Friday, June 4, 2010

Until Later

This is to let you all know that I will not be blogging for a while. No, there's no big problem, thank God--we are all doing well. But I do have some rather humongous projects I need to finish right now, and, being a brand new blogger, I need to be able to focus more on it. I fully plan to start up again very soon and will let you all know as soon as that happens. Feel free to contact me if you'd like by leaving questions and comments below.

Happy blogging to you all. I'll be back!

Until later then, here's another of Jim's masterpieces. Enjoy!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

On Beauty and Sadness

In Our Back Yard
Photo by RuthAnne

There is beauty and light in the world, even when our world is for a time painted gray and black. Today I send all the beauty of the world to my mother who lives 8 blocks away from us in a nursing home (Palm Village) here in Reedley CA. 

Today she is sad. Her youngest brother Calvin passed away this last weekend from bladder cancer. He was 85, the baby of her birth family--the Hollands.  Along with her grief over his passing comes distress because her own body had not allowed her to be there with him at a time when she yearned to be, if only to pat his hand. But not only was my mother too infirm to travel to be with him at the end of his life, she had also been unable to carry on much meaningful conversation with him by phone because of her hearing loss.

My mother is 93, the eldest of three siblings.  Both of her younger brothers are gone now. The middle child, Jack, died of mesothelioma (caused by exposure to asbestos) a couple of years ago.

My grandfather, my mother, my grandmother holding Uncle Calvin, Uncle Jack.
During the last few days of his life, I helped her call Uncle Calvin, as she was not able to navigate the computerized instructions of cell phone voice mail systems. For one thing, she can't hear them. And, when she can, she doesn't know the lingo. So I dialed the phone and hand it over to her. The conversations were short. They both tired quickly.

He would say a few words to her and she would answer, "Could you say that again, Cal? I didn't quite get that," or "Please eat something, dear, so you can at least keep your mind working."

Uncle Cal was unable to eat, but still had his wit and his humor. "Why don't you get her some earphones?" he said to me the last time he could talk on the phone. Of course! An obvious solution for an old Georgia Tech grad who engineered much of the city of Fremont, California, during his lifetime. But my mother loathes anything electronic, anything you can't dial a number on and put your ear to.

The earphones became a moot point, anyway, because two days later when we called he couldn't talk to us. The hospice nurse held the phone to his ear while my mother said goodbye. "Just know I love you, dear," she said. "I'd be right there with you during this time if I could!" When I took the phone back, I heard a sound and at first thought he was trying to say something, but then thought it sounded more like an attempted chuckle. There are times when no words are needed.

Sunday morning after he passed, I went to tell my mother. She hunched into her wheelchair, forsaken and small, as she cried. She's lost her husband (my father) to pancreatic cancer, both her parents, one brother to mesothelioma, and now her youngest brother. That's how it is for the the oldest living generation of today. They lose one relative and then they lose another, until, finally, someone is the the only one left.

But maybe it's a blessing of nature that our elderly often sink into a stupor that numbs them to such horrors, that blurs the wracking pain of a deteriorating skeleton, and blots out memories they would just as soon forget. Maybe its best their dementia lets them sleep in their wheelchairs for hours while waiting for someone to take pity and change their briefs. My mother fights this plague with a vengeance, though, and refuses to acquiesce in spite of the pain. The price she pays is that reality sears itself into her consciousness with stark clarity.

The world contains a lot of pain but there is so much beauty for the taking. Today I send ALL of the beauty to my mother in a prayer. I send lots of IN YOUR FACE BEAUTY to both her and to my Uncle Calvin's family!

                                                                                                                                              Photo by Jim

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Walking in the Wilderness: It's Spring!

It's spring in the wilderness--i.e. in Reedley, CA--and the view of the Sierras (above) is what I see not far from the end of our block when I go out walking. In fact, this morning I went out walking (trying for aerobic) because with that view and the weather at 75 degrees, I couldn't take being a hampster on the treadmill at our grungy gym. I'll save that for later when the weather is 105 and the smog has settled in.

A springtime view of the Sierras just outside Reedley. (No I didn't walk clear over here.)

I've mentioned that sometimes I feel like a fish out of water in Reedley. But I never said I didn't love and appreciate the beauty. It never ends!

I've visited a number of places in the world, and I've lived in a lot of  places. But, I must say, the countryside around Reedley is probably as picturesque as any place I've seen, or more so--at least for a few weeks in the spring before the smog hits. So, I'll relish it, soak it up while I can. 

When it's gone, Jim and I will get out and head to the coast as often as possible, or above the smog as high as we can into the Sierras bordering our Valley. Sometimes we even hightail it down south to Los Angeles for fresh air and a little breeze, believe it or not!

Springtime in the Sierra foothills.

In the foothills looking for the California Happy Cows.

The happy cows are not in dairies, believe you me!


Thursday, March 18, 2010

Barbara's: A Spot of Magic

Barbara's Cafe--Magic in an unlikely place!

There’s always a spot of magic to be found, even at a nursing home. At Palm Village, there's Barbara's Cafe.

Jim, my sister Mary, and I visited my mother the other day in skilled nursing at Palm Village. As usual, we brought our Starbucks cappuccinos and caramel macchiato biscotti. We whisked our mother down the long hallways lined with medicine carts and residents sleeping in their wheelchairs, out the wide automatic door of skilled care, and into the main lobby of Palm Village—or what is known as the “other side” to those skilled nursing residents who CAN still know.

The “other side” is a euphemism for assisted and independent living. The lobby is airy and elegant, with high-ceilings, soft light, intimate groupings of chintz-covered sofas and easy chairs, glistening oak end tables, and glass-encased mahogany bookshelves.

Here’s the magic: at three o’clock every afternoon—VOILA!—what had appeared as a gaping dark hole in one of the walls suddenly blazes with light as Barbara’s Café turns on its red neon OPEN sign. This light illuminates a quaint retro café alfresco with red, black, and white checkered linoleum. Almost as suddenly as the light comes on, an aroma of popcorn wafts from an old-fashioned popcorn machine teeming with bursting kernels. And the coffee, smell the coffee! Unfortunately for us, it’s decaf. That’s why the Starbucks.

A tall bar at one end of the café is spread with cookies fresh from the oven, fresh fruit, pastries, and granola bars. On the opposite end, another bar displays the urn of decaf, tea, soft drinks, juice, and a soft drink machine. Ice cream and rootbeer floats are also available. All is free to the residents and any visiting family members.

White shiny chrome chairs with red vinyl cushions await an elderly clientele, who promptly begin a procession with canes and walkers as soon as the light comes on. Chatting together, they seat themselves around chrome trimmed white-topped tables, some with checkerboard tops.

They are different from the people who live in skilled nursing with my mother. They are the elite who haven’t yet experienced that bout of pneumonia that weakens them so that they can no longer dress themselves or get out of bed. They have not yet experienced the fall that cracks a hip and confines them to a wheelchair, securing for them a permanent spot in skilled nursing.

Barbara’s Cafe is a healing ray of light sent from the soul of the beautiful woman, Barbara Sargeant, for whom it is named and whose estate designed it and paid for it.

We wheeled Mom to a table and seated her so that she could see the decor and chat with old friends who stop by. Since Mom is a social person, those conversations often refresh her, even soothe the daily migraines that plague her.

Friday, February 19, 2010


My mother at our house visiting with Nicky ( my sister's puppy).

I cringe when I visit my mother at Palm Village where she lives in skilled nursing. I try not to cringe, but I do. And now I cringe again--online. No, it’s not my mother I recoil at—it’s her setting, and that she has to be in skilled nursing at all! I tell myself its okay that my mother’s in skilled nursing. After all, she needs more help than I can give her, doesn’t she? Isn’t that what everyone says?

At 93, my mother still has her mind, and I still have her. Thank God for both. In her later years, we have become friends! A couple of weeks ago she was not feeling well enough to come over to our house for her usual Sunday outing, so I visited her. I stopped at Starbucks for cappuccinos and biscotti on the way.

When I entered her room, my mother’s roommate waved to me and rolled her eyes, gesturing with her thumb toward the bathroom door, which was closed.

“She’s in the bathroom again!” she said. “I swear, sometimes I think she’s asleep in there! I don’t know whether to ring for the nurse or not.”

I cracked the bathroom door a bit and saw my mother vigorously brushing the four remaining teeth in her top gum--she has none on the bottom. I stood quietly and watched her, brushing away, hunched into her wheelchair, chin barely reaching the top of the sink. When I was a kid, my mother stood a proud five feet, six inches, but severe osteoporosis and scoliosis have taken over her spine, compressed it, and curved it into an “s.” Now, when she transfers herself out of her wheelchair into the car or into her recliner, she stands only slightly taller than my waist.

* * * * *

About four years ago, during an earlier stay in skilled nursing as she recovered from knee replacement surgery, she fell and broke her porous femur. She would have gone back to her room in assisted care, but that fall put her in a wheelchair permanently and secured her a permanent room in skilled nursing--to her horror at the time. Her left leg is now about four inches shorter than the right.

* * * * *

After she carefully cleaned her toothbrush and put it away, I watched her rinse her mouth. Her skinny arms extended upward, resting on the sink at the elbows. I watched a shaky finger, gnarled with arthritis, meticulously pick specks of food from between the teeth of her partial plate and lower denture before she replaced them in her mouth.

“Hi, Mama,” I said then.

Glancing up, she caught sight of me in the mirror and smiled sheepishly at having been observed in her ritual. When my mother smiles her toothy—or toothless—smile (as the case may be), her eyes crinkle into slits like my sister Mary’s.

“Oh, RuthAnne! I didn’t see you standing there!” she said.

After we hugged and kissed, she gripped the wheels of her wheelchair, turned, and gave herself a shove that propelled her out the bathroom door. Since I had entered the room, her impatient roommate had aimed her own wheelchair at the bathroom door, waiting. My mother sailed past her roommate not even glancing at her. The strength in those shriveled arms amazed me. Isn't she ill today?

She carefully navigated into the narrow space between the wall and her bed and parked in front of her tiny chest-of-drawers. "She just hates it whenever I use the bathroom!" she said. On her rolling bedside table, a pink plastic pitcher of freshly iced water and a plastic tumbler sat in a pool of water on a pink plastic tray. My mother picked up the tumbler and wiped around the rim with a Kleenex then used the Kleenex to sop up the puddle.

I sat down in her burgundy recliner on the other side of the bed and watched as she unscrewed the lid from an ancient Pond’s Cold Cream jar she keeps refilled with her current moisturizer from a larger, more difficult-to-manage jar. After massaging the cream into her surprisingly supple 93-year-old face and neck with her fingertips, she picked up a small brush and ran it through her white hair, bobbed short and glistening in the light that slanted through the blinds. I got up to sray her hair. She smelled of lavender.

My father used to smile worshipfully and say he was married to “the most bee-u-tiful woman in the world.” I was always surprised when I saw him thaw like that, but it made me happy, too.

When she had finished fixing herself up, she leaned her head on her hand and closed her eyes. It appeared she had gone to sleep. I let her rest. Soon she looked up at me, smile gone, eyes now clouded with pain and said, “Ohh, I have such a headache, and there’s always so much to do.” She will not! accept help from the staff, though.

“No one has EVER helped me dress or go to the bathroom!” she often says. “I don’t know how to let them, and they don’t know how to do it right anyway.”

“Tell me what to do,” I said.

“Oh, I don’t know,” she said. Her eyes roamed the tiny, well-kept space until they fell on her sweater neatly folded at the foot of the bed. “So many things—that sweater needs to be put away for one.” I rolled up her sweater and put it in the drawer.

Now it was time for me to assume the recently acquired assertive pose I’ve had to learn. “Okay, Mama," I said, "let’s go. I’ve brought cappuccinos. I want to get out of here and go to the lobby to visit.”

“Oh, I just don’t know if I can today,” she moaned and covered her aching head with her hands. The excruciating migraines visit her daily now.
But I set the carrier with the cappuccinos and biscotti in her lap. Her eyes brightened a bit. “Oh, what’s the matter with me?” she said. “I just take so long to do everything. I forgot all about the cappuccinos and now they’ve probably gotten cold!”

I unlocked the wheels and whisked her out of the room and down cavernous hallways. We would end up in the main lobby on the assisted care side, where we could dunk our biscotti and watch Barbara’s Café open for the more “ambulatory” residents. Nurses and caregivers in the hallways all called “hello Doris!” as we hurried by. She waved and grinned back at them and called them by name, happily letting them know we were going to the lobby on the “other side” to have cappuccinos from Starbucks.

I love this lady, even if I do sometimes feel as inadequate as a braying donkey around her! I only dare hope she thinks of me as a puppy nipping at her heels and that I’m occasionally as effective as one.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


Whether an oasis is real or only a mirage, it offers both hope and respite..

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I know that in an earlier blog I compared living in Reedley to living in the wilderness. But, I must confess, Reedley does have a Starbucks!

Directly across Manning from Reedley College in the Riverwalk Shopping Center, Reedley’s Starbucks is, in fact, one of the busiest Starbucks I’ve seen anywhere. What a goldmine they found here in this "wilderness," too! In addition to Starbucks' proximity to the college, Reedley High School lies just to the east of the shopping center across Reed Avenue. Before school, between classes, during lunch, and after school, college and high school students stream from their respective halls of learning into the Riverwalk parking lot and through Starbucks’ swinging door to socialize, study, surf the web, and nap. For the adjunct instructors from the college (I am sometimes one of those), Starbucks is the perfect spot to hold office hours for want of available alternatives on campus. Farmers, business people, and young mothers with their children find both indoor and outdoor tables convenient for networking.

The Sunday after my mother's birthday, she was feeling too ill to come to our house for her usual Sunday outing and homecooked meal, so I decided to visit her in her room at Palm Village skilled nursing. First, though, I stopped at Starbucks to pick up her habitual cappuccino—double, tall, one pump hazelnut, extra hot—and, for myself, a quad, skinny vanilla latte, extra hot. "Getting Starbucks" is our way of cozying up to each other in a certain girly intimacy we’ve learned in the last two or three years and settling in for a comfy chat.

This ritual began years ago in the late '80's when our family—Jim, our two sons Matt and Mark, and I—lived in Yakima, a time when my relationship with my mother was a bit strained. It was also the time when lattes were becoming big and Starbucks had just been born. One day when my parents were visiting us in Yakima, I learned, and was duly shocked, that my mother actually knew what mochas and lattes were and liked them! We went downtown to the coffee cart (not Starbucks) in front of Nordstrom’s and ordered mochas, carried them across the street to the indoor mall, and set them on a round, white table in front of Cinnabon. There, we sipped and chatted.

The coffee phenomenon began its healing magic for us in those moments. As I talked with my mother that day over coffee, I began seeing a different woman inside her mother-skin, one who not only enjoyed having fun, had a sense of humor, chatted, and shopped, but one who had read many of the books on my master’s degree reading list, books that I had yet to read. She became interested in these books, she said, when I began my graduate studies in literature.

I always tend to feel a little depressed when I go to Palm Village. I try not to cringe at my mother's being there. Her  living quarters are tiny—one-half of a not-very-large room that she shares with a cranky roommate (who wouldn't be cranky?). I know I will find her in her wheelchair, facing a squat chest-of-drawers squeezed between her bed and a tiny closet.

 She will be ready for me, dressed in carefully matching pants and top, with complementing beads, even though she feels ill. She will either be giving her shiny silver-white hair one last touch with her fingertips, making certain there are no strays, or she will be asleep, having fallen far forward in her chair. I will say softly, so as not to startle her too badly, "Hello, Mama." I'll say it a couple of times, testing my volume, as her hearing has become so bad lately.

 When she awakens, she will look disoriented. Pain will be clouding her eyes from the sickening, daily migraine that is worse today. Then she will see me and her face will crease into its famous smile, pain momentarily disappearing from her eyes. She will hold out her arms to hug me, and I will hold on a little longer than necessary. Then the curtain of pain will descend again.

But I will get her out of this room today, down long rambling hallways, out of the skilled nursing section, and into assisted living where she once lived. We will sit in the airy, elegant main lobby and watch elderly residents as they mill around with canes and walkers or sit visiting their own aging children. A lot of people will stop by to say "hello," and my mother will be distracted. We will discuss something other than her headache and the unappetizing food there that disturbs her digestion. She will sip her drink (I guzzle more than sip) and we will gleefully dunk caramel macchiato biscotti and chat.

* * * * *

Thanks Starbucks, for long ago finding your mission and fulfilling it yet today. Thanks for letting it work its magic clear over here in the wilderness!

Friday, January 22, 2010


Jim and I have been married for 44 years today! This morning I woke up to a steaming, fresh pot of Breakfast Blend coffee and a card that called me the love of his life. This afternoon I came home to a vase of 24 LONG-STEMMED PINK ROSES! Here is a picture of this amazing man! Eat your hearts out, ladies, I know I'm lucky!

Tonight we will go out for a semi-romantic dinner. :>) Our son Matt who is visiting from Istanbul will be joining us. :) He's a lot of fun and keeps us quite entertained, though, so that's okay.


At his grandmother's birthday party, before she blew out the candles in one puff, my son Matt pointed out that 93 is an important milestone for her. The number 93 is of itself quite interesting, he said, for the following reasons:

     *The differential between 9 and 3 is relatively large.
     *Three squared is 9.
     *Three is the number in the Holy Trinity.
     *Nine contains 3 trinities!

"Yes, and it takes a long time to get there!" my sister Mary quipped.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Bright Spot in Reedley


I hope I have enough of her genes so that when I'm 93 I'll be half as beautiful, smart, and witty as she!

Out of respect for the people of Haiti and their grave tragedy, I did not make this post until today, though my mother's birthday was on Monday, January 12th.

When I asked her what she wanted for dinner, she said her favorite dish was tofu stirfry with peanut satay. So, that's exactly what we had! Dessert was our old family birthday favorite--that tantalizing carrot cake you see in front of her, served with quite a few scoops of  vanilla bean ice cream on each piece. M-m-m, eat your heart out people!!

Here's our party:

Mom with our son Matt

Clockwise Mom, my sister Mary, my love Jim, and Matt

Oh, yes, I was there, too. Clockwise Mom, RuthAnne
and Matt

Not able to attend physically, were my sister Fern and her husband Richard in Omaha; our son and his wife, Mark and Andrea, in Ashland; Matt's wife Fati, in Istanbul. Also unable to be there were Mary's son James, his wife Shannon, and their daughter Araya, in Kentucky, where James is in the army and stationed near Louisville. Last and FOR SURE not least was mother's great grandson Nathan Wilkins (Mary's grandson), in Albuquerque. We are world people, so there may not be many of us in the same room at any one time, but we have a good time no matter how many!

By the way, James, Shannon, and Araya celebrated Grandma's birthday in Kentucky by eating brownie sundaes and talking to us by phone at the same time we were having our carrot cake!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Sloth and Light

I started this post two days ago! And then yesterday I got sidetracked, as I often do. Yehuda, my friend and mentor, tells me that I never know how much time I have and to treat every day as if it were my last. "2day. act quick," he says. "There's no time to waste." Well, that tweet was yesterday, and today I'm acting a little quicker than usual. 

What sidetracked me yesterday was the way my day began, by waiting in line in the Valley's bone-chilling tule fog at Reedley DMV at 7:25 a.m. This was after the tweet from Yehuda, and I thought I was starting out quite well, thank you. By getting there early, I was second in line, and I'd be out of there with my new temporary license in a such a flash. I stood in line shivering until the doors opened at 8, sipping cold coffee that steamed from my Starbucks thermos in the colder fog. By being there early, I could also use the time to finish studying the driver's handbook. And why was I doing this?

Well, a couple of weeks ago, I had to show my driver's license as an ID after buying new shoes. I glanced at my license as I put it away and noticed it had expired--last September! So for a couple of weeks since then, I had been pretending I STILL didn't know about it until I could get to DMV during hours they were actually open. Now, here I was, standing in line, in the fog, no need to pretend any longer.

Finally, at 8:00 a very large, cheerful doorkeeper swung the doors back and boomed a big "goodmorning." I gave him my biggest, most cheerful smile and soaked up the rush of warm air from the room. 

"Where is your paperwork?" he asked me.

"What paperwork?" I asked.

"I need to see what you are coming here for," he said, smile gone.

"I just need to renew my license," I said.

"Well, first you'll need to fill out the white form in the rack over by that wall for that specific purpose," he said pointing to the wall, "and then go to Window Number one."

I stepped out of line, yanked one of the forms from the rack, and tried to quickly get back in line. Only about ten of the approximately 75 people behind me had gotten in front of me. I had to be in Fresno for a doctor's appointment by 10:15. I could still make it. A smiling employee at Window One apparently had been watching me and called, "Ma'am! You have to fill that form out over there, BEFORE you get back in line!" Maybe she didn't mean what I thought I thought she meant. I looked at her again to be sure, but, yes, she was nodding at me and jabbing a finger back and forth toward the counter under the racks of forms, smile and all.

Deflated, I stepped back and began to fill out my form and watch everyone who had been behind me in line push ahead to the front of me. I didn't finish the form, just stuffed it in my purse and trudged back home, on foot, ten blocks through the fog (couldn't have driven there, because I had no license, remember?), bawling like a spoiled brat. Jim, my husband, called me on my cell phone and asked cheerily if I had my temporary license. "No-o," I sniffled, and whined out my poor story through the mist.

I did make it to my doctor's appointment--driving--50 miles through the fog, into Fresno, pretending, again, that I didn't know my license was expired. When I finished my appointment there, I noticed I had a voice mail from Ruth and Amy, the blessed women who clean my house. "We are at your house, but you aren't here, so I guess we'll just let ourselves in with the spare key." I just hate wasted days like this! I had no memory that they would be coming on Monday; they usually come every other Tuesday! The house was full of clutter and the usual stuff I hide away on cleaning day. I inched back home through the fog, wary of any flashing red and blues.

Ruth and Amy were gone when I got back. The house sparkled and smelled slightly of clorox, the clutter in neat piles, the laundry folded and stacked in a large chair in the bedroom. The only thing forgotten was the vacuum, not put away, but sitting in front of the open door of the closet where we store it, its attachments strewn through the hallway on the floor. I smiled for the second time that day. Today was Jim's dad's birthday and his folks were coming to supper tonight and the house was picked up and clean. All I had to do was cook. Sometimes the world goes on just perfectly in spite of me!

I sent a tweet to Yehuda later. That was the first time I have ever tweeted him, by the way. I usually wait to devour words from my teachers. But, late afternoon when I checked my messages I saw he had a tweet to everyone in general about wanting to hear from US sometimes. Funny, it never seems to occur to me that a teacher might want to hear someone else's words other than his own. He tweets to us every day. I tweeted back and let him know that even though I had done my morning meditation and had started out thinking I'd done everything right, my day had gone really shitty. However I'd seen light working in the world in spite of myself. He tweeted back immediately "its never inspite because there's always light inside that we don't always see." I like that.