Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Somewhat handmade Christmas

Now that everyone has opened their gifts, I can share my handiwork. The cabled mittens on the left went to my sister-in-law. It was a really fun pattern from Ravelry, quick and easy to knit. The socks went to my brother-in-law, my usual 3x1 rib pattern. Stretchy and functional. The yarn is Opal, purchased at my weaving shop before it closed this summer. Very fun knits, those two.

And then I violated one of the Yarn Harlot's rules of holiday knitting. I knit for someone who doesn't appreciate handmade things. Actually, my sister's daughter may very well appreciate the little bundles of joy I gave her in the form of a bunny and a monkey, but my sister did not. Lesson learned. Ordinary plastic stuff is better. The monkey was a really fun thing to knit as well, although next time I'll do the smaller version to shorten the boredom of the arms and legs. The pattern came from Blue Moon and featured an afterthought heel for the mouth and butt. Much fun.

And then came the fleece pajamas for my kids. This was extremely difficult as I'm not good at sewing and the kids are with me all the time. One of the few drawbacks of homeschooling is that you can't sneak in a handmade gift too easily. But I kicked them out of the house or banished them to other rooms to get them done. And now they are matching, except for the dots I put inside as labels to help in the laundry folding.

All in all, I've had a very creative year. It was one of my resolutions last year to do something creative each day. And except for the few weeks surrounding my father's hospitalization and major life change, I managed to do just that. I feel better for it and hope to keep up the habit in the years to come. All told, I knit seven pairs of socks (and I'm on the 8th), a hat and gloves, mittens, a lace scarf, a failed sweater for Mark, a bunny and a monkey. Need to update my Ravelry notebook, which is really handy for notes. That and I sewed the Halloween costumes, pants for Small, the pjs, and did some paper crafting. It's really healthy to keep the creative juices flowing.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Crazy Weather

We've had some really wild and crazy Christmas weather. It was a weather stress week for us. First, the Sunday before Christmas was -8 degrees. It warmed up to -5. The house temperature was 64 degrees and the furnace struggled to keep up. Then it just quit. The hugely expensive furnace that cause us to redefine our relationship with credit a mere two years ago. Not heating. Luckily, I had signed up for the service plan the last time it stopped and we had a guy here at 7 p.m. on a Sunday to fix it for only $65. He showed Mark how to hit a button on the electrical panel when it's windy and it stops again. Our front door and many windows had a thick layer of ice on them.
Then we tried to get to East Peoria for Mark's family's celebration on the Tuesday. It had warmed up to the 20s and was snowing in the morning, but was supposed to end by early afternoon. We watched the radar as it remained stubbornly showing snow and decided to head out anyway. I guess Blagoevich has siphoned off all the snow plow money as I55 was almost a parking lot. It took us an hour to get to Weber Road (about 20 miles) when we decided to turn around.

We started again on Wednesday, the roads were clear south of the Chicago Metro area, but it was extremely windy. The central part of the state had already experienced an ice storm, parking lots were skating rinks. It was warmer, so some snow and ice was melting, but it froze overnight. We made it, but it took much longer than usual. New DS games helped to entertain the kids in the back seat.

Thursday morning was clear and sunny, not a problem making it to Indiana for my family's celebration. That night, as we slept, it started to rain. Mark got up early on Boxing Day, Friday, for a Starbucks run, I fell back asleep, dreaming of good coffee. He came back in a half hour later and said the roads were closed except for emergencies and everything was a sheet of ice. I said "Starbucks is an emergency" and them came to reality as I drank my tepid warm water they call coffee and watched news coverage of trucks spinning on the ice. The news coverage was sobering, but reality didn't truly hit until I learned my brother in law was sitting on the side of the highway waiting for a tow truck for my father's SUV. The first tow truck spun out while on the way to get him, he said the roadside was just littered with SUVs and pick up trucks in the ditch.

And then it started to warm up and melt. This was the view out of our hotel window. We spent the whole morning in front of the fire, knitting, playing, running around - ours were the only children in the place.

We went out to lunch in the rain. It rained and rained and rained. Boxing Day was on hold. My sister's rental Hummer slid down the sand dune on the way to the grocery store. She gave us word that the town had salted and she felt we could make it up. The driveway was clear. I had spread 50 pounds of salt before everyone else arrived and chipped away at the ice. The brothers-in-law and grown nephews cleared it completely while we were there. The town does not believe in salt, it's not good for the vegetation. They had never seen ice like this before, a layer of sand over an inch of ice makes even the sturdiest of four wheel drives wobbly. We tried, but couldn't make it up the sand dune leading to their driveway.

It rained and then it fogged. Freaky fog, really dense patches. We drove back to the hotel slowly and slept to the sound of more rain. Saturday morning, on the now successful Starbucks run, Mark fell in the parking lot that had become a swimming pool and was soaked to the skin. It poured all day. We came home to a flooded back yard, but at that point were too weather weary to snap a photo. This one is from today.

Because it was in the sixties on Saturday, all our snow melted. On top of that we had two inches of rain. With the giant addition next door a few years ago and the new giant addition behind us, our available land to soak up rain has turned into concrete and is flowing into our back yard. Our sump pump is going every few minutes, and has been for four days now.

I'm looking forward to a few days of drying out. Sunshine, no snow, no rain, no salt, no weather.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Learning Science

I meant to respond to a post on one of my homeschooling yahoo groups about science classes, but never got around to it. Now the thread is probably long gone, but I've been thinking about how we learn science ever since. The author of the post was looking to organize a science class for homeschoolers and was wondering what other parents were looking for.

I've been through many stages of worry over science for my kids. And the more I've watched them, the more I've come to realize that all one needs to learn science is an inquisitive mind and the opportunity to follow through on interests - i.e. a parent who can facilitate their investigations. Maybe I just have easy kids, after all, they ask for museum memberships for their birthdays and Christmas. Or, more likely (as "easy" never pops in my head when am looking for an adjective for my three), they are learning in a natural way.

An example. We went to the Field Museum a while back and spent 2 1/2 hours in the Evolving Planet exhibit. Small is very into dinosaurs. Medium and Large pushed every button, read everything that interested them, talked to the docents, had a great time. That lead to checking books out of the library and watching the excellent 9 hour PBS series Evolution. When I asked if they wanted to watch an episode one night last week, Large said "We're watching evolution all the time." He got the message. Very cool.

The same thing happened with our study of the human body. As my Dad's Parkinson's' and Mom's dementia progressed rapidly this summer, they were naturally inquisitive about how and why it was happening. More books from the library, more DVDs from Netflix, a wonderful CD ROM series, also from the library, and they now know more about the body than I could hope to remember.

Science may be in their blood, but I have to believe it is in every child's blood. My father is a renowned physicist, my brother has a PhD in Physics and is working in particle charged optics, Mark has a BS in Physics and MS in Nuclear Engineering. All three of them will tell you they were bored to tears in science class. My father learned more watching his grandmother's soap bubbles, my brother learned more at my father's knee and my husband learned more by following his interests to what I have called, on occasion, an obsessive end. A few museum memberships and a willing parental tour guide are all a child needs.

As teenagers they may head off to community college for the nitty-gritty paper and pencil work, and the nearly impossible to do at home lab work. Classes can be a soothing balm for worried parents, I've been down that road a few times. We feel inadequate in our ability to teach them "all they need to know" particularly in Math and Science.

For now, I've let go of the control/panic button. I've learned to do less teaching and more orchestrating, we are all happier for it. Museum memberships last a whole year and are cheaper than classes for three kids. They have the interest and need only the nourishment of their curiosity.

Monday, December 15, 2008


For the knitters out there, and I know you are out there, here's a funny, short movie to take your mind off your holiday knitting stress.

And now, back to the Christmas knitting.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

That was cold

Really, really cold. We took our Roots & Shoots group out to work at the Ted Stone Forest, one of the many Cook County Forest Preserves. We've been working there for over a year now, it's our on-going, long term project serving the environment. The boys (and my girl) truly enjoy cutting down invasive brush, freeing space for majestic oaks and a widening prairie. They love using real saws and loppers, aren't quite as excited about dragging that cut brush to the pile, but generally work hard and have a good time.

And then there are the hot dogs. This work day it was in the high teens, which was fine as long as we were moving. But after an hour or so, the kids were ravenous and the little fire had been heating nicely. It was much too windy to burn any of the big brush piles. I had 8 boys, 3 adults (it's good to have a high ratio with saws and things in the midst) and 32 hot dogs. Some of the boys brought their own hot dogs, so the count is really higher. Those hot dogs vanished. One fashioned a nice trident hot dog roaster with his pocket knife, and ate three at once. Others used the much more efficient grill, or single ended sticks.

Then came the marshmallows. Into the "oven of doom" as one hilarious boy kept calling it. Sticky, black, brown yummy marshmallows. That was our only real injury, marshmallows in the hair. And it mainly happened to my children, those of the long hair tendencies.

It was another beautiful day. But standing around the fire, I felt my age. And lost feeling in my toes (double socked!) and fingers (ski gloves!). Walking back to the car, I could barely grip the walking stick I brought along for stability. Kids don't feel the cold the same way we do.

See, it isn't all knitting around here!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Shameless Plug

If you're in town this week, or near Oak Park, please head over to Pleasant Home (at the corner of Pleasant and Home). This wonderful old house is holding it's annual artisans sale with some of the proceeds going to the upkeep, restoration and maintenance of this historic treasure. I have a few silly things in the sale, but there are many, more serious artists involved.

The sale starts with an open house on Sunday, December 7th from 1 to 4 and runs all the following week. You can visit an historic landmark and finish off your holiday shopping in one fell swoop!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Big-ish News

We interrupt the gift knitting marathon for an announcement. The other night at dinner, we had to bring out the Oxford English Dictionary. The OED at the dinner table was such a staple of my youth and early adulthood, I am elated the kids have reached the point where we could continue this tradition. The word we looked up - hobbledehoy - is pictured, our OED is the teeny-tiny print kind that required a magnifying glass. I remember looking up words without glasses as a kid. Now that was a long time ago.

Judging by my history, one of our children will now learn to swear emphatically and use this skill during long discussions of foreign policy. The resulting door slam wont be as effective as in my youth because of the distance between the bedrooms and the dining room, but that is just a small matter.

Almost done with the last knitted gift! I'll have to post pictures after the holidays.

Thursday, November 20, 2008


You've got to watch this! Found it blogging around:

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


Mark works with a guy named Louis. Whenever he pages us at 3 in the morning, or 3 in the afternoon on a birthday or takes Mark away from a family/holiday dinner, I break out in song. This song. Listen to it, it's worth it.

Now it turns out that after working 8 days straight, 12 hours with a one hour commute each way, Louis is trying to take away our Thanksgiving. Turns out also, he looks and acts nothing like the hot seventies guys on the album cover. His last name is half a mile long, he's short, overweight and, well, nothing like the Louie of my imagination.

I've had many men in my bedroom courtesy of Mark's pager. Gary, famously, on the fourth of July at 5 in the morning. Lately, Dave, who had the riot act read to him when he called at 7 a.m. the other day (you really don't' expect me to wake him up when the JUST got to bed, do you?). Louie has always been there for me. I can rally and sing "She was black, as the night, Louie was whiter than white..." and feel better.

Now I want him dead. Or at least mutilated.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

So many blogs, so little time

Lately, I've been adding and adding to my blog reading list. I can no longer read blogs in the morning. Despite getting up at 6:30 when Mark comes home, I have no time. Confession: the past few nights, I've not gotten up as Mark came in. Small has been waking each night at 1 or 2 crying for his Daddy. "But I need Daddy every night AND every day."

Still, my blogs are too many and too wonderful. I have my list of homeschooling blogs, my knitting blogs, my crafting blogs. There are too many projects, too many wonderful things to read about. Have you seen this fabulous collection of patters, for example, at Twist Collective? Or these great projects at Whip Up? Not to mention a homeschooling project at Paper Dali? I need to stop clicking through my blogs, adding to my read list and actually do some of these things.

Then again, maybe I should just clean my house and prepare for Thanksgiving. Or get on with my spelling program.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Now that's smart

We went to the Museum of Science and Industry today to see the Smart Home exhibit. We were also remarkably smart about parking, taking a tip from friends and finding the free lot. Free parking. Of course, it's all the way at the end of the museum, by the Omnimax theater, but that's also where the exhibit was.

We were all impressed with the exhibit, and the tour guide was impressed with the five homeschooled kids in my little group. Actively engaged kids, listening, answering questions, asking them too. I know two of my three really took a lot away from our tour, wanting to do things differently in our own home. Not just the compact fluorescent light bulbs, but rethinking how we fix and replace older items in our home. It's probably easier just to start all over, but we'll be re-tooling our home improvement efforts differently from now on.

We also saw the space exhibit, the circus exhibit with the really fun screen of bubbles that can be moved around with your hands, and all the wonderful Christmas trees. Christmas, already! It snowed a bit outside and on the hour and half-hour, inside as well.

Another great museum trip.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Museum Day

Hah! Here's my picture from yesterday. Can't upload pictures from the faster upstairs computer sometimes. I wanted the picture to show that, occasionally, I really can knit with no problems. This is one of two toys I'm making for my niece for Christmas, there is little worry that my sister will read my blog and spoil the surprise.

With Mark's work schedule being nuts, I try to get the kids out of the house in the mornings so he can sleep. Yesterday we went to the Field Museum for the first time in, probably, three years. Large and Medium wanted a membership for their birthday in August, we just got around to doing that yesterday.

They have made a quantum leap in how they enjoy museums. Maybe they are just at that time of life when it is the most interesting. We went through the Evolving Plant exhibit, a permanent one, but new to us. It's the one with the dinosaurs. Small is really into dinosaurs lately, but was a bit frightened of the bones. The exhibit is great. Full of wonderful interactive bits, little movies explaining all sorts of things, touching things, reading things, looking things. I think they designed it to appeal to every possible learning style.

The kids were enthralled. They actually spoke with the volunteer docents, questioning, wondering. They read everything that interested them, watched the little movies, followed the time line, they were engaged the whole time. We had been there about an hour and a half when I was worried their interest was fading, but I was wrong. Before the dinosaur portion there was a short movie explaining a mass extinction that paved the way for the beasts. Afterwards there was another movie explaining the dinosaur extinction. These movies were projected on big screens in a separate room area with benches. When we got to the second movie, it was already playing, but we sat down to wait it out until the beginning of the loop. Large turned his back and covered his ears, not wanting to hear the end before the beginning. And then he sat for the whole six minutes, absorbing.

Of course, I didn't have my camera, so we don't have pictures of them with the apatasourus or with Lucy. Except for my cell phone pictures, which I'm not able to get off my cell phone. We'll be back. They wanted to go to another exhibit after 2 1/2 hours in the Evolving Planet, but they were hungry and wanted to see their Dad more.

While we were there, a high school field trip group was running around with clipboards and worksheets to fill out. They couldn't just look at what they wanted to, they had to answer questions. We joked about that and I threatened to give them a worksheet next time. Eye rolls all around, it was a funny moment.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Knitting Woes

Blogger wont let me put a picture in. Sigh. It kind of goes well with the problems I'm having on the knitting front lately.

I don't normally knit things that require seaming. I'm not good at it and don't enjoy it. But, it's a useful skill to have, so I did up a pattern for Mark's birthday. He got me the book for my birthday and I repaid the favor by giving him a box of yarn for his. He prefers cotton, but I may just have to sneak in some wool sometime soon.

The pattern - Arthur's Field of Dreams from The Natural Knitter, had problems. First the chart was wrong for the basket weave. Then there was the small problem of a stitch put on a safely pin in the middle of the v-neck and never resolved. I wove that in. Then came the horrible realization that, despite following the directions to the letter to get the lovely decreases in the v-neck, the front was a good three inches longer than the back. The final blow came when to make the increases work perfectly on the sleeves, I would have had to have been married to an orangutan.

Yes, I did a swatch. Yes, my gauge, both stitch and row, was right on. I ripped back the long bits, decreased rather inelegantly, blocked it on election night to measurements. I checked and rechecked the measurements as the thing dried on the dining room table and a card table in the living room. Then I did a couple of new to me techniques - nothing like a little something new to make me happy - a three needle bind off in the shoulders and an i-cord bind off at the back of the neck. And I seamed the whole thing up, threw it on Mark as he was headed out the door to work and realized the sweater was gargantuan. Big on me, even. I used Knit Picks Shine Worsted, which is a combination of cotton and a plant fibre called Modal. Huh. It's heavy. And the sweater stretched after blocking.

So, now I'm faced with the prospect of steeking it. I can't just throw it out and wont use the yarn again. It's big all over. I'll rework the neckline, which is very sloppy from the stretched yarn, to an i-cord bind off all around and than I'll steek. Yikes, machine seaming and cutting my knitting? Ravelry has saved my butt again, but I do hope to talk to someone who's done it first.

The kids have been witness to my trials and tribulations with this sweater. I'd like to think they are learning to roll with the changes life throws at you. Instead, I fear they may be learning a few words muttered under my breath not fit for their delicate (ha!) ears.

Friday, November 7, 2008


Three things I discovered, or rather, rediscovered today.

  1. Still can't talk about it. I had hoped that by now, three full days after the elections, I could get through a conversation about it without tears leaking from my eyes. Nope, no can do. The emotions are still too raw, I'm still in the unbelieving stage. Did we really elect a smart, capable, inspiring leader? Oh, here I go again...

  2. Being with my husband, even in public, for more than a few minutes at a time restores my soul. Mark is off on his, sadly, annual outage, where he is gone for 15 hour stretches six days a week. Today we juggled things to be home in time to sleep enough to join our Roots&Shoots group at the Ted Stone Forest Preserve. Chopping down invasive brush restored his soul, being in the same general vicinity of him restored mine.

  3. Delivered pizza is better than grocery store pizza. No explanation needed. Thanks, Mark, for working the outage night shift and giving us the extra cash to splurge. I'm fighting every urge not to analyze where that $15.95 should have gone.

    Life is good.

Thursday, November 6, 2008


Imagine this. Except that for the people there it went on for 57 minutes, from 10:00 p.m. when it was called until 10:57 when Obama spoke. Friends say it was unbelievable love and uphoria.

Oh, What a Night

I feel like, for the first time, my American has voted and been counted. It's an end and a beginning, we will never be the same again.

With Mark's work schedule, we couldn't possibly head down to Grant Park. I would have been in charge of the three kids on my own, would have ended up carrying Small the whole time and, well, it would have been just too hard. I regret now that I didn't' splurge like my friend Kim and stay a night in a hotel, witnessing it without the long drive home.

We watched the coverage on primitive, cable-less TV and on two computers, connecting with Mark by phone. I didn't start crying until Obama won Ohio, then I was just weeping uncontrollably. The kids were enthralled, cheering. Medium and Large went into the voting booth with me, loving the touch screen, participating at their level. They felt a part of it.

Here's a funny bit from Letterman about the coverage:

Yesterday we went downtown to Orchestra Hall for a concert and a quick trip to the Art Institute, bordering Grant Park. Clean up was still in progress. Road closures, sidewalk chalk remnants of the celebration, garbage cleared. When we drove home we passed the remaining TV crews parked along Columbus Drive - huge trucks, satellites and equipment. It was fascinating and the city was still in a friendly, happy mood. I'm glad we went.

It's still pinch me time. I'm proud of my elderly parents getting to their polling place in Indiana. My father unstable on his feet, my mother just unstable. They voted, they made a difference.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Creative Overload

Wow, this was one hard to carve pumpkin! Lots of little lines, curvy lines. But I was pleased with how it came out. And it made lots of grown-ups smile as they waited for their kids to get their goodies. I am hoping those smiles are ones of approval, ones of support. Only two days left, the anxiety is killing me.

And then there were my Super Mario kids. Mario, Luigi and fire Mario. I should really learn not to buy the cheapest fabric possible for these things, but I couldn't see forking over significant money for something they would be wearing just a few times. You may notice only Small, Fire Mario, got the side pockets. They were way too complicated with this slippery fabric to do six of them.

The reaction to my kids' costumes was best from the teenage set. They would answer the door to pass out goodies and get rave reviews on their costumes. they were just brimming from ear to ear.

I have to say I behaved myself pretty well for the holiday. I only complained to a few close friends about how it is my least favorite holiday, didn't hover over my allergic children or repeat endlessly that they shouldn't eat anything until we've read the label. Small announced to his Uncle Bill "I'd like to have a piece of candy, but can't have any milk, eggs or nuts!" No need for hovering anymore. They get it and have moved on.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Man Cold

The two youngest "men" of the house have a cold. The oldest has never seen this video, first sent to me by Kim. Enjoy.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

No, YOU Can't

Ok, so I was really looking for another (kind, sweet) video to post, but came across this hillarious one. It's two minutes out of your live. Watch. Laugh. Remember who you want to vote for.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Life and Art

So, we were messing around with art the other day at a library nearby. Lots of tissue paper, lots of glue, scissors, you get the idea. I was helping Small, following directions and making a tissue paper collage with boring circle and petal flowers. Medium and Large, on the other hand, were carefully crafting yellow cone flowers, obedient plant, compass plant, cardinal flowers - anything but boring daisy like flora. We were using a little art skills textbook, and true homeschoolers they are, they took what the needed and did what they wanted. Really beautiful creations!

And on an even more positive note, I haven't had any pain in 48 hours now. I'm cautiously optimistic that the corner has been turned, the super-duper antibiotic has done it's job and life will now return to what we call normal.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


Did you watch Frontline on PBS? OK, if you didn't, you must. It's a two hour time commitment, grab your knitting and cancel something else. It's important, do it with your kids. Here's the link.

Large and Medium were riveted. At least for the first hour, then it got past nine and they are fighting off a cold, and zzzzz. Small was too busy celebrating his recent, if tardy, potty training victory over "liquid waste" (as I recently saw a sign in a public restroom name it). They focused their attention, asked questions and listened to John McCain's story without the automatic, knee-jerk reaction we all have become accustomed to. Wait, that was me. I mean, so did I.

The program was a balanced portrayal of the two men who could potentially be responsible for leading our nation out of crisis. If all politics is personal, it's make or break time for our family. The next four years will transform our children into college-bound teenagers at precisely the time our income will be limited by our age and desire to shift gears. We opened our insurance open enrollment materials today and discovered Mark cannot retire at 55 as planned in less than 300 days. Instead, we must wait three more long years to get the 80% covered retiree health. (I do suspect those three years, if in his current position, will take more years off his life than paying a higher premium for "the remainder" will cost, but I digress.) Against my better judgement, I opened my 401(k) statement from a previous employer today and saw a 30% drop. And that was before October.

I don't know many families for whom this is not make or break time. Or individuals for that matter. My retired and ailing parents, my single friends, my friends with children and mortgages suddenly beyond their reach, my friends who want to buy houses, my husband's siblings and cousins. Perhaps even my own well-off siblings, but I don't know their situations well enough and suspect their political slant is different than mine.

Watch Frontline with your kids. They get so much of their political opinions from listening to us old folks, they don't have the background. They need their own background. Naive, innocent, loved and loving, our three children could not, for instance, understand why Obama's advisers would say Americans weren't ready for a black president. Our formal history study is still in the ancients, but the community they live in and the more recent history they understand did not prepare them for this statement. But, Mommy, he's the better man.

All I remember from the elections of my youth are loud, raucous arguments between my sister, who had recently learned to swear, and my father at the dinner table. More often than not, one of them would storm off in tears. It wasn't often my father, he didn't do tears until my mother had open heart surgery 6 years ago. I hope my children remember more than this, hope they remember a quest for truth and an earnest regard for the future.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Chapter 2, In Which our Health Care System Shines

This picture was taken 2 1/2 weeks ago, which was when my pain started. Mark and I keep ibuprofen in the glove box of each car for emergencies. I woke up with a little headache, but though I had just slept funny. We went off apple picking. It was an oppressively sunny day, hot in the sun, not so bad in the shade. Apple trees, primed for picking apples, don't provide much shade. We bagged a bushel of apples.

I took the ibuprofen on the way home. It took the edge off. The pain was on the left side of my head, behind my ear. When we got home, I separated the big from the small apples - big for drying and apple butter making and small for eating. I took them to the basement, the kids and I headed to my parents for the weekend. Mark was on 12-plus hour shifts and needed his sleep. Those apples are still unprocessed.

I woke up Saturday morning with a headache, but the bed in my parent's spare room is so old and uncomfortable, and the pillows so unwelcoming, I am used to waking up achy there. By the second morning, however, I knew there was a problem. I borrowed the neck pillow I bought my mother for her birthday, heated it the microwave and got relief for a while. Mark went off duty Monday morning and we drove home just as my jaw was starting to ache.

Monday night, two Mondays ago now, I had such pain I thought it impossible to bear. Little did I know how much is possible to bear. I took prescription strength Motrin. By that Tuesday morning, after discussing it with close friends and my sister who had been through a root canal, I decided that was the problem. Searing, unrelenting pain. I searched for homeopathic or natural remedy advice, only to find the most sane said "drink whiskey until there is no more pain, and then keep drinking so the pain will not return." I called my dentist and scheduled an appointment for the next day at the same time that Small was to have his cavity filled, Medium was getting her teeth cleaned and Large was getting a cleaning and a retainer check.

I don't drink whiskey and it seemed like a whole lot of wine would only provide me with temporary relief at great cost, so I took a vicodin I had lying around from something or other. And Mark got me clove oil, which did nothing, and anbesol, which seemed to help. Armed with those two, I went to bed. Nothing but psychotic dreams, the mildest of which involved our poor birds leg falling off in my hands, the many others involved death and destruction of all of my loved ones. I forced myself to stay awake, and still had no relief from the pain.

The next afternoon, I counted the hours, we went to the dentist. We took up four chairs of a six or seven chair office. I begged them to remove my teeth. Not a tooth problem, not TMJ as I had in my college days. My dentist performed a very thorough exam and then decided it could be an infection of the bone behind my ear - he probed and prodded there and in my mouth. I had a lump behind my ear that felt warm and extended down to my neck. Or it could be a stress response.

Who doesn't have stress? I liked the stress answer, although a root canal would have meant an end to the pain. I immediately called Mark to give him the "good" news and then called my doctor's office to schedule a tuina massage and see if I could be squeezed in for acupuncture. Thursday morning, massage. Later a cancellation gave me an acupuncture appointment. The dentist told me to take three ibuprofen and two acetaminophen at the same time - same thing my sister told me. That provided relief for a half hour or so at a time. The rest of the time I had radiating, agonizing pain - throbbing and stabbing.

Thursday. By the time the doctor saw me - I hadn't taken the pain stuff because I wanted to be able to describe it - I was in tears. I've spoken to her about my life long hopes and dreams, my constant struggle with my weight, my poor Small's life-inhibiting eczema, my other children's allergies. I've never cried. I had the massage, which took the edge off and then the accupuncture. I felt OK enough afterwards to run an errand. And then I spent the rest of the day on the couch with heat packs on.

In the midst of this, Mark's beloved Uncle Bill died in Wisconsin. Although he was 95 and had some ailments, it was a surprise to us all. We dropped everything - including my Roots&Shoots group, some community commitments and other dates - to get up to Wisconsin and support his remaining children, their children and the rest of our family.

That Friday morning I was up at 4 or so with my pain. It really is beyond words - soaring from the back of my jaw outwards, pulsating, hot, sharp and pointy. I've shattered an ankle and had a 9 1/2 pound baby without an epidural - neither of those compare to this pain. I thought there was no way I could make the trip. And then in the next instant I realized there was no way I couldn't. I couldn't trust myself home alone not to just kill myself. It was suicidal thought provoking pain. With no end in sight.

My doctor put me on the first antibiotic when I called on our way to the funeral, which helped take the edge off. By Saturday and Sunday, I had a full hour or two with minimal pain. I also had much distraction with family and a beautiful funeral service. But I also napped, took my pain combo more frequently than advised and applied heat whenever we were back at the room.

By Monday I called again my doctor to say the pain was increasing after a break. My doctor asked me to see an ENT, who provided me with two diagnoses different from mastoiditis, without even examining me. He walked into the room behind me and said "It's not mastoiditis, who told you it was that?" His first words. Then he pronounced it TMJ. When I protested that I had TMJ in the past, it only confirmed his diagnosis. I said I didn't grind my teeth and that the pain was no where comparable. He said I had to go on a two week course of ibuprofen to reduce the inflammation, or it could be Trigeminal neuralgia (Tic Doloureux) , but that he couldn't know for two weeks. Incredulously, I asked him if he expected me to go through two more weeks of this pain. He, literally, patted me on the shoulder and said I was grinding my teeth at night and needed a mouth guard.

Went home, scheduled another dentist appointment. My doctor called, I told her what transpired at the ENT, she prescribed me a stronger antibiotic. The man hadn't even given me a CT scan, which is a bit surprising, as it would have been covered by insurance. None of my symptoms matched with TMJ or Tic Doloreux. The second antibiotic took more pain away. My dentist confirmed I have no evidence of grinding my teeth and none of the hallmarks of TMJ.

It's been 6 days on that antibiotic. I still have several hours of pain a day, but they are spread out. I still have the lump behind my ear, cannot have anything too hot or too cold. I went through ten days of constant, tormenting, suicidal pain and lived to see the other side. Tomorrow I will call to see if we should switch antibiotics again to knock it out completely.

I've learned that our health care system is not about keeping the insured well. It's about passing the buck, making snap decisions and trying to fit round pegs into square holes. My own doctor is outside the health care system. She's out of network, out of pocket. She schedules 45 minute appointments with her patients and regularly runs behind. I'm lucky to have her. Broke, but lucky.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

This guy wants to be president?

I'm still not well enough for any wordy blogging. Here's a great, short video.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Ramblings of an overstretched woman

My time lately has been so full of worry and action concerning the older people in my life, that I've been joyously reminded of the younger folk in jolts and starts. I'm constantly thinking, worrying. Should my father see a urologist/oncologist at a world class medical center in Chicago for his self-diagnosed prostate cancer, or wait for continued care when he moves to New Mexico at the end of November? Will my mother remember to pick up his prescriptions at Osco? Will she remember to eat lunch?

And then I'm thrust into my other life. The life of children, happily homeschooled children who can spend a Friday at Daley Plaza flying their Roots&Shoots peace dove, head to Millennium Park for a good soak at the Crown Fountain and generally have a wonderfully exhausting day. My other life, where if I forget to pay attention to my four and a half year old for a minute, another homeschooling Mom has my back. Where my kids can learn about all the countries in the world by watching a flag ceremony at noon on a school-day Friday and wonder at the enormity of it all. Where they can discuss peace and war one second, slide down a Picasso sculpture the next and be the only group represented with a kid-made peace dove - isn't she beautiful???

Then I go back to my worries, returning phone calls I would have been loathe to make in a previous era. Order my father's g-tube food, change an appointment, help my mother understand where things are in her own home. I got stung by a yellow jacket, as did Small, which rendered my right index finger useless for four days. That woke me to a different reality - a life without knitting.

While the finger was healing, I witnessed a ceremony for our fabulous girl scout troop. Something for which I have no responsibility other than dropping her off and schlepping other kids around to a boys club at the same time. Middle had missed the previous week where they troop decided what to do at the ceremony, yet performed beautifully when a piece of paper was thrust in her hands for her to read. 50 plus happy homeschooled children outside out a beautiful Tuesday morning. Celebrating their lives, building on one another's strengths, learning from their weaknesses.

And then one of the mom's cars got booted. Bam! Another reality check. I alternated between glee that it wasn't my car - I've had bad ticket luck in this particular location - and worry for my friend. Turned out to be an administrative error, but took hours to fix. There's nothing like a disabled vehicle to ruin the moment. I drove a child home for my friend and worried about both my initial reaction and her dismay. What does my joy over not being booted mean? Why was it such a happy thing to see my own vehicle missed - because I would have had no idea how to make it home? Or simply because it was something bad that wasn't happening to me.

When my parents move in a few months, all the daily worries and details will fall to my sister. Part of me should feel the relief I felt over the boot man not hitting my car - he hit the two behind me. But I don't. Control freak that I am, I'd rather have them next to me - surely I'm more nurturing, more capable, more willing to help. But it has nothing to do with me and everything to do with them. My parents need to be close to an offspring - closer than the hour and a half it took me to get there last week. They want to be in a natural setting, free of the unsightliness of neighbor's houses (since 1961 they have lived without this nuisance). They want to be near my doctor brother-in-law. They need to move off the too steep for an ambulance sand dune. They are moving away to die peacefully.

I could not do my care taking, not from near or afar as I soon will, if I were not homeschooling. We are planning a long car trip - full of interesting historic stops and educational moments to visit them. There are many ways to get to New Mexico from Chicago, we plan on taking every route possible over the next few years. In our already over 100,000 miles on the odometer cars. I'm grateful for my children grounding me, that I have the other end of the candle to care for as well.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The stuff we keep

I spent a couple more hours yesterday going through things from the basement. In particular, there was a full banker's box of my papers. It's funny what we keep at different times in our lives and what seems so easy to toss later. Sort of paring down our history as our lives become more interesting.

Here are a few things I kept:
  • a certificate stating I had crossed the international date line in 1970. It was given by Japan Air Lines, filled out in my father's hand.
  • my high school diploma and various awards.
  • my final divorce decree from my first marriage.
  • my first journal. It probably has only a few pages written on, but it has a lock and I couldn't read it.
  • Some loose class photos.

This was a giant box, full of performance appraisals from my first jobs, salary history, tons of paperwork from my first marriage. Yikes, what bad karma keeping all that stuff. I pared it down to one small stack, shredded some and put the rest in the recycling. Then I moved on to the next one.

One of the worst things about having a basement is that it's always available for storage. We have a horrible habit of putting things in the basement as a halfway point between wanting to keep it and wanting to toss it. Slowly, the basement fills until we are faced with a crisis of some kind or reach a breaking point with the clutter. We've just had a combination of the two and I'm on a mission. If it has no use or meaning to me, it's gone.

That International Date Line certificate has meaning to me now. As my father is nearing the end of his life, I find myself wanting to hold on to things that were his or that he gave to me. I remember that flight to Tokyo well. But I had always believed myself to be five years old on that trip, not six. I remember Dave and I racing up and down the airplane aisle, giggling, looking out windows. It was a 22 hour flight, a long time for a five and six year old to sit still. I remember a spiral staircase led upstairs to a place where people were drinking highballs and such. We went up and down that staircase a hundred times, I imagine. I remember a very large man choking on a breakfast sausage. I don't remember anyone scolding us or telling us not to do something. Sometimes my memory is kind to me.

My parents took kids aged 5, 6, 9 and 14 across the ocean for a month. I would be paralyzed with fear over the planning and execution of such a trip. It's hard to imagine them doing anything of the sort now, in their current condition.

That's why I kept the certificate. In another 10 years, it may go into the recycling bin as well.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Water, water everywhere

This was my backyard on Saturday afternoon. We don't normally have lake front property. It rose higher than this on Sunday, but by then my energy for taking pictures had waned. I took the picture to show my father and mother, whom we visited on Saturday. It was a crazy thing to do and we were lucky to get home. But my brother was in town and we had spent all morning wondering if we would get water in the basement.

We decided to wonder about it from afar. My brother lives in California and at best we only see him a few times a year. When my parents move in a few months, we will see him even less. My parents live on top of a sand dune and do not get water in their house. They are on the lake. Between the end of the sand dunes and the highway, there is a ecologically significant bog. This bog, normally a wet place, spilled over the road. We muddled through and had a good visit, watching the continual rain, visiting, laughing, planning our parents move, talking about their health, etc.

It was torrential rain on the way home. Most of Friday night and Saturday it rained non-stop. Thunder showers, they called it. Not violent storms, but a heck of a lot of rain. Saturday night it was raining hard, especially at 65 miles per hour. But we were lucky to get home. 80/94 was closed just east of my parents' exit and we were headed west. By Sunday it was closed further west and I could not get out there as planned. I had to reschedule my father's appointment with his neurologist.

Our basement had a little river running through it. Not a lot of water, just enough to be an annoyance and make us sweep it into the sump pit. We spent most of Saturday morning preparing for the flooding, picking up laundry, moving cardboard boxes and relocating important stuff to higher ground. Or so we thought. When the water came in, it was a steady stream, causing us to rediscover items that could be damaged. Eventually there was very little higher ground left.

Now, we had cats for the first 12 years we lived in this house. Three of them. Elderly cats the last five years of their lives. One of them never quite did his business in the litter box, although in his younger days, he was close. We haven't had water in our basement for 10 years. Which, sadly, means the floor hasn't been washed in 10 years. Oh my, this made for a smelly situation on Sunday. Lugging stuff, sweeping the water with a push broom, discarding wet stuff. We filled four garbage cans and had lots of recycling. Most of what we lost were items we should have thrown out ten years ago but didn't. Boxes and paper bags of books, 30 year old magazines, ancient financial records. Most of the garbage we tossed wasn't even wet, it was just garbage. I'm trying to look at it all as a further opportunity to declutter. Today I filled another giant bag of garbage and a banker's box of recycling.

Unfortunately, Large has a gastro-intestinal thing as a result of the basement cleaning. We weren't totally focused on washing hands, I guess. And he didn't. He's been not eating more than a couple slices of toast for two days now.

I now am instituting a firm no cardboard rule for the basement. If it's not in plastic, it can't go down. Appliance boxes can be kept for one year, the date on the outside of the box with the receipt attached. Otherwise there is no point to keeping them. I'm in full tossing mode. Look out. When we flood in another 10 years, we will have nothing to worry about.

Thursday, September 11, 2008


I passed my blogaversary with no Internet access, which seems a little appropriate. I had a chance to reflect on how much I enjoy blogging and how much it has changed my life. Mark says I blog about the things that keep me up at night. And it's true I'm sleeping better. Blogging is good for the soul.

Another anniversary today. September 11th.

Yesterday the kids and I took a hike in one of our favorite forest preserves. As we were heading down the wide main path, Large and Medium started talking about 9-11. They had watched a Brain Pop about it. They have no memories, which is to be expected because they had just turned two and three. All my anxiety over warping them by having the TV on, showing the planes crash in over and over again was for nothing. They don't remember how distraught and depressed I became, how I put them in a morning out program at a nearby church. I told them how they witnessed it on TV and how concerned I was about it.

They asked what we did that day. We bought shoes. It's what we were planning to do. The shoe store was right along the train line in a neighboring town. It's not there anymore, but they had a horse carousel for the kids to ride and you could look out the windows to see the trains. The trains that day were full of folks coming home from work downtown. The city was evacuating, sure that another plan was heading for the Sears Tower. The people were jammed like sardines, the doors opened and they all piled off, dazed. It was 11 o'clock in the morning, a bright and beautiful day. Train after train came in as we tried on shoes. Light up or not? Ties or Velcro? Mundane decisions made impossible.

It amazed me to realize on our hike yesterday that my children are learning about 9-11 as history. In an unschooly way, they learned it on their own by clicking what interested them on Brain Pop. And, typical for the unschooly way, they remembered everything about that segment. It sparked them to ask questions because they knew they were alive but didn't remember it. I'm so relieved I climbed out of my depression that time and reversed my decision to put them in school!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Old does not equal Stupid

I have been shocked and appalled by the treatment my father has received from his local medical team, but have needed to calm down a bit before writing about it. The medical professionals in Valparaiso, Indiana seem to believe that all old people have some form of mental impairment. It wont be long before my peers are the old folks in this country and we really need to do something about this prevailing attitude.

It ranges from doctors who assume my father is deaf and demented and don't speak to him, to nurses who pat his shoulder like a toddler and say "there, there," to candy-stripers who insist he is confused and doesn't know where he is going. Everyone calls him Albert or, even worse, Al, when his entire adult life (since he got his PhD at the age of 22) he has been called Dr. Crewe.

I've taken to interrupting his local neurologist by stating "My father is not deaf and he has no cognitive impairment." What I really want to say is "My father is smarter now than you could ever hope to have been. Without his pioneering work in the field of electron microscopy, the entire field of medical imaging would not have been possible and you would not have a career."

At the large medical centers where he and my mother both still receive treatment - the University of Chicago Hospitals and Rush - they are treated with utmost respect. No infantalizing, no sweet talking, no first names. There is no underlying assumption that they have diminished mental capacity. Even my mother, who has dementia, is treated as an adult. Many Parkinson's' patients do eventually develop dementia, probably most of them, but it is not right to assume a patient is demented before treating them.

Our children are our future, and they are learning so much from our interactions with the medical team and with our parents. They understand that Granddad may not be able to speak well enough some days to hear him or may not be able to walk on his own, but know that he is a wise, functioning person. They understand that Grandma's brain functions differently from their own, but that with a little help she can be a whole person. They learned this weekend from their Great Uncle Bill, who turned 95, that their grandparents will continue to decline, but will also continue to have a quality of life and love for their family.

Unfortunately, my parents live in a place were the Beverly Hillbillies are practicing medicine. One doctor impressed my sister and I by stating he had performed 10,000 g-tube placement surgeries. My father did the math and felt he was a quack. Of course, it turned out my father was right - the doctor tried to have him undergo an entire new procedure to replace a 50 cent part that had warn out. The infectious disease doctor never asked about my father's prostate while diagnosing a frequent urination problem. The neurologist refused to contact one of the leading Parkinson's' experts in the country, my father's doctor at Rush, to discuss medicine dosage, so my father and I came up with his medication plan on our own. The list goes on and on.

I saw a t-shirt that says "I haven't always been old, but I have never been stupid." My father would never wear it, but I might just be forced to use that line one day.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Gearing Up

We're heading out to Indiana today to visit my parents. Public schools started on Tuesday, so we officially did as well. This will be the first of our weekly visits to my parents while the kids have "school" to do.

This fall will test my ability to balance the needs of my children with the needs of my parents in ways I cannot even fathom. I'm not sure what it will even look like. On the plate for today is a lot of computer work - their math, science and vocabulary web curricula. I'm hoping to put one on my Mom's computer and one on my Dad's laptop. Only the laptop has sound, however, which is essential for vocabulary and science. Our own laptop died a fiery death over the summer. Other than that, they have a lot of reading. And then maybe we'll go to the beach, although I suspect the waves will again be too high for swimming.

And I need to brace myself for my father's current thinking over the proposed move to New Mexico, his current worries about his health and progress, his worries over my mother's health. I don't ever remember having such long conversations one on one with my father, he's always been remote. It has been a great adjustment to me to have him trust me with administrative things involving his care, and to purposefully sit and talk together.

I also need to brace myself for my mother's potential anger and confusion over our being there. She called yesterday because she didn't know how to order my father's food. We had all discussed this on Monday and the order was placed to receive the food today. She's forgotten and probably called at the request of one of the aides while my father was napping. She was angry I had done it already. It must be difficult to have responsibility taken from you, although I sense some relief from her as well.

Each visit is surrounded by two days of insomnia. One for the preparation, one for the return. It's better than sleeping there, however. Then I just lie awake all night listening for my father to get up and hoping he won't fall.

The kids have been troopers through this all. When I am exasperated over my mother's inability to remember something said a minute ago, Middle says "Remember, that's just the way her brain works, Mommy." When I need to spend time talking to my Dad or helping my Mom, Large and Medium take care of Small, entertaining him without being asked. They are likely learning enough just by experiencing their grandparents' decline and don't need me to schedule out things for them to do while we are there. That's the Life Learning part of our family.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Brain Games

Watching my mother's onward march towards complete, debilitating dementia is a horrifying experience. It's painful to see what she is going through, more painful to know how much worse it's going to get, beyond any pain scale to know that it will kill her. It's also a little terrifying to think of the implications on my own future. Dementia is not always inherited, but there are no good treatments or cures.

So, I did what any reasonable person would do, I bought a book. It's a book of daily math exercises called Train Your Brain, written by the same guy who founded the Kumon workbooks for kids. I took the pre-tests yesterday, that was a little unnerving. Then I did Day 1. 100 simple arithmetic problems, nothing greater than the number 20, no division, multiplying single digits only. It took me 2 minutes and 54 seconds. It took Mark less than a minute. I'm not even on the chart for good brain functioning according to the book! Today I shaved an entire second off my time, so that made me feel better.

Before my father was hospitalized at the end of June, his Parkinson's was progressing and he was suffering greatly from malnutrition and dehydration. Failure to thrive was the code on the ambulance sheets. At one point he told my sister that we should feel free to have both he and my mother undergo cognitive testing if we felt there was a need. That morning he had failed to easily divide in his head 24,836 by 127. I can't even remember what 7 times 6 is and he is worried about dividing five digits by three. Of course, now that he has regular hydration and calories through his tube, his brain is functioning just fine. Mine will never function as well and I'm nearly 40 years behind him.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Just my imagination

I read in the paper today that inflation is running at 5 or 6 percent for the year. So, it wasn't just my imagination running away with me? It really is a vast right wing conspiracy to keep us living right on the edge, paycheck to paycheck?

July was a three paycheck month for us. We were looking forward to catching up with the emergency fund. We keep robbing Peter (emergency fund) to pay Paul (checking account) when the G.M. (giant mortgage) is due. We were going to give some more to Peter to accommodate the new driveway we've been putting our neighbors off from doing for three years running, prepare for Christmas and for my parent's imminent relocation, so I can visit them in their waning. That didn't so much happen.

Instead, July's three paycheck month left us gasping for air in August as the checking account dwindled almost to zero before the paycheck hit. The instantly, POOF, the paycheck was gone to pay for the G.M. We have dance class to pay for next week - a bargain at 5 hours a week, 8 weeks and only $400. We get a generous discount for multiple classes, and this is the only paid activity we have. Everything else is going to center around Girl Scouts and Roots&Shoots. Those are both low cost activities. I'm going to have to call the dance teacher and tell her we want to register but are worried about the check. Or we'll have to rob Peter again. Poor Peter doesn't have much left to give.

Gas prices, food prices, everything has gone up. We're not buying packaged foods and rarely eat out. We're reduced to rice and canned chicken (allergic to beans) dinners and eggs once a week (although Small is allergic to eggs and gets lunch meat instead). Pasta another night. Gone are the days of a nice leg of lamb for our Uncle Bill.

And we make a good salary! It makes me wonder how lower income folks manage. Credit, likely. When Large overloaded the washing machine last week and burned out the motor, I was looking at 7 months of laundromat experiences. The machine will run medium loads now, so it just means more frequent laundry until the bonus comes (March) and we can replace it. Hopefully the rest of the summer will remain cool and we wont have to fix that leak in the AC that's projected to cost $1500. But honestly, it all makes me reconsider the 2 gallons of gas it costs me to get to Girl Scouts and back each week.

Somehow I feel better knowing it's not my individual fault. I haven't misbudgeted or misspent - although I did buy several frivolous $3 t-shirts off the clearance rack at Target. It's the economy, stupid.

Friday, August 8, 2008

No cable, no cry

We don't get cable, so I don't have really strong opinions about this guy. But I see him yelling on the TV at the health club occasionally and am aware of him.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Stupid Parent Tricks

I took Medium to the beach the other day. Large and Small were beached out from the day before and chose to stay at my parent's house. I keep telling these kids that they are lucky to have grandparents who live on the beach. At least we have a nice place to go and time to swim when we are there helping out. Didn't have my camera, so this is an old picture.

We went to the more private of the private beaches in their community. The one where you can't usually see another soul. This beach has a more gradual drop off than the other beach and the waves didn't seem as high as they had been the week before. Medium loves being pushed ashore by the waves, jumping them and swimming through them. I remember doing the same things on the same beach as a child. All this led me to the decision that she could go beyond the drop off, but not above her waist in the water, which would be too far out for me to help her. She wasn't' all that interested in getting deeper, the waves were up to her neck when they crashed in. She just likes to be a foot or so offshore, splashing in.

I pointed out a helicopter up the beach from us - is that east or north? The lake confuses me there, as a Chicagoan the lake is always east. In Indiana, all that changes. I thought it had been painted to look like Nemo. As it slowly made its way down the coast, I saw it was just a coast guard helicopter. Then we saw an Indiana DNR helicopter, patrolling farther off shore. In all, we saw three helicopters going slowly back and forth. After we had been there about an hour, we saw a man on a dune buggy, slowly driving along. I don't think I had ever seen a dune buggy kind of thing on this beach, but again, no alarms were raised. Medium was playing in the sand, the dune buggy went way down the other direction - south or west, practically to the steel mill.

About half an hour later, he drove back and stopped his buggy. Medium was in the water, playing. He said "I guess you know about rip currents." Yes, I do, but the waves didn't seem as bad today. Have there been rip currents spotted? I had spent time researching rip currents after someone drowned a few weeks ago and felt confident I could spot one. Yes, was the answer. Oh. And there are so many patrols today - three helicopters and you driving on the beach. He was wearing a state park uniform. "Yes, we're looking for a body. A drowning off Porter Beach."

Chills. Serious hair standing on end kind of chills all over my body. I stood up to get us going. Porter Beach is likely less than a mile up the end of this private beach, it's another private beach adjoining the State Park. The state park beach was closed to swimming because of rip currents. There are no warning systems for private beaches.

So, a new rule for our family. If we can see waves from the kitchen window, we call the state park before heading to the beach. If that beach is closed for swimming, we don't swim. We aren't a real rule oriented kind of family, but this one seems necessary.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Love That Library

Swiped right from the homepage of my fabulous library! The banner looks much better there than here.

In the midst of the chaos my life has become recently, I read through the 1300 page Rainbow Resource Center catalog. I keep this catalog all year and look things us as they become necessary. I picked out 13 things I wanted to read before buying and went to my library's website. From the online card catalog I was able to order most of the items myself. For the remainder, I sent an email to my inter library loan librarian for help. Most of these things are now on their way to me. It's a miracle of both modern technology and the dedication of a concerned librarian that the patron gets what she needs. I don't understand homeschoolers who never use the library. How on earth do they survive?

While Rainbow Resources includes long item descriptions and reviews, I find that actually holding the item and reading through it is the best way to determine if my kids will respond to it, find it interesting or just balk at it each time I pull it out. Now it will be like Christmas when I go to the library and pick up the items waiting for me!

I may be losing my father to Parkinson' and my mother - more rapidly, I fear - to dementia, may have lost 2 years worth of data and my laptop to a lightening strike, but I sill have the everyday life celebrations that bring happiness and peace. My library is one of them. My kids and family, my fabulous friends who let me talk for hours on end, my knitting and my new found ability to be more efficient in my daily tasks are all celebrations for me when I get home. When I'm at my parents' house, it's more difficult to see the forest through the trees, it's only trees there.

Life is good.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Roll With the Changes

Sunday we went on a family bike ride. Monday and Tuesday we went to the gym so I could workout and then went to the pool with the kids for the afternoon. It feels like a normal life again. Except for the poolside calls from the Visiting Nurses about my father's prescriptions and feeding tube meter rate. But maybe this is what normal life is going to be like for a while.

My siblings and I are all in better contact than we have been in years. Emailing on our yahoo group, calling each other, laughing over my mother's foibles, worrying about my father making it to another winter in such an unsafe winter place. Their decline has brought at least the sisters closer together. My brother remains on the fringes, probably unsure how to proceed. He was against my father having the feeding tube put in and is processing that change in plans. Plus, he's really the farthest away and more detached emotionally.

I'm trying to cram in as many fun things for the kids as possible before the next crisis strikes. Today we are headed to the Museum of Science and Industry for a day of fun. Mark is taking them to Peoria to see his Mom over the weekend while I head back to my parents. My brother in law is there this week, working his shifts at Northwestern's ER and taking care of them instead of sleeping. After that, my parents are going to adjust to having just me there twice a week - once with the kids and once on the weekend without them. I've pared down our fall schedule to just dance and possibly swim team to make it easier to trek out to Indiana. It's a $25 rounds trip gas bite, so our options on museum memberships and classes are slimmed considerably.

Kids are so adaptable, though. They aren't bothered by going to the beach more often, at least not in summer. And they love all their grandparents. They were especially thrilled to meet their Great Uncle Terry from England a few days ago for the first time. They don't remember my parents ever being young. They don't remember that my father held and burped the first 6 grandchildren, but no longer was able to for the last four. I hope they remember how we took care of my parents in their declining years and the love it takes to continue on.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Home Again

It's an uphill battle, particularly in two pairs of crocs! I came home a few days ago, went back to my parents to visit with an uncle who came in from England for a last visit with my father, and then returned again. I've slept a few good nights, cleaned a thin layer of grime from floors and counter tops and am now contemplating restoring our gardens.

It's strange, this reintroduction to my normal life. I feel as if I've been in a time warp for the past few weeks. While my father is improving physically in many ways, he still has little to no voice. Communication is frustrating and painful, he's taken to writing a few things out on a white board or note pad.

He did have a good visit with his younger half-brother, they shared many things about their lives, bragged about their grandchildren and made connections they hadn't made in the past. They weren't raised together, they shared a father, but my father was away at boarding school when my uncle was born. He didn't learn of my dad's existence until he was 11 or so and my father graduated with his PhD. The 1930s were difficult time to be divorced in England. They've grown closer over the years and I know my uncle was pleased he made the trip out. My father really rallied his strength over the three day visit to speak, get dressed and be sociable.

My brother-in-law, the doctor and favorite child, is with them now. He will be administering the antibiotic on schedule and working his shifts at Northwestern's ER. I'll go back out in a week's time, after getting some rest. And allowing my mother to get some rest from me. My sister came from New York for the latter part of last week. We are all pitching in as best we can, this whole miserable decline has really brought us closer together as siblings.

I need to learn to balance my responsibilities better, must get more organized. I have my calendar now on Google, so I can access it from any computer. Cell phone access might be better. And I need to learn to be as patient with my children as I am with my mother. Not being very good at temperance, I've surprised myself with my ability not to argue with her unreasonableness and work with her dementia to get simple tasks accomplished. I think it's possible that you never realize how much you love your parents until they are dying.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Can't knit

I can't remember being unable to knit. Except when the furnace went out and it was too cold in the house to knit. It's always been my stand by diversion, my fill in stress reliever, my tension tamer. Now I just can't do it. I look at the poor socks languishing since a week ago when my Dad went into the hospital and can't bring myself to pick them up. Unbelievable.

I haven't seen my kids in a week. I've never been away from my kids this long before. The longest was 36 hours when Large and Medium were 6 and 18 months. It's a very strange feeling to go from doing everything together, to doing nothing together. I miss them and Mark terribly.

The very same day my Dad went into the hospital, three other physical injuries occurred in my family. My oldest sister was in a cab accident on her way home from the airport, broke her nose and needed 8 stitches. Small had a run in with a bike and hasn't walked since, he has a sprain. I fell off a ledge killing bugs and sprained my good ankle. It's a full foot bruise. I just had it x-rayed, nothing is broken, but the doctor gave me a nifty new air cast, which gives me a lot of support and makes walking this enormous house easier.

The good news is that I was able to get away to have it looked at. The nurses and doctors asked why it took me a week to get it examined. I told them. Everyone has been here, in this middling, sandwiched position with young and old to tend to. Everyone looses themselves in the process. It's all about priorities, right?

Monday, June 30, 2008

Unwanted bed partner

I keep telling everyone who will listen (and even those who wont, or can't) that I've been sleeping with a toad. I've even renamed my parents storage/utility room the "toad room." But while lookng for pictures for this post, I realized I've been wrong. I've been sleeping with a cricket frog.

Don't get me wrong. I love frogs, toads, salamanders, etc. I've spent hours listening to their calls, walking in the woods to identify them and am genuinely concerned for their health and welfare. I just don't want them in my bedroom, you know what I mean?

My father was taken to the hospital in an ambulance three days ago, after suffering a fall and being unable to get up. I don't think we'll ever get the whole story about it, my mother isn't very lucid. I'm not sure who called the ambulance, but am grateful to whomever did. I got a call from one of their neighbors as I was on my way out there for the day and have been here ever since. The hospital scene is grim, but improving slightly every day.

It helps to have a sense of humor. Fortunately, my sisters and I do. My brother - not so much. When we got to the house, I had Large with me. We put food in the fridge, mapquested where we thought we were going and, tried to lock the front door and went to the hospital. We got there at 1:30. Many things transpired and we came back to my parents house at 11 p.m. The front door was open.

My parents live on top of the tallest sand dune in their sparsely populated community of huge homes. The literally live in the wild. We've seen fox, unbelievable quantities of dragon flies, deer, raccoon, you name it. The front door was open, had been open for some time, inviting the wilderness in. The sheer volume of bugs swarming the house was astounding. Large and I put on Deep Woods Off just to sleep. He slept while my mom and I had a glass of wine.

I found some flying insect Raid, held my breath and sprayed. Instead of just killing brain cells, I decided to jump on the fireplace ledge, spray near the track lights that were attracting thousands of flies and mosquitoes and hop down again. It was the hopping down that did me in. I was tired after an emotionally exhausting day. I looked through my reading lens on my trifocal and misjudged the distance. Should have looked through the distance lens. Landed on my good foot and proceeded to sprain that ankle. Actually, I'm not sure what I did. Every toe is bruised from 1/2 an inch below the base to the second knuckle, the inside of the foot is bruised, particularly around the ankle. The outside of the foot has a dark purple bruise, there are a few bruises across the top of the ankle tendon and I have several on the leg. The whole foot has a purple-ish, greenish hue. It's very ugly.

And it hurt. So much that I threw up. I iced it until about 1 in the morning and went to bed, using my father's cane to get around. I got up at 1:30 to use the bathroom and saw this frog/toad hopping down the hallway carpet. I tried to catch him, but was not fast enough on one sprained and one previously broken ankle. My attempts to shoe him out the back door made him flop right into the room where we were sleeping and under the dresser. All night long I heard, or imagined I hear, flopping noises. At 3, I saw him flop across my mother's chinese carpet to the light of the computer. Or it could have been a second frog, or a third or a 20th. Who knows?

Irrationally terrified of this "toad", I didn't sleep well. Probably wouldn't have anyway, but the prospect of being flopped to death by a frantic frog was enough to kick the insomnia in. By the end of the night I heard, or imagined I heard, frogs all over the room. Except that I thought they were toads.

Now I have real guilt. I looked for it in the morning, as did Large. And then Mark and Medium looked when they got here to bring me clothes and pick up large. Cricket frogs are fairly rare, although probably not as rare here in the wilderness as they are in suburbia. And here I've been unable to rescue one when I had it in my sight.

At least it wasn't snake.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Normal Life

We went to the beach with friends yesterday and had a great time. This picture was taken at a different beach, with cousins, a couple of weeks ago. I don't want to mislead. It was cloudy and not very warm at first, my kind of beach weather. The beach is right in the city, so it has that hustle, bustle kind of feel to it and lots of traffic noise. It's not relaxing in the way the secluded, beyond-civilization dunes beaches are, but has its relaxing value as well.

NUG has a gathering of homeschoolers at this beach every Friday throughout beach season. This was the first time we've made it and we are glad we did. The kids got to play with friends, I got to hang out and chat with mine. Normal people, you know? Despite the occasional interruption of the cell phone, bringing me back to the crazy world of taking care of my parents, we were able to just be who we are. I felt a bit like a tourist visiting my own life, like I was seeing a little interlude of my community, my village.

But my family has been what it is now for a while - the older generation, middle and younger. For a long time the younger needed the most focus, babies in diapers, nursing, illnesses, etc. Now it's the older generation that needs focus. It wont be long now before Mark and I are the old folks and it will all change again. I guess getting a glimpse of one segment of my life helped me to appreciate the whole cycle.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Balancing Act

I must get better at handling the life balancing act. My kids are so very full of life and energy. My parents are losing life and energy visibly every single day. I am so used to putting my kids' needs first and now find myself switching the order of things.

Yesterday was raining and humid all day at the dunes. The kids had to stay inside in the playroom/bedroom downstairs. I was upstairs making soups for my father, helping him up and down, to and from the bathroom, running interference with my mother, fielding phone calls from everywhere. We had been there for four hours before I interacted with my children in any fashion other than feeding them lunch. This is not how we normally live and I feel just horrible about it. We brought the laptop for them to do their math and play games on now that my brother has set up a wireless Internet. The played games and did puzzles. They got along well for five long hours in one room.

On the other hand, I feel horrible about how my parents are living. Parkinson's means that it can take my father fifteen minutes to maneuver from behind the dining room table to use his walker to get to the bathroom and then walk back from the bathroom without his walker. It's unpredictable when or if his neurons will fire correctly to make him ambulatory. He is also unable to drink, so he's constantly dehydrated and constipated. This led my brother-in-law to prescribe a medication used prior to colonoscopies, so my father is on the toilet every 15 minutes. He's so tired, he falls asleep mid-sentence.

I look in my mother's eyes and have no idea what she is thinking, what she remembers, what she understands. She has relented the kitchen to me, allowing me to provide for at least my father's lunches. Dad needs high fat, high fiber and good protein in each of his meals, and he can only eat a very thick soup consistency or he'll aspirate. Bean soups are low fat. Cream soups are low fiber. All are high sodium. I'm going to shop and make homemade soups on Saturday, jello with Gatorade powder, bring him lots of desserts and stock her freezer. And then I have to hope she remembers that is where her meals are now instead of the Campbell's soup in the cupboard.

They have help a couple times a week getting Dad bathed and dressed. But every time we go there, it feels like we can't leave or they wont get by. It's always going to feel that way. My kids are suffering through it OK for now, but it's not been that long. I can't take them to the beach while I'm cooking or taking care of them, they are too young to go on their own. I wish we could afford to take a babysitter along to take them to the beach, but it's costing us $25 a trip in gas to get there as it is.

What a drag it is getting old. All my self-centered anguish over my kids and my finances vanish when I see my parents and watch their suffering.