Category Archives: I Wonder…

Autumn is here but we are not ready for Fall

Leesylvania State Park, 2015
Leesylvania State Park, 2015

On our way to Papa’s physical therapy appointment this afternoon he stumbled and slowly, almost gracefully, fell down in our driveway.  I ran around the car and was able to get him up on his knees next to the car but could not lift him to his feet.  I told Papa to hang tight and I would get Jim.  Ya, Will’s Dad can lift me.  Frantically knocking next door I realized Jim was not home.  Seeing another neighbor’s orange car, I ran across the street hoping Juliette’s daughter was visiting, but she was not home either.  As the light drizzle was turning back into rain I hurried back across the street hoping to get us inside before it started pouring.  I took a deep breath, rolled down the car window, turned Papa around and told him he was going to have to pull with me.   This is ridiculous I don’t know why I am so weak.  Neither do we Papa.  We counted and pulled for several minutes before I was able to get him up to a standing position.  Papa looked at me with sad eyes and diligently started getting back into the car for PT.  I laughed and told him no way, we were going inside.  The poor man was covered in mud but I told him our 15 minutes of pushing and pulling was enough PT for the day.  I might have imagined a little bit of a skip in his step as he made his way back inside, but I know that was not really the case.

I weigh a lot, I didn’t mess you up did I?  No, Papa, I am ok.  I forgot, you got two packages today, one looks pretty big.   Thanks, they are your new shower seat.  WOW, that was quick.  Papa also fell twice this past weekend.  He stumbled once near our front door and the second time he slipped in the shower.   Doug was home both times to help him get up and fortunately other than a bit of wounded pride he was not hurt.  Papa really does defy gravity and goes down slowly if he loses his balance.  What worries us is that these are the several times we know about.  What happens while we are not in the same room with him?  What happens during the day while we are at work?  What happens if in his next fall he goes down harder?

We have seen a significant and steady decline in Papa’s stability for the past two months, and have done everything we can to find out what is going on. Since mid-August in addition to twice a week physical therapy we have taken him to his:

  • Primary care doctor. This was after we witnessed his first fall which produced two black eyes.   He had a complete set of labs, an ultrasound on legs to check for any clots, an MRI to head, an x-ray to shoulder, and a referral to his neurologist.
  •  Audiologist.  His hearing aid was not working properly because his filter was put in backwards.  Huh, I wonder how that happened?
  •  Neurologist.  MRI to his back to make sure no impingements, a referral for PT, and a referral for nerve testing.
  • Ophthalmologist.  A regular scheduled glaucoma follow-up.
  • Neurologist.  Additional labs and nerve testing to show how severe his neuropathy truly is.
  • Primary care doctor. A follow-up to go over the labs showing nothing significant and a cardiologist referral.
  • Audiologist.  I can’t hear the TV, can you?  This time a speaker needed to be replaced.
  • Cardiologist.  EKG, ultrasound to carotid artery, a 24 hour Holter monitor, and a referral for a tilt test next week.
  • Primary care doctor. No one believes me, I am dizzy.  It is difficult for Papa to explain if he is dizzy or if he is unbalanced.  I am not stable, I just don’t feel steady.  The room is not moving; I just can’t stand still.  This time his doctor discontinued several of his medications to see if that could possibly help.  Unfortunately, the first meds that are removed are medications to improve urination meaning he now has to get up more frequently to go to the bathroom.
  • Audiologist.  My hearing aid won’t stay in.   Papa loves Dr. Goodwine and Kelly, he would go in weekly if we took him, she changed the seal this time and promised to make a new mold if that didn’t help.

While It is extremely worrisome for us it is very confusing for Papa; What is wrong with me?  Why can’t they just fix it?  Can’t I take another pill?   He doesn’t want to hear it could be weakness from inactivity, or that he needs to continue to eat a balanced diet to keep all of his strength.  Maybe it is from my accident 40 years ago.   Maybe it’s my medications.  He doesn’t believe it probably won’t get any better.  He doesn’t always want to go to physical therapy but after 6 weeks he knows we aren’t going to back down so he despondently gets up when he knows he has an appointment.  Hopefully next week will be better.

Tonight after dinner I reminded him that a year ago we all went on a hot air balloon to see the shades of autumn, and showed him photos to jog his memory.  This past weekend we went for a drive to a state park several miles away to view the same colors.  Papa smiled, then looked outside and asked, what will I do next year?   I couldn’t answer, I have a feeling there will be many more falls between now and then.IMG_6906

I Shouldn’t Have Looked

I often have to remind myself not to second guess Papa’s actions, not to try to figure out why he says certain things or most importantly not to take something Papa might say or do personally.   Papa returned home from his five weeks of summer travels considerably aged.  He has been cold, tired, not eating well and having a difficult time walking, he is completely unmotivated.  His walking and balance have deteriorated to the point he cannot walk down the hallway without holding on, and walking outside on a sidewalk has become downright dangerous without holding on to something or someone.  Papa is not in any pain but says his feet feel mushy or unstable.  He worries what people will think when they see him shuffling down the street alongside me and repeats several times as we walk our loop around the block that the neighbors probably think I’m drunk.  His daily ½ – 1 mile walks have resorted to me insisting he moves it before he loses it.   

FullSizeRenderVersion 2We noticed something was wrong shortly after we picked him up in Chicago and he stumbled down a couple of stairs.  The next day he fell in the shower and ended up with a goose egg on his forehead and one day later looked like he had been in the ring for a couple of rounds with Rocky.  In a week and a half we have taken him to  see his primary care doctor, in for x-rays, an MRI and labs even though he had a complete physical just days before he left for vacation.  We have taken him to the neurologist who will continue with another battery of nerve testing tomorrow and he will begin physical therapy later this week.  Throw in an eye appointment, a trip to the dentist, several baseball games and a walk around the Iwo Jima Memorial and Papa has not had much time to sit and home and watch his westerns or nap.Version 3

Papa showers or says he bathes before church or his various doctor appointments, and he mumbles his dissatisfaction when we have several appointments scheduled in a given week, such as this week.  We hear the water turn on and run for a few minutes but do not hear any movement in the bathroom during the “shower”.  No sliding of the curtain, stepping into the tub, or dropping the bar of soap, and what easily gives his ploy away is there are no wet towels after his shower.  Does Papa think he is fooling us?   His balance is off; can he even step into the tub now?  Is he worried about falling in the shower like he did a couple of weeks ago?  Or is he just being lazy and it is easier to put on sweat pants and say I ain’t dirty, I don’t sweat.  We need to remind him we have a walk in shower off of the master bath if that would make things easier for him, but will that be letting him know we are in on his ruse? IMG_6447 (1)

Yesterday I surprised Papa and was home by the early afternoon.  I smiled when I pulled into the driveway and saw him sitting on the porch.  YEA, he was outside on his own!  There was no prodding to get him out of his brown recliner.  No bribes.  I sat in the wicker chair next to him and asked him about his day.  What time did you get up?  7:30, I always get up at 7:30.  This is funny to us, because on days I work from home or on the weekends he will easily stay in bed until 9 or 10 o’clock.  To me it is backwards, why doesn’t he sleep on the days we are at work?   Papa’s morning routine might be confusing but it is consistent. We know we have to wake him up for early morning appointments or church but I can guarantee when I get home this afternoon and ask him when he got up I will hear 7:30, I always get up at 7:30.  Does he really get up then?  Does he know his schedule doesn’t make any sense?

I moved on to ask Papa what he had eaten that day even though I knew this answer, or thought I did.  We make sure he has options laid out before we leave every morning.  A banana and some prunes are always on the counter next to his coffee, giving him something to eat before he takes his morning medications.  We have cold cereal, oatmeal, or bagels ready for him to choose for his breakfast and his lunch is always prepared and in the refrigerator.  Of course we remind him, if anything else looks good eat it, and some days we come home and he tells us he had peanut butter and jelly or we see PowerBar or ice cream wrappers tucked in the trash and know he filled up on something else.  We know he isn’t going hungry, or shouldn’t be.  I had a BIG bowl of cereal for breakfast. We chatted a bit more on the upcoming Nat’s game against the Cardinals, the beautiful summer weather and the neighborhood kids first day of school before I proceeded in to the kitchen to unload the dishwasher and start dinner.  I didn’t see his bowl in the sink, or his lunch dish so I peeked out the door and asked him where they were.   I put it in the dishwasher.  I don’t see it, what color it is?  Yellow.  I still don’t see it, the dishes were clean come show me so I can put the rest away.  Papa ambled inside slowly running his fingers along the wall and across the counter top before he reached down and pulled out a very small green bowl.  I laughed.  Papa you ate cereal in that,  I don’t think that bowl will hold a half of a cup.  Oh, I just had a couple of prunes.  I shook my head,  What about your lunch?  I wasn’t hungry, I don’t eat like I used to….  Papa didn’t dig himself in any deeper, he was not happy but he looked at me and knew what I was about to say.  He  sat down to eat his chicken pita sandwich while I finished unloading the dishwasher and lecture him on the importance of eating several small meals throughout the day.   I walked upstairs to answer the phone and he still had more than half of his sandwich left but by the time I was back in the kitchen, less than 2 minutes later, he was loading an empty plate in the dishwasher.  WOW!  Did you finish your sandwich?  Yes, I ate it all.  Jokingly I asked him if he threw it away, knowing I had only been gone a short time.  No, I didn’t throw it away, I eat fast. 

I gave Papa the choice of running errands with me and pushing a cart in the store or walking around the block.  I can’t walk.  Papa doesn’t know Uncle Leo from Seinfeld, but he sure sounds like him.  I am an old man.  I’ll walk tomorrow.  I need a break.  I can’t.  It’ll take me thirty minutes to change clothes. Papa knew I was not going to give in and slid his hand along the wall as he staggered up to change clothes.  I took pity on him and this once I gave him the day off. 

Before I left to run errands I did the unthinkable.  I looked in the trash and sure enough wrapped in a napkin was the second half of his sandwich.  I knew I would find it just like an unused  big yellow cereal bowl sitting in the cupboard , or a dry towel in the bathroom after his shower.   I knew he wasn’t telling me the truth.   Why can’t he tell me he can’t eat all of his meal right now, or just say I don’t like chicken, or I took a nap and forgot to eat?   Why can’t he say he doesn’t want to shower or it is too hard to step over the tub?  Has he lost some of his confidence to take a shower?  Does he not care about his hygiene and is holding on to his last sense of control?  Is he choosing not to eat or is he truly not hungry?  If he is hungry is it just too much work to walk up from the family room to warm up his breakfast or lunch?   I know that Papa doesn’t want to let us down.  He doesn’t want to be a burden to anyone.  Every night as we say goodnight he says, I don’t know what I would do without you kids. 

I can rationally say I shouldn’t take his words or actions personally, but sometimes I do.  I want him to be happy and healthy and active without us constantly pushing him.  I want him to spend time with each of his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  I want him to call people to say HI or have the confidence he used to have and not be so quick to tell us he can’t or he is old and tired.  He is not letting us down, but today I think I let myself down, I should have kept playing the game, I shouldn’t have looked in the trash.

I Wonder…

Papa says I wonder all the time. He wonders about things he has done, things he wants to do, places we are going or how something is put together. Fortunately we can often fill in some of the blanks for him. We can show Papa photographs and offer gentle reminders of an occasion he may not remember. We can Google to see what a car looked like in 1945 or how old a building is. We can show him a map to remind him the distance to a city we are traveling to or which direction we are headed. We can look up a person he wants to remember, or a baseball player he wants to learn about or a phone number for him to call. We can use YouTube to see how something is put together or taken apart, or even how a jigsaw puzzle is cut. Papa’s wonders may be infinite, but because they are often missing memories we are able to fill in the blanks and find answers to his many questions.

Today’s post is not about Papa.

Sitting in church this morning I looked at the date on the bulletin and I began to think, then ponder, or as some people might say, to wonder…  January 11 would have been my Dad’s birthday and today it brought with it a rush of wonders, things I was curious about. Unfortunately not all my questions can be answered as easily as Papas.  You can’t Google everything.

Fredrick Scott Will Sr. and family, 1973, Hannibal, Missouri
Fredrick Scott Will Sr. and family, 1973, Hannibal, Missouri

My Dad passed away in 1977 from idiopathic cardiomyopathy at the age of 41.  Even though he was very young, he left behind a legacy he could have never have imagined. I have no doubt that he would have been more than proud of my Mom, the beautiful and strong young wife he left behind to continue raising their family, and of the families that my brothers and I have built.

Memories are personal and I was just a kid when my Dad got sick so forgive me if some of my recollections are a bit skewed. Certain memories circa 1977 are remembered quite vividly while others recollections probably not so much. I wish I remembered more. My Mom was teaching fourth grade at Spring Bluff Elementary School in Winthrop Harbor, Illinois and she sported around in a canary yellow Ford Maverick.   My adorable younger brother Hayden was only seven. “Hogi”, the nickname I gave him when he was born, has Downs Syndrome and had recently started living at the Waukegan Developmental Center weekdays but came home every weekend. I vividly recall the Friday afternoon drives with my Mom and Dad to pick him up, especially the time our car broke down.  Steve was a senior in High School and Scott was both going to college and also helping to fill in for my dad at Will, Inc. the paper supply business that my Dad and Grandfather owned in Zion.   Star Wars came out that summer and Elvis died. I recall my dad being sick for about 6 or 7 months, but maybe it was longer. My Grandma Nelson lived in Galesburg but stayed with us that spring, and when she drove me around town she not only drove very slow, she would only make right hand turns while driving. Sure she explained it was because she did not know the area but I knew she just did not like crossing traffic. My class went on a school trip to Washington DC in June just after school ended and my mom had to bribe me to go by promising that I could call home collect every evening to check on Dad, and I would be allowed to fly home by myself, if needed. While I did not have to fly home from that trip, I did experience my first flight a few short weeks later to visit my Great Aunt and Uncle in Florida after my Dad’s funeral. Scattered memories that are almost 40 years old; just short of the age my Dad lived to be.

I do not recall ever seeing my Dad’s obituary, would seeing it bring back any memories? Would it answer any of my questions? I made a quick call to my brother this afternoon and he sent a copy of the newspaper clipping to my inbox before we hung up the phone. It didn’t teach me anything new. Sure, my Dad was a former Trustee and Zoning Board member for our small town, he probably served with some of my friend’s dads and I never realized it. They probably never realized it either.   He was a member of the Moose Lodge, the Masons and Medinah Temple in Chicago just like many of my classmate’s fathers may have been. These were just a few more simple facts that just needed a bit of prodding for me to remember.

I know my Dad would have been proud of me and my brothers. I know he would have been delighted to know Doug, along with my brothers spouses, and would have been ecstatic to watch me graduate or walk me down the aisle on my wedding day. I know he would have been amazed to see the choices I have made, the travels I have been on, and the life I have built. He would have been enamored as he held each one of his grandchildren and great-grandchildren and smiled to be able to see himself in them, just like we do. I know he may not have approved of every choice that was made, but I believe he would have always stood behind me. However knowing these things does not stop my curiosity from wondering how my life would have been different had he not gotten sick. Would his influence or encouragements altered decisions I made? Would it have changed my life? But my biggest question, what I think about the most is I wonder what his thoughts were in 1977 as he knew he was leaving his family. I wonder what he wondered.


Up, Up and Away

I am not sure if my bucket list is actually longer than my husband’s or if it is just my active drive to complete the many items on my unwritten quest for adventure. Doug knows me, and my imaginary list well and last Christmas he thoughtfully provided me with a voucher for a hot air balloon ride. I have been patiently waiting until autumn to see the seasonal changes from above and put the proverbial check in the hot air balloon box. Over the past two weeks our ride has been scheduled, cancelled, and rescheduled several times due to less than optimal weather conditions. Papa knew Doug and I were planning a ride and yesterday when we asked Papa if he wanted to go with us up into the hot air balloon. He answered immediately; sure I’ll try it!

Today was a beautiful fall day, the temperature was in the mid 70’s, there was minimal wind and the visibility was amazing. We received the mid morning call that the flight was on.  I raced home from work and Doug tried to contact Papa to let him know that today was the day.   Calling multiple times Doug was not able to reach Papa by phone. In a bit of a panic we arrived to home to find the power had been out all morning. We have cordless handsets located throughout our home, but only one hard-wired phone. Papa heard the telephone ringing as we tried to contact him, but the wireless model that he was attempting to answer was not working. I can only imagine how frustrating it must have been to keep trying to answer a telephone only to hear it continue to ring.   After we pulled up Papa was standing looking out of the window. The power is out, and the phones aren’t working right, they only ring and ring. The mystery of the ringing phone was quickly forgotten when we told Papa we were going to ride in a hot air balloon. Today is the day! He was ready to go.

Papa quietly sat in the back seat for our hour-long drive just looking out the window. We tried to make conversation but he provided the short one-word answers he typical does when he is nervous. It was a scenic drive but I was concerned that he might have been second-guessing his decision to come with us. Shortly after we arrived at the meeting place the truck pulled up and he saw the basket all of his questions came flowing out like a gust of wind. Where are we, is this still Virginia? It is country, not like where you live. Where is the balloon? It looks like a big basket, are we all going to go in that basket? How does the balloon fill? What kind of fuel do they use? I wonder what makes it float? DSC02167The pilot quickly started unpacking and putting everyone to work while Papa started checking it out just as if he was looking under the hood of one of his old cars. I asked him if he was excited and ready to go and Papa just smiled and nodded.

We have to be quick!
We have to be quick!

The balloon was quickly laid out and filled with air using two large fans while the pilot gave us instruction. He explained he was going to fire the burner, the gondola would stand upright and just like watching the Wizard of Oz we would have to quickly climb in the basket before it floated off. This is when my second wave of concern hit. Papa is not very flexible…or fast. Hang on; my leg doesn’t bend that far. Someone pushed, another person pulled and a third person helped him lift his leg over the edge. He rolled over the rim, grinned and off we went. Wow! It is floating. Wow! This is nice.

I just want to know how you steer this thing...
I just want to know how you steer this thing…

Several times during the flight Papa looked at the pilot and asked, how do you steer this? I just wonder how you make it go to the right place? The pilot would chat with Papa for a few moments on an unrelated subject and then have to turn back the burner hoping to distract him. Papa would look at the beautiful fall foliage or watch the animals below and several minutes later he would ask again, how do you make it go where you want it to? DSC02241I am not sure he understood that the pilot can only change our altitude by climbing or descending and other than that we were depending on favorable wind currents to direct us safely from one open field to another, and I don’t think any of us was about to explain the flight of a hot air balloon mid-air. DSC02245We enjoyed our spectacular birds eye view and changed the subject each time Papa asked about how the balloon moves.

After a gentle upright landing we watched the pilots and chaser pack up the balloon and I mentioned to Papa that he had been very quiet on our drive and asked if he had been concerned before we went up. The words, which seemed so sparse as we were in the car, were still easily flowing.  I wasn’t worried, I was just thinking about what it would be like. I laughed and mentioned that this was a new experience for all of us, we didn’t know what to expect either and we were very happy he had wanted to go with us. Was it what you expected? Did you have fun? DSC02253Yes! It was smooth; I never knew they used fans to fill it with air. I just couldn’t imagine that it would be that smooth or quiet. Well, it was pretty loud when he turned on the fire. Did you see the animals? I liked watching the animals. Did you hear the dogs bark? I never knew sound travels up in the air. Why do they use a basket? I don’t know how it held us; it was just a basket, a wicker basket. How far did we go? How are we going to get back to our car? I never thought I would ride in a balloon at eighty. I just never thought I would have the opportunity. I liked it. Thank you, I really did like it.

DSC02251Papa had as much fun on our adventure as we did. And now he gets to check something off on his bucket or in this instance, his basket list.

We declined the champagne this time, but many balloonists recite the Balloonist’s Blessing with the toast at the end of every ride:

The winds have welcomed you with softness

The sun has blessed you with its warm hands

You have flown so high and so well

That God has joined you in your laughter

and set you gently back into the loving arms of mother earth.



Marocco Mayhem

Always up for a bit of family competition we have competed against each other in the Marocco Mayhem – NCAA March Madness bracket for the past couple of years.  This year Papa joined us with his picks and the stakes were even bigger than just competing for family fun.  Like millions of others we took our time choosing the right teams we were certain one of us was bound to have the perfect bracket and win Warren Buffet’s $1,000,000,000.00.

Our family bracket is a small sample of most office or friendly bracket pools.  Some people in our family follow college basketball; they watch games and closely follow stats for the entire season.  They are aware of which players are hot for the tournament and who is currently fighting an injury.  They follow the coaches to know who has carried their team to the end in the past.  They know who plays well together and who buckles under pressure and who fights as the underdog.   They are able to make a fairly educated guess of how the tournament will play out.  I am not in this group….

Then we have the middle group.  They follow some games and see a few sports highlights on the evening news.  They know a handful of teams well enough to carry on a conversation and are even able to throw a few players or coaches’ names around.  They have allegiances to their alma maters, but don’t necessarily follow the complete lineup of this year’s top 64.  They want to know the teams, but really don’t have the time and/or energy to commit to “know all about it”.  So, they are able to make a somewhat informed guess as they fill in their brackets.  I wish I were in this group…

We also have the guessers.  People like me.  I admit it; I look at two teams, look at their ranks, and flat-out guess.   Team A sounds better than team B, or I like orange over blue or that is a fun city, or I know someone who went to school there.  Sure us guessers might recall a bit of a conversation, (especially when it is repeated numerous times by others who think we are not listening) such as Virginia has a great team this year, that has not happened since Ralph Sampson in the early eighties or it is a great year for the Big 10 (or 12 or 14…) this year, but none of that plays a part in our picks.  For me it really is just a guess.

We explained the bracket to Papa and we had every intention of sitting at the computer with him while he made his picks.  His main concern was who do I pay, how much is it, and what do we win?  Time got the best of us and before we knew what happened it was 12:55 on March 20th, and we had five minutes to get Papa’s picks in.   He had just left an appointment and was in the car with Doug so we put him on speakerphone while I ran through the bracket asking him his picks.  I would name two teams and Papa would give me his winner.  Unfazed that time was not on his side I kept trying to speed things along but Papa would not be rushed.   He took his time asking me to repeat some of the match-ups and meticulously exaggerating each name in his response back to me adding extra syllables.    Flo-ree-a-da.  Con-nect-tic-cut.  Syr-cues.  Oh-ka-la-ho-ma.  Virginia. Michigan State. Michigan.  You already said Michigan, why are there two Michigans?  To speed things up I said Tiara’s school and the other Michigan.  Where is Baylor? Lou-S-ville.  Chrig-ton, never heard of them.  Christina’s school plays Tiara’s school that is a hard one to choose…  I still am amazed at how we went through an entire bracket in 5 minutes.

Every year there is a fairy tale story during March Madness, an upset or underdog who fights his way to the final games.   Papa chose well, he was the big upset in our league, our Cinderella.  The time was slowly ticking down, Papa had already lost his size 11.5EEE glass leather slipper as he was running away from the ball another appointment, and he took the league as the top winner.  He may not have won a billion dollars, but he beat the people who follow college basketball, the people who want to follow college basketball and he also beat the rest of us.  Success!

Marocco Mayhem 2014
Marocco Mayhem 2014

Endnote:  Why does March Madness end in April?  Maybe a better name would be Spring Psychosis.

Nothing but Natitude

Baseball – week one!  This is my favorite time of the year.  I am a baseball fan, specifically a Washington Nationals supporter, and for the next 6 months I will be cheering for a great team that just keeps getting better.  We have visited 23 major league ballparks over the past several years and have never run across the spirit that we see sitting in Nationals Park with our home team. This spectator friendly field is new enough that it is still developing it’s own history and traditions, but old enough to have created a loyal fan base.  We have a beautiful park that has everything from awesome food and happy crowds to great player intro songs at every at bat.  Our announcer Bob Carpenter may not be Harry Carey, but he offers solid play-by-play action during the game.  Every game shows military support as the fans stand during the 4th inning to a patriotic song and wave their hats as a to salute to honor our troops.  The Presidents mascot race adds some humor as five of our past presidents compete to run around the field.  Everyone loves Washington, Lincoln and Jefferson, and while Taft was a big supporter of baseball having been known as the first president to throw out an opening day pitch and the creator of the 7th inning stretch, I still favor the underdog, Teddy.  Some compare this run to the battling sausages in Milwaukee, but do sausages really race?  Our 7th inning stretch consists of the entire stadium singing God Bless America, Take Me Out to the Ballpark and then we roll into Take On Me, a song by A-ha that is probably older than most of the players.  I feel at home in this park and as I sat in the stadium this weekend it felt like spring has finally arrived, baseball has knocked winter out of the ballpark.  Or as Bob says, See.  You.  Later.  I love baseball season!

Watching preseason baseball this year I realized that spring training would also become Papa training; I had six weeks to pull him away from the Diamondbacks and turn him on to our team.  We watched games, read articles and studied the players.   We showed him statistics and explained that Matt Williams traded his Diamondbacks jersey for a National’s uniform and has promised a great season.   I showed Papa where I worked and how close it was to the stadium and explained we would go to quite a few games.  We were ready for Nats baseball!

Last Monday our Nats opened at Citi Field playing the Mets.   I arrived home just before the end of the game and together Papa and I watched the Nats take their first win of the season.  It was a great start!  When I arrived home from work on Tuesday he said the Nats were doing great again.  He noticed my confused look and quickly turned back to the game.  I laughed and explained they were off today and he was watching the re-televised game from the day before.  Papa smiled and continued watching; while his memory recalled a game from the day before he did not remember any game specifics to know it was the same game.  In his mind Papa was watching a new game and by the end of the 10th inning he was certain their record was 2-0.  I didn’t see a problem with this until I arrived home from work on Wednesday afternoon to hear grumbling as I walked in the door.  Papa was watching another Nats game.  The team is disgusting today; the Orioles beat them badly.  Again I explained that he was watching a re-televised game, this time from a previous season, and reminded him the team was currently in New York.  No, Papa was adamant, I never heard of them reshowing a baseball game, it was on today, it happened today, I saw itThat evening we watched the Nats defeat the Mets in game two, but at the end of the evening Papa was still certain that the extra games he watched were legit and the Nats had a 3-1 record.  At this rate I was concerned that in Papas eyes the Nats would play three times as many games as every other team so I put a framed schedule on his side table and explained to always check the schedule before watching any more games on TV.

Nationals Home Opener 04/04/2014
Washington Nationals Home Opener 04/04/2014

 Friday we brought Papa to the Nats home opener to experience a little Natitude in our sold out stadium.  Doug parked nearby and the two of them walked a quick two blocks to my office to pick me up on the way to the stadium.  Papa was decked out in red, white and blue and ready for the game.  Today was hat day, and Papa wanted to make sure we got there in plenty of time pick up his new Nationals cap.  We could see him start getting nervous as we walked the last two blocks when he saw the crowds pick up and he frequently looked around to make sure he had both Doug and I in his view.  Keeping him close we watched his smile grow as he saw the outside vendors selling food.  We started wondering if was excited about watching the game or was he secretly planning his menu for the next nine innings.  WOW! Don’t those W shaped pretzels look good? 

We walked in the center field gate and after Papa proudly put on his new Nats cap we made our way through the crowd to find our seats in left field.  The Nats were in the middle of batting practice and within several minutes a ball was hit up to us.

Papa caught a practice ball!
Papa caught a practice ball!

Papa grinned like a 10 year old when Doug handed him the ball.  Great! I never got a ball before!  What do I do with it?  Can I keep it?  Can we get some food now?  We took a quick picture with Flat Stanley and packed the ball away before discussing food.  Every night at dinner we hear Papa say I am not hungry, I don’t eat like I used to.  While he may not consume as much as in the past he is not fooling us, Papa likes to eat.  He snacked through every inning saving only his Cracker Jacks until after singing during the 7th inning break.  It is a good thing he got some exercise in walking to the stadium!

Sadly the Nat’s lost and we were all a bit down as we walked the mile long walk back to the car.  We reminded Papa that the season has just started; there are a lot of games between now and the pennant. Twice on the way home we heard, tomorrow night is T-Shirt night, are we coming back?  I am not sure if his enthusiasm is for the stadium food, a promotional give away, or if he really enjoys the excitement of sitting in a full stadium watching our team play.  No matter what the reason is, I think Papa already has Natitude and he will fit right in.

Washington Nationals Home Opener 04/04/2014
Washington Nationals Home Opener 04/04/2014

Pigeon GPS

Over the past several weeks Papa has told me a story about how when he was a young boy he would travel to Joliet to visit his maternal grandparents each summer for an extended period of time.  Grandma Maielli was a small woman and he can still picture her standing in her kitchen slicing vegetables with a big knife.  He always holds up his hands at about 18 inches to exaggerate the size of the blade and explained that she would chop so fast he was always worried that she would cut her fingers.  His Grandma called him Wayney and during his visits she would cook all day and make him whatever he wanted to eat.  These are very early and special memories for Papa, he loved it there.

Papa provided a few tidbits of other reasons why he loved Joliet which I will save these for future posts, the story Papa wanted to tell me this time was about his Uncle Joe.  Uncle Joe was married to Aunt Harriett and they had 2 kids who were several years older than him.  Joe was fun and friendly and he raised birds, both chickens and pigeons. When I asked Papa why he raised pigeons responded because he liked them, such an obvious reason to my simple question.   I have never known anyone to raise pigeons so I started asking questions…  What did they look like?  He had all different kinds and colors, some were white, and some were very colorful.  I liked the colored ones; they were louder than the white ones. He had all sizes from babies to old birds.  How many pigeons did he have?  A fair amount, they were hard to count because they were always moving.  When I pressed him on how many he considered a fair amount he responded more than a couple dozen but less than a hundred.  I laughed and explained that is a big difference and he said it was probably closer to 50 birds.  Were they friendly?  They would fly up to my hands, I was afraid at first, but Uncle Joe knew they were safe.  They never bit or pecked me.  Where did he keep them?  Did he take them out to fly in the open?  He had a big pen that was over the chicken coop, the chickens couldn’t get out but the pigeons could fly out whenever they wanted to.  Did he have a big yard? It wasn’t a farm but it was a good-sized yard, all of my relatives lived within a couple blocks of each other so I was able to walk from my Grandparents house to see all of my Aunts and Uncles.     Did they eat them or use their eggs? No, the pigeons were just a hobby.  Did he race them?  I don’t remember, I forget some things.  I smiled and said that is ok, you remember more than you think you do and proceeded to ask him more questions.  Did anyone else raise them? I never heard of anyone else keeping pigeons; it was not something we did in Waukegan.  I just never knew anyone else who had them for pets.  What about the chickens and the chicken eggs?  Uncle Joe had a fair amount of chickens also; he sold eggs to people and made good money.  Papa does not remember how many chickens he had or what Uncle Joe did for a living, but he remembers standing in the yard watching pigeons fly with his Uncle for several weeks every summer.

One year when Papa was about 10 years old he helped Uncle Joe assemble a make shift cage and gave him two pigeons to take back to Waukegan.  Joe explained that the birds would be able to find their own way home to Joliet.  My Uncle described it all to me, but I still do not understand.  How could that happen?  How do they know where they are going?   I wonder how the birds find their way home?   Papa and I spent time looking on the internet  but I am not sure I can explain, do birds have an internal compass, or do they recognize landmarks or maybe use a little bit of both to navigate back to their roost.

It was about a 70-mile trip and Papa was excited to bring the pigeons back in the car with him. My dad went along with it, but my mom was not happy that we brought a birdcage in her car.   It took about an hour and a half to drive home, Papa was nervous and excited when he arrived home and let the birds out of their cage.  They flew up and took a couple of circles and started flying right away. Papa was able to convince his parents into calling Uncle Joe the next day to make sure the pigeons made it home safely, but he forgot to ask how long it took them to get there.  Papa was already looking forward to his next trip to Joliet but he never got to bring any birds home with him again.

I tried to find the correlation as to why Papa has told me this particular story on more than one occasion, and the only thing I can come up with is that he is thinking about his own internal GPS and finding his way home.  He feels comfortable in his surroundings and is ready to increase his radius and venture out a bit further to get to know the area.  Maybe Papa feels like those pigeons and wants to spread his wings and fly and but wants the security of an internal compass knowing he will always be able to find his way home.    We have frequently discussed the GPS in his car, but it is time for me to ride along and have him test it again just to build his confidence.

Uncle Joe Maielli
Uncle Joe Maielli

While looking up homing pigeons on the iPad, we stopped for a few minutes to look at family photos and we stumbled across this picture of Uncle Joe.  Papa smiled when he saw it Yes, that’s him!  Maybe I am over analyzing my discussion with Papa, but I wish I could thank his Uncle Joe for providing a childhood memory from 1943 that reminds Papa to use his recognition of landmarks and internal GPS and he will always be able to find his way home.   And, just in case, Papa also carries some 2014 technology with him, we are just a phone call away should he ever need help finding his way.

I’ll Pay For My Bananas, Thank You

Those who know me can attest that I can be like a mother bear when I feel as if someone has been taken advantage of.  Yesterday was one of those days, and a local store might just be glad I was not running errands with Papa.

The neurologist changed a couple of Papa’s medications.  I have explained to Papa that the majority of his medications are long term meds and will be received through his retirement pharmacy benefits mail ordering system, but if he needs a short term or new prescription we will pick it up at a local pharmacy.  We previously went into our local large chain pharmacy, verified they will accept his insurance, registered into their system and dropped off a prescription.  One of my intentions for choosing this pharmacy is that this retailer is very close to our house and a large enough department store that Papa can walk through the aisles shopping while his prescription is being filled; he never has to leave the store.  He can also use this same chain pharmacy while he is visiting family in other areas if he needs something.  He knows this is his pharmacy and today was no different; he dropped off his new script and had 20 minutes to wait for it to be filled.

While waiting, Papa left Doug for a few minutes and decided to walk next door to the grocery store to pick up milk, eggs, and bananas.  Our family goes through a lot of bananas and while I could make a dozen jokes about how we like them a bunch or perhaps we often feel like we are going bananas, or maybe we just have appeal, I won’t get off track…  We just all appreciate the fact that we like bananas and if you go to the grocery store to get anything you pick up a bunch or two.  Papa might forget why we run out on other errands, but he always remembers to get bananas at the market whether they are on his list or not.

Doug walked next door several minutes after Papa and after looking through the entire grocery store he finally found Papa standing in the pharmacy department wearing his t-shirt getting a Shingles vaccine.  WHAT!?!  Out of curiosity, Papa had finished his shopping and walked over to the pharmacy counter and said he was filling a prescription next door and just wondered if this store also took his insurance card.  Although we have explained we will be using just one local pharmacy to keep things simple he figured it would not hurt to just ask if they took his card.  Maybe he still had his insurance card in his hand and he was thinking that back home he had prescriptions filled at the local grocery pharmacy and he should have brought it here; or perhaps he thought the stores were combined and he could pick it up at this location; or possibly he felt comfortable knowing there was a backup pharmacy very close; or more than likely he was just curious to see if all pharmacies accept his insurance card.  Papa will talk to anyone and I believe the pharmacy tech was an active listener.  They looked at his card and registered it in their system and asked Papa if he needed anything else.  During their brief conversation Papa was asked if he had already had the Zoster Vaccine to prevent shingles.  His I don’t think so answer resulted in them providing the vaccine, after all he was already in their system and would get a store shopping voucher if he utilized their pharmacy services.

I have a problem with this.   Papa is 80, he said he was already getting a prescription filled next door, and he replied that he did not know if he had the immunization or not.  While the Shingles vaccine is a one-time dose and I am not sure if a second booster could possibly have any unnecessary side effects, I feel the pharmacy should have been more accountable to their customer.  They probably should have told him to check his medical records before they provided the vaccine, and definitely should not have swayed a friendly 80 year old with limited memory by giving him a free shot and promising him a $10 gift card for a first time pharmacy use.  Papa used the card to pay for his bananas.

Everything in Moderation

Most people have daily routines, and Papa is no different.  After waking up and getting dressed and ready for the day he typically eats breakfast and gets ready for his morning TV.  Most mornings he eats at home but then takes a quick drive to a local restaurant for a cup of coffee.  Papa is still looking for a group to socialize with in the mornings and this past week he expanded his search for a hangout to try Burger King, although he emphatically states their coffee is not nearly as good as McDonalds.  We love how determined he is and next week he mentioned he feels comfortable enough to try a few new local places.  Depending on his timing in the morning he makes his bed before or after the first Walker show. Papa is very predictable and sticks to his routines.

I surprised Papa Friday and came home from work before lunch to spend the afternoon with him and his first comment was I don’t know why my neck hurts but I couldn’t make my bed.  I asked what happened and assured him that an occasionally unmade bed is no big deal then I suggested an anti-inflammatory and pulled out the heating pad.  Doug gave him a quick massage to see if he could work out the kinks, and he spent the rest of the evening relaxing in his easy chair and pondering over what had caused it.  I wonder why this happened, I had a still neck once before but that was when I was working on a car engine.  I don’t do that type of mechanical work anymore.  During the evenings many conversations my mind kept wandering to wonder if he really only had a stiff neck one other time or if he only remembers it happening one other time.  I was envious I can’t count the number of times I have strained my neck.

This morning at breakfast I asked him how his neck was feeling and he said much better.  The heating pad and medicine helped me but I think Doug cured it with a rubdown. Doug felt like Mickey, Rocky’s trainer, and was glad he could help.  Then it occurred to us!  Papa spent countless hours last week working jigsaw puzzles like he was training for an Olympic competition.  Leaning over the table looking for specific pieces to put together probably caused his stiff neck.  We all laughed and mentioned that he is going to have to slowly build up his puzzle workouts, and a walk around the block every so often might help to cross-train.

Jigsaw puzzles are great for a variety or reasons, but especially someone whose memory skills are declining.  Not only are they a great social outlet for us to sit facing one another and talk without having a TV on, but also they are a mental workout.  A puzzle builds concentration and uses your mind using spatial reasoning to find a piece that would fit due to color shape or size, dexterity putting the pieces together and logic knowing why a piece will or will not work in a specific place.   Looking for the same pieces each time we are sitting at the table helps to build Papa’s short-term memory skills, and the feeling of accomplishment watching the picture come together is a great boost of self-esteem.  I loved hearing Papa’s excitement as he said Got it! or I knew I could find that piece! or Almost there!  I am so proud of Papa and look forward to building many more puzzles with him.

Papa’s first puzzle was a picture of different types of ice cream, and when it was completed on Wednesday, Doug picked up an ice cream treat for us to celebrate.  Thursday while Papa and I were out on our weekly “dinner night” he asked to stop and get a frame for the completed puzzle and he also picked up a new puzzle to start working on. He really enjoyed watching the puzzle come together and the feeling of success once it was finished.  While we pieced or puzzled or jig-sawed (or whatever true puzzlers call it) together Papa would tell me how he and Nana had worked puzzles while they were stationed in France over fifty years ago.  He was very happy to be reintroduced to an old hobby, especially one that reminded him of Nana.

The new puzzle was out of the box minutes after arriving home and while we were beginning to put together the border, Papa started asking questions.  I wonder how they make puzzles?  I wonder what the biggest/hardest/______(fill in the blank) puzzle is?  These pieces are all the same shape and are pretty tiny.  Thankful for YouTube we looked up how puzzles are made for the next 45 minutes.  We never realized the different cuts of puzzles, and we will spend a bit more time being selective before we pick out our next puzzle.  We both decided random pieces are more interesting than a strip or grid pattern, and really worked his memory to find a specific shape.  But until we go puzzle shopping again, we will be working on a panoramic view of Times Square and we will have to keep reminding Papa will have to remember that we are not in competition, he will have to complete his puzzles in moderation, just like we eat ice cream.

Papa's First Puzzle!  SUCCESS!!
Papa’s First Puzzle! SUCCESS!!

Tonight at dinner Papa glanced over to the other end of the table with our puzzle laid out and asked, I wonder how a puzzle is made?  Maybe in the next few weeks we’ll work on teaching him how to use a computer so he can get to YouTube….

Reference:  Cobble Hill makes a variety of puzzles with beautiful artwork, and we look at them again for our next purchase.  The family puzzle is a random cut with three different sizes of pieces and was the perfect size for Papa at this time, but they have wide assortment of sizes ranging from 35 pieces to 2000.

Jerry Orbach

Watching TV in our house can be confusing for anyone.  I am embarrassed to say we currently have six television sets in our home, and each one works differently on how to turn it on, change channels and adjust the volume. Three of them use two remotes, one for the TV and one for the box, and a couple function with only one remote.  The kitchen TV, in addition to using two remotes, you have to actually use the on/off button on the TV to turn it on, imagine that!  We have placed sticky notes by the three TV’s Papa uses most frequently with instructions to give him some flexibility in where he watches his favorite shows.   Fortunately he has been able to find one to work at all times.

After moving to Virginia Papa was excited to realize that we get some of the same TV stations that he had watched in Arizona.   His memory may not be great, but he picked up that WGN is channel 29 and USA, TBS and TNT are 50-53 on day one.  Between these several stations he is able to watch his favorites: Walker, Texas Ranger and Law and Order.  Doug and I typically would not watch either show but would be able to tolerate an episode now and then just to spend time with him.  One day we asked him why he likes these shows and were surprised at his answer.  Doesn’t everyone like Walker? Cordell is tough and he has a good hat.  Ok, I guess we cannot argue with that.  We were not exactly sure how to respond to his comment and then he followed up with: I went to High School with Jerry Orbach, we didn’t really hang out, but we both graduated in 1952 from Waukegan High School.  We learned something we had not heard before, Papa watches Law and Order reruns because they remind him of his past.  It brings him back in time to 1952, to the kid he used to be and a time he remembers much easier than what happened yesterday, but most importantly to the memory of another classmate.

However watching nonstop episodes of Walker or Law and Order each day seems excessive, so we are encouraging alternate shows or activities when we can.  We acquired a jigsaw puzzle to start building on the dining room table away from all television sets.  We made sure he has a few of his word search books available around the house, which he completes like a part-time job. and we also try to find a daily project for him to complete.  Fortunately being an Olympic year, we have asked him to watch various events during the day and fill us in each evening.  This has led to interesting dinner conversation.  The US isn’t doing so good.  Really Dad, why not?  The Russians were beating us in the Bocce Ball on ice event.  Papa is proud of his Italian heritage and makes sure everyone knows it.  They slide a rock, but it is like Bocce Ball. I wonder how much that weighs?  I wonder why they sweep the ice?  Is it a regular broom? Why don’t they wear skates? How do they choose players?  Now my brother has an extensive personal library and if we were near him he would probably run into his home library, grab a book on curling, probably one dating back prior to 1952, and be able to answer all of Papa’s questions, but Doug and I use our resources and just pull out an iPad and start looking up the history of Curling so we can continue the discussion.   And tomorrow, when we are not busy, I will pull out his high school yearbook and look for the pictures of both Papa and Jerry Orbach.

52 Yearbook Wayne


52 Yearbook Jerry