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Blogs of Writer, Artist, Photographer, & Caregiver Joanne D. Kiggins

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Joanne has published more than 2,500 articles and was award recipient of the 1990 Woman of the Year for Beaver County, Pennsylvania, for her accomplishments and excellence in journalism and to the community. Her co-authored book, “Unforgettable Journey,” won fifth place in the Grand Beginnings romance contest. An excerpt from her WIP, “Unearthed,” placed her fifth in the Absolute Write Idol contest. Most recently, her essay, “Perseverance,” is published in the Stories of Strength anthology in which 100% of the profits are donated to disaster relief charities. Her most recent articles were published in ByLine Magazine, Writer's Digest, AbsoluteWrite.com, and Moondance.org. She has a monthly freelance writing column at Absolutewrite.com. Currently, she is the sole caregiver for her 85-year-old mother.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Happy Birthday, Dad

Today would have been my dad's 88th birthday. I still miss him terribly. I love you, Dad. Happy Birthday.

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Friday, January 25, 2008

Blogcritic of the Day

Well, I have no clue how this came about, but I just noticed I am listed as Blogcritic of the Day at BlogCritics. That was a nice surprise.

Also noticed that my recent review of An Uncertain Inheritance was picked up by LexisNexis News Publishers.

Another nice surprise.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

BOOK REVIEW: An Uncertain Inheritance: Writer’s on Caring for Family edited by Nell Casey

An Uncertain Inheritance: Writer’s on Caring for Family
Edited By Nell Casey
William Morrow/Harper Collins(November 13, 2007)
304 pp Hardcover
Nonfiction: Parenting/Families/Aging/Caregiving
ISBN-10: 0060875305
ISBN-13: 978-0060875305
Amazon Price: $16.47

As a writer and sole caregiver for my 84-year-old mother who has Alzheimer’s, An Uncertain Inheritance: Writer’s on Caring for Family, edited by Nell Casey piqued my interest.

Writers produced the 19 essays gathered for this book, but more importantly, these essays were written by caregivers and those being cared for themselves with a no-holds-barred brutal honesty.

Under my currant circumstances, I thought this book might bring me to tears with each story, but I was wrong. It’s the powerful honesty, written eloquently in all its vulnerability, that will grab your heart, reduce you to tears, cause you to chuckle, and in some cases infuriate you, as it did me.

These stories weren’t fiction fantasies or pretty pictures of caregivers being selfless martyrs, as some may think, and the patients weren’t patiently waiting to die; these were true accounts of people — parents, children, spouses, friends, and siblings — who while living life, being all they could be, were stricken with illness or injury and needed help.

Caregiving for the chronically or critically ill is not a pretty subject. These writers opened their homes, hearts, and minds and let out every ounce of love, fear, frustration, and anger and shared the trials and tribulations they felt during their caregiving journey.

Each essay had its own merits, story, and sense of need.
Helen Schuman in her essay, My Father the Garbage Head, writes with poignant, heartwarming honesty of her father’s heart attack and strokes which led to his death.

Sam Lipsyte, in The Gift speaks openly and humorously about his drug abuse, how it wrecked his life, and while he “cleaned up his act” his mother let him move back in. Shortly after, his mother tells him and his sister that her breast cancer had recurred. He handled the news with a matter-of-fact acceptance that he would be her caregiver.
I was sort of relieved when I realized it was going to be me. Why knock yourself out trying to resuscitate your life when you can cling to somebody else’s. (12)

Ann Harleman’s My Other Husband describes her husband’s illness and the grueling bleakness and burden of MS.

MS is something that goes on happening—growing, changing, worsening—measurable not in weeks, months, or even years, but in decades. Something huge and black that descends slowly and inexorably and surrounds you. (21)

Her heartfelt love showed in each of the slices of their life she describes before MS took over. Her friend told her, “With chronic illness, a lot of times the caregiver ends up dying first. Out of stress and exhaustion. I’ve seen it.” (28) After years, frustrated and worn, she finally decided to place him in a nursing home “for his sake and hers.”

Eleanor Cooney’s essay Death in Slow Motion was formed from a former Harper’s Magazine article and later became a book under the same name. The eloquently written story is about her mother, writer Mary Draper, and her decline with Alzheimer’s Disease.

Cooney shoots from the hip with her openness of dealing with Alzheimer’s and the dilemmas and life interruptions her and her mate dealt with after moving her mother into an apartment close to their home. After just a few short months of her mother’s arrival, Cooney finds herself in an argument with her mate, who bolts out of the house to clear the air, and she stands in the dark with her “heart pounding with fury, sorrow, anguish.” (120)

She speaks of her mother’s lack of memory, repetitive conversations, questions, and how people with dementia “become unappetizing.”
They don’t bathe unless you make them…You will begin to find a person you love…odious. And you will hate yourself for feeling it. (126)

Susan Lehman, in Don’t Worry. It’s Not An Emergency tells a grim, yet capturing story of her nearly 300-pound mother, who spoke with a “thunder” voice, or “blast,” sat and ate sorbet, doughnuts, huge amounts of candy, and smoked cigarettes all day. Lehman moved her mother from her home in Ohio to live on the 8th floor of her apartment building so she could keep a closer watch on her. Her three children adored their grandmother and visit her daily.

The story of her mother’s illness is not the least bit funny, but Lehman manages to spin the tale with utmost charm and humor.
Did I mention that my mother had no teeth? And that as a result, her mouth flapped back and forth, like bird wings, over her face? Did I mention that my children called her Doodles? (167)

In the Land of Little Girls Ann Hood’s 36 hour experience with her 5-year-old’s illness and quick death was appalling in many ways. Hood describes not only the illness and death, but also her devastation at Gracie’s death and the horrible treatment she and her family were subjected to in the hospital.

An Uncertain Inheritance may never become a best seller due to the subject matter, but it should be a book that each and every human being should read and realize the reality it speaks about; they too may face the need to be cared for, or need to care for someone else. I only hope the readers have families like these who take that responsibility seriously regardless of time-consuming needs, the love, the fear, the frustration, the anger, and the rejection that may be a result from it.

Click HERE to purchase An Uncertain Inheritance: Writer’s on Caring for Family.

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BOOK REVIEW: the People’s Republic of Desire by Annie Wang

the People’s Republic of Desire
By Annie Wang
Harper Paperbacks
464 pp Paperback
ISBN-10: 0060782773
ISBN-13: 978-0060782771
Amazon Price: $11.16

Those who know little to nothing about Chinese culture will receive an eye-opening experience of how China was and how China is now through Annie Wang’s novel the People’s Republic of Desire.

Wang takes readers on a journey with four cosmopolitan women learning to live life in the new China. Niuniu, the book’s narrator is a Chinese American woman, who spent seven years living in the States obtaining her degree in journalism. In the book, Niuniu is now considered a “returnee” when goes back to China to get over a broken heart. What she meets upon return to her homeland is not the traditional Confucian values she left, but a new modern China where Western culture seems to have taken over—by extreme.

Niuniu, the narrator of the book, is called a “Jia Yangguiz” which means a “fake foreign devil” because of her Westernized values. Her friend Beibei is the owner of her own entertainment company and is married to a man who cheats, so Beibei deals with his infidelity by finding her own young lovers. Lulu is a fashion magazine editor who has been having a long-term affair with a married man, and thinks nothing of having several abortions to show her devotion to him. CC, also a returnee, struggles with her identity between Chinese and English.

In the People’s Republic of Desire the days of the 1989 idealism and the Tiananamen Sqaure protests seem forgotten to this new world and making a fast yuan, looking younger, more beautiful, and acting important seems to be of the most concern to this generation.

Wang uses these four woman to make humorous and sometimes sarcastic observations of the new China and accurately describes how Western culture has not only infiltrated China, but is taken to extreme by those who have experienced a world outside the Confucian values. What was once a China consumed with political passions, nepotism, unspoken occurrences, and taboos is now a world filled with all those things once discouraged—sex, divorce, pornography, and desire for material goods. It’s taken the phrase “keeping up with the Joneses” to an all-time high.

Wang offers a glimpse of modern day Beijing and what it would take for any woman—returnee or otherwise—to move forward and conquer dilemmas in the fast-moving Chinese culture. The characters joke that “nowadays, the world is for bad girls” and all the values of their youth have been lost to this new modern generation of faking their identity, origin, and accent. It seems that such a cultural shock would be displeasing to those who knew the old China, but instead these young women seem to be enjoying the newfound liberties.

If you’re looking for a quick read with a plot, you won’t find one. Each of the 101 chapters reads like individual short stories. Separate stories about friends, family, and other individuals who Niuniu is acquainted with or meets and through which Wang weaves a humorous and often sarcastic trip into Beijing, China.

The book is filled with topics of family, friends, Internet dating, infidelity, rich, poor, and many of the same ideals most cultures worry themselves about. Many of the chapters end with popular phrases that give the reader an insight into Chinese culture and language. Wang does seem to use Niuniu’s journalistic background to intertwine the other characters and come to a somewhat significant conclusion.
As the press release stated, “Wang paints an arresting portrait of a generation suffocating in desire. For love. For success. For security. For self actualization. And for the most elusive aspiration of all: happiness.”

With the People’s Republic of Desire, Wang does just that. She speaks not only of the new culture but also of the old ways and how China used to be. She may have educated readers about the new China with her knowledge of the Western and Chinese culture, but she also hit the nail on the head when it comes to showing most people’s needs. After all, aren’t most human beings striving for many of these same elusive dreams?

Click HERE to purchase the People’s Republic of Desire.

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Oatmeal and Dogs Don’t Mix

Or at least they shouldn’t!

I’ve had my hands full this past week going through files getting everything ready to prepare taxes. I should have known better than to try to do anything remotely time consuming while Mom was still up and awake. It just goes to prove that even though you “think” you know all there is to know about the sounds of the house, walker, Mom, and the dog, there is always a sound you don’t hear or one you haven’t heard before.

I was upstairs sitting on the floor in the midst of a pile of paperwork when I heard Mom’s walker rolling along the carpet. No problem. She was heading to the kitchen most likely to get a drink of water. Correct. I heard the water running. Then, I heard her say, “I’ll let you out in a minute.” Heard the door open next and her cussing because she was having a hard time getting the dog hooked to the chain on the porch. Less than a minute later, the dog’s tags on his collar are tingling, the door closes, and he starts barking, so I know he’s back inside. The reason I know this is because her dog only barks when someone comes in the door and he barks at the door after it’s closed. Strange, I know, but he’s done this for as long as I can remember.

Next I heard this strange sound I hadn’t heard through the monitor before. I had no idea what it was so I figured I’d better go check out what was going on.

Mom was in the dining room and headed for the living room by the time I got up off the floor and made it down the steps. I asked her if she needed anything and she said no and was very proud of herself for letting the dog out to do its business.

Two Feather was on his way down to get the mail, so I headed for the bathroom before he had a chance to come back up the hill.

You’re going to love this one.

When I went into the kitchen to let Two Feather in, I noticed a powdery substance in the dog’s dish. I looked closer and realized it was oatmeal. I turned around and saw an empty package of instant oatmeal on the kitchen counter. Once again I was brought to tears from laughing. I realized the sound I’d heard earlier was Mom laying the dog’s dish on the counter and back onto the floor. She hasn’t fed her dog for the past three years so naturally it wasn’t a sound I’d heard in a long while. With Alzheimer’s we can never be certain what is on our loved one’s mind. I’m not sure if she was thinking she was feeding him or giving him a “good boy” treat for going potty, but either way, he got oatmeal. ROFL

Guess I don’t need to tell you what else I hand my hands full with for the next two days. :)

Hint: Don’t give dogs oatmeal for dinner or a treat. It cleans them out as well as it does we humans. LOL

Anyway, in between getting paperwork sorted, and cleaning up dog doo-doo, I’ve been working on getting my “to be read” pile of books down to a more reasonable level. I’ve become so far behind. I send my apologies to the authors. I may be a bit behind, but I am reading in the order received and will complete them and give each book the attention it deserves.

So, anyone who’s not interested in books, you may want to skip the next few posts. Yes, I’m at it again—book reviews!

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Thanks For Making Me Laugh

It seems like weeks since I’ve posted and it’s only been five days. Good grief, where do I begin. Friday I still wasn’t feeling well so the day dragged on. I called Stacey’s cell phone and found out that she hadn’t called after the tornado scare because Trinity had spilled orange juice on her cell phone. She was able to retrieve messages but she couldn't make calls and calls wouldn’t go through. Thank you all for your concern for her and her family. As you already know from her post, they are all fine.

Late Friday evening my mom’s neighbor, Mrs. Y. called to let us know Mrs. E. (her mother) passed away. After I hung up, I cried. Mrs. E. was one of the sweetest ladies I’ve ever known. I never heard her say a bad word about anyone in the 55 years I knew her. She was able to enjoy many of her family members coming in to visit and celebrate her 102nd birthday the Saturday before her death. I’ll miss seeing Mrs. E. outside in the yard and waiving to her and her son, Billy, as we drive up the driveway past their house to Mom’s. She always said, “the good lord lets me live to take care of Billy.” I imagine Billy will move in with Mrs. Y. so she can care for him now. I have the utmost respect for her entire family. Daughter, grandchildren, and great grandchildren pitched in to help in the care of Mrs. E. There was an abundance of selfless people who gave of their time and love to show this 102-year-old woman the respect she deserved. I’m sure she left this earth knowing that she had a wonderful family.

Saturday morning I woke up Mom, got her washed and dressed, and made her breakfast. After she ate and was settled in her chair in the living room, I broke the news to her about Mrs. E. I didn’t think it would be easy, but I certainly didn’t expect what took place. First I had to explain who called. She didn’t recognize her neighbor’s name. After explaining that Mrs. Y. called and who Mrs. Y is, I proceeded to tell her that Mrs. Y’s mother died, and had to remind her that Mrs. E. was the other neighbor on our driveway. I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone trying to explain who her neighbors were, just to let her know one of them had passed away. If Mom didn’t have Alzheimer’s she would have been in tears about Mrs. E’s death—after all, she had been neighbors with her for 50 years—but this disease steals so much memory and emotion from our loved ones, it’s difficult to tell how they will react. Her reaction was far from what I’d expected. She merely said, “That’s a shame. She was old, wasn’t she?” A few minutes later she said, “That’s strange. You don’t think about death until it’s next door.” That was it! No emotion. No tears. No memory.

Sunday morning the lady from Mom’s church came to give her communion. Angel, Tim, and Katie came to visit around 11:15 as the lady was leaving. They stayed until 12:30. At 1:30 my brother, Ray, came to visit.

As I walked upstairs after getting a cup of coffee from the kitchen, I heard Mom tell Ray about a lady who visited yesterday (it was actually that morning) and how nice this lady was. She said something about her talking a lot and trying to sell her something (Avon maybe) but she just listened and didn’t buy anything. Later I heard her say that the lady comes every six months or so, then it was every couple weeks, and she buys all sorts of nice things from her.

I stay upstairs in my room while my brother visits, but when I come down to get something to drink or use the bathroom, I caught bits and pieces of her conversation, and Ray talks loud so it’s difficult not to hear some of what he says.

After about 45 minutes, I went downstairs to get Mom a cup of tea and was invited to sit with them in the living room.

I had to laugh at a few things I heard, though. Ray asked Mom if she had candy in her mouth. She said, “No, I got a new plate and it’s bothering me.” She told him she got it from someone other than her regular dentist about three weeks ago.

Ray doesn't come around Mom often enough to know she’s picked up a few new odd habits. One is running her tongue across the top of her plate and the back of her teeth. She does it all the time. Her mouth moves as she does this and she does look like she has something in her mouth. Her other little odd habit is her making a “humph” sound all the time. When she’d mumbled “humph” before Alzheimer’s, there was something on her mind that she was about to say, and I could expect an explanation for the sound she’d made. Normally, it was just something she thought of and wanted to tell me. Now, she just says, “humph” and nothing follows except another “humph.”

I don’t consider this a habit, but it is something I find quite fascinating about Mom having Alzheimer’s. When Mom can’t search her brain and find a reasonable and true answer to a question she’s asked, she’ll make up an answer. :D

So with that in mind, no, Mom didn’t go to a different dentist and she didn’t get a new plate, the nice lady who came Sunday morning was from the church to give her communion and she doesn’t sell Avon, Mom doesn’t read anymore because she’s not comprehending what she reads, she doesn’t crochet, she doesn’t watch TV at 6:00 PM because she's normally asleep by 5:30, and the dogs she says she sees in the yard are really deer.

There was very little of what Mom said that was real. She did remember that Mrs. E. had died and point blank said, “Oh, she’s dead,” when Ray asked how Mrs. E. was doing. That, and the fact that Mom likes to color, is about the only thing that came out of Mom’s mouth that was reality.

The funniest part about the entire day was when Mom and I were talking about the day before she went to bed. As I dress her for bed, I always talk about what we did all day to help remind her of what went on. Not that it does any good anymore, but it gives us something to talk about and she enjoys hearing how her day went.

I told her that the lady from the church doesn’t sell Avon, and the deer in the yard aren’t dogs. She laughed when I told her that is what she told Ray. What was truly hilarious was when I told her that she did tell Ray a few things that really happened. She asked me what she said. I said, “You remembered that Mrs. E. died and you told him you love to color.” She looked at me with this surprised look and said, “I like to color? Really?”

I couldn’t keep from laughing. Once again Mom went to bed after a hardy laugh about how this crazy disease gives us a little humor. I bent down to give her a kiss and tuck her in and she said, “Thanks for making me laugh.”

Hey Watching You, pass the word on to Ray. Just want to make sure everyone knows the reality of Alzheimer's. You can't always believe what our loved ones say is real.

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Thursday, January 10, 2008

Tornadoes in Alabama--Worried Mom Here

Day care was open today and routines were back to normal. Stacey called me in the early afternoon. She's such a stinker. She sounded like she was pretending to sniffle (you know those sounds I mentioned I heard on the phone that always told me something was wrong) and proceeded to tell me that there were 20 tornadoes headed her way in Alabama. She may really have been crying, but she hides her emotions very well from me lately. The schools closed and she had to leave work and pick up the kids. She said she'd call me back in an hour or so and let me know if everything was OK.

While talking to her, I told her she should have stayed in PA instead of moving back to Alabama. I remember how she used to call me just before every threat of a tornado. We bought her a crank generated weather band radio for Christmas last year, so she'd always be able to hear a weather report if the power went out. She was always a nervous wreck; asking me what she should do if she spotted one. There are no basements to hide in, so I always said she should grab a mattress, get everyone in the bathtub, and hold the mattress over them. If that wasn't possible, I joked that she should stand between the most sturdy doorframe, bend over, and kiss her butt goodbye. She always got a chuckle out of that. It's not so funny, when you actually think about it, though. There is nowhere to hide from a tornado down there.

You'd think the Army base would have underground bunkers, or something in place for the safety of their employees.

No call came in. I tried calling her cell phone after I got Mom settled and the call didn't go through. It disconnected after a single ring. I watched the weather report and couldn't tell if her area was hit or not.

I'll try again in the morning and see if I can get through. I hate not knowing. Guess I'm going to have to get a better communication system with her in cases like these.

Stacey, if you went back to work today, let me know you weren't bent over between the doorframe and how things went. You worry the pants off your mother and Two. :D

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Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Power Outage and No Day Care

When I pulled up to the day care this morning, there were no lights on inside. Evidently, high winds intermittently knocked down trees and power lines and the day care was within that power outage. They were on the phone calling to find out how soon power would be restored when we walked in. Their battery emergency power unit kicked in so there was heat and emergency lighting. I had second thoughts of leaving her, but figured Duquesne Light would have them up and running in no time being that they are a care facility. Well, that time didn’t come. I received a call at 9:00 requesting me to pick up Mom because Duquesne Light told them they probably wouldn’t have the power back on until 6:00 PM. The day care’s battery power died after two hours and they had no way to make breakfast or lunch and the building went dark when the emergency lights went out, so they called everyone and requested them to pick up their loved ones.

I wasn’t feeling well when I got up this morning and was looking forward to getting a few hours sleep. If I felt better, I was going to suggest that Two and I go out and do something—bowling, movie, anything to get out of the house and do something different. After I received the call to pick up Mom, I burst into tears—not because I had to pick her up, but because I realized how much I cherish my time with Two and because I realized how totally exhausted I’ve become. The way I was feeling, the last thing I wanted and needed to do was jump back into the car and drive. I needed rest—even if that rest was only to lie on the couch and relax.

It was strange walking into the building when I picked up Mom. There wasn’t the normal hum of conversation, chairs moving, and faces glancing toward the door to see who was being picked up first. The room was dark and quiet. I was filled with an uncomfortable and eerie feeling seeing only the silhouettes of all the clients huddled at the one large table in the front of the room waiting for their loved one’s to show up. The usual smiles were replaced with worried lines and wonder. I could hear one of the caregivers reassure a client that their loved one would be there soon and s/he wouldn’t be stuck there in the dark. I could only imagine how strange and frightening the stillness and darkness felt to them.

Naturally any change in our loved one’s routine muddles their thoughts, so when Mom walked in the house she wasn’t sure where she was; yet she headed straight for the bedroom to change clothes because that is normally what she does. I guided her away from the bedroom and into the living room to sit in her chair explaining that it was only 10:00 AM and we had the whole day ahead of us.

And indeed we did! My head was throbbing, my stomach and chest felt as if someone had beaten me with a baseball bat, my legs felt like rubber, and Mom was all ready to go to day care. She didn’t remember that she had been there and sent home because the electric was out, so we went through the “what day is this?” and “do I go to club tomorrow?” questions all day. Each time, I explained that she was at club for a few hours, but the power was out, so they sent everyone home, and she would go back tomorrow.

Mom knew I wasn’t feeling well, so after lunch she sat in her chair in the living room and colored while I stretched out on the couch where she could see that I was resting and knew I was OK.

After she was in bed for the evening and I knew she was sleeping, I went upstairs and fell asleep across the bed and hence a later post. Three hours rest and I’m going back for more. Night all...

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Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Tiny Tests of Integrity

Sometimes I think that we are all being tested during our time here on earth. Are we tested for our strength? Not our physical strength, but our inner strength. Our strength to endure things that we never thought we could endure. Are we tested for our love? Not our physical love, but our love of others, love of nature, love of all the blessings that have been bestowed upon us. Are we tested for our blessings? Not the blessings we receive, but the blessings we can bestow upon others. Are we tested for our knowledge? Not knowledge in the sense of how smart we are, but knowledge in the sense of whether or not we realize how many wonderful gifts we’ve been given: gifts of strength, endurance, love, and all the blessings that come with them.

Are we tested for our honor and integrity? I think we are. Throughout life, I’ve seen myself go through many tiny tests of integrity. It’s the simple little things that many people wouldn’t think were tests at all that I believe are tiny pieces of our big picture. It’s those simple little things we go through each day in our life and the choices we make that mold us into who we are and state whether or not our integrity is still in tact.

I went to the bank yesterday to make a deposit for my uncle and cash a few checks I received in the mail last week. I had the total of the checks, $105, stuffed back in a corner of my brain behind the list of errands I wanted to complete. As I waited for the teller to punch the keys of the keyboard on her computer, my brain was overflowing—thinking of the next thing on my errand list. I glanced around at the people in the bank, nearly a dozen, and casually watched them converse with other bank employees. When the teller came back to my window, she handed me my deposit receipt and counted out the money from the cashed checks. My mind swung back to my errand list as she put the money in an envelope and handed it to me. Normally, I count the cash again, right at the window in front of the teller, but I was anxious to get my errands completed, and I stuffed the envelope into my purse.

I walked out of the bank, opened the car door, and Two Feather asked me what was wrong. “I don’t know, maybe nothing,” I said. Something didn’t seem right to me as I walked out of the bank, but I couldn’t pinpoint what it was. I guess the expression on my face showed I was unsure of something. I put my purse on the seat and pulled out the bank envelope. “I think the teller counted wrong,” I said. “I was in a hurry and wasn’t paying much attention, but I think she gave me too much money.”

“You didn’t count it before you left the window? You always count the cash before you leave the window,” he said.

“No, I didn’t. I don’t know why. I was thinking of everything we had to do today.”

I pulled the cash out of the envelope and counted it. There was $145 in my hand. I put the money back in the envelope, went back into the bank, and called the teller over to the side. I told her I had three checks that totaled $105. She went to her station to pull out the checks and said, “Yes, it was $105.” I told her she had given me too much money. She looked at the checks again and said, “I thought I’d missed a check. I must have ran it through twice.” I handed her $40 back. She thanked me as she looked at the checks and her copy of the receipt and shook her head. She thanked me again before I walked out the door and I heard her telling the employee next to her, “You don’t see that type of honesty too often.” I turned, smiled, and said, “Happy New Year.”

I was still smiling when I got in the car with Two Feather. With the way the world is today, I wondered how many others would have returned the money once they realized the teller’s mistake. It felt good to know that my integrity is still in tact.

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BOOK REVIEW: The Writer Behind the Words by Dara Girard

The Writer Behind the Words
By Dara Girard
Ilori Press
September 30, 2007
131 pp Paperback
ISBN: 0977019152
Amazon Price: $10.46

There are shelves of good books about how to become a better writer; this book isn’t one of them. Disappointed and discouraged? Good—In that case, The Writer Behind the Words by Dara Girard can be just the book you are looking for.

Girard won’t tell you how to write a perfect query letter or which editors to query, but she will tell you how to identify the obstacles in your writing career and suggest ways to overcome them.

Drawing on her personal experience, disappointments, discouragements, and doubts in her writing career, Gerard has written an honest, straightforward, humorous book to help beginning writers survive the downfalls of the publishing world.

Don’t look for sugarcoated words with all the keys to success and all the right answers to all your writing needs. Girard didn’t sugarcoat anything. In fact, her book is loaded with scenarios gone wrong that could give you reason to put your pen down and quit writing. But following those downward spirals are plenty of suggestions and encouragement to keep writing and working on your craft.

Truth is, Girard hits on many of the pitfalls of a writing career. She tells you how to spot bad editors and agents and tells writers they can be their own dream killers by making excuses for not writing. There are even tips on how to tackle your own excuses.

The Writer Behind the Words is divided into three parts.

Part One: Assessing Yourself explains how beginning writers are looking for the secrets and steps to publication. Rather than tell you what success is, Girard tells you to “define success for yourself” and explains the differences between goals and missions. She reveals the reality of the six hard truths of publishing and the seven traits of successful writers.

Part Two: Surviving the Battlefield is a step-by-step instruction on how to overcome disappointment, discouragement, doubt and depression. Girard explains how rejections influence your writing career and offers tips on how to recover from rejection and move forward.

This reviewer even found humor in Girard’s thoughts about book reviewers:

Somebody with the intelligence of a pimple, somewhere is going to criticize your work; not constructively, mind you, but with the sole intent of demolishing your work and making themselves feel witty. …They are writers with hidden agendas. Some are kind; some are cruel. But they don’t count; readers do. (51-52)

While in some cases reviewers are as described; some are not, and they do count because they are readers. Girard offered humorous tips on what to do with a bad review as well. She suggests to “flush it down the toilet” or “get your dog to pee on it” or “find out what the reviewer disliked and then do that some more—That is what will make your work unique. (53)

Part Three: Four Steps to Resilience is where Girard tells beginning writers to get support, relax, know your limitations, and get a strategy.

She ends the books with seven pages of recommended resources and writer’s organizations.

In The Writer Behind the Words Girard put her heart, soul, and her disappointments and discouragements into words that could help beginning writers see the disappointments they may face before they find out the hard way as Girard did.

In the preface to her book Girard writes:

I wrote this book as a gift to other writers who are discouraged, feel hopeless or useless in a world that can make us—the artist—feel insignificant and invisible. …Isolation is deadly to the spirit, yet, as a writer, a necessary requirement at times. So let this little book be a friend that whispers to you: “You are important and your words are needed.”

This reviewer would recommend The Writer Behind the Words to beginning writers. They could benefit from Girard’s experience and find the encouragement and tips they need to overcome the pitfalls in their own writing career.

Click HERE to purchase The Writer Behind the Words.

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Sunday, January 06, 2008

Just Another AD Sunday

It’s Sunday! Just another AD Sunday on our little mountain. Though I repeated that today is Sunday numerous times, as I knew I would, and was able to tell Mom that she goes to “club” tomorrow, she wasn’t anything like she was yesterday. Today, she talked all day about her mom and dad and my dad. She told me stories that I’d heard years ago and I sat listening to her tell them as if it were the first time I’d heard them.

The last time I heard her tell those types of stories was five or six years ago. I was amazed at how she was able to recall the detail from those stories. If I didn’t know she had Alzheimer’s I certainly wouldn’t suspect it from her recall today. Her trip down memory lane was as spot on as the first time I’d heard the tales when I was a child.

I’m always amazed at how Alzheimer’s plays with our loved one’s mind. One day or moment it allows shards of light from the past, and another day or moment it steals every memory they have. It’s truly a mind-boggling puzzle to we caregivers never knowing what may or may not be in or on their minds. It’s scary. I can only imagine how it must feel for them.

The more I thought about it, the more I wondered if I may have short circuited those plaques and tangles in her brain with the short stories I read to her yesterday. She may not have recalled anything of what I was reading, but I wondered if it triggered her to remember her childhood and earlier years. I think it did because she hasn’t talked about her mom and dad in several years.

It was good feeling that I may have triggered some fond memories for her from her past in a round about way. I never knew her mom; she died before I was even thought of, but I’d always felt like I knew her from the stories my mom told me about her. Mom talked about when she first started dating Dad, and I had to button my lip to keep from finishing the story. I knew exactly what she’d told me before; I knew the story by heart, and today the story came out exactly as she once told it. Today, as she used to before, Mom spoke of her mother with such admiration. She started to tear up as she spoke of her and said, “She was such a lady.”

Mom said she wished I would have had the chance to know her mother and I said I wished I had, too. Then I said, “Mom, if she was half the lady you are, then I guess I know her through you.” Mom smiled and then laughed a long, hard belly laugh and said, “I’m not near the lady she was. I don’t hold a candle to her.”

“That’s funny,” I said. “I feel the same way. I’m not near the lady you are and I’ll never hold a candle to you.”

Mom got up out of her chair, pushed her walker over to me, hugged me, and kissed me on the cheek.

“You are my candle,” she said.

How do you respond to a compliment like that other than to say, “Thank you, Mom! I love you.”

*** I would have ended this post with that wonderful ending, but…

This little candle’s flame is nearly flickering out with all the imaginary visits from Mr. N. lately. Four times since 7:00 I’ve had to go downstairs and guide Mom back to bed after her thinking Mr. N. was in the living room. I asked Mom what she would do if Mr. N. were here? This is the part where I think I needed the walker to hold me up and keep my balance. She said, “I’d bring him back here in my room and take him to bed with me.”

Oh boy! Am I going to have fun tonight! ROFL This is getting to be a bit awkward.

As I explained to her that Mr. N. was not in the house and she should get some sleep, she looked at me strangely. Before I had the covers pulled up and tucked her in, she asked, “Who’s this Mr. N. guy you’re talking about?”

I burst out laughing and she laughed, too, as I said, “We’ll talk about it tomorrow, Mom. Let’s get some sleep.”

Here’s hoping. :D

PS. Oh, yes, I can't go without mentioning my mom's and my neighbor turned 102 today!
Happy Birthday Mrs. E.

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Saturday, January 05, 2008

Whatevers, Whatchamacallits, Dohickies, and What Day Is It?

From the moment Mom woke up this morning I knew she wasn’t going to have a good day. It always throws her off a bit on Saturday morning when she doesn’t go to day care, but this morning she was a bit more off than usual. She couldn’t figure out what clothes were what or how to put them on. This is normal lately, but today she couldn’t pull up the words for pants, shirt, socks, or shoes. They were all “whatevers,” “whatchamacallits, and “dohickies.”

After I got her dressed, I walked with her to her dresser and told her to comb her hair. I went into the kitchen to get her pills, juice, and breakfast together. When I went back into her bedroom, she still hadn’t combed her hair. She was standing in front of the dresser just staring at the things on top of it. I finally got her to comb her hair, and then she had to go to the bathroom. She was wandering around the house as if she was lost—couldn’t find the bathroom, and couldn’t remember how to get from the bathroom back to the kitchen. After breakfast, (she ate very little) I got her settled in her chair in the living room and put her coloring book and crayons on her table in front of her. She just stared at them for a moment, not interested in them, and leaned back in her chair.

Since she was having a particularly bad morning, I gathered all the bills, stamps, envelopes, and checkbooks and took them downstairs to the living room and set them on the table in front of my chair so I could write out checks for bills and keep her company at the same time. Big mistake. I wasn’t able to concentrate on the bills and repeat answers to questions at the same time. If I’m not looking directly at her while I’m talking, she gets angry and thinks I’m not paying attention. This is why I normally do all the paperwork upstairs in my room, but because she was having an off day, I thought I should be close to her. I ended up taking all the paperwork back upstairs to do later after she was in bed and I brought down the book for which I was reading to write a book review. She wasn’t in the mood to color or talk much, so I figured I’d read the book to her. She didn’t look like she had an inkling as to what I was reading, but she smiled as I read to her and asked if it was a book I wrote and wondered if she had a copy. I said, “I wish, Mom, my books haven’t even been submitted yet. But someday I’d do that.”

This is where she blew my mind. She asked me to stop reading the book I was reading and asked me to get one of my books and read it to her. She was never a horror fan, so those weren’t appropriate. Three of my six novels are horror, so they were out. Two of the six weren’t appropriate because of subject matter and that left me with only two other choices: read the romance novel that I co-authored with my friend, or read the humorous short stories I wrote about living on the farm with her and dad. I chose the short stories.

It’s been years since I wrote those stories and quite frankly I’d forgotten what I’d written. She didn’t associate that the stories were written about Dad, her, and me. She didn’t realize that those stories were true. They didn’t bring back one single memory for her. They were just stories about some little girl who helped her father and mother on the farm. As I read, she did laugh at all the right places, though. That made up for her not really knowing they were true stories about us. I’d written them as children’s stories for a series of children’s books. The way I see it, Alzheimer’s takes our loved ones back to being childlike. Since she found humor where the humor was meant, then I’d say I might have a pretty darn good chance of getting these little stories published as children’s books one day. There’s a bit of food for thought. I think, when the mood strikes, I’ll start sketching the illustrations for them as well. Maybe I’ll put that on my list of things to do for 2008. While I’m at it, I may as well work on my final edit of my novels, and try to put together a book proposal for each one.

But first…I’ll finish my book reviews. A few will be posted shortly.

By the way, Betsy, I haven’t missed an evening writing in my journal. (I do have a running journal of the three years I’ve been here with Mom.) This one, though, is just for me. ;)

The rest of the day and early evening wasn’t much better than the morning. Mom was confused all day. She ate very little lunch and dinner and couldn’t wait to go to bed to get up in the morning to go to club. I felt so bad for her that she couldn’t remember that today is Saturday. She probably asked me more than 40 times today “is tomorrow Monday?” or “what day is it?” and each time she was disappointed when I showed her the calendar and told her tomorrow is Sunday. Even marking the days off on the calendar doesn’t help anymore.

It was a strange day all the way around. She kept telling me she felt warm. Mom never “feels” warm! She always says she’s cold and when I touch her she feels warm to me. She used to always ask everyone if they were cold, too. When my dad would hear her say she was cold, he’d always say to me, “Joanne, go get your sweater on, your mother’s cold.” It was a standing joke in the house.

Tonight, when I kissed her before I turned her light out, her cheeks and forehead felt cool, yet she was still telling me how toasty warm she felt. Odd. Just odd.

Well, tomorrow is Sunday and I’m prepared to answer the same questions over and over. Good thing is…tomorrow I can tell her tomorrow is Monday. :D

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Friday, January 04, 2008

Turkey Heads Back To The Woods

On Wednesday morning when I was ready to take Mom to day care I noticed a turkey hobbling through the snow in the front yard. I watched it flap its wings and move a few inches through the snow and fall. I’d watched this very same turkey all spring and summer scratch for food in the yard. The reason I know it was the same turkey is because it couldn’t fly. It had no tail feathers. It was using its wings to make its way into the woods for shelter from the cold. I got out of the car and watched it hobble and wing itself down the hill behind Mom’s house and settle beneath a tree and fallen branches. I knew if the turkey weren’t able to walk and scratch for food, it would die.

When I got to my house that morning, I told Two Feather about it and we rode down to Mom’s to see if the turkey was still there. We walked down the slope just behind the house and there she was, huddled beneath a pile of brush. She was still alive.

Two and I walked up to it and when we got within just a few feet of her, she pushed herself off the ground and hobbled down the hill using her wings for balance. She was a fast ball of feathers, but not fast enough for Two. He ran down the hill and grabbed her before she crawled beneath another pile of brush. He carried her up the hill and we took her home.

She had a broken leg. Two put a pop cycle stick splint on her leg and taped it so she could heal. All day Wednesday and Thursday, he fed her birdseed and was able to get her to drink water. He kept her safe and warm in the shed out behind our house. Thursday she was a bit spunky and got up on her foot and ran around the shed. This morning when he went out to the shed to feed her, she was standing by the door waiting for him.

This afternoon we rode back down Mom’s with her in his lap. He held her for a moment, stroked her head and set her free back into the woods.

The splint he made seemed to be holding up very well. I wasn’t able to get another shot of her as she ran down the hill behind Mom’s house. I hope she makes it through the winter. We’ll know next spring if we see that funny looking turkey without a tail.

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Winter Snow and Bitter Cold

Winter is here. We had four inches of snow dumped on us overnight on January 2. I love looking at the snow, but I can't stand the bitter cold that comes with it.

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Keith’s Reflective Questions—For Your New Year Consideration

With Keith’s permission, I give you his list of reflective questions for the New Year. Keith is one fantastic guy at the Absolute Write website where I moderate the Freelance Forum. I hope you enjoy his New Year reflections and find them as thought-provoking as I did, and I hope they help you consider all that is wonderful in your life as well. Thank you, Keith!!! You’re a gem!

In Keith’s own words: Joanne, I'm grateful that others might be finding the list of questions useful. Feel free to use the entire post if you think it will help anyone. Above all else, that's what it's about!

Thanks, Joanne.

What's everyone doing for New Year's Eve? It's my second favorite time of year and I'm really excited for this one! I don't go out. I stay home, alone, and reflect on the past year. Here are just a few things I try to consider:

What have I done with the year? Which goals did I accomplish? Which ones didn't I? Why not? What am I willing to change about myself to accomplish those goals? What do I want to focus on in 2008? If I accomplish only one thing next year, what's the one most important thing that should be?

Where have I gotten off-track in my life spiritually, emotionally, physically, etc? Have I fallen into a rut (which is just a grave with the two ends knocked out)? Has my routine become complacent and overly comfortable? Where have I gotten lazy? What do I procrastinate on?

Am I living the life I want to live? Granted, no one person has all of their dreams come true, but am I still dreaming? Have I been reaching for them? Am I enjoying what I'm doing or did I just fall into it? Am I living deliberately, and on purpose, or am I just taking everything as it happens and coping with it all? (I don't want to just cope, I want to live my life!) What's been holding me back and how can I change it? What more could I do?

What are my priorities -- my real priorities? Have they taken the back-burner to lesser important things in life? Have other people's (coworkers', boss', relatives', friends', etc.,) needs and urgencies enveloped me to the point that mine, and my families', come second? Have I said "no" enough? Have I said "yes" to enough of the right things? How have I been spending my time? Have errands and work robbed too much of my time from family and friends? Do I have a work/life balance? What can I change to make it better? If writing is important to me, as I say it is, have I allowed enough "me" time to enjoy it? (That's allowed, you know.)

How do my family and friends see me as of right now? Am I always busy? Am I short-tempered and harsh with my words? Have I taken extra moments to really give the people in my life those extra bits of attention to let them know I love them? When they try to talk to me, do I give them my attention or chat as I'm busy with other things? Who would I like to spend more time with? What relationships in my life need to be pruned back or cut off?

What are my financial goals? How do they compare to how I've been spending? Are there things I could cut out completely to help save expenses? (For example, do I really need a land line and cell phones? Could we live without cable channels and just stick with the basics? Am I willing to bring my lunch to work every day?) What am I willing to do to reach my financial goals?

How's my spiritual life? What do I believe? Have I taken the time to really think about this and know why I believe what I believe? Or do I just believe what I do because others have said it? Do my beliefs play out in my life or are they, in reality, just nice sentiments that I don't really put into practice?

How have I been blessed? If you keep a notebook of all the good things that happen, this is a good time to read through it and remember the things we may have forgotten during the bad times. (Personally, I do not journal. It's too Oprah.)

Once all of this reflection is done, I spend time in prayer - in thanks. I do this all through the year, too, but this is a very special day that I set aside to spend with God, without interruption. It's gotten addictive and I can't see spending my December 31st any other way!

How about you?

Thank you for letting me share this, Keith!

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Tuesday, January 01, 2008

First Day of 2008

The first day of 2008 started off with new thoughts and new goals. After midnight, I pulled out my new journal and wrote in it for the first day of the New Year. I began my journal by attaching Keith’s list of reflective questions inside the front cover and wrote my heartfelt answers to those questions. I even made a list of simple, yet manageable goals for the year. I’ll talk about those later, but one goal is to write in my journal every night before I go to sleep. Thank you, Betsy. I’m taking your writing challenge. Lights were out and I was asleep by 1:00.

Two is an early riser, but I was surprised when he woke up at 4:30 and told me he was going home. I walked him downstairs and went back to bed. I didn’t get up until 9:00. He came back down and sat with me to enjoy our morning coffee as we always do. He looked unusually tired and when I asked him about it, he said, “No wonder you’re always so tired. I know Mother gets up during the night, but she didn’t last night. Even when she doesn’t get up, you can’t possibly get any sleep with the way she snores.” I burst out laughing and so did he. He’s right. Whether Mom gets up during the night or not, I don’t get much sleep with her constant snoring. Funny though, last night, I didn’t hear a thing—not her snoring, not his snoring, nothing—I slept fine. I felt so comfortable with him there; I slept sound for the first time in a long time.

He left to go back home and I got Mom up to get her day started. I got her breakfast ready and we sat and talked while she ate. Then I convinced her to get into the shower without too much of a problem. We didn’t finish with all the bathroom detail until just before noon.

Mom sat at the kitchen table and peeled potatoes while I put the traditional pork and sauerkraut and kielbasa in a roasting pan to make for dinner. Once everything was in the oven, she sat in her chair in the living room and colored for the afternoon, while I sat in my chair and tried to finish writing a book review that’s been far too long in finishing.

I called Two around 4:00 and he came down to eat dinner with us. The conversation at dinner was quite different. For a moment, we thought Mom was fairly lucid when she asked, “Have my sons called?” “No, Mom. No one has called today.” “When do I go back to club?” “Tomorrow Mom. You had today off because of the holiday.” Then she looked at Two and said, “I’m glad you’re here for dinner.” It’s so difficult at times to know if Mom knows Two or not. She’s so good at talking to people and sounding like she’s a best friend with them. It wasn’t long before I realized she didn’t even know me. Or at least I think she didn’t. When she said, “You two are my best friends,” I sort of got the idea that at that moment, Two and I were, in her mind, just friends of hers. Then again, she may have been sincere about her statement. She’s always said I’m her best friend. I didn’t interject that I was her daughter, being her best friend has always been fine with me.

After dinner, Two sat and talked for a while and then went back to our house. It was time to get Mom washed and dressed for bed and she was sound asleep by 5:30.

Just now as I was ready to close this writing, I heard her get out of bed. She woke up at 9:00 after a dream and yelled up the steps. I started walking down the steps to see what was bothering her and she asked me if Mr. N. was upstairs. I told her no and directed her back to bed. On the days she isn’t at day care she asks all day when she goes back. Evidently, she misses being with her friends there. Glad I slept sound last night. I think tonight will be a long night again since Mr. N. is on her mind. Goodnight everyone. I’m going to catch my z’s in between Mr. N.’s visits. LOL

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