Highs and Lows … and Highs

Well … we never did get my Dad moved to another care facility. He had a really great day on Saturday. Ate well. His spirits were good. Smiled and talked all day. And then early Sunday morning, his blood pressure tanked. One of the nurses at the transitional facility called mom to let her know Dad was being taken by ambulance to the hospital.

When Mom, my sister and I caught up with Dad in the emergency room, he looked like death on a cracker. His face was ashen. He couldn’t keep his eyes open and he was so cold, they had him wrapped up in blankets from head to toe. His speech was thick and he could barely form words. I was pretty scared. The doctor mentioned concerns that there could be a clot in his lungs which may have caused the drop in blood pressure. Because of his kidney transplant, he couldn’t have the more reliable cat scan (because it uses a contrast dye) to confirm or deny the presence of a clot. So he received something called a VQ scan and we were relieved to learn it showed a low probability of a clot.

By evening, after IV fluids and some food, Dad had perked up some. Instead of his “usual” hospital, Dad had been brought to one that specializes in cardiac care. That was a good place for him to be. He doesn’t have a strong heart. The nurses and doctors were taking great care of Dad, as well as doing a tremendous job of keeping us informed and answering questions. He seemed to be in good hands and we were more confident than we’d been all the past week in leaving him for the night.

One of my brothers had agreed to bring Mom back to the hospital to be with Dad on Monday. I went to work and waited for updates, ready to leave again if I had to. But the news was all good. Dad was improving; So much so that my sister insisted I go to my first night of bowling and take a night off from Dad duty. She would go sit with Dad that evening. I was slightly hesitant, but decided to take her up on the offer.

I’m glad I went bowling. It was the first day since Dad’s fall eleven days earlier that I hadn’t spent some portion of my day hanging out with him. I felt a little bit guilty, but as the evening wore on, I knew I’d done the right thing. The ache that had settled in my chest over the past week began to ease. The dark haze over my thoughts cleared as well. It felt good to be doing something normal again.

This whole experience has been such a challenge. It has stretched my emotions to the limits. There have been heartbreaks and joys. There has been anger and deep sadness. And yet we’ve found opportunities to laugh. Most miraculously, because I felt such a need to stay by Dad’s side whenever possible – to help fend off his loneliness while he couldn’t be at home, or to ease his fears, or advocate for him when he wasn’t able – he and I have found a new and better place in our relationship.

If anyone were to look at my siblings and me when we were growing up, I would have been the last kid anyone would have expected to be by my parents’ side at a time like this. I was the difficult one, the black sheep. I was always bucking the family system, and mouthing off to my parents. That part of me faded and I mellowed when I became an adult, but my dad and I haven’t exactly been what anyone would consider close.

During the days when my dad was most vulnerable, I stayed by his side. I found myself being more open and honest with him than I’d ever dared to be. He allowed me to speak up for him when he was in that medicinal fog, when it was hard for him to translate his own thoughts into words, when his caregivers lacked the time or patience to wait for him to form a response. He’s a very proud man. He doesn’t like anyone speaking on his behalf. But he let me. When he would get discouraged and defeated by all of his pain and weakness, I would remind him that the only one who could get him back on his feet and home again was him. And he let me tell him so. There was a time or two during all of this when Mom would grow frustrated with his frustration. She’d say to me, “Go talk to Dad for me, would you?”

And he’d let me.

When I’ve hugged Dad goodbye these past few days, he’s held onto me longer and tighter than usual. He has so emphatically told me, “Thank you. I love you. I love you so much.”

My dad and I have found a really good place with each other. Neither of us is always easy to live with. But we’ve found our peace with each other. I love that.

2015-09-15Mark and I went to see Dad at the hospital tonight. I’m not kidding – He looked and sounded like a million bucks. We stayed to watch him take a little walk on his healing hip and I nearly cried. Just a few days ago, he could barely move his lower half without extreme pain and loads of assistance. Now he was walking – with the help of a walker – but he was doing it.

In another day or so, Dad will probably be released from the hospital and sent to transitional care again. He told the hospital social worker that he wants to go to the “new and better” place that my sister and I checked out on Saturday. He told me he won’t go back to the last place. I told him that I hope he gets a room at the good place. And I reminded him that no matter how great the place, he might still run into situations where his caregivers aren’t as attentive or compassionate as others. He knows. He’s ready. We’ve kind of figured out how this all works and we have more realistic expectations this time around. Most importantly, Dad’s ready this time.

Holy Hell

And here I thought I knew a little bit about caring for aging parents. Apparently what I knew was just the tip of the iceberg. The past week has been a roller coaster ride and I’ve cried so much! But today is a better day and I’m grateful for that.

Where to begin? I guess the move from the hospital to a transitional care facility is as good a place as any. (Sorry. This could be a long one.)

Just a few days after Dad’s hip surgery, he was informed he would soon be released from the hospital and needed to spend some time in transitional care. That was Monday. Labor Day. Dad’s birthday. I asked the doctor when this move was likely to happen.


Great. Thanks for all the advance warning.

On the spot, we were given a list of facilities and forced to select our top three options for transitional care. Without having opportunity to research or tour any of these places, we made our choices based on location, and the social worker’s recommendations. We picked three places that would be relatively convenient for family members to visit and where we knew a few friends or family members had spent time and seemed relatively satisfied. I asked the doctor how long Dad could expect to stay in transitional care. She said 7 to 21 days. I was shocked to hear how little time my 75 year-old father would be given to heal. The worst part of that conversation is that my dad was there to hear it. He locked in on the 7 to 21 days comment, and it was not an accurate statement. When we were later informed by a social worker that it would be more like 4 to 6 weeks or more, he wasn’t happy. Who can blame him?

I worked the next day, Tuesday, while Mark kept my parents company at the hospital and then drove my mom to the facility when it was time for Dad to be transported to transitional care. I left work to meet them at the facility and upon arrival in the lobby, was pleasantly surprised. The place was fairly new, bright and cheerful.

When Dad arrived we followed the guy pushing his wheelchair to the elevators and then to the third floor. Turns out the transitional care center is located in a wing that is an old hospital. (Mark tells us he was born there!) The rooms were tiny and dim. Dad’s bed was positioned against his roommate’s bed, the head of one bed coming up against the “shoulder” of the other bed creating an L shape. The only thing separating the beds was a curtain. We were all a little disheartened but remained determined to make the best of it for Dad’s sake.

Dad got an awesome roommate named Mike. Mike informed us that he is 65 years old and that he’s been in the care center since March. Mike looks and sounds pretty normal, except that his sense of reality appears to be slightly off. But he’s easy-going, friendly, is willing to converse about anything and everything. It matters not whether he’s got any knowledge of the topic. He chimes in as best he can. And he seems to want to help take care of my dad who is, for the time being, almost completely immobile on his own.

The first afternoon and evening went alright, considering Dad was still in a lot of pain, lacked any appetite, and seemed to still be in a medicinal fog. We sat with him through dinner and left just before he went to bed. When I came home, I called my sister. We talked about how hard things had been with Dad and how difficult it is to see your parent reduced to such helplessness. I was exhausted and went to bed.

Just after 11:00 on Tuesday night, I was pulling the covers up and closing my eyes when the phone rang. It was Mom. She was frantic. Dad had called her in a panic. He was freezing cold, in pain, and hadn’t been given any medications or insulin. He couldn’t seem to get anyone to ease his pain and fears. With Mom’s health so frail, she couldn’t drop everything and go. She needs one of us to take her to and from the care facility. She didn’t need that stress, so I told Mom I’d go back down to the care center and try to get Dad settled. Not having any clue how to handle this, I ended up calling my sister and picked her up on the way.

When we arrived at 11:30, a nurse was just giving Dad his evening insulin, which should have been given after dinner. He’d had no pain medication and was in pure distress. The nurse shrugged and told us the pharmacy order was supposed to have arrived around 7:00. She implied that it was late, and then added that there was an emergency on the floor that prevented her from administering Dad’s meds any sooner. So she was just getting to Dad’s medications now. She left the room to go get his pain meds and Dad informed us that in his earlier attempt to reach the phone on the bedside table to call mom, he had knocked a cup of water over into his bed. He was laying on wet pillows, on wet bedding, and wearing a wet hospital gown. The air conditioner was stuck on high, adding to his chill, and he said he had been informed that there was no one to adjust the vent until morning, so they tossed a blanket on top of it and told Dad he’d have to be patient. He said he’d asked several times for dry bedding and a gown, but no one seemed to be in a hurry to do anything.

When the nurse came back to give Dad his pain medications, we informed her that Dad was laying in a wet bed. She told us she would find an aide to change the bed and Dad’s gown. After she left, we waited, then had to go in search of her again to see if this was going to happen any time soon. Finally, Dad’s bedding and gown were changed and the staff got him settled back under his blankets. I went to hug and kiss him and found that his pillows were still soaking wet. Frustrated and exhausted, I went back to the nurses’ station to request dry pillow cases so I could change them myself. Another member of the staff sitting at the desk looked at me and explained, “We’re not even supposed to be here right now. Another shift is supposed to be taking over right now, so just so you know, we’re not being slackers.”

I shot her a look, took the pillow cases and walked away. I didn’t want to say anything I might regret and that might prompt the staff to neglect my dad in retaliation for anything ugly I might say.

Another nurse came to Dad’s room and informed him he would give him pain medication. I had to inform him that Dad had already had pain meds and should not be given any more. “Oops,” said his demeanor. Then he came back and said, “I’ve got one more pill for you!”

We asked what it was and he said it was a nutritional supplement. “For what?” we asked.

“It’s given along with pain meds,” he said. I’d had a conversation with a nurse during Dad’s hospital stay. “Is it Vistaril?” I asked?

“Yeah, that’s it,” he said.

NOT feeling very confident in Dad’s care at this point, but we could hardly pack him up with his fractured hip and take him home.

Finally, after getting Dad settled, my sister and I hung out in his room, hoping he’d fall asleep. He didn’t, but relaxed enough to urge us to go home and get some sleep.

The next morning, Wednesday, I knew I couldn’t just leave Dad alone there for the day after such a traumatic night. I went to work just long enough to attend a meeting I’d already rescheduled due to Dad’s accident. In the meantime, my aunt (Dad’s sister) and my cousin went to sit with him until I could get there. When I arrived around 10:30 am, I found my aunt and cousin holding Dad’s hands, patting them, and encouraging Dad to stay awake. Dad had been unresponsive when they’d arrived. The doctor had just left the room before my arrival. He said that Dad had a painful night and was given additional pain medication at 5:00 am and stated that my Dad had been “overdosed” on pain meds. It was up to us to keep him awake. We spent all day and evening trying to keep my groggy Dad alert. I also spent several hours attempting to reach Dad’s regular doctor and calling other care facilities to see what I could do to improve Dad’s situation. I spoke with the staff social worker and the nurse manager, explaining Dad’s unique health issues and expressing my unhappiness with the way he was treated the previous night. I was informed the “overdose” was an allowable dose, but they now knew it was too much for Dad.

Unfortunately, after several phone calls to medical facilities, and subsequent conversations with a couple of coworkers in similar situations with their parents, I soon understood that this is just sometimes how it goes. It takes the staff some time to get to know the patients, and it takes the patients some time to get used to how things go in this kind of setting. I heard that we as the family have to be my Dad’s advocates, and sometimes, his watch dogs. Somehow, I allowed myself to be convinced that Dad’s first night was the combination of first-day jitters and a rare kind of chaos with the night staff. And truthfully, his next couple of days went fairly well, and we met some absolutely wonderful, compassionate nurses and caregivers.

Then came yesterday. My aunt again spent the day with Dad. She kept me updated, letting me know his appetite was non-existent and that he was having some pain. I was hoping to go home after work and then go sit with Dad in the evening hours and stay at bedtime until he fell asleep. But knowing that he wasn’t doing so great, I decided to instead swing by on my way home from work in time for the dinner hour. Upon arrival, I found Dad wheeled up to a table that sat against a wall. Although there were several tables with openings and other patients, they had my dad sitting all alone and facing the wall. The same was true for another gentleman. It made me so sad to see my dad and that other man like that. I joined Dad quickly. He was happy to see me, but tired and not feeling well enough to care too much about sitting alone. Still, it bothered me and I found myself fighting tears for the umpteenth time in days.

I asked Dad how his day had gone, and he repeated what my aunt had told me. He also shared that when he pressed his call button for assistance, often no one came for a half hour or more. When an aide came to get him for dinner, he stated a particular need and she ignored his request and told him they had to hurry to dinner. I won’t elaborate except to say that it caused him significant humiliation. Can you just imagine being 75 years old and having to tell your own daughter of the kinds of personal indignities that can happen in these situations? Soon after Dad shared this with me, my youngest brother arrived with my mom. I was going to go home for a while since they were there to keep Dad company. I needed some dinner, then planned to come back later to see Dad through to bedtime. Before leaving, I discreetly told Mom of Dad’s dilemma and asked her to get someone on staff to assist Dad. When I came back two and a half hours later, though my mom had asked, he still had not been assisted. I wish my mom would have pushed harder to get this done, but even though she hadn’t, Dad’s aide should have done her job without having to be nagged about it.

My sister was there by then. Mom and my brother went home and my sister took charge. She found Dad’s aide and tried to maintain some patience and courtesy while requesting that she please do her job and assist our Dad with his needs. The little b*tch rolled her eyes at my sister but did finally do what was necessary. She took him to a large restroom where he could be assisted, then left him alone in there for long enough that we finally went in search of her to ask that she check on him and help him back out again.

We stayed to make sure Dad fell asleep. We prayed he would stay asleep and not need assistance from the aide who seemed incapable of performing her duties, then went home crying and vowing to get him out of there asap. I couldn’t sleep much. I was awake before 5:00 this morning. I puttered around the house for a bit, then finally went to see Dad at 7:30. He was looking better than he had in days. His morning caregivers were bubbly, friendly and full of kindness to the patients. I joined Dad and some of his new friends at the breakfast table and watched the goings-on for the rest of the morning. I could see a clear pattern. There are plenty of daytime caregivers and they do a good job. The night staff tends to be at a minimum, and some seem less experienced, and lacking in motivation and compassion.

I met a woman named Joanie who is staying at the care center as a returning patient. I learned about her injuries and all about her many stays at various transitional care centers. I also met Joanie’s husband and when Joanie left for physical therapy, I asked him if he minded me asking him some questions about their experiences. I shared my concerns about Dad and he told me, just as others had, that the care isn’t going to be phenomenal anywhere, and the patient and family have to be their own advocates. He said this place is just about as good as he and Joanie could expect. But he also encouraged me to look elsewhere. If Dad is going to spend the next several weeks away from home, he reminded me that we need to be comfortable and feel secure in the place where Dad is staying.

And so, my sister and I made a visit today to another facility this afternoon. It’s the farther-away place that Dad originally wanted to go, but which we discouraged because the current place was easier to get to for many of his potential visitors. When we arrived at the new place, we walked into what felt like the Taj Mahal. We were quickly offered an impromptu tour and found beautiful, spacious rooms with all the newest equipment. The rooms were bright and cheery, with many amenities meant for the comfort of both the patients and their families. There were staff members everywhere. Patients in common areas were well-attended and seemed happy. The dining rooms and food service were like 5-star restaurants in comparison to what Dad is getting at the current place. And the kicker? I asked what the additional cost was for the private rooms. Our tour guide told me that Medicare covers these rooms just the same as where my dad is staying with a roommate. Because this place doesn’t offer anything but private rooms, there’s no additional cost for a private room as there is in the place Dad is now. The exact same cost for facilities that are a million times better than where he is now.

I found myself crying again, thinking what we’d just made my dad endure for the past five days when he could have been here. Additionally, there’s a beautiful adjoining long-term care facility and assisted living complex. We checked these out too, in case we need to consider living accommodations for our parents beyond this transitional stay. We actually ran into a woman in the nursing home that we knew from the church our family had attended when we grew up. Her son was visiting her and invited us in. He proceeded to tell us how happy his family has been with his mom’s stay in this facility. SHE told us how much she loved it.

When we walked out, my sister and I looked at each other and said, “We’re moving him.” Screw the driving distance. We’ll make this work. We can’t request a transfer until Monday at the earliest, and I’m praying everything falls into place to make this happen.

I’ve learned a lot this week.

  • When someone hurts my dad, I feel ferocious! And I’m not afraid to speak up and do what it takes to protect him.
  • Aging can be very, very ugly.
  • Not every caregiver does the job because they feel called to it.
  • When it’s my time, I hope it’s quick and easy.

Monday can’t come soon enough. I want to get my dad out of there. Sadly, I’ve made friends with several of the patients there and I’m truly going to miss them when I no longer have the chance to see them again. But we need to do what’s best for my dad. I pray that we’re moving in the right direction.

Worst Fears

It’s never good when the phone rings before 7:00 am.

This past Thursday morning, I had been to the gym and was getting ready to go to an early dentist appointment before work when our home phone rang. It was my mom, sounding breathless, asking if I could come over.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, my heart sinking.

“Dad fell. I think he broke his hip. The paramedics are here now.”

As soon as I was able, I was out the door and on my way to my parents’ single-level town home, which they’d purchased and moved into earlier this summer in the hopes of preventing just such an accident. They’ve lived there for a grand total of seven weeks now. I guess it doesn’t matter how many or few levels are in your home. When you’re dizzy, you’re going to fall.

Mom and I spent the next fifteen hours of the day at the hospital, by Dad’s side. X-rays confirmed the hip was fractured. I tried not to panic at the news. I knew the biggest concern was whether or not my dad could survive hip surgery. Even some standard medical procedures are risky for my dad, and certain surgeries are simply out of the question. I found myself fighting tears and working hard to control myself. I didn’t want to freak out my parents, who seemed not to be grasping the magnitude of the situation. Dad’s been diabetic for sixty-seven years. He’s had a kidney transplant. He’s got an implanted defibrillator and normal heart function that is significantly less than a normal, healthy person. I envisioned the worst.

As the hours wore on, Dad had an echocardiogram done, and another set of X-rays. He had to lay flat on his back, which was painful in itself. He’s got a bad back. And each time he tried to adjust his body to relieve the discomfort in his back, he caused himself excruciating pain in his hip.

Mom called their priest and he came to administer the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. He also provided my dad the Apostolic Pardon. To be honest, I’d never heard of it, but the name itself gave me an idea of what was happening. The priest understood that Dad’s situation was bad. I continued to fight my tears throughout the priest’s stay.

Sometime after noon, Dad was moved from the ER to his own room. I provided regular phone and text updates to my siblings and Dad’s oldest sister as each nurse, doctor and specialist came to visit and discuss concerns. It became a waiting game. His cardiologist needed to weigh in on Dad’s ability to handle the surgery. It seemed like hours before the cardiologist finally came to talk with us. He explained to Dad that the hip surgery would be extremely risky given Dad’s poor heart function. He said Dad needed to make the decision as to whether to have surgery, or not. Surgery meant relieving the pain as soon as possible, but included the very real chance of suffering heart failure in the process. Bypassing surgery meant letting the fracture heal on its own – with Dad on bed rest for about three months – and then lots of physical therapy.

The cardiologist gently told Dad that the decision was his, but electing not to have the surgery meant a strong likelihood of developing blood clots and/or pneumonia. “If you don’t have the surgery,” he told Dad, “you will die.”

I could see the compassion in his eyes as he waited for Dad to make his decision. And he elaborated that although the surgery was very risky, his gut told him that Dad’s heart would tolerate it. Yet he reminded us that he could offer no guarantees. What choice did Dad have? He agreed to the surgery.

As evening wore on, we were still waiting to hear if the surgery could be done yet that night. Dad hadn’t eaten since the previous evening, and he hadn’t taken any of the bunches of pills he takes each day to make sure his transplanted kidney remains in good health. Poor Dad was stuck flat on his back, with nothing in his stomach and only allowed small sips of water. If the surgery could be done that night, he needed to have an empty stomach.

Finally, around 10:00 pm, we received word that the surgeon was still in the midst of another surgery, and Dad’s couldn’t be done that evening. And because he would be scheduled for first thing Friday morning, he still couldn’t have anything to eat and could only have small sips of water. Thankfully, they kept him pretty mellow with steady doses of pain medication.

Fifteen hours after we’d arrived at the hospital, I was finally dropping Mom off at home and heading back to my own house.

I was back at the hospital at 6:00 am Friday morning. Besides Mom and me, my three siblings, a niece, an uncle and two aunts (Dad’s sisters) were there to see him off into surgery. Dad was scared. He asked us all to pray with him and the hospital chaplain came into to lead us in prayer.

All in all, the surgery went relatively quickly. A volunteer provided us regular updates and it seems that Dad did well throughout his surgery. We got to see him once he was out of recovery and back in his room. All things considered, he looked and sounded really good! Of course, he was numb from the waist down.

Now comes the long road ahead. We’ve yet to meet with the appropriate parties who will let us know what to expect for Dad’s recovery. We only know that he’ll need to spend some time in a rehab facility. I’m guessing they’ll tell us that Dad will need to spend several weeks, at minimum, and I’m worried it could be a couple of months. I’m guessing Dad has no idea of the length of time his recovery could take, and once he finds out how long it could take, he may feel very defeated.

Dad has already decided that he won’t go to the transitional care facility that’s near their home. He spent a few days there once after another hospital stay and for reasons I’m not sure of, decided he didn’t like it. He has it in mind to go to another place that’s an additional twenty minute or so drive. It may be a nicer place, (or not. None of us has been there and really knows for sure.) But the additional distance will put a strain on Mom. She’s very fragile as it is, and her health won’t tolerate daily drives of that distance. If Dad would go to the closer place, my sister could spend her lunch break each day with Dad. Not possible if he goes to the place he thinks he wants to go.

My biggest fear is that Dad won’t be able to recover to a point of going back home to independent living. Mom’s health is so poor that she was barely managing to help care for him on one of his “good” days. If my dad can’t get back to a state of health like he was in before, I’m afraid they won’t be able to stay in their town house. Mom has wondered out loud to me about getting some temporary or occasional in-home health care. Maybe I’m overreacting, but I’m not convinced that would be nearly enough assistance for what lies ahead for my parents.

Mom was so worn out yesterday that she couldn’t even go visit Dad at the hospital. I stopped over to make an early dinner and eat with her, take the dog outside to do his business, and start a load of laundry. Then I headed to the hospital to spend a few hours last evening with Dad. He was sitting up in a chair when I arrived, which is promising. The hospital staff is already helping him move from bed to chair and back again. Soon he’ll have to start taking real steps. I’m praying he’ll stay persistent. Dad is not a strong man anymore on the best of days.

As I spent time with Dad last night, I noticed his speech was even slower than usual. He struggled to remember names or the specific words he was looking for. He would start a thought, then seemingly forget about it completely and begin talking about something else entirely.

At one point, he said he thought he was dreaming or hallucinating at various times throughout the day. As I was sitting across from him, he said he saw a young person next to me, holding a red and green ticket. I was the only one there, and at least Dad was lucid enough to recognize on his own that it wasn’t reality.

When his nurse and aide moved Dad back to bed, I took the opportunity to mention Dad’s confused demeanor and hallucinations. They assured me that it was likely just an effect of the pain meds. My fears weren’t completely relieved. Dad’s been on pain meds for days and I haven’t seen him in such a state, but I convinced myself to chalk it up to a combination of pain meds and being tired. He’d had several visitors throughout the afternoon and early evening, and my visit took him right into bed time. Still, I’m going back this morning and hope to see that his mind is refreshed after a night of sleep.

It’s Dad’s 75th birthday today.

I was feeling really sorry for all of us after last night’s visit with Dad. My sister and I already feel as if we’re juggling our own lives with the needs of our parents. But with the dawn of a new day, I was reminded that how I choose to view these circumstances is completely up to me. Rather than see all of this as yet another hurdle in my parents’ aging process, I need to face this as a challenge to be overcome. I just need to remember to stay positive. I can’t afford to let this suck me under.

Bayfield Thirteen

Another successful Bayfield vacation is in the books. Eight friends. Four couples. Six of us barely knew each other that first year, all of us only having one couple of friends in common. We never thought we’d make it an annual thing, but here we are, all these years later and always looking forward to doing it all over again. We remember how young our kids were when we first started vacationing together. We had to arrange for childcare while we were away back then. These days our kids are living their own lives and we talk about their college graduations, jobs and weddings. We joke about our gradually declining vision and physical ailments that come with being this age.

For the past several years, the question always seems to be, How many years have we been doing this?

We figured it out again this year. Two of us have boys whom we remember were just getting ready to start seventh grade the first year we went. I remember because Jake was leaving the Catholic school he’d attended since Kindergarten and transferring to the big, scary public middle school. He survived. I was probably more scared than he was. That was 2003. So this was our thirteenth annual trip.

We’ll ask the same question and have to figure it out again next year, I’m sure.

It’s been enough years that we now look forward to returning to familiar haunts. But we still manage to find new places to explore.

Saxon Harbor

Saxon Harbor

We still manage to find new restaurants at which to eat. We stopped on the way to Bayfield at the Anchor Bar in Superior, Wisconsin. It was dark, a bit claustrophobic, and jam-packed with old nautical decor. And the hamburgers were amazing. I tried an olive burger for the first time – a hamburger patty topped with a green olive and cream cheese spread. I’ve found my new favorite burger!

My favorite part of the vacation? I could say it was the food. All diets were off and the meals we cooked were better than anything we could have found in any old restaurant. But it wasn’t the food.

I could say it was having time to read an entire book, one that I couldn’t put down and which moved me to tears. But it wasn’t that.

It might have been the abundance of lake and beach scenery …

The lake and beaches were beautiful as usual, but they weren’t quite my most favorite part of the trip either.

There was plenty of time out on the boat, loads of time to relax, to talk and laugh together, to sit out on the deck and enjoy drinks. The ducks came to visit and we leaned over the deck railing to feed them endless bits of bread during the course of our days in Bayfield. We visited apple orchards, did a little shopping and played noisy, rambunctious card games at night. We went to Madeline Island, spent time at Tom’s Burned Down Cafe and listened to a pirate band play and laughed as they engaged with the crowd, even inserting themselves into our group photo.

But my favorite part, I think, were the morning hikes along the Brownstone Trail, which weaves its way along the Lake Superior shoreline. I needed some time away each day. I’m sure there’s a label for my kind of personality. I enjoy being social … for a while. But I also need my space. I found myself suffering from too-much-togetherness. I can’t be “on” all of the time. Those morning hikes? They saved me.


The benefit of having done this so many years together, is that we’ve established some routines. Mornings are for doing your own thing. Three of the guys go out every morning on the boat and do some serious fishing. Mark and two of the girls hit the local casino at the same time. Julie W and I? We hike the trail. Like me, Julie needs to take a daily breather from all of that structure and activity and busyness.

It’s funny. I’ve known Julie for as many years as we’ve been taking this vacation together. Outside of this vacation, I don’t see her but a handful of times during the rest of the year, and almost always only when the whole group is getting together. But she and I? We connect in Bayfield. She feels like the closest of friends, in spite of the fact that we spend time together merely a handful of times every year. I don’t know what it is about us, but we’ve discovered a connection with each other, a trust, a kindred-spirits kind of thing.

The trail is three miles, starting a few blocks away from the condos where we stay, and ending in the town of Bayfield. Every day, Julie and I would walk to town, take in the view, and walk the three miles back again. During that time, we talked. We talked about our jobs, our lives, our kids, our dreams and wishes… her new stand-up paddle board which she wants me to come try one of these days … and just everything. Some of our kids have had parallel experiences, such as the heartbreak of a broken engagement, or the struggle of being that sort-of lost middle child. We both have a somewhat creative side and I like her down-to-earth attitude. We’re both semi-serious about the way we eat and trying to stay fit. Somewhere within all of that hiking and talking, we’ve found that we encourage one another. Those morning walks? They refreshed us. Gave us the energy for a day filled with activity and for all that time we’d need to spend being “on.”

I think those hikes along those three miles of lakeshore, the stunning views, the fresh air and the chance to unwind with someone who just gets me … I think that was my favorite part. And it made everything else about the vacation so much easier to appreciate. I knew the same was true for Julie. As we hugged goodbye upon arriving back at home, she hugged me hard and thanked me for the “walks and talks.”

Year thirteen is over too soon. I’m already looking forward to fourteen.

Couch, Sofa, Davenport

My daughter’s summer is officially over. Kacey worked her last days at her two summer jobs last week. Yesterday she vacated her bedroom at home and made the road trip back to school. She’ll spend the next year with four roommates in a college rental house that has a lot of … let’s just say, character.

Her car was packed full with all of her belongings yesterday morning. And we might have waved goodbye from the driveway as Kacey left, were it not for the fact that she needed our help in hauling a couch. So we followed not far behind as she went.

The couch use to reside in my parents’ lower level family room and it was only gently used. When Mom and Dad downsized and moved to a town house last month, the couch was gifted to Kacey.

By the way, I can’t say the word “couch” without hearing my sister saying “sofa” or my mother-in-law saying “davenport.” What’s your preference?

2015-08-22Lucy rode in the back seat of Mark’s truck while we traveled to college town. She loves to go for rides, but we had other reasons for taking her along. Kacey will be taking care of Lucy for several days when Mark and I go on a little vacation in the near future and maybe again this winter. We want to be sure Lucy starts to get familiar with the new surroundings ahead of time. She recently spent a weekend there with Kacey and all went well, so I’m feeling good that all will be fine.

Lucy sat upright in the back seat for a while, watching the scenery go by outside the window. Eventually, she grew sleepy and stretched out on the blanket Mark had laid out for her. She happily snoozed while we drove.

When we arrived, Kacey brought Lucy inside where two of her roommates gushed over our dog while Mark and Kacey hauled the “new” couch inside. The previous couch had been purchased from the university. It formerly resided in a common area of one of the dorms for who knows how many years and who knows how many people sat there and … other things . According to Kacey, it was uncomfortable and disgusting. The roommates who lived at the house over the summer were supposed to figure out how and where to get rid of it. When we showed up with the “new” couch, the old one was sitting on the front porch.

There were some major rain storms last night. I don’t even want to think how much more disgusting that couch is this morning! And although the mom in me wishes the kids had responsibly disposed of it before now, I have to remember that it’s not my problem.

Anyway, for the short while we were at Kacey’s new residence, we got the couch positioned in the living room and Mark hung some brackets for shelving in our daughter’s bedroom. That was that, and we headed back home. A few quick hugs and I-love-yous and that was all. Definitely a different scene than the first couple of years of her college life. Our baby has definitely grown up. She’s matured. She’s confident. And we know she’s capable of managing on her own. That makes it a little easier to say goodbye, I guess.

Still, times like this remind me how much all of my kids have grown up. I think I’ll always miss them when they’re away from us, and goodbyes will always be a little bittersweet. But more and more, I realize this is the natural order of things. They’re supposed to grow up. They’re supposed to become independent. Our house is supposed to gradually become ours again. Guess we did something right.

Summer Wind Down

Well, summer was sailing along just fine and I was just perfectly happy with it. And then one day it happened. That little nudge that change is just around the corner.

I remember not all that many weeks ago, I would wake up to the songs of the wrens singing their little hearts out while they perched on the railings of our deck out back. I could sit outside under the canopy and just listen to their pretty little songs. If the windows were open, the melody would float in through the screens. Then the wren babies came along and all the wren parents did anymore was scold us for being in the vicinity. And shortly afterwards, the birds all moved out and all the singing and scolding was done.

There was mostly quiet from the backyard for several weeks. Then I woke up early one morning and heard the trill of … crickets? Maybe? I don’t remember hearing that hum during the early summer mornings. At night, yes. But not in the morning. I was intrigued, and listened happily to the chorus for a few days before I realized – it’s a sign. Of fall.

Then came two straight days of gray skies and rain. The temperatures dropped way down. For those couple of days, I traded sleeveless shirts for sleeves and sweaters. It was a shock, especially considering we’d just been in the nineties not too many days ago.

So yeah. It’s that time again. My kiddo has been gradually packing up her stuff. She’s made a few weekend trips to the house near school where she’ll be living this semester. I came home from work one day earlier this week and saw a couple of big plastic storage bins on her bed, packed with clothes.

“Stop packing,” I said.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I kind of have to go.”

2015-08-16She’s right. I mean, I’m going to miss having someone at home who likes to help me cook, who keeps us pretty well supplied with baked goods, and who’s generally willing to do the dreaded grocery shopping with me. Particularly, I’m going to miss having her here to help motivate me to go to the gym on the three mornings a week that my other gym buddy isn’t there. (Really. I found muscles this summer I didn’t know I had!) I just hope I can self-motivate to keep up this habit!

But, I mean … she does leave a lot of shoes in the entryway. And her room does get kind of messy now and then. And when I’m crabby, she has this habit of calling me out on it. Also, she takes a lot of selfies and sometimes I don’t realize she’s taking them on my phone. So,I guess it might be good to have a chance to miss her for a while.

Yeah. It’s time for her to go back to school. She leaves this weekend and she’s excited. Anyway, it’ll be good that she’ll actually graduate in a few months after all this time spent studying and learning.

Yep. I was getting kind of tired of her being around all the time anyway.

Never a Dull Moment

As crazy weeks go, this one ranks right up there. Going into the work week, I knew most of my department would be either out on PTO or leaving late Monday morning for business travel.

That basically left two of us to hold down the fort. I knew that could present some challenges but we were actually excited to rise to the challenge.

What I wasn’t counting on was my boss calling me into her office first thing Monday morning before she left for the week – and offering me a promotion I had no idea was coming!

More on this soon! :-)