“Consider it pure Joy…”

“Joy to the World,” “All is Joy” are comments we hear during Divine Liturgy and Masses, church services, and Hallmark cards this season. And what is Joy??? “A feeling of great pleasure and happiness” is the definition when you Google it. But do we really know what true Joy is? Where do we get Joy? Does it come from outside, from those we know, from things we acquire? Do we depend on circumstances to bring us Joy, like we are a passive participant in our own, personal, Joy??

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.  If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.  But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.  That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.” James 1:16-18

We are not guaranteed our next breath. None of us. And we are not guaranteed a life free of woes and troubles. The trick is finding our true Joy, and its source. We cannot depend on our parents, siblings, children, friends, co-workers, the world to give us our Joy. It is something that we develop within us. And it is important to carry your Joy with  you wherever you find yourself.

One of the hardest things as a parent is to try and provide fulfilled dreams for our kids when they are little, without spoiling them. And as we age, we cherish memories of our own childhood. I laugh when our kids recite their memories for us, of events we all shared. As adults, our memories of an event with our kids is normally quite different – we were not impressionable youth when the event occurred. And when we compare our memories with our siblings, they are usually quite different from each other’s. Putting our memories into perspective is something that can be difficult. We remember precious moments and they grow into these monsters that inhibit us from delving fully into our current moments. We spoil the “now” by living only in the “then.” Sometimes our own expectations of these holidays overshadow the reality we live in. And they can ruin our precious moments, now.

Stylized versions of the perfect Christmas haunt us all. I can never replicate a Hallmark Christmas special (except for using real snow instead of that stupid spray-foam stuff, and wet sidewalks they use, while filming winter in July) and it is ridiculous to even try. I can decorate to impress others. I can bake and cook and be the perfect hostess, and still go to bed later on, exhausted, and empty. Our Joy does not come from all of this. And trying to live up to the ideal causes so much unneeded stress over the holidays. People enter into Thanksgiving and are already stressed about the entire winter, holiday season. And there are a couple of months facing us!! My older son just wishes we’d do peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, stay home in PJs, and just enjoy hanging out. There is something to that.

Today, I am pulling out the tree. It is a new tree. We got a killer deal over the ridiculous sales weekend, and the hubby reluctantly picked it up for me last night. I could not sleep. Not kidding. I am so excited to decorate in our new home. I am not decorating for anyone else but me. And to instill some of the season to our home. I love Christmas, more than most holidays, because I love the wintery feel of it. I love all the sappy stories. I adore the Hallmark Channel specials. I love all our stupid Tim Allen Santa Clause movies. I love “White Christmas” and “Christmas in Connecticut,” among many other classics. It would not be Christmas without “It’s a Wonderful Life.” And I love baking Christmas cookies and all the candy recipe treats my mother-in-law shared with me. And I love listening to Christmas music.

And I came to a resolution this year – Christmas is about me and my faith in God. It is not dependent on my kids, family, or friends. It’s not how many Christmas invitations I get, or don’t get, to parties. It is not the gifts I receive or give, or don’t receive or buy. It is not about all this chaos. It is not about anything other than something so very simple – it is about that Babe laying on His mother’s lap, offering me Eternal Hope, Eternal Life, and Eternal Joy.

What Child is this
Who laid to rest
On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom Angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?
So bring Him incense, gold and myrrh,
Come Peasant, King to own Him
The King of Kings salvation brings,
Let loving hearts enthrone Him.
This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and Angels sing
Haste, haste, to bring Him laud,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.
Oh, raise, raise a song on high,
His mother sings her lullaby.
Joy, oh joy for Christ is born,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.
This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and Angels sing
Haste, haste, to bring Him laud,
The Babe,
The Son,
Of Mary.
What Child
Is this
Who laid
To rest
On Mary’s lap
On Mary’s lap
He is sleeping
This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and Angels sing
Haste, haste, to bring Him laud,
The Babe,
The Son,
Of Mary
The Babe, the Son of Mary
The Son of Mary
This is one of my favorite songs about Christmas. It pretty much sums things up for me. No trees. No gifts. No pressure. Christ is the Gift. Christ is the peace. Christ is the Hope. Christ is the JOY.
JOY TO THE WORLD!
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“Oh, the weather outside is frightful…”

I know lots of my “warmer weather” friends think I am nuts, but I adore winter. I was so excited to get the snow we had yesterday. It turns even the ugliest places into a white oasis. So, so pretty. The snow started as almost a heavy rain. I was hoping the temps would drop because wet snow is a pain in the neck, and the colder it is, the drier the snow. We had a doctor’s appointment for my mom and when we went into the medical building, it was wet and annoying (we had to walk so very carefully). When we came out, the world was white and the snow was falling a little faster. We carefully made our way home, sliding here and there on the roads, as we did so. We had fire trucks, EMT vehicles, and ambulances race past us on more than one occasion. Not our first snow this year, but it was the first one that stuck. After we got home, the snowflakes began to fall, to waft gently to the ground, and they were coming straight down. I was so happy.

If you will look at the photo above, it is grainy looking because I have ice stuck to my windshield. But there are two little red dots in the photo. Those are stakes that are on either side of our driveway, that are supposed to guide us in snowy weather, to enter and leave the driveway. Imagine my surprise, when backing out of the garage on the morning of our first snow, when I almost ran over one. Yeah. White stakes with little, red, reflector dots on them are stupid. I mean really dumb. You cannot see them! Even with a back up camera! I had to pull forward and try again – twice. Of course, my family thinks this is hilarious. For whatever reason, as I have gotten older, backing up gives me grief. Even with a back-up camera! I avoid it if I can, well, except going into and out of the garage!

Sunrise today (above) was so beautiful. The white everywhere, and the freeze on top of that. It was a beautifully crisp 7-degrees outside this morning. I was reveling in the white backdrop and the cold. My mom was up and so I got her some coffee. I had her go look out the window and she was so surprised. She did not recall our snow experience yesterday. I almost wept. I had introduced her to the wonderful crunching sound of walking on fresh, cold, snow. We had laughed and she had made some funny jokes about her hair getting messed up, as we made our way to the car after her doctor’s appointment. We lost an entire day.

The sun has been shining into the house all day. And it is beautiful. My mom is still confusing light with warmth and I had to remind her that we were up to 10-degrees at lunchtime. She then said it was beautiful outside, but she would like to stay indoors! LOL! Can’t say as I blame her! But one of my favorite quotes goes something like, “There is no bad weather, only bad clothing.” Which basically means you can go outside in anything, if you are prepared for it and wear appropriate clothing – and that applies in either heat or cold.

As I sat down to complete the paperwork for mom’s next step in healthcare, because we had lost an entire day, it was all new to her. And I had to explain what was happening. She was shocked. And we spoke about our other visits to medical professionals over the past week, and it was news to her all over again. This morning, as I handed her a gourmet breakfast of a bowl of Life cereal, she told me she didn’t understand why I would be feeding her again. She swore she had already eaten. I had to remind her that no, it was just a cup of coffee. She shrugged her shoulders and said, “Well, I trust you, so I will eat now.” And when I handed her another gourmet meal of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (I added bar-b-que chips, which upped it to gourmet, dontcha know?!?) she said to me, “Oh, I guess it’s time to eat again!” But she complimented me over and over again about the “lovely” sandwich. Ha-Ha. Whenever we discuss what to eat, she ALWAYS suggests a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. When we were watching a cooking show about Thanksgiving prep, she said, “I think we should all have peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, because it is so much easier.” Ha-Ha…yes, it is easier! But this whole morning made me sad. I had to leave the room and just weep for a little bit.

When you have a baby and choose to parent that child into adulthood, it is an organic sort of thing. Even when you adopt a child, you grow into your parenting role with that child. As they age, the role changes a little bit. Different ages call for different approaches. But when you take on the responsibility of a dependent parent, moving them into your home, all that responsibility for the life of another person sort of slams into you. There is no real time for an organic growth to happen; no time to grow into it. And when there is a dementing illness, combined with health issues, you become responsible in ways you could never imagine. We have all the issues of bathing, eating, dressing, sleeping. Add to that healthcare issues and you have the potential for a huge disaster. And the potential for caregiver meltdown! Ha-Ha!

Tonight we get to go to the airport, which is about 45 minutes away, to retrieve my youngest son. We will have dinner beforehand at my oldest son’s house. And even though my mom has no memory of her vanilla latte at a really fun restaurant, with some wonderful friends yesterday; even though she has no memory of her doctor’s visits and her diagnoses and future treatments; and even though she doesn’t remember crunching through the snow with me as we laughed and giggled, we will endeavor to make these days at least happy ones. She gets to wear her new coat (that she swears she has owned for years) and her new boots I got for her. And each day she gets to watch Harry Connick Jr. and Steve Harvey, and endless game shows, laughing through the day. She gets to make memories for her grandchildren and great grandchildren. And even if she doesn’t recall them, those memories are held tightly by those around her, who love her dearly.

 

 

Craft Season and Santa’s knee….

 

Until moving to a far, (far, far, far) northern state, I did not know there were seasons for Craft Fairs. There are! Winter and Spring. For some reason, I love winter craft fairs. They are insanely crowded and parking is usually hard to find (although at our first one on Saturday, we got a spot directly across the street, on the street! Amazing!!) and once you are inside, they are hot. I mean so overly warm, you are carrying your coats, sweaters, and hats and fanning yourself. Ugh. Did I mention crowded? LOL.

We drove downtown on a blustery and cold day (little did we know the snow would start later in the night) and went to one of the largest craft fairs in the city. I was disappointed because it was about 1/2 the size as last year, but the sights, sounds, scents still excited me and pulled me in! “It’s so fluffy!” could be changed to, “It’s so shiny!” I love the glitter and glam of craft fairs, regardless of the size of the fair itself. One of the things I admire is our American creativity and how we find the ordinary and make it extraordinary. Some of the crafts are taking things you have lying around and making something you can sell out of it. Old silverware becomes jewelry and some pretty amazing wind chimes.  Or old CDs become necklaces and earrings (that one was a shocker). And I love how diligently and carefully people work on wood crafts and knitting, sewing quilts and making hats. I think I love it because I am so bad at it. I can appreciate their efforts, time, and creativity. When people ask me what I craft, I respond that I am an excellent reader and I dabble in writing. That is it. Done. Total. And being the mom of 3 boys, I am now blessed with daughters-in-law. So far I have 2 of them and both of them are ridiculously talented women. I mean ridiculously talented. Sewing, painting, putting up fences or dancing on their toes. I am so outclassed by them, I don’t even try to do what they do. But I appreciate and admire their skills and talents so much. I have watched them craft up close and sat, mesmerized, while they do their creative thing. So I get why so many crafted items are costly. It is a lot of work, it takes a lot of time, and it is born of a creative talent that I do not possess, so I am more than willing to pay for it!

This year is my mom’s first foray into craft fair season in a state where they take it very seriously. It is every weekend and it is everywhere, in season. This winter looks to be filled with craft fairs. I am so excited. But like I said, this is my mom’s first season. And she has Alzheimer’s and with that comes a loss of social filters. She basically says what she thinks, and because she is older and has trouble hearing, she says it very loudly. Even in a crowded craft fair. Oh my. I tried to explain to her that some of the artwork she was looking at was particular to our part of the country and particular to the native peoples who live here. In fact, much of what she was looking at is regulated so that only native peoples can sell it (or use the raw materials to make it). She says, “Oh my God! $45 for earrings? That’s insane!!” Or “They want $50 for hand made gloves? Are they made of gold?” “Where do they get this stuff?” “Now that is a beautiful photograph. Oh my! $250!! Is it mounted on metal? What kind of photo is that??” On and on she commented. I had to hush her and move her along. I was apologizing and explaining behind her back and let me tell you, after 2 hours, I was exhausted.

Did I mention we did this foray into craft season as a family? Great-grandma, grandma (me), son, daughter-in-law, grandkids, her parents, sister and niece. Yeah. Group event. Yes, we got separated. Yes, we got lost. Yes, there were tons of people. Yes, I was so, so, so hot. My daughter-in-law and I can go to 5-7 of these in a day, and I believe our record was 6 of them in one day, hauling a 2-year-old!!! But we looked at each other, and when we were standing at the last booth in the last aisle, we were so done. And it was only 1/2 the size as last year. And it was just one craft fair! LOL! And, it hadn’t even snowed, yet! LOL! Did I mention we did this as an extended family? LOL! By the time we were standing in the foyer, we were all starving, over-heated, and over-peopled.

One of the highlights, though, was that Santa was there and we got photos for free! Our last thing to do as we exited the building. My mom was laughing at the grandkids scampering towards his lap, and the fact that the 4-year old could barely tolerate standing next to Santa, that she turned to me and said, “Maybe I should go see Santa, too.” And so I asked and Santa’s helper said she thought it would be great! And so we closed out our first craft fair, with a visit with Santa! Mom was giggling and having a ball. Poor Santa. No social filters, remember? LOL.

This week’s schedule is a little full, but I think there is time in there for some baking of Christmas recipes (I always do a couple of run-throughs, making sure I get it right before gifting recipes to people) and maybe a craft fair or two this weekend. I am hoping Mom comes to enjoy being out and seeing all these amazing crafts and meeting so many talented artisans as much as I do. As we move further into winter, we get to add snow and moving around in winter weather to the experience! LOL! All that being said, I am still excited and hope we have as much fun this year as last year, and the other years before. Let’s celebrate American ingenuity and talents! Bring on the craft fairs!

 

 

Cinnamon rolls, ice, and forgetting…

Today is cold. There is ice on everything. It makes things look sort of magical. The sun is out, shining through the white, icy branches of the naked trees. I know it is weird to think about, but I truly love winter. It is a time when we descend into more peace, more quiet, more time for soups, fireplaces, and board games around the kitchen table. I love it. My house still smells glorious from my foray into baking what I called a ginormous cinnamon roll. I have to tell you, kneading dough is so cathartic. I love it. And the scent of yeasty, rising bread is one of my absolute favorite scents. Add in cinnamon and butter and brown sugar…yeah; pretty much a heavenly scent.

And guess what? It is good for breakfast again the next day!! We did “breakfast for dinner” last night, with a cup of tea and a disappointing but fun World Series. I thought I would share. (If you know me, you know that is a slab of butter on the side…lol).

So, as I was saying, it is an icy morning. And today is a forgetting day. I’m not sure if I have shared what this is before or not (I forgot – lol) but it is when you reach another stage of Alzheimer’s. Mom is having so much trouble today. As the disease continues to rampage its way through her brain, more and more of her abilities are lost. And they are lost forever. The brain is one of our organs that does not regenerate itself. Once the tissue dies, it is always dead. Which is one of the reasons traumatic brain injury is a lifelong sentence for those who play percussive sports (football) or are in the military. Our veterans have so much TBI, we are truly unprepared to handle all of the issues that accompany these injuries. Dementing illnesses cause irreversible brain damage, and often progress enough to cause death. Which means that the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s is something to grapple with. As I was taking an online course in caregiving, the leader said, “Make no mistake, Alzheimer’s is a fatal diagnosis. But we all will die. It is the way in which we die that makes the difference.” I cried. I had not thought of Alzheimer’s as a fatal illness before. But it is. It slowly robs the loved one of themselves. They forget how to use utensils like knives; they forget why they are getting into the shower; they ask you the same questions every couple of minutes. You have to repeat, constantly, the plans for the day. White boards are wonderful, if you can get them to look at them. My mom was looking at her white board and her calendar every day, crossing off days and events. She does not do that, except on accident.

Today, her increased forgetfulness made me especially sad, for some unknown reason. I wish I could throw an anchor into her mind, and hold on to all the memories and skills she still has. But I can’t. I have to allow her to let go of some things, and do them for her. I am cutting up her food; I am helping her shower and dress. I am explaining that, although the sun is glorious today, she has to dress warmly. It is only 23 degrees outside. I point out the frost. She says it will warm up by the time we go to her doctor’s appointment later on. I try to explain that, no, it won’t. We are in winter. And it hits me, as I watch her look out the window, that she is in winter, too. And her mind is slowly being covered in frost. That it will not warm up again. And that is what Alzheimer’s is all about – accepting that winter is here and it is not going anywhere. I am hoping I can make it happier with fun lights and decorations; that we can ease into this next phase with joy and laughter and warm coats. My only hope is that no one is too nice to me today – because I know I will weep.

“Trick or treat”!!!

Today it was Halloween. Our first one in this house. The first Halloween I have shared with my mom in absolutely decades upon decades. And I realized, my mom forgot how Halloween works. She hasn’t had anyone trick or treat in probably 25+ years where she was living. She has lived on a sailboat, a master planned community for the 55 and older, and even a retirement center. She hasn’t had anyone come to her door in all those years. And she was never one to really celebrate it by dressing up. She was teasing me about my pumpkin-decorated sweatpants and black t-shirt. About 2 weeks ago we put up my gel clings on the windows, proclaiming “Trick or Treat” with pumpkins and other fall things. And I have out my pumpkins and gourds in a bowl by the door, as well as my cute Turkey on the dining room table. But, she now has Alzheimer’s. And this year, I am home alone with mom on Halloween. Alone. Yeah; It has been interesting, to say the least.

Last year we had something like 5 people come and ring our doorbell. We had so much candy left over, we gave it away! We took bags to our church for them to give out during Coffee Hour. And of course, this year, the doorbell was constantly ringing. I went through 2 bags that were 5 pounds each. Our dog, Poca, was vigilant and kept me company each trip to the front door. Each time the doorbell rang, it scared my mom. I hadn’t thought about the holidays and how each of these separate holidays might be for someone whose day starts over every 5-10 minutes. Tonight, I tried to prepare her by cutting open this huge bag of candy, setting out a bowl next to the door, and having her watch me fill it with the candy. I told mom the doorbell should start ringing soon, as we had just finished dinner and it was about that time. The first time the doorbell rung, my mom jumped about a foot off the couch. And afterwards, she was shivering with cold because I had opened the front door. She asked why someone rang the doorbell and who it was. I explained it was Halloween and the neighbor kids were trick or treating. She settled back into watching her TV program on the couch, but I don’t think she really listened to what I had said to her; she was far more interested in watching Wheel of Fortune. The bell rang again; she jumped again; the dog barked again and walked to the front door with me. Mom asked me why people were ringing the doorbell. Each time it rang, she asked why. And this went on for at least 3 hours. I explained that children were trick or treating. She looked confused, so I explained that it was Halloween and kids dressed up and rang your doorbell, asking for candy. She recalled, or said she did, that she used to do that, but she also said it was so long ago, it was sort of “murky.” The doorbell rang again, and again, and she asked why again and again, and jumped in shock and was cold again and again… and the dog was barking again…each time the doorbell rang. I was thrilled when I ran out of candy! Don’t get me wrong, I was having fun seeing all the cute little ones. Some of the costumes were stellar! And I would give mom a piece of candy now and then, and she loved that. But she was confused by the entire process. I think she was happy when I turned the front lights out and we settled in to watch my TVR’d episodes of Bull.

The dark, foggy, wet, and cold night of Halloween has come to an end. Mom is in bed. She was actually sleeping on the couch. She rarely does that and usually won’t admit it. Tonight she said she felt herself sleeping on the couch! I coaxed her into bed and she happily went. She was giggling at her slippers, calling one a “silly twit” because she could not get it off. She climbed into bed and gave me her loving hug, telling me how much she loves me. It was a sweet end to a weird day. during which the sun never shone through the windows.

As I went to the kitchen to put my baking things (flour, sugar, yeast) away in their new, glass mason jars, I happened to notice mom’s pills. She had taken Sunday night’s dosage this morning, instead of her Tuesday morning pills. That could certainly explain her confusion over Halloween and trick-or-treating. And it would also explain her day-long lethargy. So, I guess I am going to have to be more vigilant when she takes her meds!

And I am going to plan ahead as to how we will be approaching the upcoming Holiday Season. I am thinking when we all sit around the table and eat, it will probably just be a meal, and may not bring about Thanksgiving to her mind (she is from New Zealand and increasingly refers to life there, prior to living here, so I am not sure she will recall the traditions of Thanksgiving, since it was not a part of her life as a young woman). But when the snow starts and I pull out all my Christmas decor, I am hoping the clues all over the house will remind her of what we are celebrating, like the big tree in the middle of the living room, pretty lights, etc. I cannot wait for the lights on the house to go up! Christmas and snow and the season are just so wonderful, I am prayerful she will just get caught up in all of it and go along for the ride, as they say!