Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Things That Make Up A Day

Mom has had various troubles with her tv in the past few years.  The old tv set that she and Dad bought back when they lived in Virginia, then moved with them to Florida, then moved with them to Georgia, was glitchy and then finally quit working early last year.  My brother had been thinking about getting a new tv for himself, so he gave his perfectly good old one to Mom, and it worked fine.  It was much bigger than her old one, and she liked that a lot.

The only thing she didn't like about it was the remote, which was without doubt the most torturous thing I've ever seen: it was huge, with buttons to work a DVD player or a DVR or a sound system as well as the actual tv control buttons, but all the many many buttons were unbelievably tiny.  Her poor arthritic hands had the worst time with that awful remote.

So I took her a universal remote, the smallest remote with the biggest buttons I could find.  I even managed to program it by myself, and it worked great.

Until the cable company changed things.  Basic cable is included in Mom's rent, and it was just a cable from the wall to the tv, with no cable box.  Early this year they came around to install cable boxes.  They told her not to use her universal remote any more (though I think she could have, if it had been reprogrammed), and to use the cable remote.  That worked okay most of the time, but the button to turn it on is right next to the AUX button, which would screw things up if she hit it accidentally.

When something seemed to be going wrong, she'd call and I (or Greg) would try to help her through it.  Sometimes she just needed to unplug it and plug it back in, and then it was fine.  A few times the problem was that she'd hit AUX.  One time the actual tv had accentally been changed to a different channel -- it needs to stay on 3 to hook up with the cable box -- and when she put it back on 3 it was okay.  (I'm still amazed that Greg figured that one out over the phone.)

Every time she called saying something was wrong, I'd try not to freak out overmuch (being on the phone in my womb closet would come in handy) but I couldn't help picturing her all alone in her little apartment without even tv to keep her company.  She doesn't watch that much tv except in the evenings, when it's dark outside, and watching Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy is one part of the day she looks forward to.  But the idea of her sitting all alone in a quiet apartment at night just breaks my heart.

There are just not many things making up a day for mom, and losing even one thing is huge.  My sister takes her out to lunch every other Friday, my brother goes by once a week or so, my niece brings her two young daughters for a visit every now and then, but most days Mom is just there, in the retirement home, by herself.  She goes down to the dining room to have breakfast, lunch and dinner, and spends time at each meal socializing.  She has a newspaper deal with one lady down the hall: Mom gets the local paper, the lady gets the Atlanta paper, and they trade after they finish reading.  Another lady gets a super good crossword puzzle in her newspaper, so every day she makes a copy for Mom and a bunch of other crossword fans.  Mom will walk through the dining room with her walker and stop at several tables to chat with people; talking about things like how the Braves are doing, or who it was the ambulance came for, or whether or not anyone has seen the new resident.  On Thursday mornings she goes to the retirement home's beauty salon to get her hair fixed, and on Sunday afternoons she attends services in their chapel.

When I call her every night at 8pm she'll run down what she did that day, and sometimes she'll say I'm the only phone call she had all day.  "How was your day?"  I'll ask her.

"Just another day," she'll often answer.

When her tv finally broke completely last week, I had to freak out just a little.  She doesn't have much money, and the days of going to Kmart and buying a small cheap tv are over; now all tvs are flat screen high definition and cost hundreds.   It's so hard being so far away, and wanting to help but not being able to.  I knew my brother would take care of it, so I told myself to let it go, and not get worked up about something I can't help with at all.

Sometimes worrying and getting all stressy feels like the only thing I can do.  If I'm not doing that, I'm not doing anything.  I feel like if I lie awake at night and drive myself crazy then at least I am doing something.

My head knows that's stupid, and it's kind of a shame that my head is apparently not necessarily in control.  I did pretty good this time, though, and just kept pushing away worry-brain thoughts.  I had to have faith in my brother to take care of it, and in my mom to be okay, and faith that there would be enough money.

My brother did take care of it, he found a great deal so she didn't need to spend too much.   She ended up only going two days without a tv, and they were kind of crappy days, but she got through it and now everything is all set up and working fine.  So far she hasn't even had any problems with the remote, either.

She's been having more and more trouble hearing, even with her hearing aid, and she has the new tv set up to show closed captions, which she says takes some getting used to, but it's making things easier.

My poor sweet little Mom, I just want things to be easy for her, every day, all the time.  She deserves it.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Update: Donna!

Believe it or not -- and at this point so much time has passed it is probably slightly hard to believe -- I finally called Donna!  I whined about her previously here and here.

It was last Tuesday, June 14, Flag Day, and Casey's birthday.  I figured the absolute worst case scenario would be for me to call Donna, find out that Casey was dead, and that I had upset Donna by calling and asking about her.  This may or may not be realistic to worry about, but I am kind of a worrier, and good solid worrying doesn't have much to do with being realistic.  I thought that on Casey's birthday Donna was sure to be thinking about her, so she'd already be upset.  It was a great plan!

I called around 7:30pm, from my bedroom closet.  I make all my phone calls in my closet now, it's a habit I picked up when I started called Mom every other day to check on her when she hurt her back several years ago.  She was in so much pain and was so depressed.  The calls were brutally difficult to make but I felt like it was so important to check in with her, to try to think of something funny or interesting to tell her about my day when her days were filled with nothing but incapacitating pain.  When my mother can't even fake being cheerful, things are bad.  I got into the habit of making the calls from my comforting dark womb-like closet, and sometimes I'd hold hands with one of the long sleeved shirts.  I suppose we all take our comfort where we can get it.

Donna answered the phone, and I recognized her voice.  She was thrilled to hear from me, and realized who I was as soon as I said my name, despite not having spoken to me for two decades or so.  Then she asked where I got her number, and when I told her I found it online, she seemed a bit disturbed.  I told her I just looked in the white pages online (if she's listed in the phone book she's listed online), and she said that actually she doesn't have internet access at home anymore, and never uses her computer.

Well, that explains her absence from Facebook.  I'd rather lose one of my toes that not have a computer with internet, but I guess everyone has different priorities.

My old friend from high school is not dead!  Casey is alive and well and living in Washington DC with her Puerto Rican husband and her 14 year old daughter.  Donna gave me her number and wrote down mine, so we can all continue to keep in touch.  We spoke for more than 30 minutes, catching up and just enjoying hearing each other's voices again.

I actually waited a couple of days to call Casey.  I wanted to give Donna time to tell Casey I'd called, and who knows, maybe Casey would even call me first.  On Thursday night she hadn't called and so I took the phone back into the closet and called her.

I got an answering machine, and was leaving a message: "Hi Casey, this is Ellen, I just called to say hi --" and I heard the line pick up and her voice shrieked: "ELLEN!  YOU'RE NOT DEAD!"

Well, I guess my old friend and I always did have a few things in common.  Her sister Donna had not called her, and my voice on her answering machine was completely unexpected.  We had the most wonderful time bringing each other up to speed on marriages and careers and families and just all the things that make up a life.  She sounded happy, and completely in love with her husband and her daughter, who sounds remarkably like the teenage Casey I was friends with.  She and her family are planning a trip to Orlando sometime later this year, so I should be able to get to see her, after all these years.

I am so glad I finally called!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Update: Bread!

I wrote here about my neighbor from back home in Virginia sending me her recipe for homemade bread.

I wrote here about how I tried it, and I screwed it up.

I briefly mentioned here about how I tried it again, and screwed it up again.

The third time was the charm!  It still wasn't quite as good as hers, but it was close, and it was delicious.  

The initial little lump of dough, all set to cover with a clean dishtowel and put on top of the refrigerator to rise for an hour:

It worked!  It's risen.  Yay!

I punched it down gently and let it rise again for another hour, then put it into the loaf pan and let it rise for yet another hour (this whole deal is time-consuming).

Here it is out of the oven:

It still was a little bit more dense than her original, but it tasted so good, and it was very close to what I remember so fondly from my childhood.

Greg liked it, too.  Now I just need to write her a long letter, including those pics, to thank her and let her know I finally did it.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Too Much

On May 31 I started writing my new novel, the young adult novel about the 17 year old lesbian.  I made a vow to write every single day, even if I didn't have time to write more than a few sentences.  I will say this for myself:  I have kept that vow and written at least a teensy bit every single day, so far.  I'm trying to develop a habit, which is a little difficult since I work varying hours and can't get into a regular routine with it.  I feel like it is important to check in with my story and my characters every day, even on days when spending quality writing time is impossible.

That first week everything went great.  I found at least an hour a day to write, sometimes more, and by the end of the week Chaper One was finished.  I am beginning to figure out what works best for me, and I love the freedom to write a little and edit a little, write a little and revise a little.  Doing NaNoWriMo I just threw myself into writing and literally never re-read or re-wrote one single word; I didn't have time.  This way I might write fewer than my NaNo goal of 1,700 words per day (ha!), but I do end up with (I hope) better words.

I love my characters so much.  It was positively joyful.

Last Monday my husband hurt his back at work.  Being who he is, he not only didn't tell me, he actively tried to hide it from me.  He went to work Tuesday and Wednesday, and even went in early on Thursday for extra work.  I finally realized something was wrong, but my reasonable suggestions (aka yelling) fell on deaf ears. 

I wish I could flip a switch and turn off my worry gene.  He didn't want to worry me, and of course, once I found out he was hurt, I worried.  He finally stayed home from work on Friday.  Saturday I had to work, and we missed a friend's birthday party.  I tried so hard to make Greg take it easy all weekend, to do everything that needed to be done. 

Last week was also horrible at work.  Several people were out, and my tiny department was extremely short-staffed.  It was hectic and stressful, and I didn't get home until late each night.  Also, I had my period, and all the stress and worry seemed to coagulate right in my poor uterus.  I was in pain and not sleeping well.

I did still manage to find at least a small amount of time, even if it was only 15 minutes, to sit down with my writing every day.  I didn't get much done, but I am cultivating my habit, so I felt like something was accomplished, and all week I was just looking forward to Sunday, my one day off, to make up for lost time.  Sunday, I was sure, I would be able to reconnect with my characters and be joyful again.

Of course, it didn't work that way.  I wrote a little, rewrote all of what I'd just written, and couldn't think what should come next.  I got stuck, which isn't too surprising, given my state of mind.  But it was such a heartbreaking disappointment.   This writing thing is tearing out my heart in ways I'd never expected.

When my sweetie's back still wasn't okay yesterday he went to the doctor, who said it is just a strain causing muscle spasms, and it's not too serious.  He's home from work today and tomorrow, hopefully after that he'll be fine.

And finally last night I was able to get home from work at a reasonable hour, and get back into my novel, really.  I see what's going to happen next, and what happens after that, and I am so looking forward to writing it.  Hopefully it'll be a little bit joyful again.