Sunday, April 29, 2012

Has It Really Been a Year?

Yesterday marked one year since I posted my first blog entry. Has it really been that long? Then again, sometimes it DOES seem like it's been a really long year. A lot has happened since last April, though not everything makes it onto these pages.

When I started this blog, I wasn't sure what I wanted it to be. It's probably obvious from the way it wanders that I STILL don't know exactly what I want it to be. If nothing else, it remains an exercise in writing for me. I read and wrote a lot as a kid, even won a prize or two for writing in elementary school. Later, like most teenagers, any writing I did was mainly limited to school assignments, and angst-ridden or anti-authority song lyrics. As an adult, aside from grocery lists or notes in greeting cards, most of my writing has been advertising copy and headlines as part of my job (I'm a graphic designer). I'm not bad at it... at my first job in advertising, my ability to turn a clever phrase even earned me the nickname "Headline Queen", which also came with the much-coveted "Elvis Salute". (Thank ya.... thank ya vurry much!) But writing the occasional ad copy probably isn't going to make me a better writer. Writing this blog at least makes me slow down, makes me stop and think more critically about things like sentence structure and word choice.

Friends who know me are probably amazed that I've written 70 blog posts in the past year without dropping a single F-bomb! While my spoken conversation is liberally peppered with profanity, I've tried to avoid it here. It's not because I want to keep this blog PG-rated, but because it's a challenge for me to abstain from them. You have no idea how difficult that's been... swearing is in my DNA. When my late Scottish grandfather was four or five years old in Edinburgh, he'd stand outside the pub and sailors would pay him a nickel to hear him swear. I understand it was a skill he'd learned from my great (or great great) grandmother. So yeah, I come by my proclivity for swearing naturally, and I appreciate the value of a well-placed profanity. I'll still try to avoid it here for the challenge of it, but don't be surprised or offended if you stumble upon the occasional curse word here now and then. After a year without them, I'm inclined to relax that self-imposed rule a bit.

For now, I think I'll also keep the blog fairly anonymous. Although it's mostly just friends and family reading it (and damn few of those, truth be told), it's still out there in the wilderness of tha interwebz, and I'm a little paranoid about making too much personal information available to anyone with a web connection. I know, I know... It's probably a little silly, but ya just never know. I don't expect that this blog will ever have a really widespread readership, but I'd rather be overly cautious in this age of identity theft and personal fraud. That being said, most of the blogs I enjoy reading tell personal stories, so I may relate more of what goes on in this monkey cage if I think it might have some entertainment value. I think I can do that without divulging my full name and social security number. (But maybe not without profanity!)

So here's to beginning a second year in the blogosphere. I can't promise that all my posts will be interesting or entertaining, but I've enjoyed writing them so far. Not only is it a personal challenge, but it allows me to express myself about what goes on in my corner of this weird and wonderful world. There are still a lot of things out there that make me wonder if it's just me. Maybe it's you, too... after all, aren't we ALL remarkable monkeys?

Monday, April 16, 2012

I Already Miss Her.

Gma - Mother's Day 2008

My grandma died today. She was 93, and the end was a long time coming. She'd been languishing for several weeks, since a bout of aspirational pneumonia in early March. Actually, she'd been languishing for months, really. Her mind started leaving her, a little bit a time, several years ago. It wasn't Alzheimer's... just run-of-the-mill ordinary age-related dementia, eventually amplified by possible transient ischemic attacks (mini strokes). When it became apparent that she wasn't taking proper care of herself about six years ago, her kids (my mom and my two uncles) had to move her to an assisted living facility. (My grandpa had died several years earlier.) She wasn't happy about it, but eventually settled in. I think it helped that one or two of her childhood friends lived there too. (It's a very small southern town.) One of my uncles lives in the same town as well, so he was able to see her every day and make sure she was alright and getting good care. (Can't thank him enough for that!)

I live several states away so I was unable to visit, but I called fairly often when she first moved in. Whenever I called, inevitably the staff would have to go and track her down. She was almost always out on the smoking patio. After she'd been there a while, our conversations became increasingly repetitive as her mind began to fail her more and more. It was like having the same conversation six times in the span of five minutes. Sometimes, I don't think she really knew who I was. I'm pretty sure she confused me with my mom at least once.

I got to visit her there once, four or five years ago. I had flown up to see my mom, who lives in the same state as my grandma (or Gma, as we liked to call her) but five hours away from Gma's town. Mom and I made the trek up to visit her. I remember her face lit up when she saw me. She knew who I was... at least I'm pretty sure she did. We took her to visit her brother, and also the lady who had lived next door to her for years. She enjoyed it, and seemed lucid and cognizant. On the way back to the facility, we stopped at the grocery store to get some ice cream for her to keep in the fridge/freezer in her room. I remember walking through the store, and Gma reached out and took my hand, and held it as we walked. She looked at me and just smiled. She seemed really happy in that moment, and I remember wondering to myself if this would be the last time I saw her in person. Turns out it was. I'm sad that I didn't get to see her again, but I'm glad that my last personal memory of her is one in which she was happy.

I continued to call her for a while, but eventually it just became pointless, really, and painful for me. She drifted farther and farther away in her mind, and combined with reports from my mom and my uncle about her failing memory, I figured that sending a card and/or photo was a better way to go. I feel a bit guilty about that, and also about not sending a greeting more often than I did. At the same time, I doubt she really knew or cared, and she WAS often in my thoughts. It's not like I ever forgot about her, or ever stopped loving or caring about her.

After all, this was the woman who brought me home from the hospital when I was born. (My dad was in Viet Nam at the time.) When I was about 19 years old, my mom handed my Gma $7, a repayment of the army hospital fee my Gma paid when I was born, just so that Gma could no longer say, "She's mine... I paid for her!" My grandma refused to take the money, just so she could continue to lay claim on me! When my parents' marriage ended just before I started sixth grade, my brother and I lived with my Gma and Gpa for a few months while my mom relocated and settled into a new job. We were pretty close. And so it was painful to have her drift away the way she did, stolen piece by piece through the effects of age.

In May of last year, she had declined to the point that she needed more care than her current facility could provide. She had to be moved to another place, more of a nursing home. Age kept advancing, and taking more and more of her mind. Her body began to follow. She had difficulty swallowing, and would sometimes aspirate when she did. In March of this year, she suffered a bout of aspirational pneumonia. A hospice nurse was assigned. It didn't look like she would recover. In all likleihood, a lesser woman wouldn't have, but the women on my mom's side of the family are a stubborn lot! (Myself included!) She got better. Until another bout this month. Her body began to give in. Early last week, the hospice nurse said that Gma was "actively dying". There wasn't much left that could be done, and so the vigil began.

I'm beyond sad that I've lost my dear Gma. But I'm also angry about what she had to go through in the last week of her life. My grandma's advance directives dictated that she was to not be kept alive by artificial means. This included feeding tubes. Once she became mostly unresponsive, further nutrition was withheld, according to her wishes. Remember how I just said the women on my mom's side of the family are a stubborn lot? Gma was a tough old bird. The docs and staff couldn't believe she made it through the first bout of pneumonia. Now, with the second, she was hanging on. But barely. She lasted the better part of a week before giving in, her body worn out but refusing to shut down completely. The staff did what they could to ease her pain and make her comfortable, but I'm sure she was suffering. She wouldn't have wanted to live that way. And she shouldn't have had to.

Why is it that in our society, we'll readily euthanize our pets to alleviate their suffering when they're terminal, but we won't do the same for people? I can't understand how it's acceptable to allow a person to basically starve to death medically, as my Gma did, but's it's illegal to administer a nice healthy dose of morphine to end their suffering. How can we allow our pets to die with dignity and minimize their suffering, but we can't do the same for poor old Gma? It just doesn't seem right, or fair. But maybe it's just me.

I wonder what will happen to me if I get old and lose my faculties. I don't have kids of my own... If I'm ever in a similar situation as my Gma, I hope there will be someone who cares, someone who will be my advocate and make sure I'm getting good care. Time will tell, I guess.

For now, I'm just sad at the loss of my Gma. She was a pistol. I'm glad I'm at least a little like her... I think I inherited some of her sassiness and spunk. At least I hope I did. When my mom was in high school and Gma was making a prom dress for her, Mom wanted a dress with a full hoop skirt. Gma tried to talk her into a slinky one with a slit up the side. Later, when she and Gpa had moved back to that small southern town she grew up in, Gma caused a bit of a scandal when she submitted recipe for Brandy Slush to the county Homemakers Extension cookbook. It was the only recipe with alcohol submitted that year... probably EVER until then. They printed it, but there was talk. Gma didn't care! (And her brandy slush is ridiculously delicious!) Gma didn't take much crap from anyone. But she didn't have to... everyone who knew her loved her.

Here's an excerpt from an e-mail my uncle sent this afternoon:

"Mom died today, peacefully in her sleep, at 1:35 PM. One of the caregivers from the Home was holding her hand when she passed, and said she went peacefully. At her request, we will not have services. She will be cremated, and her ashes mixed with Dad’s, and scattered. There is nothing else I can say. She was loved by all who knew her and by her family, of course. I was truly impressed at the number of caregivers at the Assisted Living Home who were openly crying, and wanted to go into Mom’s room to say a personal goodbye. When they took her out, the staff lined the hall, and showed a degree of respect the funeral director said he had never seen at a Nursing Home. He was amazed to learn she had only lived there for about a year."

I think I really said goodbye to my Gma that day we went to the grocery store for ice cream. There wasn't much personal connection after that. But I'm struggling today with the thought that now she's REALLY gone. Then again, she'll never really be gone. I see some of her in my mom. And some of her in myself. She was a big part of shaping who I am, and still has an influence on who I will become. I'm glad she's no longer suffering, but I will miss her terribly.

I think I'll go fix myself a brandy slush now, and whisper a toast to her memory.
Here's to you, Gma. Say hi to Gpa for me. I love you.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

What's Her Secret?

I saw Carole King on the Today Show this morning while I was getting ready for work. She was on to promote her new book, "A Natural Woman: A Memoir". While I don't really consider myself a big Carole King fan, I definitely recognize and admire her immense talent. So I paused to watch part of the segment while I was brushing my teeth.

Carole King - Photo borrowed from
somewhere on the internet
Let me tell you something: That woman looks AMAZING!! I don't know if she's had work done... my mom thinks so, but she looked pretty natural to me. (Is she REALLY a Natural Woman, for real?) At first, I was just admiring her hair. I was thinking that my hair is somewhat similar in style, though not as curly, and I sometimes debate whether or not I should color it now that there are more than a few grays in there. So seeing a much grayer (and curlier) version looking fabulous on Carole King confirmed (for now) my decision to avoid coloring it.

I didn't realize she was 70 years old until they mentioned it as I was admiring her mature-yet-cool hair. I very nearly dropped my toothbrush! That woman doesn't look a day over 55! And then I had to go back into the bathroom to finish brushing my teeth. In front of the big bathroom mirror. ***siiiiigh*** I still have more than couple dozen years before I'm Carole King's age, but this morning I looked tired, and a little old. (To be fair, I WAS tired... I haven't slept well the past few nights.)

I wanna know Carole King's secret to looking youthful. I'm sure I'll probably never find out... it's doubtful our social circles will ever intertwine. But I hope time will be as kind to me as it seems to have been to her. She just looks natural... healthy, happy, and so comfortable in her own skin. Maybe THAT's the secret. 

As for coloring away my grays? Nah... I've earned every single one of those little bitches. I'm keeping 'em. (At least for now.)

ADDENDUM: Lots of buzz in the media about celebrities and plastic surgery to remain looking youthful. First of all, how is that news? But mostly, kudos to Ashley Judd for standing up for herself and against the ridiculous criticisms of women's appearances everywhere. You go, girl!!! I think you look fabulous.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Doin' the Books... Two Reviews (sort of)

So... one of the things that's been occupying my spare time lately, thus preventing me from writing blog posts (such as they are), is reading. When I pick up a book and start reading it, it's difficult for me to do anything else until I finish the book. Almost everything else that's nonessential gets pushed aside. Case in point: I still haven't quite finished doing my taxes yet, my spring cleaning remains half done, the weeds in the yard are in desperate need of mowing, and a baby blanket I started for my nephew's new daughter before Christmas is still unfinished. (See, Mom? THAT's why I don't read more!)

Last week, I finally finished a book that I borrowed from my mom and started reading back in October when we were visiting her. Once we got home, because I was busy with holidays and work and a million other things, I didn't pick it up again until a few weeks ago. It was a book my mom really liked. "Stick with it.... it gets good after the nun dies," she said. Honestly, I thought it was good from the start. The first few chapters set up the story and introduced the characters and their histories in an interesting and intriguing way. I just didn't have time to read and really get into it until recently.

I was enjoying the story until about two-thirds or so through it. Then it started seeming like things got put on fast forward, as if the author got tired of writing, or his publisher imposed deadlines or something. It seemed like in the beginning of the book, the writing was more detailed, scenes written more in-depth. As it progressed, I felt like it got ragged, with many aspects of the continuing story quickly glossed over and barely touched on. Toward the end, the story employed some really contrived, hackneyed melodramatic plot points, relying so much on coincidence that it became completely unbelievable. And I could see the major dramatic climax coming a mile away. I won't reveal the title of book... I really don't feel qualified to openly criticize an author and call him out on his work. After all, I've never written a book myself, and this blog sure ain't gonna land me any writing awards! Suffice to say that I was extremely disappointed after such a promising beginning, and after devoting so much time to the book, but that's just my opinion. My mom loved it, although she did say she was also disappointed with the ending.

But I WILL tell you about another book that I read on Saturday. Yep... I read the whole book in one day. (It was a much easier read than the previous book.) The book is "A Dog's Purpose" by W. Bruce Cameron. It's about a dog (obviously), and the story follows that dog through four lives as he is reincarnated, learning new things in each life. It's told from the point of view of the dog, and it's absolutely delightful! Yes, there are some sad parts... the dog DOES die three times after all... but it's easier to deal with that aspect because you know he'll be coming back in a new life on the next page. Some of the dog's observations are hilarious, and if you've ever loved a dog, you'll probably think they're spot on!

I didn't intend to read the whole book in one day, but it was so thoroughly enjoyable and engaging that I couldn't put it down. Some might consider it literary fluff, but I found it completely charming. Check it out, especially if you're a dog lover.