Playing in the Dirt Again

It feels good to be outdoors playing in the dirt again. In a day when COVID-19 has us squirreled away indefinitely in the relative safety of our own homes, spending time in my garden this week has been a welcome repose and heartsome encouragement.

Crocus are already showing off their comely petals in shades of purple, and a few white ones too. Blue muscari brings teeny-tiny punches of the deepest, bluest blue in patches scattered here and there. Brilliant, sunshine yellow clusters of daffodils dot my Schumann Drive landscape, with tulips promising to take their turn in the next few weeks.

As I pull back the winter blanket of leaves and mulch in one bed, then another, I’m seeing hints of more beauty yet to come. Peonies have poked their little red tips about an inch above the ground and I’m already dreaming of their beautiful petals in reds, pinks, white and a very special yellow one too. The foliage of my beautiful daylilies is already several inches high and seem to whisper their promise, “Summer is coming.”

Some flowers are spilling out of the bounds I had imposed on them, so I begin digging up a few of the plants nearest the garden’s edge. Some go in my compost bin, a few are transplanted elsewhere, but most are placed in a big plastic tub marked ‘Free Perennials’ and placed at the curb end of my driveway where they are offered to those passing by in the neighborhood. Each offering of future beauty is placed in its own plastic or paper bag, with any information I can offer about the plant scribbled on the bag. The bin is usually emptied in a day or two. I find it a lovely thought knowing that little bits of my garden’s loveliness will soon be springing up in other neighborhood gardens.

Today, as I plunged my garden trowel into the spring-softened dirt to scoop up one of the plants for my driveway offerings, I was delighted to find a sleepy toad still nestled in the dirt on my trowel. I breathed a sigh of relief that I didn’t injure him; it’s an honor to find toads, as I know they will do me countless favors in the months to come as they feast on slugs and snails and other garden pests. I pried my little plant offering from the dirt, then tucked the toad back in under a blanket of dirt where he could continue his slumber before awakening as my garden helper.

Today’s discoveries included unearthing a bunny nest and getting to see the cute little bunny butts within (I know I will regret thinking they are cute when I start seeing tops of my plants nibbled off as bunny fodder). Unlike toads, bunnies are not known for their propensity for helping in the garden.

While I will not refuse offers of human help in my garden, I rather like the solitude it offers. It’s a time to pray and to reflect on life’s blessings. Any frustrations I might be feeling seem to disappear into the soft earth as I work it. This solitary time in the garden is also a great time to sing (or hum) in praise to God. With the discovery of my little garden friends, it seemed fitting that my mind went to a song I learned when I was 11 or 12 years old, very early in my Christian walk. We don’t sing this hymn much anymore, but I recall learning the song in a club for kids called Awana. Not very long ago, I taught the song to the kids in our Sunday School so they would have it in their hearts too. It would be my pleasure to share the lyrics in the hopes that you would be blessed by them, and that your soul would find rest in the thought of all the wonders He has wrought.

This Is My Father’s World | Maltbie D. Babcock

This is my Father’s world,
And to my list’ning ears
All nature sings, and round me rings
The music of the spheres.
This is my Father’s world:
I rest me in the thought
Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas—
His hand the wonders wrought.

This is my Father’s world:
The birds their carols raise,
The morning light, the lily white,
Declare their Maker’s praise.
This is my Father’s world:
He shines in all that’s fair;
In the rustling grass I hear Him pass,
He speaks to me everywhere.

This is my Father’s world:
Oh, let me ne’er forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong,
God is the ruler yet.
This is my Father’s world,
The battle is not done:
Jesus who died shall be satisfied,
And earth and Heav’n be one.

Taking Mini-Breaks for Creativity

I have all sorts of excuses for why I’ve been a little hit-or-miss in the blogging department. The best reason I can proffer is that I’ve been taking little breaks for a bit of creativity of a different sort.

First up, a very special sewing project. My son sent me a text one night asking if I would make a Christmas stocking for a teen who is staying with them. I had made a stocking for each of my grandchildren prior to their first Christmas and he was hoping Danni could have a similar stocking too. I was so very glad he asked because I had it in my heart to do something for her, but wasn’t sure what she would enjoy. This would be fun!

Continue reading “Taking Mini-Breaks for Creativity”

Pumping Gas and other forgotten things

Journal entry dated May 30, 2019

My car ‘dings’ a gentle reminder when it needs refueled within the next 50 miles. My hubby usually does this for me, but today I’ll need to care for this task myself because I’ve ignored the dings a little too long.

My Dad had always filled Mom’s gas tank too. When Dad knew he was losing his battle with cancer, that’s one of many things he taught my mom how to do. She tried a few times after he left for heaven, but then found a gas station that would send an attendant out to pump the gas for her for just a few cents more per gallon. My brother Brad thought it was silly to pay extra, so he tried to show her how to pump gas too. Mom just couldn’t remember the steps. Brad didn’t have his own wheels anymore, so didn’t mind filling the tank for her so he could buy himself a cup of decent coffee, a donut and a pack of smokes.

Today I confidently pulled up to the gas pump to fill my own tank and was happy to remember this recently learned factoid: there’s a little left or right arrow next to the gas pump symbol on your dashboard’s fuel gauge – it tells you which side of the car your gas cap is on. I would never have to turn around and pull up on the other side of the pump again. Cool, huh?

Have you ever noticed the arrow next to the fuel pump symbol?

My glib confidence came to a screeching halt when I reached for my credit card. Now, I only carry two credit cards, yet I was stumped. “Hmmmm, I could text Wayne and ask him.” But that would be embarrassing. He has reminded me time and time again which one to use to purchase gasoline. How could I admit that I didn’t remember again?

I used to keep a reminder sticky note on the card, but that had fallen off somewhere along the way. After a few minutes of inner debate, I chose one of the cards and got out of the car. It had been so long since I pumped gas I had to read the instructions on the pump. Twice. I felt the eyes of the kid at pump #3 watching me, trying to figure out if he should assist the confused lady at pump #4. I felt embarrassed.

Was this how my mom felt when she knew she was forgetting things?

I pumped the gas and printed the receipt for my hubby’s use in updating our budget spreadsheet, then headed to visit my mom. Hot tears overwhelmed me as I drove those 9.9 miles. I cried because I was pretty sure I had guessed wrong on the credit card. I cried because I now understood how helpless Momma felt. Mostly though, I cried because forgetting things scares me. I’m walking this road of memory loss with my mom and I know it’s hard (and sometimes harder) on the one who is the caregiver. It truly grieves my heart to think that my husband, daughter or son, or a grandchild may walk this road with me some day.

I sat in the parking lot of mom’s assisted living facility and blotted my tears before heading in to see her. My heart smiled as Mom exclaimed a little yelp of joy when she saw me, and even told the friends seated at her lunch table, “See that lady there? She’s my best friend.”

After that heartwarming visit, I made a quick stop at a nearby gas station to buy a cup of coffee, then headed another block or so to the nursing home where my brother resides to visit a bit and bring him a cup of his favorite coffee. He was sleeping, so I left his coffee on his nightstand and headed home to get busy on my laundry. When I arrived home I gave Wayne the day’s receipts and was bummed to learn that, yes, I used the wrong credit card for the gas.

Alzheimer’s is a frighteningly hard path in life, but my walk alongside Momma has also given me firsthand experience seeing how God walks with us each and every step of this road paved with memory loss. While an underlying concern of personally having to experience this disease is always present, I have an even greater confidence God will give those I love much wisdom in walking alongside me if Alzheimer’s is ever my future.

In the meantime, I’m going to smile, grab my Sharpie marker, and write “GAS” in great big letters on my credit card as a visual reminder for the next fill-up.

Assisted Living: What to Expect

When one wrestles with the thought of placing a loved one with memory loss into assisted living, many questions come to mind while making that life altering decision. Thankfully, there are many good books related to caring for a loved one with memory loss…and I’ve probably read most of them. If I could only recommend one, it would be Jolene Brackey’s, Creating Moments of Joy. [I wrote a little book review about this book here.]

I love this page. I live this page.

It’s important to have realistic expectations concerning assisted living memory care.

It has been almost four months since we moved Momma into assisted living at BeeHive Homes of Oregon, WI. She has made a great transition – not without its hiccups, but BeeHive is definitely a gift from God for my sweet mother. In these four months I have fallen in love with each resident who lives there with her and each one responsible for her care.

There are 16 rooms at BeeHive–at any given moment you might find my dear mother in any one of them–although she has her favorites. She loves to nap in Carol’s room, enjoys the sunny window in Caroline’s room, and can often be found rearranging pillows and tending to every one else’s babies in her neighbor Kathi’s room.

On any given day, my mom might be wearing her favorite outfit…or might be looking cute as can be in another lady’s pajamas. The other day I noticed mom wearing her nearby neighbor Roy’s watch; she also had his remote control and he had hers. I’m really not sure who has her colored pencil set, it’s been on the lam for a few weeks, but know they’ll turn up some day…she probably put them in someone else’s drawer for safekeeping on one of her daily adventures tooling around in her wheelchair.

Momma is a gatherer. If something is missing from someone else’s room, it can reasonably be assumed Charlotte probably has it for safe-keeping in her purse, or wrapped in a blanket and tucked away in a drawer in her room. Toilet paper is irresistible. An unattended doll or stuffed animal won’t be lonely for long if she can help it. She even managed to pick up an unattended cell phone that belonged to one of the hospice staff. I half-jokingly remind the staff that if something is missing, just check Charlotte’s purse and drawers…it’s probably there.

Only one of these dolls belongs to Momma – but they are all equally cared for and loved. [Photo credit: Kathleen Zelinski]

Slowly, but surely, I’m learning whose stuff belongs to whom (most of it is labeled). I spend the first few minutes of my daily visit returning things she has borrowed and retrieving things she has tucked into places where they don’t belong and returning it to the right place.

One thing is for sure…Momma belongs and is in the right place.

Five Minute Friday: Enlarging my World

My world has been relatively small the past few years, staying pretty close to home. Life has revolved very much around taking care of my mother as she battles Alzheimer’s. Over the years, I found myself growing weary and having to stop doing several things I love in order to be able to focus on her ever-increasing needs.

In late March, my sweet momma took up residence in a beautiful assisted living facility devoted to those with memory care needs. I still spend a few hours each day with her, but I can sleep throughout the WHOLE night in my own bed and am no longer fully responsible for her daily care. I’m beginning to feel more rested and able to resume some (but not all) of my former activities and ministries. I can take a little road-trip with my hubby, play in the dirt in my garden, or prepare a Sunday School lesson for the kids at church without interruption. It’s truly a blessing from God’s gracious hand.

With this new freedom, my world will enlarge even more in September when I accompany three of the men from our church (including my hubby) on a teaching trip to India. My responsibility during this trip will be to teach English as a Second Language (ESL) to the students who will be gathering for the purpose of enjoying some seminary-level training. I have never taught ESL, so this will be a huge stretch for me – something which will also enlarge my world as I help this group of adults whose first language is Hindi in their continued quest to become more fluent in their conversational English.

This is my hubby Wayne’s second trip to India (he’s the handsome, white-bearded guy on the lower left of the group photo above), as he traveled with our pastor and another friend on a teaching trip last year. This fall’s trip is a giant leap for me, as I’ve never been out of the country. [Well, unless you count the time when my hubby and I were honeymooning 43 years ago in a rented recreational vehicle and we drove over the Canadian border in the days before a passport was required.] This trip to India will be my first trip overseas, passport, visa, shots, long international flight, and all the cultural adventure that will surely come with that experience.

In the meanwhile, I will need much prayer support as I prepare for my role as a teacher on the other side of the world.

This post is written for the Five Minute Friday Writing Community. Please come join us! https://fiveminutefriday.com/

“I Wish I Could Help”

One recent thread on a Facebook group for dementia caregivers discussed the topic of how to respond to people who say “I wish I could help.” Most have good intentions, but no concrete offers of help. Others are just making polite conversation and really have no intention of helping. One tongue in cheek caregiver response was, “I’m going to start a list to hand them.”

We all laughed.

One longtime caregiver’s contribution to the post was, “I think we should all make our own list to have ready whenever we hear that offer.” Before long, we had created a rather long list. Some of our responses were a bit of a tease, like the caregiver who said, “If you want to bring me a gift, bring Kleenex! My loved one goes through two boxes a day!” We all laughed because an obsession with Kleenex and toilet paper seems to be prevalent in the world of memory loss.

Let me share a few more of the ideas culled from our group effort:

  • Instead of “let me know if you need anything,” please just show up on my front porch with a good cup of coffee.
  • Another caregiver added her twist on the impromptu coffee date idea: “Yes, show up on my front porch with a cup of your favorite coffee. Then sit down with my loved one and tell me to get lost for awhile while you drink your cup of coffee.”
  • Talk to me. Listen to me. I don’t really have someone I can carry on a conversation with anymore.
  • If you see a need that you can meet, just do it. It will make my day.
  • One woman’s husband asks her each morning, “What can I do for you TODAY that will make your life easier?”
  • Send me a card once in awhile (I have a special friend who does this every single week).
  • Share with me one of your special memories of my loved one. In doing so, you will help me focus on the good and remind me that their life mattered.
  • Tell me that what I’m doing matters.

One item on the list was my favorite: Ask God to show you how you can help. I promise, He will.

“Pssst! Can you help me get out of this place?”

I have SO MUCH to tell you and can’t believe how much time has elapsed since I updated everyone concerning my journey in caring for my mom. I started writing this post the last week of March. Let me do a little back-tracking and a bit of catch-up writing here.

I already told you the story of her dolly here, but SO much has transpired in the past three weeks surrounding that story.


March 18, 2019

Lord willing, one week from today my dear, sweet Momma will be moving out of our home and into her new place at BeeHive Home in Oregon, WI.

If I think about it too long, it brings tears to my eyes. While I had hoped to care for mom here in my home until God chose to call her to her eternal home in heaven, I know in my heart that it is time to place her in a memory care environment where her needs will be better met.  

The first year we cared for Momma in our home, she would often tell people that our home was HER home and that we were living here with her. She’d point out which side of the house was hers and which side was ours. She’d express concern to anyone who’d listen, saying, “They sure do have a lot of stuff.” To her way of thinking, the gardens that I’ve toiled in for the past 20 years were planted by her many years ago. It blessed us to know that she felt “at home” here and was taking ownership, so we just joined her in her version of the story.

As we approach the two year anniversary of her living in our home, Momma looks lost and confused whenever she walks into the bedroom that has been hers all this time. Confusion clouds her fading brown eyes as she sits in her chair at the kitchen table surveying the gardens and wonders where she is and “how the heck” she got here. Her most often asked question is, “When do I get to go home?” Many times we find her sitting near her bedroom window, expectantly watching for her parents to come and pick her up in their car.

Nights are long and many of them are being spent without sleep – for her, or for me.  During those late nights of making and remaking her bed because she has repeatedly removed and folded up her bedding (in preparation for the move she thinks she is making), I find it disturbing to find my compassion is beginning to be replaced by exasperation. I can hear it in my voice and actually feel my blood pressure rising. Sleeping in our comfy bed next to my husband has been replaced by dozing in the chair next to her bed. Even if that were comfortable (and it’s NOT), it’s not particularly restful sleep and definitely not the coveted “restorative sleep” when it’s interrupted a dozen times or more with toileting needs, painful cries, bad dreams, and her shaking me awake to ask me if I’m okay. “You look so sick. I thought I better check on you.”

One year ago, Momma still knew I was her daughter. She knew my name and she knew Wayne’s as well. Now, she can sometimes come up with my name, but usually thinks I’m her mom or sister. Sadly, Momma no longer remembers Wayne’s name. She calls him “that guy” most of the time and thinks he is just a guy on the staff here.

Today Momma beckoned me into her room with a look of desperation and a ‘come-here’ wave of her hand. As I drew near she said in a whispered hiss, “Pssst! Can you get me out of this place?!”

Little does she know that she IS moving into a new home next week. I’m still not sure how (or if) I will tell her. I do know this. I’ve said it before and will say it again. God will give us the wisdom we need when we need it.