Change to Change

Recently, I’ve been reading a book for work. It’s called Stop Selling Vanilla Ice Cream by Steve Van Remortel. It’s not really about trying to ban vanilla ice cream from the supermarket shelves. I mean, really, who would want that?! It’s about differentiating your company through strategy and talent development.

So, to be clear, the reason I’m reading it is because I have to for work. But, I do not have to write a post about it for work. Haven’t been asked to. Not being paid to. And, actually, this post isn’t really about the book. But in the spirit of full disclosure, I wanted to share that.

Now, on to my point.

As I read the book, I’m finding tidbits that pertain to family, household, personal life–not just the business world.

I read this sentence:

“If nothing ever changes…nothing will ever change.”

Think on that for a minute.

If nothing ever changes…nothing will ever change.

If I don’t ever change the way I eat, if I don’t change the way I exercise (or the fact that I don’t)…I will never lose weight or be fit.

If I don’t ever change my messy habits…I will never have a neat house.

If I don’t ever change the way I manage money…I will never have more savings.

If I don’t ever spend more time in prayer and Bible study…I will never have a closer relationship to God.

The list goes on!

What can you insert into the blanks?

If I don’t ever change _______________…I will never_______________.

My take away is this: if there’s something in my life that I’m not satisfied with, how can I expect it to improve if I don’t take action and initiate the change?

Did you miss me?

Did you miss me?

It’s been nearly 18 months since I wrote my last blog post, Take Care of You. I wish I could say I’ve been very busy following my own advice from that post.

Instead, I think I was doing the opposite. I was immersing myself in taking care of everyone but me. You could probably call me a professional volunteer. My house was a disaster, my mother’s health was getting worse and life was getting more chaotic and less blissful all the time. For much of that time, and for the first time ever in my life, I was unhappy.

My mother’s health hit a bump in the road last October. It’s a long story, and one I will probably tell sooner than later. The relevant point here is that she’s been living with us since December 1. We’re all still adjusting. The adjustments probably warrant a blog post at some point, too.

In the midst of all of this adjusting, I took on the biggest challenge of my life: raising $80,000 to retain a school safety officer in our school district. A cause I greatly believe in, but one that has consumed much more of me than I ever thought possible!

Stress. Stress. Stress.

Even doing things you enjoy and are passionate about (rather than work you have to do) cause stress when there are so many things going on at once.

I was also wrestling with the idea of what life was going to look like when school started this year. My oldest started high school. My second child started junior high. The third started 4th grade. And, my baby started kindergarten. All day kindergarten.

Sniff. Sniff. Sniff.

And OUCH!

Nothing like three of four kids embarking on educational milestones to slap me in the forehead and scream, “YOUR KIDS ARE GROWING UP FAST!”

My baby. The one I quit work and got to stay home with was leaving for kindergarten.

Did I make the most of the time we had? There are crafts to make, books to read and cupcakes to bake that we never got to!

Oh no! I’m going to be home all day, alone, with my often cranky, always forgetful, rarely conversational mom.

Summer. Summer. Summer.

We had a wonderful time as a family this summer! Thanks in large part to my husband and his crazy (and sometimes annoying) spontaneity. Lots of little day trips, one long weekend. Tons of fun and memories!

School.  School.  School.

School has been in session for two weeks now. I have 35 hours a week with no one here but my mom and the pets.

There is peace. There is quiet.

And in that peace and quiet, I’ve found some things—

–a much cleaner house

–the buzzer on my dryer when the cycle ends (I don’t think I’ve ever heard it before)

–the tranquility and giddiness that comes simply from an uninterrupted shower

–and me.

Yes, in the peace and quiet, I’m finding me.

My old self.  The self that is a better wife, mother, daughter, house keeper, friend and even volunteer.

I know, you probably didn’t miss me over the last 18 months.

But I did.

Take care of you.

keep-calm-and-take-care-of-you-13One of my favorite movies of all time is Pretty Woman. Julia Roberts and Laura San Giacomo play friends and roommates who are prostitutes–dangerous work. Whenever they say goodbye to one another, they say the same thing.

“Take care of you.”

I’m not a prostitute.

I’m a wife.

I’m the mother of four young children.

I’m the caregiver of my mother who has Alzheimer’s.

I’m stressed out.

I’m overweight.

I’m tired.

I hear the words over and over in my head. “Take care of you.” “Take care of you.” “Take care of you.”

I hear it at my support group. I read it on some of my favorite blogs and magazines. I see it on TV.

Easier said than done! But I’m learning.

I’ve joined a support group. This is THE single best decision I’ve made along the way. It is a source of information, resources and emotional support. I’ve never missed a meeting!

I’m learning to say, “No.” That’s a tough one for me. I’ve been a people pleaser my whole life. I like to help people. I also like to feel needed. So, when someone asks me to do something, my knee-jerk reaction is to say, “Sure, I’d love to!” In the last year, I’ve scaled back my volunteering. I now focus my efforts on only those things that really bring me true enjoyment. If the activity causes me stress, I don’t do it.

I also cancelled a family reunion I was to host this summer. That was hard for me to do. I love my family and don’t get to see them often. If I put it off, will my mom still be here? Will she still know them? I’ve wanted to cancel it for awhile. But, I kept telling myself not to make the decsion on a day when I was stressed out…but to make it on a day when I’m not. Then it hit me: I’m almost always stressed out!

I’m asking for help. Another tough one. I think  I’m generally thought of as self-reliant and strong. It’s difficult to admit that I can’t do it all.

I write about my feelings. This blog is a great source of therapy for me. If I am able to help anyone along the way, so much the better. I don’t publish everything I write. Some of it is too emotional. Maybe one day I’ll share those writings, but not yet.

What I don’t do is eat right or exercise. The eating thing is really tough. I’m an emotional eater. If I don’t get this under control, I’ll weigh 600 pounds before this caregiving journey is over. Exercise is tough, too. It’s hard to find time for it. But I must! I’m not getting any younger and it’s not going to get any easier!

What do you do to maintain your sanity as a caregiver…whether you’re caring for your kids or an aging loved one–or both, like I am? I’d love to hear from you!

Take care of you!

A is for Alzheimer’s

When my mother began forgetting things, we chalked it up to simple old age. She put a calendar on her fridge to keep track of appointments and a notebook and pencil by the phone to write down important notes. No big deal. I mean, who among us doesn’t forget things, right?

As it got worse, I couldn’t remain in denial. We went to her doctor and he diagnosed her with dementia and prescribed Aricept. I asked him then if she should see a specialist. His response, “No. There are only two drugs that are prescribed and she’s on the more effective of the two. There’s really nothing else they can do.”

What a bunch of baloney!

My instincts told me better, but I was in uncharted and overwhelming territory. I really had no idea what to do or who to see. So, I did nothing. The Aricept did help her memory, but not enough for her to be driving (though at that point she still was).

About 10 months later, my friend saw a notice in the paper about a support group that was starting at a local eldercare facility. The group was aimed at caregivers of those with dementia. It was a four week session. I missed the first week, but went to the other three sessions.

It was the best thing I ever did! I learned so much! Right away, I learned about “geriatric evaluations.” I had never heard of this before, but some of the others’ loved ones had done this and the facilitator of the group highly suggested it. I left the first meeting with something actionable to do!

In less than a month, we were on our way to the University of Michigan to meet with Dr. Judith Heidebrink, a neurologist at the East Ann Arbor Health and Geriatrics Center. Dr. Heidebrink asked a lot of questions and examined my mother. She ordered blood work, an MRI and extensive cognitive testing.

She also dropped the A-Bomb. She suspected my mother had Alzheimer’s. OUCH! Somehow, dementia didn’t sound so scary. But Alzheimer’s. That’s. Not. Good.

The tests took place over the course of the next several weeks and less than two months after we started, we were going back to get the results.

Although there is no way to diagnose Alzheimer’s exactly, other things can be ruled out and certain things in the brain strongly indicate whether or not a patient has the disease. All roads pointed to Alzheimer’s.

The doctor went over all  of the results with us and sent us home with the results and recommendations that came from the cognitive testing–five pages of information all about how well, or poorly, my mom was functioning in different areas.

In some areas, she tested better than average or pretty close to normal limits. When it came to memory, she tested in the 1st percentile. That means if you lined up 100 people her age her memory would be worse than 99 of them! But, she could still cook and shower and dress herself. In some ways, she was still functioning very well.

The doctor  and a social worker both counseled us that now  the important thing was keeping her safe. She shouldn’t be driving. Check. That battle had already been fought. Someone should be managing her finances. Check. She needed medication reminders. Check. I’d been taking her medication to her every day for several months since I realized she wasn’t taking it at all.

We left that day with some other A words. Yes, she had Alzheimer’s. But we had some Answers and we had and Action plan.

Dementia and Driving

 ”When you tell me it’s time for me to stop driving, I won’t argue with you.” I can’t tell you how many times over the years my mother told me this.

She’d had the responsibility of telling her father, a notoriously bad driver, that it was time for him to stop. I think it came after he sideswiped several parked cars in one trip.

He didn’t argue. He didn’t put up a fuss.

She always promised me she’d follow his example.

HA! Famous last words.

When it became very clear she shouldn’t be driving–for her own safety as well as others, My husband and I went over, sat down in the living room with her, made a little small talk. Then I said, “Mom, you’ve always said that when I told you it was time to stop driving, you wouldn’t argue with me.” To which she replied, “I won’t. But it’s not time.”

Oh boy.

Long story short, I told her I was just going to take them for a month until she saw the doctor again. She’d been diagnosed with dementia and had started taking Aricept. She was going back for a follow-up visit in a month.

I lasted 4 days. She made my life a living hell. She would call me and yell at me, call me names. We’d hash through everything, she’d calm down, say she understood. Ahh.

Then, two hours later, she’d call back and we’d do it all again. I don’t know if she was forgetting our conversations or just sitting there stewing and getting mad all over again. Maybe a little of both.

Before long, my husband was screening the calls to protect me. I wasn’t functioning. So I gave them back. I called her doctor and asked him to counsel her that it was time to stop driving.

I took her to that appointment. He counseled her brilliantly. It didn’t do a bit of good. I was torn up. My options were allow her to keep driving and risk her getting lost, hurting or even killing herself or someone else. How would I live with myself is something did happen? Or, take the keys and have her put me through hell for the rest of her life. How would I even function?

Like many of the decisions I’ve faced along this journey, I procrastinated. Five months after I initially took the keys away, she showed up at my house unexpectedly. My husband was there, I was on my way home from a meeting. He told me she was there and I said, “Oh, she had a doctor appointment today, she’s probably coming to tell me how it went. Tell her I’ll be there in a few minutes.” We hung up.

He called me right back. She hadn’t been to the doctor yet. She was on her way and couldn’t find it. Uh-oh. We live in a small town. Getting to the doctor from her house requires two right hand turns. She couldn’t find it even though she’s been a patient there  for 20 years or more.

I told my husband to take her to the doctor and I’d meet them there. In the meantime, I called ahead, gave the staff the scoop and requested that the doctor confront her with it and tell her she couldn’t drive anymore.

I drove her home, and told her I needed the car to get back home.

In the months since my first attempt at keeping the car, I had learned that I could submit a letter to the Secretary of State indicating that I thought my mother was an unsafe driver and why and request that they test her. They requested some information from the doctor and scheduled an appointment for her. I was able to remain anonymous to her in this process.

A few days before the test, she said she needed to practice driving. So, I picked her up, and suggested she drive to the doctor’s office. The mechanics of her driving weren’t really an issue, the problem was she didn’t know where she was going. She drove all over town. She never did find it.

On the day of the test (which was an hour away), my husband took her. We knew she would leave the facility without her driver’s license and she would be fuming mad at me. I was afraid she would get me so rattled on the way back that I’d have an accident. So he took her.

They didn’t even give her a driving test. She answered a few written questions, which, my husband isn’t even sure they looked at. They revoked her license then and there and gave her a letter stating that if her medical condition changed, she could reapply for her license.

I wish I had known about the Secretary of  State option from the beginning. She blames me for everything. She knows I’m responsible for her not driving, even though I’ve never admitted having anything to do with the “test.” I can’t help but wonder if things would be different had I never said anything about her driving and just contacted the state. (For information on this in your state, click here.)

It took four months, and my promising to get her a new car if she were able to get her license reinstated, before she agreed to sell her car. It’s been 11 months since she drove and thankfully, she isn’t still yelling about it. Maybe it’s because she’s accepted it. Probably it’s because other stuff has happened since then for her to be mad about.

But that’s a story for another day.

Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?

No, I probably didn’t and if I did, you probably wouldn’t listen to me. But, you don’t have to. Listen to Dr. Suess instead.

Did I EverHis book, Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are? has been one of my favorites for as long as I can remember. My copy was given to me by my parents as a Christmas gift when I was five.

As a child, I loved the fun illustrations, made up words and rhyme. Some of my favorites were the borfin that shlumps every night and Herbie Hart’s thromdibulator.

Now, as an adult, I like the message. Be thankful. Recognize that no matter how bad your predicament, you’re better off than some. So be thankful.

“When you think things are bad, when you feel sour and blue, when you start to get mad…you should do what I do! Just tell yourself, Duckie, you’re really quite lucky! Some people are much more…oh, ever so much more…oh, muchly much-much more unlucky than you!”

And,

“You ought to be thankful, a whole heaping lot, for the places and people you’re lucky you’re not!”

And,

“Thank goodness for all of the things you are not!”

And, finally,

“That’s why I say, “Duckie! Don’t grumble! Don’t stew! Some critters are much-much, oh, ever so much-much, so muchly much-much more unlucky than you!”

What a terrific lesson for all of us!

A few weeks ago, I agreed to be a guest reader in my son’s class. I chose this book and was scheduled to read it to them this morning.

Timing. Is. Everything.

It’s been a rough 24 hours. I recently wrote about my husband’s new job. It’s still going great. He got his second paycheck today. But last night, about 30 minutes into his 90 minute ride home, the 2001 Honda Odyssey he was driving died. Long story short, the transmission (it’s second one) died. Well, no way were we putting a third one in a 9 year old vehicle with 125,000 miles on it.

So we had to buy a car.

Crap!

More than two years of unemployment and only two paychecks under our belt.

Hardly ready for a car payment!

BUT…

We’re more ready than we were a month ago, so it could have been worse.

We might not have had the resources to be able to go ahead and purchase a vehicle at all. It could have been worse.

We might not have been able to find an affordable and reliable vehicle. It could have been worse.

I may have sat around grumbling and stewing today, and, honestly, I had a tear in my eye as I read the first few pages to the class. As I continued, though, I was reminded that even though sometimes it feels like we never catch a break, we are far better off than so many.

stratusBut day is nearly done now and we are the owners of a 2006 low-mileage, great condition Dodge Stratus that we bought from the Nice Car Company in Ottawa Lake, Michigan.

And, now Michael can park in the good parking lot when he goes to work at Chrysler and he’ll get better gas mileage, too.

Overall, we’re a couple of Lucky Duckies!

Planning a trip to Disney World, Take 2

Just about this time, four years ago, I was beginning to plan our family’s first trip to Disney World in Florida. We planned on whisking our three children, who would have been 9, 7 and 4 at travel time, away on the last day of school for the most magical experience of their lives.

I had everything all mapped out and saved on the Disney site. I had 30 days to put down a deposit on the trip, or my planning wouldn’t be saved anymore.

My 30 days were almost up. I looked at the calendar, ready to make the deposit. A little voice inside me said, “Maybe you should wait a couple days.” I waited. The voice said, “Why don’t you give it a week?” I waited. I waited another week.

OK, I was two weeks late.

Our first three children had all been conceived through the help of fertility drugs. We didn’t use any birth control, other than the we-have-three-children-and-we’re-exhausted method. Chances of me getting pregnant were very slim.

Turns out, slim is enough.

Well, instead of going to Disney in June 2007, we welcomed our “Bonus Baby” in July.

Now that baby is 3 and we’re trying again. For the vacation!! Yeah, fool me once–we both got fixed!

So here’s where you come in. Usually when I blog, it’s because I have something to say and I hope at least a few people out there will want to read it. If not, that’s ok because the blog is creating a nice little diary of our life. But this time, I want you to tell me something!

I want to know your money saving and sanity saving tips for making the trip a success without needing to take a second mortgage on the house!

You should know our kids will be 13, 10, 8 and 4 when we travel and we’re coming from extreme southeast Michigan.

Some of my questions are:

  1. How many days do you really need?
  2. Where’s the best place to stay?
  3. Should we drive or fly?
  4. Is park hopper worth it?
  5. Is the dining package worth it?
  6. What is the one thing you wouldn’t want us to miss?
  7. What is the one thing we could skip?
  8. What else do you know that only comes with experience?

I recently read DonMartelli’s Parent’s Guide to Surviving a Disney World Vacation. He gives down and dirty practical advice which is just the kind of stuff I want to hear.

So, whatcha got? Go ahead…comment!

Dementia and Denial

My mother, who is now 82, was diagnosed with dementia 1 1/2 – 2 years ago. I remember leaving the doctor’s office with her. Driving in relative silence back to her home as she clutched the receipt for her visit in her hand. She looked down at it, read the word “dementia” written in as the reason for her visit and said, “I hate this.”

For at least a couple years, she’d been increasingly forgetful. She’d repeat herself, forget appointments. But really, who among us doesn’t? She kept a calendar on the fridge for appointments and a notepad by the phone so she could write things down to help her remember. No big deal.

An extremely strong and independant woman, she’d raised me alone from the age of 15 when my father died suddenly.  She often worked two, three, even four jobs at a time  to keep food on the table and put me through college. She had been my best friend ever since my father died. We talked on the phone daily…sometimes multiple times. I noticed the forgetfulness, but shrugged it off as normal for an aging person.

She’d also lived alone since I got married until about four years ago, I think. A good friend of hers fell on some hard times and needed a place to stay. It was only supposed to be for about three months, but turned into much more. Even though I could see my mom’s memory starting to fail, it was probably not as obvious because the friend helped her so much around the house.

During this time, I was busy with my fourth baby, so her roommate eased my mind and my load immensely. My kids were keeping me very busy and my focus was on them. If I’m going to be completely honest, I probably pushed some thoughts of where this was headed aside. The world of elder-care is daunting–something I knew nothing about. I also knew, well, sort of, the impact all of this would eventually have on my life and didn’t want to go there. It was painful, overwhelming.

So, I suppose I  was in denial. I even remember thinking that from time to time.

Just about a year ago, there was no denying it anymore.

She got lost–twice. Although, for a long time, I only knew about one incident. Her roommate knew, but out of loyalty to my mother, didn’t tell me.

Then one day she mentioned in casual conversation that she forgot how to use the oven.

Uh-oh.

Her dementia reached out and slapped me in the forehead like a brick. If she could forget how to use the oven, she could forget where the brake was on the car. She could get lost, flustered, forget the mechanics of driving. Hurt herself. Hurt someone else.

Time to think about this seriously. My responsibility. What do I do? What’s the first step? Who do I talk to?

In a word? Clueless!

I wasn’t in denial anymore, but I didn’t know where to start.

Alot has happened in the last year. I’ve made, and am still making a lot of mistakes. But, I’m learning. In this series of posts on dementia and Alzheimer’s, I will share my journey as a caregiver hoping to provide information and support to others in my shoes. Maybe some will read this who have more experience than I do and share what they know so I can make fewer mistakes going forward.

Too Chaotic for My Chaotic Bliss

I last blogged about 6 1/2 months ago. I was elated when I wrote that post . Michael had just been hired after a long layoff. Just six weeks later, he was laid off again as the start-up company quickly realized they’d hired more people than they could afford at such an early point. He wasn’t the only casualty, but that was little consolation.

What ensued was 3-4 months of chaos–and nothing about it was blissful. I’m not going to go into a lot of details, but suffice it to say we were sinking fast. And I guess, maybe it wasn’t fast. Afterall, the initial layoff began on August 20, 2008, so it had been nearly 2 years. Hope was hard to come by. Faith was being tested. Life pretty much stunk.

During all of this financial stress, I had another major stressor in my life. My mother and her continuing decline into dementia.

I have truly never known such stress, such despair, such an overwhelming feeling of, well, being overwhelmed. (Let’s not forget I’m the mother of 4 young children).

My prayers shifted their focus. Instead of  just praying for blessings on our family, my prayers became desperate. Something had to give. I believe the Lord won’t allow you to go through more than you can handle–

1 Corinthians 10:13: No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.

but, I was truly reaching the end of my rope. Something had to give. You know, I’m very familiar with the first part of the Bible verse above. But I found myself forgetting, maybe doubting the last part–”He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”

Then came August. Our darkest month financially.

My friend Elizabeth told me about a support group for caregivers of dementia patients. Oh, my gosh! Talk about a gift from God! Our group met weekly for  the first month, and now we meet monthly. I have learned so much and am so much better equipped to handle my mother’s care now than I was before.

Out of the blue, the ladies from my church took up a collection and provided us with a gift card to help with back to school shopping.

By the end of August, Michael’s freelance work was really picking up again.

September was a good month, too. But by mid-month, it got really good!

He landed a terrific job! Two days before he was contacted about the job he said, “When it’s right, it will be easy.” Well, I guess so! This opportunity came looking for him. It’s quite literally his dream job. You can read his take on his blog at Mike’s Points.com.

The Sunday after he was offered the job, I sat in Bible study at church and listened as the teacher read the following passage to us from James 1:

 2Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

and,

12Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.

I doubt it was coincidence that those passages were the focus of our discussion that day.

Michael started his job on October 4. We’re adjusting to another new normal. It’s a good adjustment to make.

Life’s less chaotic and more blissful now.

Thank you,  God!

Waiting to exhale

Well. Here I am. I’ve been looking forward to being able to write this post for months. Now the day is here, the time has come, and I’m not sure how to begin.

If you’re a friend of mine, or a family member or even a regular reader of this blog, then you know the shlumping economy hit our household on August 20, 2008. The last time I wrote about our experience was on the first anniversary of that hit.

It was a pretty positive post. We were doing pretty well. Then in the blink of an eye, we weren’t so OK anymore.

The months of September, October, November and December sent us one blow after another.

BAM! Michael’s biggest client decided they no longer needed his services.

BAM! The Department of Human Services decided we weren’t eligible for benefits anymore.

BAM! The COBRA subsidy ran out.

BAM! The Department of Job and Family Services decided Michael wasn’t eligible for unemployment anymore.

I felt absolutely defeated. I was frustrated. The savings we’d built up over several months was gone seemingly overnight. We were back to square one–or square zero.

I know I probably wasn’t much fun to be around. (Thank you my dear friends for sticking with me.) We were in almost exactly the same situation we’d been in a year before but my attitude was much different. I still had faith, still trusted in God’s plan, but really felt I was reaching the end of what I could handle.

I remember crying myself to sleep on New Year’s Eve. A night when most are feeling hopeful about what the new year will bring, I was almost hopeless.

So here we were in January, again. Amazingly, the interviews started happening again. Little by little all the bureaucratic red-tape got straightened around and we started receiving help again from Human Services and Unemployment. The COBRA subsidy was extended.

There was hope, but less of it. I guess one gets jaded after being knocked down from the pedestal of hope time and again.

Amidst the job interviews, one opportunity was most intriguing. But also most risky as the company is a start-up. We began having the same conversation we’d had the previous January during the slew of interviews while we weighed the option of Michael having his own business.

How will we know which is the right decision? If there’s an offer from a stable company that’s been around awhile, do we take that and then have regrets later if this start-up really takes off? What if we go with the start-up and they fail in 6 months or a year? Then we go through all this again.

We prayed for guidance.

You know, I think maybe God doesn’t trust our decision making ability because he seems to make the answers abundantly clear. None of the other interviews panned out. Nothing to lose. Take the risk.

Michael’s been on contract with them for the last two months and we’ve been holding our breath. As of today, he is EMPLOYED! (insert Hallelujah chorus here)

Is this God’s plan? No clue!

But, we’re hopeful again. Making plans again. And if it turns out this IS God’s plan, we’re thankful for the past 19 months, 11 days which brought us to this opportunity willing to take a risk.

and…EXHALE!