The first chapter of my children’s book Ginger, the Ship Captain’s Cat
The first chapter of my children’s book Ginger, the Ship Captain’s Cat
Not that the Phoenix valley has much of a winter, but this year was more wintery than the past two; December’s highest temp was 73º but the previous two years it was in the low 80s.
For the first time in 15 years, I’m not knee-deep in songwriting. I’ve participated in February Album-Writing Month since 2006, some years writing as many as 32 songs in a single month. I want to write at least one to celebrate my 15th FAWM, but I’m having a hard time dredging up the feeling.
I’m also 6 months or so behind on delivering the third Jake Calcutta story. And don’t get me started on the third Irish Adventure; poor Web Martin ended his second adventure on a low note and I’ve been meaning for years to lift his spirits with another chapter in his life.
The family band used to practice music 5 days a week. We’ve been up in the music room twice in five months. I’ve barely strummed my brand new 3/4-size Orangewood guitar. It’s beautiful, easy to play, great-sounding, and parked beside my desk. But, parked. In the same stand as my Blueridge tenor, the most wonderful musical instrument I’ve ever owned.
Moving my mother into assisted living absolutely trashed me physically and emotionally. Getting herself evicted in under 90 days because she’s so uncooperative was a gut-kick to Best Beloved and I after all the time, energy, and money we spent making it happen.
I usually ignore my age; I don’t celebrate birthdays, and the only reason I know my age most of the time is that it ends with the same number as the year. I haven’t been conscious of anything special about turning 60 the end of last month, but I have been feeling old, slow, a bit bleak.
once i went to a coffee shop and in one room of that coffee shop was a white piano and a white bench and a marker and people had written stuff all over the piano and the bench with the marker and honestly i thought that was so cool.
i really like that kind of stuff.
i think it’s really neat.
people years from now may never meet you, never know you, never know anything about you, and you can scratch something into a tree or a wall or write it on a chair and someone out there will see that and know you exist.
you know what would be cool
when you’re about to move out of a house, leaving a note somewhere. maybe a letter. or part of a journal. or would that end up getting cleaned out? either way someone would see it.
i like thinking about that kind of stuff. i want to do that kind of stuff. leave notes in cracks and write on trees and just. leave little messages for people who will never even know me.
it sounds like something out of a story. well i’d read that.
someone moving into a new house and finding a journal about the life of whoever lived there before them.
i think that should be a thing people do. leave notes all over the world. maybe it is. maybe not. i guess people don’t really think about that kind of stuff.
not just because i want people to know i exist. i want people to have the experience of finding messages from someone they’ll probably never meet. messages meant just for them.
because that sounds really magical.
52 hours ago we were in Wisconsin.
Day 1 took us from northern Wisconsin to Liberal, Kansas, in 18 hours. Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas.
Day 2 took us the rest of the way home. Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona.
Do not do this.
If it weren’t for the fact that our planned 10 days in Wisconsin turned into 5 weeks, we’d have taken 4 days driving home, with an extended stop with friends in Kansas City.
Nope. After 5 weeks of the physical and emotional exhaustion of moving my mom into assisted living, we agreed to the insanity of 1,740 miles in 2 days.
Last night, after arriving at 10:10pm, we slept 9 hours. With, on my part, frequent trips to the bathroom, during which I lost, I kid you not, 9 pounds of water. Overnight.
And all those numbers mean I’m about 66% today, shooting for 100% later in the week.
Saturday, the day it didn’t rain we moved Mom’s stuff from her apartment to the assisted living facility. It was easy, which is becoming the norm on this project. Couple young friends did the heavy lifting, and we were done by noon.
Now if the company responsible for moving her hospital bed can actually get it done, she can move in Wednesday, if the convalescent home can figure out how to discharge her without a social worker on staff because theirs left recently. That is, as long as someone at the doctor’s office gets her prescriptions transferred to the assisted living pharmacy. (They’ve had two weeks to organize all this, with Best Beloved riding herd like a deranged cattle rustler, so I’m not sure what’s up other than the severe ponderousness of bureaucracy.)
But it’s looking like maybe we’ll be heading home come Monday.
One more week. I can make it one more week. I can.
I’m slowly losing my mind. It’s so slow, it’s not even painful. There’s a certain peacefulness in accepting that the rest of my life will consist of sorting, boxing, and moving my mother’s belongings.
Somewhere in Neil Young’s live album Year of the Horse he yells “It’s all one song!” I’m beginning to feel that way about my posts lately. Guess I write what I know, eh?
Today we learned my mom was accepted at the assisted living facility we loved and hoped for.
We also discovered that there’s more than $700 missing from her bank account, and the most likely explanation is, sadly, the abuse of trust. Another reason we’ve been putting all legal docs and records under the control of one of her children instead of the wrong people having too much access.
But, she has a new home, and we can start moving her soon, and clean out her apartment.
And then I can go home.
In the time since Mom disappeared and reappeared, it has become obvious to her that she can’t live on her own anymore. This was obvious to us a year ago when we started discussing it (fruitlessly) with her.
A trip to the emergency room and two months in a convalescent home has her convinced. She’s excited about moving into a good-smelling (this is a big deal) food-oriented (another big deal) assisted living facility.
That means she needs to downsize. By about 75%.
We call my Mom, who lives in northern Wisconsin, a couple times a week. She’s essentially bedridden, but she has an excellent support network through her religious congregation.
She’s not tech savvy, as in, her TV remote sometimes gives her trouble. Deleting messages from her answering machine has eluded her for years. When we call and get the “Messages full” error, we assume she’ll call back when she’s back from the kitchen or whichever room of her apartment she’s been visiting.
Every once in a while, we don’t talk to her for a whole week.
When it hits 8 days, we call someone to go check. Like a week ago Saturday.
She wasn’t there.
On the rare occasions she makes her doctor appointments, it’s a weekday, so this was most unusual. A while later Best Beloved had the thought to check whether her wheelchair was there. No wheelchair, she’d taken it with her. Wheelchair, no Mom, she went out on a stretcher. That’s not being dramatic, it’s reality.
Our friend went by again. Wheelchair was there.
We called the hospital. No Mom. They suggested the hospitals in the nearest big town.
Called another friend in the area, who said yes, it’s time to call the police.
It is marvelously comforting to have the calm, steady voice of a small town police officer take the pertinent details and promise to “send an officer to check it out.”
A while later, they called back and said she’d been picked up by an ambulance.
A week ago.
Before, I was puzzled. Now, I was concerned. Because if someone goes to the hospital, but they aren’t there anymore, and they didn’t go home . . .
We called the hospital again and gave them the new information. The person who answered the phone said, yes, she did come in by ambulance last Saturday.
So we asked, where is she now?
She was quiet for a bit, said “hmm, can you hang on?” and put us on hold.
I found a mindless online bubble shooter game to keep my brain quiet until she came back.
The call dropped.
I called another friend in the area, and while their phone was ringing, Best Beloved’s phone rang, and it was my mom.
She was unclear what happened, other than she’d been in an ambulance, went to the hospital, and was now in one of the care facilities we’ve been trying to convince her to move to because we don’t believe she can live on her own anymore.
She’d asked them to call, not one of her children, but a local friend. And somehow, that didn’t happen. (We’ve talked to a half-dozen people at this facility, and they are one and all professional caring people, so we’re not sure why the call didn’t happen.)
I asked Mom, perhaps in a loud voice, why she didn’t HAVE THEM CALL HER SON?
Her hearing is so bad and the connection so bad, I don’t think she even heard me.
She honestly thought her friend had been called, and that she would notify us (this is, in retrospect, a perfectly reasonable conclusion, though it doesn’t change the fact that I am family, and the other person is not.)
After more phone calls to the facility, we’ve learned that she’d had some medical visitor, or social worker, at her bedside, when suddenly she seemed confused, in a manner and to a degree that prompted a 911 call. She’d been treated for dehydration, but was still fuzzy mentally, and didn’t seem as ambulatory as they expected, so she went to the care facility instead of home.
When we arranged for her to have a working phone, and had a real conversation, she was coherent, cheerful, and pleased with the food where she was staying. Good food is a major driving force in her life. I inherited that, I guess.
She still doesn’t realize she’s there voluntarily, and we don’t plan to tell her. Though after yesterday, maybe it’s no longer voluntary.
Have you ever spoken to someone with expressive aphasia?
We called to check on her, and after the very nice nurse put Mom on the phone and went back to her station, Mom started saying sentences like “Meet when doctor sleep big down the hall eating flow.” About a minute of that, and I stopped her and said “We have no idea what you’re saying.” She continued in the same vein. I asked her if she knew who I was, and she said “Of course. You’re you!” I sort of felt that wasn’t good enough, so I asked “What’s my name?” and she said “Joel. Joel David Canfield.” (This is correct.)
Then she went off rambling again. I called the nurse on my phone while Best Beloved kept Mom talking. When Mom mentioned going to her mother’s house (her mother died 45 years ago) and that I was with her and had fallen down (um, no) our concern escalated.
The nurse came, listened to her conversation for a minute, then took her to her room to assess her. A while later they called and said she was on her way to the emergency room.
A few hours later the hospital called and said it was a urinary tract infection, which we knew could cause disorientation; it’s apparently common in older women. They said a dose of IV antibiotics and a course of oral antibiotics when she got back to the care facility would put her right. The nurse from the care facility called when Mom got back there late that night with the same news.
And that’s how I spent my summer vacation.
My mom has been widowed twice. She’s in very poor health. Her car sat in storage for 15 years after she stopped driving. She has steadfastly refused to move somewhere she can get the care she needs, despite falling multiple times. We were on the verge of initiating a more aggressive approach when this happened. It appears that she may end up staying at this place permanently, which is another adventure, but knowing she’s being monitored is a huge relief.
Since my father died at 52, Best Beloved’s at 58, and her mother is still in pretty good health, this is our first experience with this aspect of caring for an elderly parent. It has been a mite stressful, it has.
Those stories where one thing at a time, everything goes wrong, wronger, wrongest?
This is about our 5th wedding anniversary, and it’s the opposite of that.
On our honeymoon we’d seen a brand new hotel being built at Lake Havasu, and wanted to stay there on the first night of our anniversary trip. The room at the Agave wasn’t expensive at all, for such a spiffy place.
Our anniversary is December 26th. Since we don’t celebrate Christmas, that pretty much leaves the day before our anniversary full of fidgeting until we can leave for our annual trip. By our 5th anniversary we’d developed the habit of leaving the night before, knowing we’d never sleep anyway.
This time, we left a day and a night before: late on the evening of the 24th.
Arriving in Lake Havasu about 10am on the 25th, Best Beloved called and asked if the room we’d booked might be available today, a day early. They said, sure.
Then the big ask: we were in town with nowhere to stay; might we be able to check in early?
They said, sure, the room’s ready.
When we arrived, the woman at the check-in desk said, you’re here on your anniversary, right? Why yes, we said, we are.
They’d upgraded us to the honeymoon suite. Half of the top floor. About a $500 a night room, for which we were paying about $70.
We made use of the separate private bathrooms, just because. Ding! And the oversized tub in the middle of the room, with the spigot in the ceiling so the water fell 10 feet to the tub. Ding!
We lounged and wallowed in luxury and generally made sure we got their thousand dollars’ worth.
Transcript (but it’s better if you listen)
My brothers discovered Molotov cocktails when we were teenagers. In case you don’t know what they are, as my brothers discovered it’s just a little bit of gasoline and a little bit less oil in a glass jar with a rag stuffed in the top. Wet the rag with the gasoline in the jar, light it on fire, and throw it. When it lands and explodes it creates a smoky fire that, in battle, or riots, disrupts the enemy, adding confusion and a smokescreen and fire and broken glass and all kinds of mess and nonsense.
I’m the middle brother, one brother 18 months older, the other 18 months younger, so we went through life almost like triplets—except one of us didn’t go around making Molotov cocktails. We lived right at the bottom end of San Diego Bay. There were disused railroad tracks right across the street and quarter of a mile away, a railroad bridge. Down below the bridge, 20 feet away, was a tiny stream and rocks where my brothers experimented with their Molotov cocktails. First a baby food jar with a tablespoon of oil and a quarter cup of gasoline which exploded, made a nice boom and burned till the water washed it away.
Then mayonnaise jars. Finally, when that wasn’t exciting enough, a quart of gasoline and a pint of oil in a glass gallon jar.
They lit it on fire, leaned over the edge of the railroad bridge, and dropped it on the rocks below. The explosion fluttered their pants and took all the hair off their faces and some off their heads. They were half way home before they realized they were running, and in their bedrooms studying for some imaginary school quiz when the police and fire department showed up to see what the explosion was out there in the estuary where all the protected wildlife lived.
I’ve always assumed they hadn’t blown up any California least terns or other endangered species but I wasn’t there so I don’t know. My father found out virtually everything they ever did (we discovered later because he’d also done the same things) but I’m not sure that the experimentation with blowing things up ever came to light. But I also know that after they almost blew themselves up and removed all their facial hair in the process, they never experimented with blowing things up again.
My dad was 26 when I was born. I was 26 when he died in a traffic accident.
My mom was 18 when I was born. As I approach 60 this year, she just turned 78.
When Dad died at 52 he was riding his bike 20 miles each way to work every day.
Mom has never been quite so active. These days, she’s bedridden and uses a wheelchair to get around—except when she doesn’t.
She’s started falling down. A lot. We’ve reached that point where we’re having the difficult conversations about her care and her living conditions. She’s mentally competent, so it’s her decision, but we worry about her living in a regular apartment instead of somewhere there’s onsite help when she falls.
I’m too old for this. Also too old to have a 15-year-old daughter excited about learning to drive later this year.
Maybe I’m just too old, period.
(Nah. Saw a short video about a wonderful lady who’s 108 and still chugging along, happy as Moses and loved by so many people. Here’s to my next 49 years!)
Excerpt from a book I plan to finish someday.
The massive door slammed. “Hey, Plum!”
“Hey yourself, Plum!” His uncle and aunt had been making up nonsense greetings for as long as he could remember. Never with others, just between them. Fruits meant happy, good news, his uncle’s wide smile and his aunt blushing.
“Where’s my princess? Or did she get promoted to empress by now?” Bets giggled as she ducked behind Momma’s chair. Betsy squealed as Quentin gave her hair a tug over Beth’s shoulder.
“What are you hearing?” His uncle sat behind him and looked over his shoulder toward the trees.
“Just the wind.”
“Saying anything I oughta hear?”
“Nah.” He was always a little embarrassed when his uncle asked about the things he heard. Not because he was mocking, but because he wasn’t.
“Alright, then. Keep me posted, eh?”
“Sure.” He couldn’t help smiling. His uncle was the biggest man he knew and yet he seemed small. No, not small, quiet. Young. Something like that. To look at him you’d expect a bear or a bull, but he was more like a cat, a big friendly cat.
Transcript (but it’s better if you listen)
(You really should listen to it.)
During the late 80s I lived for a time in Texas in a big ol’ rambling 175-year-old wooden house with 3 fireplaces and a mother in law flat built onto the back. I don’t know when that was added on, but across a giant covered porch and bathroom there was a little apartment with a bedroom, a living room, its own bathroom and a little kitchen and dining room.
The appliances in there were ancient. The refrigerator was all curvy and rounded and had a big spaceship compressor on the top. The stove didn’t have a pilot light. You lit it by turning the stove on and holding a match in front of a little tube at the bottom where the flame would get sucked in.
My mom came to live with us for a while. She lived in the small apartment in the back. One day she came knocking on our kitchen door and said that she’d been trying to light her oven and the match blew out and she couldn’t find anymore. I gave her a box of matches and went back to what I was doing.
Twenty seconds later I realized that wasn’t very smart and I ran, banging through our door and as I banged open my mother’s door and was about to yell, from the kitchen came a great big “whoomp”.
I came around the corner, and she was okay, and the house didn’t burn down. She turned the stove off and when she turned to look at me she had no eyebrows or eyelashes and most of the hair on her forehead had disappeared.
I’m glad that she hadn’t stayed in my kitchen to chat, or have a cup of coffee or something, because the house, at least, would be gone—and maybe all of us.
So kids the lesson for today is: when your mom asks for a match, go check done things.
Transcript (but it’s better if you listen)
The first restaurant she shared with us was a Moroccan place. As we walked through the front door and we saw people sitting on the floor on cushions I wish now that we’ve done that, uncomfortable as it might have been at my age. We sat in a regular booth.
Our daughter Fiona, who at the time was the pickiest eater in the world, was determined to try everything. We call her ‘travel Fiona’ when we’re traveling because she is always a little bit more adventurous.
Our friend warned us to try everything no matter how strange it looked . For instance, grilled chicken between 2 tortillas covered with powdered sugar. It’s delicious.
The restaurant seemed to be family run; it looked like a father and mother and 3 sons. When one of the sons noticed that Fiona was trying things but not eating very much he said “I’ll bring something you’ll like.” He came back with a dish, I don’t remember what, and she took a taste and he looked expectantly and she said “I don’t like it.”
His brother laughed and ran off to the kitchen saying “I’ll bring something you’ll like” and he came back and they took turns through the whole evening bringing us plates of food, for which we never got charged, to try to tempt Fiona into liking some kind of Moroccan food. She’d always taste it very politely and think about it and say no, I don’t really like it. And then whoever had brought it got laughed at.
At the end of the evening the father came. He’d been watching this the whole time and he said that he was going to bring something that he knew Fiona would like. He came back with a plate of what he called ‘genuine Moroccan cheesecake.’ Now, it looked and tasted to me like regular old cheese cake. But the 3 sons stood back and their father won.