apartment.
The fire back to the frying pan.
Still hot, still issues, but better than the fire.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Common ground

We left Jacquie and Barry's on Wednesday evening, heading for what I thought was going to be Salem. But the off-ram was jammed so we went on to Wenham, which was one of the places I had wanted to go. It was the only place that I was able to locate ancestors for both of us. Ben's ancestor Chloe Claflin lived in Wenham, as did my ancestors, John and Lydia Porter.
It was almost dark when we arrived. A quiet town, not much happening, and no places to stay. We googled accommodations on Ben's Iphone, and discovered the Nightingale Inn, less than 10 minutes away. Turns out it was an early 20th century Mediterranean style villa, built by a Nightingale, and lived in by his widow for nearly 50 years. She slept on a screened-in porch most of the time, although there were beautiful (at least now) rooms upstairs.
In the morning we were treated to a breakfast of oatmeal and raisins, orange juice, coffee and tea, while listening to the proprietor, Moshe Mazin, hold forth on Jewish history. We sat for two hours, listening with rapt attention. Another one of our "experiences," along the way that we felt led to.
I was still thinking we would go to Salem, but instead ate at the Cygnet, a restaurant where we had eaten the night before. Then we went down to the beach at Beverly, and walked for 30 minutes on another sparkling day.
Then we went to Wenham. John Porter III was the only son of Samuel Porter, a mariner, who died at 23 headed to, or returning from, Barbadoes in 1660. Samuel was the second son of John Porter, Sr, and Mary Endicott, who had come to America in 1635 and landed in Hingham. Apparently, John, Sr., was one of the wealthiest men in the Salem area, leaving a lengthy last will and testament when he died. He left money to Samuel, who, in turn, left a "large farm," to his wife, Hannah Dodge, when he died.
John lived to be 95, died in 1753, and had 11 children with a combined age at death of 955 years. There were two sisters who lived to be 100. No one died before 80.
We found the Wenham Cemetery and started toward the back, Ben driving, me walking. Finally, we spotted the oldest part of the cemetery, grave stones perched upon a knoll overlooking the main street, under Maple trees spreading their limbs over the resting places of the Porter, Kimball, Dodge, Gott, and other clans.
I found the Porters, and then, John Porter and next to him, Lydia Herrick Porter. John was born in 1658 and died in 1753. Lydia's inscription was harder to read and her birthdate was around 1660. I'm not sure what it is to come about an ancient grave of a long-gone ancestor, but there is something spiritual, a re-connection, a re-membering, a putting back together.
After wandering through the cemetery, finding what were surely, John and Lydia's descendants among the Porters, we headed into town to the museum and the Claflin-Richards House, an 18th century home, where Robert MacClaflin had lived in the 1660s. We didn't have a lot of information about the Claflins, but will try to track it down.
The rest of the day was spent driving through Ipswich, Boxford, and other towns where the Tylers (maternal side) had also made their way in the 1660s and early 1700s, before heading west to Michigan. There are few grave markers from the 1600s. They are either destroyed by time and elements, or buried under towns and progress.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Full moon over Boston

I saw Boston's skyline today from Hingham Harbor and the town of Hull, a spit of land jutting out south of Boston Harbor. Hingham Harbor is where my ancestors, John and Mary Porter, landed in 1635 to 1640, before heading north to the Salem area.
My "cousin" Jacquie Goudey was our tour guide showing us the area on a warm and sparkling day. When we were on the beach at Hull, I was in a tank top for a brief time, enjoying the sunshine. There were a few people swimming, young women in bathing suits. We ate at the Ocean Club on a patio overlooking the ocean. Perfect day, less than perfect food, but a great time.
We went from there south to see the homes of millionaires, small bungaloes and beach houses on stilts, tiny row houses, 18th and 19th century homes tucked into the woods, along the shore, or along the rivers and lakes. The fall colors aren't vibrant this far south. Jacquie says we are a week early.
We went to Scituate and saw an 1811 lighthouse and another charming New England harbor that seem to be the rule rather than the exception. We saw more sailboats than there are cars in Washington, but all anchored in harbor, which was surprising considering the warmth of the day. But it was a Tuesday, and school was in. A perfect time to travel here, we have discovered.

We spent two whirlwind days with Jacquie and Barry. We met them in Marblehead, Mass., at the site of Elizabeth Goudey's grave. It was a beautiful place, overlooking the ocean, Marblehead Bay and a rocky promontory. I envisioned Elizabeth, and husband George, arriving in 1735 from Ulster, Ireland. I'm not sure they were Irish, but perhaps English, who left England seeking more religious freedom. I don't know if that's true because they left 100 years after the first pilgrims. They were the first Goudey's in America on my line. Her beautiful headstone is made of a dark granite that seemed to  hold the etchings from the 18th century much better than some of the 19th century.

Jacquie and Barry drove us around Marblehead and we had dinner at a pub. I had a rare low blood sugar attack, causing me to be a bit frantic. They were gracious and didn't act as if I was some kind of freak. The next day we went to Hingham Harbor and Scituate. Hingham is where John and Mary Porter arrived in 1635, the first Porters on our side in America.

Jacquie and Barry

Monday, October 5, 2009

Reflections on half way

Little more than half way on our trip. Drove up the South Coast of Nova Scotia on Saturday, seeing some beautiful fishing villages. We ate fish cakes and chutney at a tavern in Chester, and then drove through Halifax at night with a full moon above. We spent an hour trying to find the waterfront, just so I could say I saw it. I finally had to drive so Ben could navigate. We drove from there across the McDonald bridge. I tried to get Ben to take a photo of Halifax skyline over the water, but nothing doing. That's my job.
On to Fall River, where we stayed at a lovely inn...The Inn at Fall River. Next morning was the beginning of our marathon drive up through Nova Scotia to Fredericton, New Brunswick, where we met one of my distant "cousins," Steve Goudey and his wife, Nancy. Great time with them, but like everything on this trip, too short. We bought us lunch, and then gave us a 20-minute tour of Fredericton in the rain, as well as a five-minute worship service at the Anglican cathedral near the St. John River. Steve led us in to a pew, an usher handed us hymals with a beatific smile on his face, and three minutes later we left. We will have to meet up with them again. They are a lot of fun, and native Yarmouthians.
We drove across New Brunswick to Bangor, Maine, back to Surya's home. I realized this morning that although we are experiencing some wonderful scenery, rediscovering my roots and the graves of long-dead ancestors, reconnecting with Surya has been a highlight for me. We share a common thread of raising our boys, Isaac and Jared, and seeing that as single moms we actually did a great job. I always say, "the votes aren't all in yet," but it seems clear they are both on solid paths. We had more time last night to tell stories, pulling together the threads of 17 years. Ben and I also needed a brief respite, which we are enjoying this morning at Surya's.
Like the rest of my life, I fail at building in margin. Today is the day I start doing that. I called Jacquie, my distant cousin, and said we wouldn't be leaving at 8 a.m. to meet them in Marblehead, Mass. We are going to have a more leisurely day and meet up with them later.
The fall colors are unbelievable. I saw more fall color yesterday, even though it was raining the whole way, than any time in my life, including the 17 years in Washington. Sun is out today. We plan on a walk in the woods outside Bangor before heading to Marblehead, Mass.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Local color

Last night Ben and I were invited to go to a lobster house on the Bay of Fundy on the Yarmouth Bar with our B&B hosts Twyla and Bruce Rogers and ten of their local friends. Talk about local color.
Ernie and Brian, at Stanley Lobster, helped us pick out our lobster. While it was being cooked we were on the rocky beach watching what our new friends said was a typical beautiful sunset, when it wasn't raining. It was also almost a full moon on an almost cloudless night. Brian built an enormous bonfire, we sat on logs sipping wine, and had a great time getting to know people who had lived in Yarmouth most or all of their lives.
We met Andy, a Scotsman and a longtime Yarmouth farmer, Sven, a Norwegian and a principal, his wife, Karen, a French Acadian and school teacher, and others who were descendants of the "British Loyalists."
After dinner in a candlelit room sitting on the bluff eating lobster with ten new friends, we sat around the giant bonfire and laughed and talked some more before going to the home of Dan, (of Dutch descent) and his wife (another Karen) so the men could smoke a cigar. Dan's grandfather had once had a cigar company in the Holland. While Ben smoked a fine cigar on the patio with five men, I drank tea with the ladies. Karen and Karen, Maria, Andy's wife, Karen and Twyla, our hostess, who realized too late that she had to be up at 6:30 to cook dinner for the other guests of the B&B, John and Chris, who had come over from their Maine blueberry farm to stay in the B&B for the weekend. They, too, came to the lobster feast, but went home before the cigar smoking event.
An evening to remember.
We are off to Halifax this morning.

Coming home

We have been having so much fun in Yarmouth, it has been hard to find time to sit down and write.
Thursday we went to Port Maitland, my grandparents and great grandparents birthplace. We walked on the beach where my grandfather once was able to find lobster under rocks after storms, where he picked blackberries in the hills and helped his father, Bowman Goudey, harvest potatoes. Bowman was a farmer, but four of his brothers were sea captains, later making their homes in Yarmouth.
After the walk we went searching the cemeteries. I knew that two generations of Goudeys, at least, were buried at Port Maitland Cemetery, but we discovered two older cemeteries first. I was a little confused about where they might be. Later we would discover that graves had been moved from a cemetery across the street, from the oldest cemetery. I asked Ben to drive up a sideroad. When he stopped on top of a knoll I got out of the car and spotted two moss-covered headstones and walked to them. As I walked around to look at the front, I was stunned to discover that I had walked directly to the grave of my great great great grandfather, Stephen Goudey, and his wife, Mary Haskell. What a rush! I took photos and then we started looking for Stephen and Mary's son, Thomas Goudey. I went off one direction in what is a cemetery that holds about 600 graves. Ben took off another direction. I walked down the other side of the knoll and walked directly to my great grandmother Porter's grave. Mary Alice Perry married Titus Hurlburt Porter. She died at age 50 and was buried in the Port Maitland cemetery. I did not know she was buried there, so that was a great surprise.
We kept searching for Thomas. I walked down to the main road coming into the cemetery to search there, when a car drove in. A very English looking woman got out of the car. From a distance she hailed me and said, "Do I know you?"
"I don't think so," I replied.
I told her why I was there and she said her name was Lynda Churchill Denton, and her husband, Greg Denton. They were there because her parents are buried in that cemetery. We had just been reading about her ancestor Aaron Churchill, who had been famous for a daring sea voyage upon which he repaired a rudder under a ship in a storm. I told Lynda about my ancestors being buried in the cemetery and that I couldn't find Thomas or Bowman, my great grandfather, father to Stanley, my grandfather.
She said she remembers her grandfather talking about Bowman Goudey. She gave me the name of a man in Port Maitland who might be able to tell us where Bowman was buried.
We had a great conversation with them and then they left. We continued our search for Thomas. Finally, after another 30 minutes we discovered Thomas, and wife Abigail, directly across the road from Stehen and Mary. Tangible evidence that these ancestors walked the earth.
Bowman remained a mystery, which I will share in an update to this post as soon as I can.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Nova Scotia

Made it to Yarmouth last night after a long day Monday traveling, a day in Bangor, Maine, visiting my old friend Surya (above). The two of us visited Fort Knox, in Maine, while Ben drove to Portland, Maine from Bangor to pick up a rental car. (Long Story). It was good to spend time with her alone, although the three of us had an equally great time together. We ate East Indian food the first night we were there, walked around town a bit, and sat at her table and drank tea. It was wonderful to see her after 17 years. We used to live next door to each other in Leucadia, California when her Isaac was a baby and Jared was about 8.  I was a midwife at the time and helped with the birth of Isaac, who is no 21 (?) and living in Boston going to art school.  We left Leucadia when Jared was nine to come to Washington. Shortly after that Surya and Isaac moved to Maine, where they have lived since then.  I feel a deep connection with Surya, which I hope will last a lifetime.

The next morning we drove to St. John, New Brunswick, yesterday, took the Digby ferry to Digby, and then drove an hour and a half to Yarmouth. The trip over was exciting because it was when I got my first glimpse of Nova Scotia. I was driving the "boat," after a tour of the engine room and a trip up to the bridge. The first mate gave me brief instructions and took the ferry off auto-pilot and I steered toward the opening into the Digby Harbor.

Present time:
We are staying at a bed and breakfast. The house was built in 1870 and has been remodeled to fit the era. Well, we're not using chamber pots. It's lovely. The backyard leads to the back of the city's library, which used to be a cemetery. In that cemetery is the grave of Thankful Goudey, one of my distant relatives.
It feels like coming home in an odd way. To say to Twyla, our hostess, that my grandparents were born just up the road, is a rush. I told her about all the ancestors, and she said, "what would be interesting is if you had living relatives." I don't believe I do, but we'll go looking anyway. Maybe knock on some doors.
Many experiences so far, but didn't have a way to connect to write. Now I will, at least for the next couple of days before we head out again.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

"It's so close now I can smell it," Ben, 10 a.m. Sunday

The events of the past two weeks have convinced me I could run a corporation. No sweat. I've never had to deal with so many details. But then, like my friend, Mary, I never had seven kids. Now, she could run a corporation.
I don't want to. I just want to go to Nova Scotia.
I want to walk along the beach at Port Maitland, the birth place of my paternal grandparents. I want to go to Cape Forchu, the lighthouse that has sat there for more than a century (I'll have more details on that one) guiding the ships into Yarmouth Harbor.
I want to eat seafood and sit in a tavern with Ben and drink beer and listen to Celtic music. I want to go to the museums. I want to walk in the countryside where long ago ancestors farmed the land. I want to sit in the hot tub at our bed and breakfast.
On our way, I want to see my friend Surya in Maine. It's been 18 years since we have seen each other. I helped at her birth. She helped me with Jared when I was a single mom with a five year old. We have history, so it will be good to reconnect.
Then I will see "cousin" Steve Goudey. We aren't closely related, but George Goudey, 1735, was our direct ancestor. Then we will go to Massachusetts and see the ancestral stomping grounds in and around Salem, Beverly, Ipswich, Lynn and other small towns.
We will stay with cousin Jacquie and Barry. Our grandmother Porters married a Goudey, back to George again. They have invited us to their "B&B" to spend a few days visiting and exploring.
That's all. Just a trip. People do it all the time. They get in a plane and fly away to parts unseen and unknown and have new experiences and come home refreshed and start planning their next getaway.
That's all.
On our way to the McCrackens for a trip christening coffee cake, thanks to Jacob's culinary skills. more stop at mom's to finish out a few more DETAILS.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Calming the storm

I feel as if I've been in a war this past week. A resistance within and without to us getting in that car tomorrow morning and heading to the airport. So many details to attend to for mom before I could actually prepare to leave on Sunday for Nova Scotia and New England, the long-anticipated trip that felt like it was going to get aborted at every turn.
Ben has been holding his breath.
Yesterday mom was confused, disoriented, wasn't processing language very well, or simply couldn't hear. It's discouraging. But today she is sounding stronger. She is lucid...she just can't hear worth a darn. Going there this afternoon to "fix" her television.
Brother Stan arrives in six days. Amen to that.
I actually packed last night. Now just the last minute stuff. Ben needs to pack, which will happen 30 minutes before we leave.

Went into the garden this morning with Jake. The peas I planted in August (from the dried peas from the first crop) are beautiful, with many flowers. If we don't get a hard frost, there should be another round of delicious peas, soon.
We cut into the second watermelon last night. It weighed 35 pounds!! I said we should have entered it in the fair, but Ben wasn't going for that. He says it's the best he's ever had. The McCrackens, came to share the bounty and took the remaining watermelon home.
We still have many tomatoes. Again, depending on weather, we'll have more. But cooler weather is moving this way, finally. It's been in the high 80s, feeling much like August, except for the telltale gold tree, the first to turn in the fall in our neighbor's yard. Today it feels like a Santa Ana wind is blowing, except this is Washington and not Southern California. I'm listening to Nora Jones, and "our song," "Come Away with Me." Appropriate. The chimes on my patio are playing harmony.
We head from here to 50s and rain. I don't care.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

At 100 mom embarks on new chapter

Mom sat in the lobby today at Orchard Park and said goodbye to friends and acquaintances. One lady gave her a cheerful afghan that mom said to take to the Mission after we left. She felt good that people were eager to say goodbye and to wish her well. Yesterday the managers gave her flowers and acknowledged her departure, telling her they loved her and would miss her. They even acknowledged me as the faithful "awesome" daughter. Ah.
It was hard to strip her apartment, which she has called home for 16 years.
But we did it.
And now, tonight she is in her new digs.
She won't know where everything is for a few days and I imagine she'll be disoriented. But she'll settle, I hope.
When I left her this evening a med tech was giving her her evening medications and was calling her honey. I felt reassured and relieved that we have done the right thing.
And now it's time to pack.
Ben and I leave Sunday for Nova Scotia and New England. We'll be gone 13 days including travel time. Stan arrives next Friday to be with mom for a week while we're gone. He's on call while I'm gone and that gives me peace for our departure.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

I keep thinking that mom's final days are upon us. There have been falls, strokes, cancer, and then healing. Then more falls, strokes...and then healing.
I keep preparing for that day. I have cried. I've heard a voice tell me, "She's not dead yet, don't cry." That was six years ago. But I still cry.
I sometimes think I will be devoid of tears by the time she dies. Relieved, even. Of course I'll be relieved. She is not happy in this ancient body that she pushes to perform, and does oh so painfully slowly.
Mom says she's ready to go, but her actions contradict her words. She gets up in the morning, puts in her eyedrops, puts on her makeup, washes her hands after every bathroom visit and after every doorknob to prevent the flu that would take her out, gets flu shots faithfully every year, eats well, takes her medications, including vitamin C, every single day, on time. Is this a person who wants, or expects, to die?
A friend who is into astrology said once that people under the sign of Taurus have a hard time letting go.
You think?
It's not that I want my mother to die. I love her. I will miss her. But it is painful. It is hard work. It is draining. It is stressful. And my life has value, too.
How many others caring for their aging parents feel the same way?
And then, the next thought? How will Jared do assuming I reach a ripe old age?

Friday, September 18, 2009

Nourishment from the garden

My garden grounds me in the middle of stress. Before an afternoon of taking mom to appointments I decided to make myself a nourishing soup from the garden. I gathered potatoes I had unearthed and had allowed to dry, carrots, green peppers, green beans, fresh basil, and new collards. I'm cooking all that with onions and the remains of a baked chicken to get the flavor of chicken and those nice healing chicken enzymes that they say are in chicken soup. But the vegetables and their nourishment is what I'm going for.
Just walking out into the garden and picking the vegetables settles me. The sun on my skin, the breeze, the greens and oranges and reds of the garden. The watermelon and pumpkin waiting to be harvested, gaining strength and nourishment to feed our neighborhood community gardeners.

Get me out of here.

I'm feeling the stress of mom's constant needs this morning. I'm waking in the middle of the night obsessing about things like how mom is going to have to get up on the right side of the bed, instead of the left as she has been doing for 16 years.
I have put her on the waiting list for another facility, worrying that they won't treat her well where she is moving, before she even gets there. Worrying about where her television will go without her scraping her leg on the corner of the table and causing another wound that festers and takes months to heal. Or, where she's going to put her cosmetics and lotions and toothpaste on the tiny sink they offer her. Or, where her dresser is going to go, and the fit she will throw if after 70 some years she has to have a new dresser.
My chiropractor reminded me this morning as he was piecing me back together, that "worry is a prayer for the worst." Let alone a sleep saboteur.
I know that! But tell that to my racing mind at 3 a.m.
This morning my brother and I were discussing postponing her move. Ben overheard us and said an emphatic, "No." He made his wishes known, watching as he has, my stress.
I feel pins and needles on the soles of my feet in the night as well, making me want to jump up and down on electrodes to stop the feeling. I hope it's just stress.
On Facebook, there was an opportunity to "express myself" about TGIF. There were options you could click on. There was one option showing two fish bowls, one full of water but empty of fish and another one full of water and gold fish. One lone gold fish was jumping through the air out of the bowl full of fish into the bowl full of water, exclaiming, "Get me out of here."
My sentiments exactly, Goldie.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

"Let's take the bull by the horns." Sybil, 9/17/09

Today mom is onboard with the idea of moving. I cried and she is stoic--at least temporarily. It will be a big adjustment for her--and for me--but now that she has made up her mind she is moving, she says things like, "I've moved before, I can move again."
Thankfully, she's not moving to a nursing home.
As my brother, Stan, says, "It's not exactly under the bridge."
But it might seem like that if she is neglected and isolated.
I pray not. If that becomes the case we will move her again.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Harvesting watermelon

Kate is holding a giant watermelon we harvested from the garden a few nights ago. Sean is ready to cut into it to find out what is actually inside. It had beautiful, juicy, sweet fruit.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

It's time to move mom.

Mom doesn't think it's time to move mom. She has lived in her retirement home for 16 years, ever since she lived with me and Jared for eight months after moving up here from California.
She has been the queen. Everyone knows her. She's the centenarian. She's the special one. The managers love her. The housekeepers know her. It's a beautiful place. She has her nice little apartment. She knows her routine. It's hard to leave.
I get that.
I also get that she falls--twice this week, which resulted in a six-inch bruise on her arm, a blood blister on her shin where they plan to start lymphedema treatments Monday, and a twisted foot that required a two-person trip to the doctor's office for x-rays.
Then she had a TIA--a transitory eschemic attack--a mini-stroke, Thursday night. She couldn't speak for a couple of hours. She was dizzy, agitated, and "didn't know where she was."
The next morning she forgets that she had the TIA. She forgets that she is up every 15 minutes for several hours off and on through the night, before she finally settles down to every half hour.
It's not always like this. Typically the caregiver goes home at 2 a.m. and mom is on her own until morning, with the LifeLink button her salvation. The caregivers used to be able to stay longer, but they have both returned to college. I'm working on caregivers until morning, but mom doesn't want that.
Mom is in denial about her falls. There was the one where she fell in the bathroom and got a eight-inch gash on her arm that required an emergency room visit (twice), stitches, and a slow healing process, which is characteristic of the elderly, whose skin is friable.
She forgets about the wounds on her legs that took weeks to heal. She forgets about the broken tailbone that required hospitalization, morphine, and three-week respite care.
She forgets because that is her survival.
I remember.
But I'm only the daughter. I'm just the primary responsible family member.
I am sad, frustrated, angry, cynical, and determined that mom will be in a safer environment. She is equally determined, her will as strong at 100 as it ever was, that she will do it in her timing, not mine.
I try to turn it over, to "let go and let God," and then she falls and I'm scrambling to make sure she is okay, that caregivers are in place, that she gets to ER, or the doctor, that she has everything she needs.
The servant's heart. But at what cost.
Where does wisdom usurp empathy. Where is fear of change overcome by reason.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Garden Glow

It's not officially the first day of fall, and next week we expect more hot weather. But today, the wind is blowing and the hills are glowing and the trees are greener from yesterday's soaking rain.
The hay farmers couldn't have been too happy, since hay across the valley was baled in the fields waiting to be hauled to the barns. There's a word for that process, but I don't know what it is. Now the hay will have to dry out before it is stacked.
The garden is aglow as well. The recent planting for a fall crop will get a good start before the weather turns toward fall in earnest.
The peas are 15 inches tall. The lettuce is five inches. The spinach three inches. A late planting of beans is coming on. A late crop of green pepper plants have abundant growth. Next year I'll plant more red and yellow and orange pepper, now that I know how well they do.
Ben and I feasted on another cantaloupe yesterday. Sweet. Sweet. Sweet.
There are more on the vine, but either the bugs are the frost will probably get them first.
Tomatoes are slowing down, but I'm sure we got a good dose of vitamin c from the sweetest tomatoes I've ever eaten.
Jalapenos are getting tiny stripes, a precursor to hot, I'm told. We wait.
Potatoes are drying out underground. I wondered if the rain causes them to mold. We'll find out.

a place of peace in the center of contradiction

Each person lives within their own perspective.
Memories converge, then diverge.
Leading to misunderstanding, confusion, heartbreak.
At first, I withdrew. Then, I left town.
When I returned, her perspective still ran counter to my own.
One day, she said, "I guess I did leave you alone with him."
But then, the slide into contradiction.
"But he was always so good to me."
I threw the phone.

It has taken a lifetime to sit with my mother and love her without rancor.
Her old age has softened her will, enlightened her memories..
She still challenges.
Friends are confused when I tell them I argue with my mother.
Infrequent, yes. But I would say, "When she is no longer able and willing to argue, I'll stop."
It keeps her young, I rationalize.
She will still talk about politics, discouraged by the world's turn toward something she doesn't recognize.
She still learns. She still discusses. She fights. She repents. She thinks.
After a discussion in which I share my thoughts, she will think about what I said and come back to it.
I admire her.
I always did, but her life experience, her memories sometimes made me feel as if I was slightly crazy.
Fortunately, my mother and I have been given the gift of her longevity to reach a place of peace in the center of contradiction.
Unfortunately, we have been given the curse of her longevity. She no longer wants to be here, she says, but then gets up and puts on her makeup.

Friday, September 4, 2009

I don't remember the boat.

Sometimes mom's memories feel like an assault, usurping my memories as more important, more compelling, more accurate than mine.
It's not that I don't like to hear her stories. I've recorded her memories in each of the last three decades. I've scribbled notes on the back of photos and on the backs of envelopes when she recalls an experience.
As I've researched genealogy, she has been a resource for the smallest of details, which give me clues to follow.
I know where her high school annual is kept, which she looks at every few months. I store her high school mementoes in her old cedar chest in my living room.
I don't have my high school annual, or any mementoes.
She remembers poems her high school principal used to read.
I don't remember my principal.
She read at four, was the youngest library card holder in her hometown, was an involved member of the high school drama club, dated the high school football quarterback.
I ditched school and went to the beach with Jerry Moore, the school "bad boy." I was never involved in school activities. I finished high school, but "dropped out" emotionally.
I have my memories. But I wonder if anyone will ever be as interested in my memories as I am compelled to be of hers.
My memories feel crowded, insecure. It's as if we've each written our memoir and hers gets published and mine languishes in a box of journals, compressed by layers of ink and paper.
Sometimes I want to tell mom I don't care any more about her memories.
Enough is enough.
But I'm continually drawn in, fascinated that she can get so tired, so done with life, and then her eyes sparkles and she giggles, and out comes another story.
Her stories are funny and she laughs and I laugh and think how blessed she is to have her memory intact.
There are those times she remembers things that didn't happen, or happened to different people. But not often.
She remembers details. What a person said. What they wore. How they acted.
One day several years ago she said, "Remember when you and me and Tom and Jared went out on the whale watching boat off Carlsbad and we were on deck and Tom said...", and she told me exactly what Tom said.
I said, "I don't remember going out on the boat."

Saturday, August 29, 2009

"Squash Bug Boogie"?

This "recipe" for ridding my garden of squash bugs was sent to me by an unnamed person.
I might try it--at midnight when the neighbors are asleep.

1. Stand in the squash/ pumpkin/potato patch.

2. Play your favorate boogie music very loud.

3. Stomp to the music for 15 minutes or until the last bug leaves.

4. Look to make sure that the neighbors haven't called the white suits.

This works, believe it or not. They may return after awhile but just repaeat the application until they get the message...

Friday, August 28, 2009

Aug. 28, 2009 - Fall plantings and squash bugs

The squash bugs invaded the zucchini, pumpkins, and cantaloupe. Thankfully, we already got a lot of zucchini and delicious cantaloupe. The pumpkins will be moldy by October. Live and learn. Next year I doubt I'll use up the room and my energy fighting squash bugs on the pumpkin plants. Little did I know that others have had the same problem. I'll leave the pumpkin growing to the pumpkin farms.
The fall crop of peas are ten inches tall, planted from harvested and dried peas from the spring crop that went into late July.
Planted more lettuce and spinach a few weeks ago, maybe too early, but hopefully it will withstand this late August heat wave of 97 degree days with a nip of all in the late evenings and early mornings here in Central Washington. Today, it's 9:30 a.m. and 80 degrees already. So much for the fall nip.
Today, I planted more turnips and collards, as well as an experimental few brussels sprouts, which I was told will produce until winter?
Also, planted four more Russian Sage in the extended garden for habitat for the friendly bugs and to beautify a very dry cracked piece of earth down our driveway. Will plant more sage and complementary lavender to add to the eight or nine lavender, six grasses, several yarrow, and three other Russian Sage. I hope you bugs are happy now and will keep the vegetable garden relatively bug free next year

Saturday, August 22, 2009

“Genealogy is interesting, but at my great age it gets confusing.” Sybil (Tyler) Sharp, age 100, August 22, 2009.

For years I recorded mom reciting memories of her life and ancestors. I had the recordings that were on tiny fragile cassette tapes copied onto CDs and gave my brother and nephew a copy. I recorded her in her 80s and 90s, and once in her 70s. We've gone through photos and I've written names and dates and relationships on the back of the photos.
I finally stopped recording and just listened to the stories. The dates got blurred, people once married to one person were now married to someone else.
I exaggerate. But I did realize that going back over it all was probably not necessary. So I stopped.
But then it became clear that she was still able to tell a good story. Sometimes she needs a little redirecting, but then will come up with a name, a date, a place--or a story. Lately she gets confused if I ask too many questions.
Today I asked her to think of the name of her great great maternal grandparents. She touched my leg and said, "let me think about it." Tomorrow she'll probably have the answer.
I realized she could be a resource for others with whom we have ancestors in common. How many people have a 100-year-old lucid relative. Not many.
Today I also asked her about her grandmother Iantha Scoville Tyler.
She remembers her grandmother Iantha as a "very very cold person," who never gave her any love.
Then I had a story for her, one that she didn't know. Because of research I had been doing on the genealogy, I learned that her great grandmother Lydia, Iantha's mother, had given birth to eight children. From 1841 to 1853 she lost five sons and one daughter, all between the age of one and two.
Then Iantha was born, and lived. Then another daughter, Theodora. Then Lydia's husband, William Holly Scoville, died when Theodora was three and Iantha was five. How does one bear up under that kind of grief? Apparently, she didn't, because then she died, too.
How this must have affected Iantha and Theodora.
I told mom that most certainly her grandmother, who was left an orphan to be raised by an uncle, had good reason to be a little reserved.
Hopefully I was able to give my mother new insights about a woman who she felt was never there for her in the way she would have liked.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Those that do, and those that don't

Just like when Jared was two and I was tuned into other mothers with a two-year-old, now I'm tuned in to people who are caretaking their parents. I notice the 50 and 60-something women taking their moms to the market. Many of our friends have aging parents. That's the generation we are. It's also what you do. It's how you do it that has changed.
My niece in-law, Nga, asked me recently if I had ever considered moving mom into my house. Yes and no, I said. Mom lived with me for eight months when she was 83, I was 46, and Jared was 9. It didn't work very well. She moved into a retirement home, I moved into my bedroom that she had been using, and we all got on with our lives much more peacefully. Besides that, she didn't need my care. She wanted companionship and involvement in our lives. She still got that, but we all had more space to breathe.
Now it's really not much different. Mom, at 100, still wants her independence as long as she can keep it. She is still able to get herself up to the bathroom in the night after the caregiver leaves. As long as she can do that, she'll stay where she is.
And once she needs full-time care, I wouldn't move her here. It wouldn't work for any of us. My role is to visit, take her to doctor's appointments, make decisions, pay bills, and care for her needs...and then go home.
In Nga's culture, Vietnamese, mom and dad move in. Nga's four brothers took care of her parents when they were old.
Our culture, and my family, are more fragmented. My brother and one nephew are in Southern California. My son is in Seattle. Another nephew is in Australia. None are available to offer more than peripheral support. They love their mom and grandma, but no way would any of them take on the responsibility of having grandma live with them.
By default, one child in a family ends up as caretaker. They are fortunate when siblings participate, as do my brother and his wife. They offer verbal support, call mom, help with hard decisions, and come visit when they can. Is it enough? Not always, but it is what it is, and I carry no resentment toward them.
I don't always like this role as caretaker and its attendant responsibilities...but it's a privilege.
I just hope someone considers it a privilege to take care of me when the time comes.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

"What am I going to do without this old lady?"

Those were the words of Arabella Hicks, protagonist in "The Fiction Class," a book I was reading in the waiting room at the Yakima Heart Center. Arabella was referring to her mother she visits each week in a nursing home. Arabella has a challenging relationship with her mother, but recognizes the love between them.

I wept.

I was waiting for mom while she had an ultrasound to determine whether or not she had blood clots in her legs. The day before we were there to determine whether or not she was eligible for surgery to open up her arteries to increase blood flow to reduce swelling and pain.

Nothing life-prolonging, just comfort measures.

We discovered she does not need surgery, but should be wearing support hose, which she wore every day until a wound on her leg wouldn't heal. Her primary doctor had decided a vascular scan was important, which led to unnecessary speculation about the pros and cons of surgery for a 100-year-old woman and the advice to not wear her hose because of the vascular disease. We requested a consult with a specialist, thus the visit to the Heart Center to see a cardiologist.

The visit to the center the day before lasted two and a half hours, punctuated by brief visits, first from an intake nurse who mom couldn't hear, then a nurse who did a quick EKG, then a physician's assistant, who was in awe that mom was 100, and finally, the cardiologist who told her first about how Dick Cheney came to Yakima and the Secret Service interviewed him because he was on-call at the hospital at the time of Cheney's visit.

Mom interrupted him and said, "So, what about surgery?"

He first said, "I just want to say, 'it's an honor to meet you.'"

I sometimes feel like mom is a rock star and I'm her manager, orbiting around her little world, making sure everything goes as planned.

After he told us about the encounter with the secret service officer, who by the way, "was built like a fireplug," mom told him that a doctor once told her that she had "one of those hearts that would beat forever."

I thought, "really, I believe it."

The doc told her she didn't need surgery, but she did need to reduce the swelling in her legs and prescribed physical therapy at a lymphedema clinic (been there, done that, but here we go again). He also prescribed a medicine that he cautioned me about.

"If she gets confused, stop it immediately."

After I dropped mom off, I called my brother on my way to the store to buy a six-pack. I told him all about the visit and that the recommendation about surgery was off-course, that her problem was the lymphedema. I told him about the drug and we hung up.

A few minutes later I called back and said, "I forgot to tell you about the drug he prescribed for mom."

My brother said, "You mean the one that causes confusion."

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Genealogy tales

My Aunt Marge compiled the Goudey and Porter genealogies (paternal grandparents) some years back and distributed them among the relatives. I have looked at it over the years, marveling at my ancestors longevity in the 1600s, noting where they lived, when they moved from Massachusetts to Nova Scotia, and how closely connected we all really are.
But one thing had me puzzled in the Porter genealogy. James Porter (son of Hezediah II, who was born in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia), was born in Deerfield, Portage, Ohio in 1789. Suddenly Hezediah got a hankering to head to Ohio? James's 11 children are also born in Deerfield, Portage, Ohio.
According to Marge, my great great grandfather, Ebenezer Corning Porter, was also born in Deerfield, Portage, Ohio. But oops, his son, my great grandfather Titus Hurlburt was born in Deerfield, Yarmouth. This was just strange.
Finally, yesterday, I came upon a Web site constructed by Ken Goudey. He had a page on "other immigrants," including the Porters.
Aha. James was born, as were his children, in Ohio, all right. But not Ohio, the state, but a tiny town named Ohio, Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. I googled Ohio, Yarmouth, and there it was, including Deerfield just up the road. An addendum on James pedigree says he bought land near Hooper's Lake and Salmon River. Also up the road from Ohio.
Somehow my aunt got it all mixed up. But genealogy is not a one-time, it's-all-done sort of thing. It takes persistence to figure it all out, and then you only have pieces of it, primarily because the female genealogy was rarely recorded.
I emailed my cousin Cheryl, and her son, Tom, who has been working on the family genealogy. She wrote back and said, "You're a good detective. Now find our Mayflower connection." Right.
In the process of solving one mystery, another mystery was also solved. A woman I plan to meet in Foxborough, Mass. is my relative on the Goudey and Porter side. Our great great grandfathers, Ebenezer Porter and Moses Porter, were brothers, traced back to John and Mary Porter, who landed in Hingham, Mass. in 1635 or so. Both our grandmother Porters married Goudeys. Our Goudey line can be traced back to George Goudey, who landed in America in 1735 with wife, Elizabeth Morgan, who is buried at Marblehead, Mass.
Clear as mud, but worth slogging through it.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Frozen Tomatos

I have so many tomatoes I'm not sure what to do with them. Ben doesn't seem that interested in them, even if I say, "Hey, why not slice that beautiful tomato and put it on top of your pizza."No, he suggests I make tomato sauce."Not to add to your work," he adds.But I googled how to freeze tomato sauce and found a great recipe. Cook, pulverize, freeze. My kind of recipe.Today was cooler than it's been in weeks.As I sat at my desk a breeze on my back brought the smell of rain. Not much rain, but enough to wash the leaves and remind me fall is coming all too soon.

Time travels

I've been researching my genealogy, preparing for our trip east the end of September, traveling in time to Salem, Hingham, Wenhem, Roxbury, Andover and Marblehead in what was once the Massachusetts Bay Colony, where my paternal and maternal ancestors gathered in the 1600 and 1700s.
I always get a little nervous before I fly so researching the lives of my ancestors gives me a little perspective.
John and Mary Porter arrived in 1635 in Hingham Bay, MA, on the boat the Susan and Ellen, immigrating from England to a far-off shore on a tiny ship to start a new life. Once in Hingham, they settled for awhile, but eventually migrated north to the Salem area, making a life I can barely imagine.
Their grandson, John Porter II, lived a robust life to 95 and had 11 children, whose average age at death was 87. A couple of his children lived to 100. The lineage of his wife, Lydia Herrick, can be traced back to the 1400s in England, unusual for the women in the genealogies.
John and Lydia's son, Nehemiah, moved to Nova Scotia and was 92 when he died. His grandson Hezediah was 96 when he died, leaving 9 children, 61 grandchildren, 108 grandchildren and 1 great great grandchild.
George and Elisabeth Goudey landed in Marblehead, MA in 1735. His son, James, was the first Goudey to head to Yarmouth. His descendants, including my grandparents, were born mostly in Port Maitland, a tiny coastal village near Yarmouth, where my grandfather caught lobster by simply overturning rocks. Not these days.
The Porters met up with the Goudeys and all the other relatives (remember the women were all descended from someone, too.) all of whom had gone seeking a new life in Nova Scotia.
Meanwhile, the Tylers, my maternal ancesters, were making a life in Andover, Woburn, or Roxbury, all in the vicinity of the Porters and the Goudey's before heading to Michigan.
I'd love to know Elizabeth Goudey and Mary Porter, who arrived on these shores in small ships, leaving a life they had known for the unknown in every sense of the word.
Surely, I can invoke their spirit to make a trip east in an airplane without being nervous.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Evangeline's trail

When my mother was in eighth grade she memorized 22 lines from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's Evangeline. Over the years, she would recite the lines, impressing me always that she could continue, into her 90s, to remember what she had learned at 12.
Today we talked about Evangeline again. Ben and I are traveling to my paternal grandparents' birthplace in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia in October. I told her about our reservations at a B&B just off Highway 1, the Evangeline Trail. I asked her if she knew the history and she said, "Oh yes, the...who are they, now?...they were expelled from Nova Scotia."
I went to get her copy of "Evangeline," from the bookshelf. It was published in 1909 the year my mother was born, and given to her for Christmas 1918 by her Uncle Dan. The historical preface says, "in so far as it is inspired by facts, Longfellow's Evangeline is based on the historic event known as the 'expulsion of the Acadians' from Nova Scotia in 1755."
"Oh, that's right, the Acadians," she said.
Once again, at my behest, she recited those lines. Her facility of expression, her near perfect diction, her sparkling eyes reminds me how blessed she is, how blessed I am, that she has her mind and wits about her.
Then she said, "I used to have instant recall."
I laughed and said, "I've never had instant recall."
In spite of all the drama surrounding the daily business of attending to a centenarian, my mother's life is a gift to me.

Tomatoes, To-MA-toes, Potatoes, Po-TA-toes

Yesterday Ben and I went up to visit our friends, Paul and Katie, in Ellensburg, Washington, a 45 minute drive from our home in Selah.
The intended purpose of the trip was to collect a camper they had given us so that when we could follow them into bear country and not get eaten in our tent.
I wasn't particularly gracious about the gift, and for that I apologize, Paul and Katie. But something told me this was a debacle in the making. But Ben was determined. As it turned out, the camper didn't fit the truck and we revised our goal for the afternoon.
They hitched up their trailer to their truck and we took off up a canyon not far from their home, seeking relief from the 96 degree heat. It was 95 when we arrived at a favorite spot of theirs, but a breeze, shade and pine trees, offered an illusion of coolness. We drank beer, barbequed hamburgers, drank wine and then gin and tonics (I abstained from the G&T's) and talked gardening among other things.
Paul is a gardener from way back, helping his mom tend a "survival" garden at their Mossy Rock, Washington, homestead as he was growing up. It was hard work. Gardening always is, but when you seriously depend on it for your daily fare, it takes on a whole different meaning.
But out of that he developed a love of gardening. Katie grew up in Ellensburg and has gardened much of her life as well.
They grow potatoes above ground. They lay the potato eye on the ground and then cover it with mulch: chicken manure, straw, whatever. The potato plants are beautiful and produce an abundant crop. Mine look like someone went through the row with a torch. Brown leaves, skinny stalks. Not sure what crop we'll get, but next year I'll use their method.
We also got to talking about the "little people," who Paul and Katie believe inhabit the forests and seashores--and our gardens, which is one reason they say I have a successful garden. I don't doubt their sightings, but I've never seen little people. However, I've been honoring the natural way of things by refusing to spray, allowing for attrition to the vegetable-hungry bugs and creating habitat for the non-vegetarian bug who eats the vegetarian bugs. What a world.
Paul also recommended pruning the tomato plants. Little did I know, since I've not ever grown a tomato in any of the different gardens I've had. Cut the suckers off, even though it's painful, Paul said. I pruned the equivalent of a large tomato bearing plant today, and you can hardly tell I did anything. I also picked at least 20 ripe tomatoes, and the plants are loaded. We also put it a third stake, creating a triangle with string around the plants.
Today, I harvested two cantaloupe. I asked Paul and Katie yesterday how you tell when they are ripe. "By their smell," they said. Mine fell off the vine today while I was weeding. I thought that was a pretty good indication they were ripe.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Beans, Beans, and More Beans

Beans. I don't really like beans all that much. String beans at Thanksgiving are great, with almond slices, just like mom used to make. But the rest of the year? Take them or leave them.
But, Mary, who helped envision this garden, said, "I like beans."
So we planted beans. Several rows of beans.
Then, about time to harvest the beans, Mary went off on a three-week trip to California to work on her masters degree and have fun "refreshing her soul."
She left me to refresh my soul staking, harvesting, washing, cutting, cooking, and freezing beans. Thanks, Mary. :)
But while she educates her mind about organizational dynamics I'm educating myself about gardening.
The main thing I've learned about beans is five-fold.
  • Stake beans early. Ben came out this morning at my behest and made stakes to hold up the bushes. In another row we tied string to stakes and started training the vines. The bushes had already collapsed on each other and I was pulling beans out of tangled stems.
  • Don't rely on the bush beans leaning against each other for support, and don't plant individual bean plants. They like company.
  • Read the package.
  • Don't plant carrots next to beans unless you wanted stunted carrots (that's my major lesson in this garden--three rows per bed next year, rather than four. I was greedy and suffering for it).
  • Make sure you like beans before planting them.
  • Make sure your gardening partner isn't on the beach in California at harvest.
Okay, I can't add, and I didn't do a lot right with the beans. Except for one thing.
This morning I harvested a sink-full of beans. Jacob, Mary's fourth oldest, called from Bellingham. He's there checking out Western University. I told him about the beans.
"Jacob, I don't even like beans."
He said, "Me either. Mom wanted the beans."
I have several choices.
  • Give the beans away
  • Feed them to the Mary's goats.
  • Eat a few and make compost.
  • Or, be a good friend and freeze Mary's beans for Thanksgiving dinner.
Take a guess which one it will be.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Two part time jobs

I have two part-time jobs, creating and maintain a vegetable garden, and caring for my 100-year-old mother. Both require time, patience and love.
Of course, I'm not comparing my mother to a vegetable garden. But there are some parallels.
Both are givers. The garden, sustenance for our bodies. My mother, her love, her prayers, her blessings.
Both are takers. The garden requires my physical presence, hovering to make sure I harvest at just the right time before the zucchini turn into zucchini bread right on the vine, the tomatoes don't become tomato sauce, and the beans become tough and chewy. It has to be kept watered, just enough, but not too much that the vegetables become watery.
It's all one grand experiment this year of my first garden in 13 years. My friend, Sue, helped me in the garden yesterday and chided me for how crowded the rows were.
"I was greedy," I responded, but three rows per bed will be more appropriate than four.
I thinned madly yesterday, and suddenly stood up and took a deep breath, as I was imagining the garden was doing now that it could breathe without interference from encroaching leaves from other plants.
My mother requires love, time, energy, endurance, patience, and physical presence, hovering just a little to make sure the water in her cup by her sofa doesn't make the inside of the cup slimy from sitting too long, making sure the knife the caregiver uses to cut up her oranges is properly cleaned. For months and months I would come in and find dark and crusty orange rind caked to the serrated edges. I would rant. Finally, after years of that knife perched dirty on a napkin, every day it's in the dish drainer--clean.
Every week or so I tweeze her "feathers," what my great niece Tai calls those pesky whiskers that us women are prone to as we age and our hormones desert us. Mom puts her head back and closes her eyes and I tweeze away. She loves it, being nurtured in that way.
I comb her hair, even though at this point it's often a lost cause, especially when her perm is gone. I make her doctor appointments and take her to the doctor, helping her maneuver her walker into and out of the office and into and out of the bathroom twice on each visit. I lose my patience at the time it takes. I pause and wonder who will wait for me.
Today she needs cash for her hair appointment, yesterday she needed prescriptions at the store. The day before she wanted pain medication for the vascular disease that is plaguing her. The day before that it was medication for the gout she got the first time in her life.
When crises come, and they have many times over the last ten years, I am always there. I sometimes chafe at the interruption to my life, but then I remember the words of my good friend, Bonnie.
"This may be the most important work you ever do."
I hope there is more work for me to sink my teeth into when my mother is gone. But this work I do with her and for her, is indeed important work.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Taking Care of Mom

“Everything before this has just been life. Now is the test of your true character.” My nephew, Donald Goudey Solleder, speaking to me about me taking care of mom.
My mother, Sybil Sharp, turned 100 years old in April. She thought that once she got to 100, a goal she developed in her 99th year, she would lie down and die. Unfortunately for her, she says, that has not happened.
My brother and I, her grandchildren and great grandchildren, are grateful for her long life. In the last ten years, since she turned 90, she was present at my brother's wedding six years ago, present at my wedding three years ago, present at my long-delayed graduation from college, and saw photos of my son’s graduation from college. She has seen her great granddaughter, Tai, five different times. Tai and her parents, Donald and Nga, live in Southern California and my mother and I, and my husband, Ben, live in Central Washington. They have made the trip so that Tai would have a memory of her GG, or Great Grandmother. Mom’s other great grandchild, Shin, lives in Australia with my nephew and his partner, Kishiko. Mom has been able to see and talk to Shin on Skype, a technological advance that was not even a glimmer in an inventor’s eye when my mother was born in 1909.
I called mom this morning. I asked her how she was doing and she said, “My ankle is driving me nuts. I sure hope they can figure out what is wrong.” I reminded her that the doctors already know what is wrong.
“It’s vascular disease and lymphedema, mom.”
“Oh, yes, what are they going to do about it?”
I reminded her that her doctor had mentioned angioplasty, a procedure to open her arteries and increase blood flow.
But, she insists there will be no surgery.
Starting at age 90, mom would routinely refuse medical care, thinking that she was too old, that it would cost too much, and that she was going to die soon anyway. When she was 90 she fell down the stairs at her retirement home. The paramedics were called, but she, refused to go with them. She called to tell me she fell down the stairs, but was doing fine. When I arrived, I was shocked to discover that she was bruised from head to foot. I took her to the doctor, who dressed some wounds on her shin, but other than that she was fine, except for the broken wrist they discovered two months later. Every day I called her and asked her how she was doing and she said, “My ankle hurts but I’m doing okay.”
A week later I arrived to find her ankle black and blue. She had cellulitis and spent the next week with her foot elevated. For the next ten years, until now, she has had trouble with that ankle and foot, including lymphedema, which causes swelling, and the vascular disease, which is a narrowing of the arteries, which impinges blood flow. The lymphedema can be treated with support hose, but the vascular disease circumvents that treatment.
A few years later, mom was diagnosed with skin cancer. She was hesitant to see a doctor, but eventually had two surgeries two separate times for basal cell carcinoma. Both times she had procrastinated about going to the doctor.
When she was 95, she was having difficulty breathing. Her doctor prescribed allergy medications. After months of suffering, we insisted on a referral to an ear, nose and throat specialist, who diagnosed a tumor in her pharynx. When he removed it, he held up his thumb and said, “This is how big it was.” It was lymphoma.
He also said it would grow back unless she had radiation or chemotherapy. Mom refused, saying, “I’m too old, I’m going to die anyway.”
The tumor grew back within a few months. After another surgery, the doctor, with bedside manner befitting a general and appropriate for dealing with my strong-willed mother, said, “You will die a terrible death if you do not do something about this tumor.”
Meaning chemotherapy or radiation. She agreed on chemotherapy, and became the center of attention in a doctors’ focus group on how to treat patients with difficult diagnoses. She had several chemotherapy treatments before they determined that radiation would be the best course of treatment. By the time she started radiation, the cancer had metastasized into her skull. She had 15 treatments and was cancer free. My brother said it was a miracle.
As a result of the radiation, mom lost 15 pounds and became more frail. One morning she fell, but didn't tell me for a couple of days, when she was finally in so much pain she asked to go to the hospital. They put her on morphine to control the pain caused by a broken tailbone. The morphine almost killed her, or so it seemed, and after several days in the hospital we moved her to a retirement home that did respite care. My brother arrived to help. Mom told him she was ready to die and was going to stop eating.
My brother, thinking mom was serious, said, “Mom, could you wait until Annie gets here.”
I cried with mom. She told me not to grieve. And then I realized that mom wasn’t really dying, she just felt like it. The nurse confirmed my feelings and said, “It’s the drugs that make her feel like that.”
Eventually a caregiver told her that suicide was illegal in Washington State and mom started eating again.
After several weeks, mom was back home giving the caregivers hell for being in her apartment.
In early December that year, mom went back to her oncologist for a check-up, and complained to him about a backache. He was convinced that her cancer had returned, but now in another place in her body.
“Cancer has a certain smell, and given her symptoms, I think it has returned,” he told me out of hearing. Who was I to doubt a well-respected oncologist?
I asked, “How long does she have?”
“Probably a couple of months, but we’ll do a CAT scan to confirm it,” he said.
The family arrived to spend the Christmas holiday. We were stressed and grieving the pending loss of our mom and grandma and thought it was our last Christmas with her. It wasn't the first time I had grieved. My mom had pneumonia at 87 and was "dying" in my spare bedroom for a week. She recovered and was still driving at 95.
A few weeks after Christmas, we waited to hear the results of the CAT scan.
“It’s all clear,” the doctor announced, looking chagrined.
I think that because he saw so many people die who were so much younger than my mom, he went with his gut, which told him, incorrectly, that she was a goner.
I had a mixed reaction. Already, mom had dodged the bullet. Several bullets. And she had expressed repeatedly that she was ready to go. I was perplexed. Anticipated grief had once again taken a back seat to relief.
Four years years later, she still has no sign of cancer. Just vascular disease, which is not terminal, but causing her so much pain she wants to die.
Surgery may be an option, but will she go for it?

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Insects don't respect private property

But then, that is a good thing. Insects come in all variety of loveliness and weirdness. Take the earwig, for example. Slithery and wicked looking, it's really not all that bad. Yes, it eats a few leaves, but the secret is just grow enough for everyone. They have particularly liked the turnip leaves, which are holy, and the roots, which are tasty (to both human and insect) and have little burrows in them.
A (or some) squash bug, or a pack rat, or a Magpie has been eating the pumpkins. When I thought it was a squash bug I sprayed a solution of baking soda, olive oil and soap on the pumpkins, which seems to have slowed down the invasion. We have about 14 pumpkins, enough for us and the neighbors, and the neighbors' neighbors.
Nothing seems to bother the cantaloupe, as of yet. They are as hard as rocks. Four little watermelon are doing well. The yellow squash plant bit the dust. No idea why. Pulled up a potato plant to see the progress. Two or three egg size potatoes with four or five tiny potatoes.
My great niece, Tai, is here visiting with her dad, my nephew, Donald, and his wife, Nga. Tai is a tiny harvester of peas. Her first day here she also pulled up a perfect little carrot. We washed it and she started munching. A delight to watch her eat that carrot.
Speaking of munching. I also found a bite out of a zucchini with teeth marks. Wasn't sure what it was, but the mystery may be solved. Donald had rat poison in his engine compartment because in Borrego Springs, Calif. where they live, pack rats get in the engine compartment and make nests. After they arrived at our house, they smelled something foul. A dead pack rat was discovered curled up in a corner where Donald had the poison. So, they brought poison all this way to kill a tiny Washington pack rat that had collected dog food, dog feces, grass, a pea pod, leaves and sticks in a matter of two days...and then died. R.I.P. little pack rat. I wouldn't have killed you. I would have let you have a pumpkin all to yourself.