Chives

Perhaps not the most exciting flower in my garden, but I’m so pleased this chive plant is doing well – it was donated to us last autumn by my mother-in-law, from her garden in Peterhead (along the east coast towards Aberdeen).

It’s a small part of a plant she’d taken with her from her previous garden, which was situated only about 10 miles from where we are now. And the original had been given to her as a small plant by someone else who had it growing in their garden, so it’s been a well-travelled herb and I’m so glad to see it surviving happily in its new home back in Inverness again 🙂

Flower of the Day

Maw-Maw T’s Cornbread Recipe

  • 1 block oleo (here in UK that’s 4oz baking margarine)
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 1 cup milk

Combine oleo, eggs and sugar until fluffy (about 5 mins), sift dry ingredients and add alternately with milk. Pour into a greased pan and bake at 350 degrees F until done (approx 45 mins)

After posting about my mother-in-law’s hand-written recipe cards for this week’s Weekly Prompt, a couple of people have asked me for her mother’s recipe for cornbread, a family favourite from my husband’s childhood and one he still uses today – so here it is, definitely cake-y rather than bread-y despite the name but lovely in its rich yellowy sweetness… Enjoy! 🙂

Firm Family Favourites

Tucked safely inside a small old cardboard box on our book-shelf sits a stack of well-used hand-written recipe cards passed on to my husband from his mother, detailing some of his favourite family recipes from childhood. Included are his grandmother’s recipe for cornbread – a firm favourite with our grandchildren – one for Mrs Simmon’s pecan pie (whoever she was), one for a luscious lemon meringue pie copied from a tin of condensed milk in the late 1950s, and one for sweet potato souffle which I just adore.

To be honest the whole concept of sweet potato as a dessert seemed a bit strange to me to begin with until I thought about carrot cake, which I also love.

If you’ve never tried it there’s absolutely nothing vegetable-y tasting about it at all, if anything it’s a bit caramelised over-sweet for some tastes. It’s basically cooked mashed sweet potato mixed with egg yolks, brown sugar, cinnamon and cream, then whipped egg whites are folded-in before it’s all put into an oven-proof dish and topped with dots of butter and mini marshmallows. Bake it for about 20-25 minutes until the marshmallows are all melted and browned and you have a gooey, scrummy sweet potato souffle to enjoy – yum! 🙂

Weekly Prompts: Recipe Cards

Family First

Didn’t mean to disappear without notice for the last three weeks, just have some urgent family stuff going on that inevitably takes priority over everything else at the moment… Will be back blogging soon enough when life calms down again, see you all on the other side… 🙂

Being There…

Today’s one hour visiting slot at the hospital was taken up by me sitting quietly, watching my 85-year-old dad sleep.

Dad’s usually up and dressed and sitting in the chair next to his bed, but apparently he was feeling really tired this morning so after his breakfast, instead of getting him washed and dressed as usual the nursing staff let him go back to sleep. And sleep he did… in fact he slept, and he slept, and for the full hour I was with him (between 11am and 12pm) he didn’t wake once. Not when I carefully placed a metal-legged hard plastic chair next to his bed and sat down, not when a friendly nurse spoke to me and we discussed how surprisingly deeply dad was asleep today rather than his usual on-and-off dozing (resting his eyes, he used to call it). Dad didn’t even stir when the domestic assistant inadvertently knocked his bed while mopping the floor underneath, or again when dusting the top of the curtain rails around his bed.

So rather than disturb dad’s rest I just sat with him, next to his bed, and watched him sleep. I watched his ageing face, eyes tight shut, not a flicker of movement to suggest he might be about to wake. I watched his lower jaw lying slack within his weathered skin, his top denture sitting too loose in his slightly open mouth as he gave a soft snore every now and again. I watched his chest and stomach rise and fall gently and rhythmically with every inhale and exhale, so peaceful in his repose. I leaned over and held his hand for a while, and although he didn’t stir from his slumber dad’s fingers intuitively folded around mine too. I felt such a surge of protection towards him, this vulnerable old man with dementia and minimal mobility. Because underneath this confused old man exterior, he’s still my lovely, loving dad.

So for a full hour I just sat in a hospital ward and watched my dad sleep, watched him with the same loving scrutiny as when I watched my children and grandchildren sleep when they were babies. He may not have known I was there, but I knew, and the precious time we spend together with dad asleep matters just as much to me as when he is wide awake… ❤

Ragtag Daily Prompt: Watched

A Place Full of Strangers

I haven’t written about visiting my 85-year-old dad for a while because sadly, due to Covid restrictions coming into force at the hospital for three weeks, I simply wasn’t allowed to visit for the duration.

We kept in touch with the ward by phone, so we knew he was doing fine… but still, it was a difficult time not to be able to see dad in person. He has vascular dementia and doesn’t remember about the Covid pandemic, or understand why ordinarily he is only allowed two designated visitors never mind none at all for weeks on end.

So as soon as hospital visiting recommenced at the end of last week I booked a slot to see dad again, and it was such a relief on that first visit to find that we simply picked up pretty much exactly where we had left off – he seemed to have no recollection of the fact that we hadn’t seen him for a few weeks, he was settled and chatty and he looked well.

I noticed that dad has had his hair cut since I saw him last, and with a puzzled look he brushed his hand over his head and said in surprise – oh yes, so I have! So I asked him who had cut his hair, but all he could offer (with a wry smile) was – I’m buggered if I know!

But as soon as I saw dad this morning I realised he was having a ‘lost’ day – where he finds himself neither easily in the here-and-now, nor happily living in the past, but stuck somewhere in between. He said hello and gave a brief smile as I hugged him and sat down, but he kept looking around, distracted and agitated, seemingly trying to pick up visual and aural clues to work out where he was.

I asked him if he was OK, and with sad eyes he said he was in a place full of strangers where he didn’t recognise anyone… A friendly nurse came in and spoke to him by name, and he was surprised that she knew him – he was so sure he didn’t know her. Poor dad, he was so aware that everyone else seemed to know with confidence where they were, so he concluded he must be the one who is confused.

While I was visiting we called mum at home with my mobile phone, and then afterwards my brother called us with the on-screen video function so both he and dad were able to see each other in real time, but dad really struggled to keep his attention on the screen with so many distractions in the background and soon handed the phone back to me, disappointed he was unable to follow the conversation.

I reassured him that it was still good to be able to see my brother via the phone, and dad agreed but wondered why he hadn’t spoken to his mum and dad for a while – he hoped they were still doing fine? I smiled and quietly admitted I didn’t know – what’s the point of reminding him his parents have been dead for a good 30 years…

Dad often lives in this nightmare psychological no-man’s-land these days, alone and lost in a mental landscape ravaged by dementia, increasingly burdened by his inability to make sense of his surroundings. He tries so hard to make his brain work the way he wants it to. He thinks and he thinks and he thinks; puts in so much effort to try to understand it all but somehow nothing makes sense any more.

It hurts us to see him hurting and struggling so much, but with the best will in the world there’s nothing any of us can do to ease that burden for him. There’s no easy-to-read how-to handbook to help with all of this, no instruction manual for coping with the disintegration of mental capacity caused by dementia. All we can do is be there for him and guide him and continue to love him for a long as we can…  

Fandango’s One Word Challenge: Handbook  

Limbo…

For the past five years my elderly dad, dealing desperately with the ongoing difficulties of vascular dementia, has experienced an ever-moving mix of three potential states of being – fully aware of existing in the here and now along with the rest of us, stuck happily in some time-warp parallel universe where for him the past is strangely superimposed onto the present, or suspended scarily in an unfathomable limbo…

When dad was first diagnosed with dementia, of course he was mainly present in the present but with the odd random serious lapse of memory that was certainly more than one step beyond common-or-garden forgetfulness. The first real sign of dad’s depth of confusion came a few days after he returned from his brother-in law’s funeral. Dad was chatting to us about people he’d seen there who he hadn’t seen for ages when he suddenly said – I think I’ll give Ian a call to see how he’s doing. We couldn’t get dad to understand that it had been Ian’s funeral he’d been at to see all those people from his past in the first place…

And then dad started doing the occasional odd thing in place of the everyday thing he’d been doing for years. Like when making a cup of tea, dad would have the cup sitting on the counter upside down but not understand why he couldn’t put anything in the cup. Or worse, he melted the plastic bottom of three electric kettles before we finally stopped him trying to do things in the kitchen. On two occasions dad had filled the kettle then sat it on the hob to boil – the acrid smell of melting plastic had brought my mum running. And on the third occasion dad filled the kettle, balanced it on top of the toaster, and switched the toaster on.

Dad’s dementia is the vascular type, brought on by several small strokes, so as well as cognitive difficulties dad also has worsening mobility issues. In the past he has forgotten how to walk when half way across a room, standing precariously, leaning on two walking sticks and unable to move further because he doesn’t know what to do next. He has forgotten where he was in the process of walking to the bathroom, confused and bewildered and agitated because he needed to go to the loo but couldn’t find his way through the family home he’d lived in for 40-odd years. And we soon found that when dad was in a more lucid frame of mind again, he consistently forgot that he had been unable to do these things. When he was lucid he wouldn’t believe that he’d been so incapacitated, in his mind he was still fine which was so frustrating for him.

It was almost more difficult in the early days when dad was far more aware of his surroundings and what was going on in his brain. In a sense it has become easier as the dementia progresses and dad is spending less and less time in the here and now. We get the occasional glimpse of grounded reality but on the whole these days much of dad’s day is spent reliving random memories of his past in real time, often including people and places long gone. Knowing his family history we can join him there, and have perfectly enjoyable conversations that leave dad feeling visibly content. The other day dad was convinced I was his sister Edith, not his daughter Ruth, so we were chatting happily about going to visit an uncle and aunt along the coast. Everyone dad mentioned has been dead for years but his memories are so real they carry him through.

At other times, though, dad seems to lose his visual and experiential link to the past, but at the same time cannot quite reconnect fully with the present. These are the days where dad just looks lost within himself. He’s neither here nor there, stuck in limbo, and you can see the confusion in his eyes, traced on his furrowed brow. His speech loses its clarity, slurring a little, and often the wrong words come out so communication loses its vibrancy and leaves dad feeling even more lost. He says sometimes he hears my voice and knows I am talking to him but cannot quite understand what I’m saying, everything just sounds jumbled in his head. He looks intently into my eyes trying to make sense of everything but then soon he looks away, despondent.

It’s a horrible situation for him to be in but in spite of all of this, on the whole I find dad is still very much dad. Somehow deep down he has retained some of his dry sense of humour, which always fills me with such an overwhelming feeling of warmth and love. I asked him the other day how he had slept the night before, and he said with the merest hint of a wry smile – With my eyes shut! Oh, how many times over my lifetime I’ve heard that same response, and how wonderful to hear it now. I’m not in denial, I do know that dad’s mind is slowly disintegrating, but personally I prefer to focus on what we can still share together rather than on what has been lost between us.

Dementia really focuses me on the importance of spending whatever time I can with dad, while he’s still with us, while he still knows us. So I visit him, and sit with him, and chat with him. I hold his hand, and hug him and let him feel the familial security of the father-daughter bond that has always been so strong between us. We are where we are in life, but he’s still my dad and I love him as much today as I always have done… ❤

Life and What Matters Most

Fandango’s Provocative Question this week asks:

What’s the best thing you’ve got going on in your life at the moment?

It’s a really good question, and it’s really brought me up short. Life may be far from perfect for me at the moment, but I know in the past it’s definitely been a hell of a lot worse. Not only do I still have a lot going for me, but also I need to acknowledge that every cloud has a silver lining.

At grass roots level, the best thing I have going on in life at the moment is life itself. I’m still sitting here, safe and warm in my own home, with lots of people around me to love who love me too. I have food in my belly and clothes on my back and money in the bank and hope for the future.

OK, so I have a few annoying health niggles, but I’m a post-menopausal woman in my late 50s who has had poor health since childhood so perhaps that’s only to be expected. And yes, we have a few quite serious family worries just now, but at least I have loving family members to be worried for.

So there we go – I honestly think without doubt the precious reality of living has to be the best thing in my life at the moment 🙂

Christmas Decorations I Have Known…

I’m not really one to over-do Christmas decorations – I do have a twinkling tree bedecked with tinsel and ornaments and lights and topped with this cute little fairy, and I like to add a bit of extra festive frippery to the fireplace – well, across the top of the mantelpiece, to be exact. Most of our Christmas decorations in this house have been collected one by one (or group by group) over the years and part of the fun when putting them all together each Christmas is remembering the where and when and how and why we bought them, or were given them, or made them ourselves for that matter!

I remember us buying this little fairy one year after Christmas, in the sales – she was sitting all alone in a sea of random leftover tree ornaments at knock-down prices but still she was smiling, so we paid 50p for her and took her home with us and have loved her ever since. At the time we lived in a small flat so didn’t even have the room to put up a proper tree, instead we just decorated the sideboard with the odd personally-chosen ornament or two, a practice which of course expanded every year as we built up our very own collection of bargain basement Christmas remnants so that today we have a unique festive family of ornamental misfits that seems to suit us very well.

So I suppose looking back over the years, many of my favourite festive memories are linked to the individual Christmas decorations I have known and loved at any given time. Every Christmas my sister still hangs a small red plaited fabric wreath I made for her decades ago, even before her children were born. My youngest daughter still hangs the larger green version we used to have ourselves when she was growing up. In fact she also still has the green candles shaped like Christmas trees from her childhood I bought one year and didn’t ever have the heart to burn. They’ve faded a bit in colour, but have now become part of her family tradition, taking over from ours.

The Christmas decorations I remember from my childhood in the 1960s were mostly made from coloured crepe paper, concertinaed bells and baubles and long magical chains that unfurled to festoon the ceiling like the trim on a frothy petticoat. We always had a real tree, too, that stood precariously propped up in a bucket and smelled of pine resin and shed little needles all over the carpet for the duration. On the tree there were very fragile glass baubles and more robust plastic versions that shimmered and shone, along with multi-coloured fairy lights and feathery silvery tinsel. We had a fairy for the top of the tree then, too, with plastic head and arms and body and painted hair and a long white lacy dress and stiffened underskirt that covered her lack of legs!

I know many people choose to change their Christmas decorations along with their room decor, or go for particular fashionable colour themes, but I must admit I’m not one of them. Much of my modest collection tends to stay the same year after year. Most are traditional white or red or green or silver or gold or combinations thereof, and they don’t so much match as go together in a kind of eclectic, organic mish-mash of memories that make me smile. Some things inevitably come and go, depending on circumstance, and some things stay the course. And I kind of like it that way, it’s less about aiming for a perfect ideal and more about simply making the most of what is in front of me and loving the reality of the result regardless :-).

Weekly Prompt: Festive Memories

Christmas Tree

It’s Saturday again and time for Linda’s Stream of Consciousness post, this week with the prompt of ‘tree’. All of a sudden (or so it feels) it’s two weeks today until Christmas and my Christmas tree is still currently residing in the loft along with the other decorations. Probably time to take it down and do some decorating. But this year everything feels so ominous, with the Omicron variant of Covid spreading like wildfire and no-one knowing what 2022 will bring for us all when it comes to this never-ending pandemic. Family-wise we have some serious ongoing stuff going on, so the thought of putting up a tree feels a bit irrelevant and trivial in the circumstances. But I’m going to do it anyway and mark the end of the year the way we always do, with the familiar rituals of the festive season getting us through the dark days of the winter solstice and hopefully on to brighter days ahead…