blessings

Bernie by the succulent garden ~ 7.29.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
Bernie by the succulent garden
7.29.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut

As difficult a day as Wednesday was, Thursday I started feeling less flustered and more grounded. And a bit sheepish.

Before I went up to Dad’s I stayed home a while to watch The View to see the interview with President Obama. I came away from it with a restored feeling of hope… I won’t go into politics, but listening to him talk without the pundit filter reassured me that he is still the same man who I came to trust, respect and admire while reading his two books, Dreams from My Father and The Audacity of Hope. I like that he is so even keeled and doesn’t lose sight of the big picture. It set the tone for a much better day!

We had a good visit from Dad’s “baby” sister. Aunt Em is 81. She’s a vivacious widow who lives in Maryland near her children and grandchildren, and still drives by herself on long trips like the eight-hour one from Maryland to Connecticut. Her presence is a tonic to Dad and Auntie. Together, they are the three surviving siblings of a family of eight children.

It was hot and humid, perfect weather for Papa who, like many elderly ones, always seems to be cold. There is a space heater in every room he occupies, and they are used often, even in the summer. So he wasn’t a bit hot in his flannel shirt! We wheeled him out to the landing on the wheelchair ramp and got a chair for Aunt Em, and left them to have some time alone together.

I went for a non-walk with Bernie. It was too humid for him to move around, I suspect, but he decided to soak up some sun on a stone wall. Cats are solar-powered, you know. But he could do without the humidity, being a cat hailing from arid New Mexico! It fascinates me that to the naked eye, Bernie’s blind eyes look a dull solid yellowish-gray. But the camera reveals all sorts of colors, each shot making his eyes look like multicolored marbles.

Since Bernie didn’t seem to be going anywhere, I snuck around the side of the house and surprised Aunt Em and Dad. “Paparazzi!” I announced, while climbing up the outside railing of the ramp, aiming the camera between the bushes. At first Dad didn’t understand the joke but Aunt Em found it hysterical. She stopped laughing long enough to explain the humor to him and then he started laughing, too. Got two snapshots – it’s been such a long time since Dad has laughed out loud!

paparazzi shot, Dad and Aunt Em ~ 7.29.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
paparazzi shot, Dad and Aunt Em

Aunt Em treated us all to a take-out dinner in the evening after Auntie and Larisa arrived. Spending a few moments catching up and making plans with my daughter was wonderful…

When I made it home, tired after the hour-long drive, I found a tube of natural progesterone cream on the kitchen counter. After work my darling husband had made the trip through heavy summer tourist traffic to the nearest health food store. (The progesterone already seems to be helping!) I am grateful and blessed.

adolescence in reverse

Egyptian migraine therapy

My body-mind is miserable.

I’ve had a “background” headache since July 8. It’s making me crazy, lurking around under the surface, waiting for a chance to break through and incapacitate. One dose of Zomig left to last me until the prescription can be refilled on August 7. I rail against insurance corporations, who think they have more right to decide what a patient needs than her doctor does. And who think $60 a month is a fair co-payment for six doses of a needed drug.

Appointment to see sympathetic doctor on Monday. Keeping my fingers crossed… Woke up this morning, head still stabbing. Should I beg my sister to give me some of her Zomig? We’ve helped each other out in the past. There have been times when I’ve only needed as little as one dose for a whole month. I call and put her on standby. Sisters understand…

Lately I’ve heard what I think is a very misleading commercial for Excedrin Migraine. While it can work sometimes, I don’t see how they can dare to guarantee that it will always work in half an hour. It might, perhaps half the time. And that bit about being #1 recommended by neurologists is hogwash. The first thing a neurologist will insist on is that you stop using Excedrin because people wind up taking it daily in increasingly futile attempts to treat rebound headaches.  When Excedrin Migraine first came out I checked the label and it’s the same acetaminophen, aspirin, and caffeine that is in regular Excedrin. Do they think we’re really so gullible? Or were my parents unique in teaching me to read labels thoroughly before taking any medication?

Caffeine. Well, I’m weaned from it for almost four years now so maybe it will work? Worth a try? I made myself a cup of black coffee and took my ibuprofen, which works better than acetaminophen or aspirin for this patient. It worked, for the most part. I can still feel the headache wanting to materialize. Maybe this will be a stopgap measure to keep most of the pain manageable until Monday so I won’t have to raid my dear sister’s stash. Still, I should probably get my eyes away from the computer screen to be on the safe side.

Pondering my predicament. I’ve been so careful to avoid triggers. “Why is this happening?” I cried out to Tim Sunday night, utterly frustrated. Slowly gathering my wits about me. I connect a few dots and recall that hormonal fluctuations are my biggest triggers and they (along with fluctuations in atmospheric pressure) I simply cannot control. Now I think this is perhaps some sort of menopausal last hurrah.

If you want to know where your power really is, you need look no further than the processes of your body that you’ve been taught to dismiss, deny, or be afraid of. These include the menstrual cycle, labor, and, the mother of all wake-up calls, menopause. The years surrounding menopause are a time when most women find themselves in a crucible, having all the dross of the first half of their lives burned away so that they may emerge reborn and more fully themselves. Menopause can be likened to adolescence in reverse – the same stormy emotions we experienced during puberty often return, urging us to complete the unfinished business of our early years.
~ Christiane Northrup
(Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom: Creating Physical & Emotional Health & Healing)

I remember reading somewhere that the way a child handles the emotional work of toddler-hood will be the same way she handles the emotional work of adolescence. And now, adolescence in reverse. The mother of all wake-up calls. Must be what this nightmare is all about. A crucible. A month-long hot flash. Unfinished business. I wonder…

This morning I found a quote that spoke to me…

Everyone confesses in the abstract that exertion which brings out all the powers of body and mind is the best thing for us all; but practically most people do all they can to get rid of it, and as a general rule nobody does much more than circumstances drive him to do. Even I would not write this article were not the publication-day hard on my heels. I should read Hawthorne and Emerson and Holmes, and dream in my armchair, and project in the clouds those lovely unwritten stories that curl and veer and change like mist-wreaths in the sun.
~ Harriet Beecher Stowe
(Household Papers & Stories)

Harriet Beecher Stowe
Harriet Beecher Stowe

I have so many lovely unwritten stories. I need more exercise. I feel lazy writing this, I “should” be doing more to help with the elder-care or even doing my own chores. I think we all feel unmotivated or overwhelmed at times, but that’s not laziness in my way of looking at things. But do I really believe my own assertions about this, deep down inside? Harriet Beecher Stowe includes “everyone.” Somehow that comforts me to know that others need incentives to get certain things done, too.

And now, as I write this, a song comes up on my iPod playlist shuffle. Still can’t listen to it without crying…

Now, I’m sailing on back, ready for the long haul
Tossed by the winds and the seas
I’ll drag them all down to hell and I’ll stand them at the wall
I’ll sell them to their enemies
I’m trying to feed my soul with thought
Going to sleep off the rest of the day
~ Bob Dylan
♫ (Working Man’s Blues #2) ♫

It’s been a very long haul since Dad first fell in 2000. It’s getting harder and harder. And Auntie is needing more and more attention, too. Sometimes I think having to deal with menopause while caring for my elders is a double whammy and has made me more impatient and persistently irritable.

I’m tired!!! So often I “sleep off the rest of the day.” So often I fail to “feed my soul with thought.” I don’t have enough energy for elder-care and the “stormy emotions” of menopause!

Okay. That’s enough self-pity for one day. This too will pass, right?

Everlasting Moments

The past three days we have had absolutely GORGEOUS weather! Sea breezes and no humidity… Spent this morning inland escorting Auntie on her errands. She’s wobbly but still determined to carry on – I’m so glad she has the cane now… This afternoon the humidity started to creep back up, so when I got home I watched an inspiring movie called Everlasting Moments.

Agneta Ulfsäter-Troell wrote a biographical sketch about her ancestors in Sweden in the early 1900s, something I love to do, too, imagining what life was like for those who came before me. Her husband, filmmaker Jan Troell, used her manuscript to create a truly wonderful movie.

The story is narrated by Maja, daughter of Sigge & Maria, who starts the story with these words: “A week after Mother met Father, she won a camera in a lottery. Father thought the camera should be his, as he’d bought the ticket. Mother said if he wanted to share it he’d have to marry her. So they got married.”

But Sigge turned out to be an abusive alcoholic and the family was desperately struggling to make ends meet. Maria would often tell her seven children, “You see what you want to see.” When things looked very bleak Maria decided to sell the camera. She took it to a photography shop, where the owner, Mr. Pedersen, told her it was a Contessa and showed her how it worked. She was amazed and said, “I just don’t see how a picture comes to be!” He took the lens out of the camera and held it up in the sunlight between a butterfly fluttering inside the door and the palm of her hand. The moving image of the butterfly showed up on her hand. It was magic!

Mr. Pedersen decided that he would buy the camera from Maria but would let her borrow it. He kindly taught her how to use it and how to develop pictures. While Sigge was out drinking with his mistress, Maria was at home discovering her creative self while taking and developing pictures of her children and her cat. When a girl in the neighborhood died, Maria was asked to take a picture of her and soon she was being asked to take pictures for all sorts of special and everyday occasions.

“Not everyone is endowed with the gift of seeing,” observed Mr. Pedersen when he had a look at some of her pictures. And on another occasion he encouraged her by telling her that when she looks through the camera she sees a world to be explored, described and preserved. As a family historian that touched my heart.

Aunt Lil

Even after years of taking pictures, Maria was still in awe of the technology. She said, “Imagine, we’ll always be here. These moments will be everlasting.” Years after her mother died, Maja discovered an undeveloped picture in the camera, the last picture Maria took, and the only one she ever took of herself, capturing her reflection in a mirror.

When she was much younger than she is now, Auntie used to love to go on Caribbean cruises with her sisters, a hen party at sea. On one of those cruises she splurged and paid an artist to draw a picture of her. Now I am glad to have that happy moment in her life preserved.

I can relate to the thrill Maja had of discovering something special an ancestor has left behind! A clue about his or her life. Any little thing found that makes the picture of his or her life come more into focus. And the movie made me stop and think about how far the technology of photography has advanced in a hundred short years. All the thought and care that went into each and every exposure! Now with digital cameras we can be carefree, shooting whatever strikes our fancy in an instant. Perhaps I am reminded to slow down and think more about exploring the world and describing and preserving moments.

Elisabeth (Weekes) Freeman and her children,
Warren, Rosilla, Ambrose and Elisabeth

The oldest moment preserved in my family is of my is my 3rd-great-grandmother, Elisabeth (1822-1908), and her four oldest children, taken between 1858, when her fourth child was born, and 1864, when her fifth child was born. Looking at the squirming bunch of children makes me think that Elisabeth had her hands full! I love this picture because what we call the “Freeman frown” is very much on display here. And yes, Ambrose is wearing a dress. Apparently back then baby boys wore dresses until they were toilet trained.

Anyone who loves family history or the history of photography (or both) will no doubt find Everlasting Moments to be an especially heart warming film. Watching Maria blossom as an artist in spite of the harsh circumstances of her life is inspiring.

mead moon

6.25.10 ~ Eastern Point
mead moon ~ 6.25.10 ~ Eastern Point

At 4:00 a.m. this morning a very loud, but very pretty, bird song awakened me. It was soon joined by many others, all adding their distinct tunes. Soon I will have to start boiling the beans that were soaking overnight… We are having a belated Midsummer bonfire/cookout up at Dad’s tonight. Belated so more people could make it, having it on the weekend.

Yesterday Tim took the day off of work so we could go to Dad’s to help my sister and brother-in-law with the preparations. We were about to do some food shopping so I called Auntie to see if she needed anything at the store. (Fiercely independent, she lives near Dad in an elderly housing complex.) She sounded terrible. She said she had fallen at 3:00 a.m. and that she was in a lot of pain. After I got off the phone with her I called her doctor and he was willing to see her in an hour. When we picked her up I asked why she didn’t call us and she said she couldn’t reach the phone at first. Then  asked her why she didn’t press the life alert button on her wrist? She forgot it was there. By the time we got to the doctor I was wondering which morning it was that she actually fell…

Fortunately the doctor examined her thoroughly and said that she had a cut on her elbow that did not need stitches, and that she was badly bruised head to toe on the left side of her body, but nothing was broken or dislocated. He suggested that she start using a cane. The attention and reassurance from the doctor had lifted her spirits considerably. We drove her to the medical pharmacy in the next town and she worried all the way that she would not find one short enough for her. But we did find one. Tim is a cheerful and pleasant problem solver and he made the selection process a treat. (Had no idea there could be so many options and features on a cane! Dad had used one for years, one that his own father had carved from a branch.)

Auntie was a little grumpy about having to use a cane now. But I pointed out to her that she had done very well getting to age 95 before needing any assistance at all with walking! She tried it out on the sidewalk leading to her “cottage.” The walk has a slight decline and she was very pleased that it kept her from pitching forward. Phew! Hopefully this will work out for her.

Back to food shopping, back to Dad’s. Getting very tired… Bernie wanted a walk so I took him while the others continued laboring away. Didn’t take the camera, but rather spent the time observing Bernie to see if I could figure out how he manages so well with his blindness. I think he has a detailed memory of the lay of the land because he never bumps into anything stationary, like a tree or a stone wall. But he often bumps into small twigs sticking up from the leaves, or plants that have popped up along his usual routes. My brother-in-law leaves a dish of water on a bench outside for Bernie’s convenience. Yesterday he had moved the bowl over and placed some potted plants he was transplanting on the bench. Bernie was distressed and disoriented because he couldn’t find his water bowl. My brother-in-law figured out what the problem was and redirected him to the other end of the bench.

We finally headed home, realizing we just weren’t going to get to the fun part, decorating, until today. Going to put the beans in the slow cooker and head out to my dad’s early and cook them up there while we decorate the garden and the trees. Dad’s beloved chestnut tree is blooming, the air is filled with its scent.

We followed a lovely big full moon all the way home! I also spotted three young deer on the other side of the highway, up on the edge of some rock outcrops. They weren’t so young that they had spots, but they weren’t full-grown. Maybe “teenagers.” I hope they weren’t thinking about crossing the interstate.

The moon was so pretty we went down to the beach to see it shining over the water. Took a picture, but because of the moon illusion the camera did not capture the hugeness of it perceived with our naked eyes.

6.25.10 ~ Jeff’s notecards

Came home and found that Jeff’s cards had arrived! They will serve as stunning invitations to next year’s summer solstice gathering… Who knows, maybe Jeff will create something wonderful we can use for our winter solstice gathering…

Larisa: Master of Social Work

Larisa Katherine Rodgers

Storrs, Connecticut, May 8, 2010
University of Connecticut School of Social Work
Master of Social Work in Case Work
Mental Health & Substance Abuse in Social Work Practice

Tim and Larisa
Larisa, Aunt Lil and Barbara
5.8.10 ~ Dima, Larisa, Mookie, Alyssa

The sad thing was that Larisa’s most ardent supporter, her Grandpa, was not able to attend, and neither were her Aunt Beverly and Uncle John there, because they remained home to care for Grandpa. But Auntie Lil braved the pouring rain and was pleased as punch to witness the grand event. We all went over to the house afterward and had a little party inside to celebrate and tell Grandpa all about the ceremony.

My parents met at UConn, when my mother was an undergraduate and my father was a graduate student. Dad got his PhD there, too, when Beverly and I were little girls. My sister attended UConn, too, where she met her husband, John, another UConn grad. Beverly went away and got her PhD at the New Mexico Institute of Mining & Technology. I have a feeling Larisa might follow Beverly’s path and go for a PhD at some other university. It will be fun seeing where her next adventure will be!