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Saturday, February 4, 2017

Time waits for no one

Time waits for no one.  It was brought to my attention that my blog was vacated and readers were wondering why.  Well, aside from the normal busy life here on the farm, my days have been preoccupied with the constant caring of my father.  His dementia and his bad knees along  with his ripe age of 84 years young has me on constant standby waiting to hear from his caregivers. 
One thing that all humans will deal with during their lifetime is the absolute certainty that their parents will get older.  You have a choice whether or not to bring children into this world.  But our parents are like food and water – they are necessary for our being here.  So, it follows that as they once took care of us, it will be our turn eventually to return the good deed.
I have researched and chronicled the onset of Alzheimer’s with my father and I am finding that although there are institutions and organizations and even support groups that help deal with the everyday dealings of Alzheimer’s disease – there is no real relief for him!!!  My father’s world is by the minute and what is important to him in that brief moment of time. 
To help anyone who must go through this hurdle in their own family or if you know someone going through a dementia type disease, I am offering a few helpful hints that you can refer to if you are finding an overwhelming need to scream.  Take from it what you need and leave the rest for a later day.

1.       Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is one of the most costly diseases to society.  The long term care by the healthcare professionals, whether it be institutionalisation or private home health care is out of the ball park.  So, it is imperative that before it becomes a crisis – get your parent’s finances in order.  Many times we assume matters are taken care of but sometimes a simple will has not been updated, or a life insurance policy has lapsed.
2.      There are many organizations that will offer financial help BUT there is a caveat.  If your parent receives social security of more than 25,000/year (this amount may vary) you will have a very hard time getting money.  If your parent is a veteran and has NOT been wounded in a war – you will not receive much help.  Medicaid will help if your parent receives less than 25,000/year but you will have to sell their home.  Without going into all the details – go online and check out the guidelines for your state.
3.      If your decision as a family that the parent remain in the his/her home for as long as it is deemed safe, make the phone calls to all the organizations dealing with elders, including the agencies for caregivers.  Our decision was NOT to go with an agency because we did not want a lot of strangers in the house confusing my father any more than he already was.  We went with networking and got some names of local people that were CNA’s (certified nurse’s aides). 
4.      Talk to people and read the literature – there is no better understanding of Alzheimer’s than by hearing firsthand what families go through.  A wonderful book called “Still Alice” by Lisa Genova is an excellent fictional but informative story about a woman who enters into the onset of Alzheimer’s in her 50’s.
5.      Listen to the parent.  My father is in and out of dementia, so there are many times when he is very lucid and he has things to say.  Do not assume your aging parent is babbling or does not know there is something wrong.   The frustration level is high.  And the cognitive part of the brain is like scrambled eggs.  You may have to repeat something you said 5 or 6 times in the course of one hour.  Yet, it is very often their long term memory is in tack and they can tell you what hospital you were born in and the doctor’s name.
6.      Keep records – everything is important.  Because there are so many people involved in your parent’s life (i.e., caregivers, doctors, family members, neighbors) write everything down!  Sometimes the adage “too many hands spoil the soup” applies.  Assign tasks and duties when appropriate to specific people.  And have a log book available where anyone who comes into your parent’s home can jot down what they saw or did.  Sounds a bit crazy but VERY important.  Medications can get misappropriated and meals can be skipped.  It is extremely helpful that there is consistency in the home and your parent has a solid routine.
7.      Take deep breaths and wait!  If your parent calls you in a panic – wait.  Usually, the anxiety subsides and all is well within a few hours.  Persons with dementia will frequently focus in on one subject matter, such as money, and become obsessed with concern.  Nothing can deter them from agonizing over it and it can become very wearing on a caregiver.  So, again, breathe!
8.      Keep doctors posted.  It is not unusual for an elderly person to have 4 or 5 doctors or health professionals whom they visit regularly.  My father is not a sickly man and he has a cardiologist, a dermatologist, an oncologist, a neurologist, his primary doctor, and his physical therapist. Keep all doctors apprised of all changes in your parent’s health.  Don’t rely on records being forwarded or test results being sent to the primary physician.  Even if files are referred there is no guaranty that doctors will read files before patient’s visit.  Know what is in those files.  There were many times when I was asked about the medications my father is taking and his history was right there in the file.  Or it should have been there. 
9.      Consider the feelings of all family members.  What may seem arbitrary or mundane to some may seem astronomical to others.  Everyone has their own emotional scale.  Allow all members of the family to participate (or not) in the decision making and caring of an elderly parent.  Sometimes delegating duties helps to relieve the stress on the designated appointee. 
10.   And lastly, if you are able to hire good caregivers, other than family members, listen to them.  Many caregivers have seen or dealt with Alzheimer patients.  They know what it’s about.  They may have good suggestions.  But always go with your gut.  You know your parent better than anyone.  If your parent is agitated or unusually aggravated hear what they have to say.  As I mentioned before.  There are moments of lucidness and an Alzheimer patient can at times be totally aware of their illness, and therefore, be able to express some unnoticed needs.
It has been six months and counting and it appears calm on the home front.  My only concern is for myself.  Can I live with the fact that maybe one day down the road by father does not recognize me?  Or will our conversations be only about the weather and what he had for dinner?  For now, I will cherish the time I do have with him.  I am so grateful and blessed to still have him in my life and my children’s life.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

What would Ebenezer Scrooge say? Card or no card?

For the past few years I categorically stopped sending Christmas cards.  Not because I was too busy or not in the spirit.  Nor was it because I was receiving fewer and fewer cards since the birth of social media.  Of course, these are all legitimate reasons why some decide not to send cards.  But my sole purpose was to assist in some small way the preservation of our earth and avoid contributing to more trash.   As a family of six, we generate more than enough trash in our everyday living.  Our children are respectable, however, as they become more and more aware about the importance of conserving and recycling.  They wear their clothes more than once before tossing them into the laundry (with the exception of Jaden). They turn lights off, they brush their teeth with the faucets off and they take quick showers, if any (again – Jaden!).  And from living on a farm they know every unwanted or unused item soon becomes someone’s treasure and, hence, reusable.

But back to the card thing.  I would hope and I can without hesitation say that my friends and family know I wish them a wonderful holiday.  Why wouldn’t I?   And they know, for me, Christmas is 365 days of the year.  If I can spread joy, peace, love and wish everyone good health each and every day, well than …. that’s my Hallmark card. 

Now, having blurted this all out in a public forum, trust me when I say - it is not that I don’t appreciate receiving Christmas cards.  Please do not think I throw them away and pay no heed.  Actually, au contraire, I save them all.  Have been doing that since I can remember.  Yes, I have all your family’s photos from when the kiddies were little and I know each and every pet you have ever owned.  And I keep them all in used shoe boxes.

So, now you know – it was never about money or time or the spirit of the holidays.  The act in itself, to me, is senseless.  We are drowning in our own garbage.  We are in the age of technology.  Pick up the phone, write a letter on recycled paper, send an email, or text well wishes. 

And now that I have your attention, allow me to do this.

To all my friends and family and to those I may never meet; may the Christmas season and the new year bring you all good health, endless joy and peace to our world.

From Jada, Jaden, Momo, Jamy, Serge et moi …

Wednesday, November 23, 2016


Back in the late 70’s my parents created our annual Thanksgiving Treasure Hunt.  Originally, it was the only way to get everyone out of the house while my mother made her final touches to the Thanksgiving table.  Food was prepared days ahead, except of course for the bird.  And my mother prided herself on not only the turkey being well-dressed but also the dinner table.
So, the Hunt (as it was forever referred to) began as follows:

Around mid-morning on Thanksgiving day teams were made up of 3, 4 or 5 people depending on the number of attendees that year.  Each team was handed a sealed envelope with their respective first riddle enclosed and the number #1 written on the outside of the envelope.   We were then given one dime per team (yes, for one phone call) and we were sent on our way in our team car.   After the first year, I got smart and parked my team car at the end of the driveway to be the first one out of course. 

There were usually 8 to 10 designated places between the three towns of Brewster, Eastham and Orleans.  When your team solved “your” first riddle, it led you to a second location where you would find a stake in the ground marked with that oh so familiar bright orange or pink surveying tape and a clear bag full of envelopes all numbered accordingly.  If it was your first stop, you took #2 envelope.  If it was your second stop you would take #3 envelope and so on.  

As the “hunt” advanced throughout the morning we would pass each other in our cars at the lights in the center of Orleans, or on Route 6 between Orleans and Eastham, or pulling out of parking lots in Brewster or even at times running into each other (literally) at a designated area.  The riddles were difficult.  My mother, a former English teacher, was very witty.  The riddles were poetic and full of puns.  After the first few years we were able to ascertain certain locations without even reading the riddle.  They became more obvious. Sadly, I never kept a copy of the riddles.  But they would go something like this:

“Down by the water’s edge we walked when learning was thru.  The sun shown on barnacle hulls and the mud was a sliver blue.”

This was a special place down at the Asas Landing where my mother and my niece would walk after school.

The riddles were not always obvious to everyone on the team but usually one family member could recognize the reference made.  And there was always a riddle at a former house we lived in or at my father’s office and, of course, to make sure we paid our respects to our deceased grandparents, a riddle could usually be found at one of the cemeteries.  
However, there was often a problem with “guessing” based on previously used locations.   And often it meant wasting time skipping around.  If you got off track because you knew or thought you knew the riddle was based on former location, usually it worked against you.  You had to stay in sequence.  You had to bring home all your envelopes marked #1 to #10 or you were disqualified.

Timing was always key.  So, we raced through the lower Cape, undisturbed by traffic or even the authorities.  It was Thanksgiving – everyone else was home feasting.  We were the only crazy people cruising around.  And with craziness came a few small accidents and some pretty competitive moments, never shared with my parents, of course.

Remember the dime?  That was given to us for that one phone call if we were severely stumped and could not solve the riddle. We were allowed only one phone call to ask for “hints”.  So, we used it wisely.  Later on in the years the dime was banished and replaced with one cell phone call. 

Because we were never told how many riddles and/or locations there were, the real thrill came when you received that last envelope, opened it and it read, “GO HOME”.  And when you got that last envelope the tension built.  You raced home, flew into the driveway, and then and only then discover if your team and only your team was the first to arrive and therefore claim your victory.   And of course in later years, certain unnamed persons would hide their cars to make it appear there was no victor, only to jump out of the bushes and claim their victory.

Now the prizes were EVERYTHING.  First place always received money.   Second place award was usually something useful (ie., flashlight, tool set, etc.)  But the third prize was the killer.  The last team to arrive home received the dreaded reward.  The task of doing the Thanksgiving dishes.  HAHA – my mother was indeed very clever.

And as the Treasure Hunt continued throughout the 80’s and into the 90’s new players came and left, strategies to win thrived, riddles became tougher and egos grew.  And thru it all we laughed - laughed so hard it hurt.  What my parents created for Thanksgiving day was not only memorable but it was that special time of year they were certain we would make it home.

I am forever grateful to have had such amazing, beautiful parents and a day does not go by that I do not try to emulate them.

               Love you Mom and Dad.  Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, July 18, 2016

A Semester at TIDE Academy, Costa Rica

Last fall we decided to transform our life a bit.  I have always loved that my children were bilingual and I thought if there was a way,  and we were able to do it, why not encourage a third language - Spanish.  After researching Spanish speaking countries, the obvious choice became Costa Rica.  We had been there before, we knew the area we liked and TIDE Academy could accommodate our children’s curriculum and our travel schedule.

 So, with high hopes and flip flops we headed to Tamarindo. 

 We rented a three bedroom downtown condo in Pacific Park and stayed less than a month there.  I thought the proximity to the school and to Langosta (a less touristy town) would be ideal.  Ooops!  Pacific Park is in an extremely lively neighborhood, surrounded by bars.  Certainly not the atmosphere my children needed to be in.  So, after much hunting around I found a three bedroom home in Langosta and our life found normalcy again.

Unfortunately, that was short lived.  Serge returned to Quebec three weeks into our stay in Costa Rica and suffered from a heart attack.  The obvious decision was for all of us to return home.  But, after discussing all options Serge and I decided that the kids and I would remain in Tamarindo while he recuperated at our home in Dunham.  He wanted a quiet atmosphere and he wanted us to continue with our “project”.

 Days whizzed by as the children became more and more involved in school and the community.  TIDE accommodated their individual needs and they were able to keep up with their Quebec curriculum and take additional courses offered to them by TIDE.  They loved it.  They grew.  They spoke Spanish.  

And the pièce de résistance – they learned to surf.  

Surfing became their passion.   If they were not doing it at school, Jamy, Momo and Jaden were learning with our friend and instructor Matias on the weekends.   What better way to spend off time than on a board in beautiful surroundings.  

I cannot say enough about our “project” and about the people we met along the way.  People who took that leap, who dropped everything in their “home country” and just went for it.  People who have made Costa Rica their second home and who are fortunate enough to go back each year to a place they love and contribute to. 

Would we do it again? Absolutely without hesitation.  It was the best “project" we have ever done with our children and for their education.  I would encourage anyone who is open to an alternative lifestyle, and who has an open mind about giving their children a non-traditional education, to go for it.  That almost sounds funny reading that last statement back in my mind.  What is non-traditional?  Must we always adhere to traditional schooling?  Shouldn’t we be occasionally thinking outside the box?  Shouldn’t our children know there are options?  I think definitely yes!  I want to teach my children that it is not enough to be a small fish in a big ocean.  They need to be that multi colored fish that can swim anywhere and feel that they can belong anywhere.

We miss you Costa Rica, we miss TIDE and all those who belong to it and promote it.   Until we see you all again – hasta la vista!!

If you are interested in taking your children to this beautiful country or if you would like more information on TIDE Academy, please do not hesitate to contact me.   Below is a video, shot by the TIDE students, highlighting their school, all that it offers and what it means to them.