Wednesday, December 29, 2010


The Seattle Art Museum will offer a collection of Pablo Picasso’s paintings, drawings and sculpture for a few more weeks. SAM’s curators worked with the French Musée National Picasso in Paris to include Seattle in a global tour of Pablo Picasso’s personal art collection.

Selected works were explained by art experts on an audio self-tour. I was tempted to snicker at a couple colorful paintings of circles and swirls. A lip and one eye overlaid pastel-colored “peaches” and “pears”. You will recognize my description as ignorant. I tend to prefer realism in my art.

But then I heard the expert explain Picasso’s view of reality. To paint these women Picasso asked himself, “What do I see when I am kissing a woman?”

Photographs of Pablo’s wife and lovers were displayed with his art. I looked at these beautiful women and responded smiling indulgently, “the whole person: forehead, two eyes, nose, lips, chin.” You get the picture.

But that is not reality. Kiss someone and open one eye. What do you see? What do you really see?

A writing exercise asked me to study a rock and write what I saw. When I was finished, I was given a clean sheet of paper and told to look again. Unbelievably I filled another paper.

Picasso, according to the expert, was telling me: Look at your marriage, your congregation, a friendship, yourself. What do you really see? Or do you look for what you think you should see?

Now look again.

Monday, December 27, 2010


Kay Ryan has taught me a new word, again.  Nacreous.  In her poem, “Lacquer Artist”, she writes:

“There is a nacreous gleam
in certain areas of the mind
where something must have been
at some time—
perhaps many somethings,
judging by the pearlescence;”

Abalones secrete nacre, a mucous layer of calcium carbonate that hardens into a protective coating. The layers upon layers built up throughout the lifetime of the mollusk shine with iridescence most attractive to beach combers. As we turn the shell in our hands, the light reflection dazzles us with different colors. We see depth as if the light was emanating from beneath the shell surface.

Nacreous could refer to layers upon layers of varnish like the lacquer artist applies to a serving tray or the fine woodworker to a cherry plank. We own such a wooden box with 30 layers of varnish gently sanded between applications. The result is a surface of deep silk begging to be stroked.

The metaphor of luminescent layers implies life and light, value and desirability.

Grace refused to open her eyes yesterday morning, refused to get out of bed. When she finally sat up, the pushed-back blankets revealed shoes on her feet. She shook a fist, threw her breakfast and glared with dark, open pupils. There was no depth in her eyes. The flat blackness reflected the vacancies in her brain and warned us to give her space and quiet. We respect her fragility.

This morning she giggles and plays with her eyes, looking up to measure our reaction. The nacreous gleam shows acceptance and curiosity from historical depths of participative living. There is still light emanating from deep within her mind. She is a treasure.

Ryan, Kay. The Best of It: New and Selected Poems. Grove Press. 2010. Amazon.

Monday, December 20, 2010


On this date in 1974 we were munching pizza at Jan and John's house in Battle Creek MI. My meal was interrupted by a trip to the hospital. Three hours later we were gifted with a son.

Most of the world pays no attention to the significance Dec. 21 holds for us.

Winter Solstice arrives sometime on this date. Or perhaps the astronomical event was observed in the next three days. The point of Solstice is that the longest, darkest days of the year are completed. We now observe light slowly showing predominance.

Rituals celebrating the return of Light have varied through the centuries and cultures of our world.

My memories of Solstice evening are of a quiet, nearly dark room. My chair seated me at a window. I could see the Christmas lights of the city below. My new son in my arms, I sang songs of welcome to another child born many years before.

"Joy to the world, the Lord has come. Let earth receive her King."

"Hail the sun of righteousness! Light and life to all he brings."

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


The word “Leadership” conjures up a picture of Christopher Columbus on his 75 foot boat sailing from southern Spain across unknown and uncharted seas. Strange and hideous creatures were rumored to own these waters. The unknown was an emotional challenge. The uncharted meant he and his sailors used a quadrant and a navigation technique called dead reckoning.

What Columbus had in his favor was a goal: gold and a Chinese civilization full of spices. His vision was to be a hero to Spain. Queen Isabella was willing to name him hero in exchange for the riches.

The process (voyage) demanded he ignite the vision of his sailors. They needed to own the process. Columbus was motivated and he bet all their lives on it.

Monday, December 13, 2010


Theo has been a leader all his life. A retired business owner, he has strong ideas about what he wants in his church. He has the money to buy agreement for his opinions, and does so.

Pieter has been a leader all his life. A professional who works with groups and associations, he has ideas about what he wants in his church. He has the money to buy his way, but he understands the importance of process.

Crystal has been a leader all her life. She is a valuable volunteer in both church and community. She refuses to be elected but serves self-appointed. She is a satellite swooping overhead 24-7 picking up tidbits from everyone’s lives. She fits them together with uncanny accuracy. She is never malicious with her information, but she likes to know it all.

Marcus has been a leader all his life. He is the accounting partner in a prosperous business. His hobby is building intricate rail road layouts. At church he is serving as chairman of a sound system committee and is terrified of making a mistake. So he tables motions, insists on collecting more information, and delays producing a proposal month after month.

Tammy and Donald have been leaders all their lives. They celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary and worried the details of their party until rescued by their daughter. They flutter around relationships in their church and see both sides to every issue.

Against his wife’s better judgment, Phillip was elected to the church board as an elder. He has proven to be a man of few but thoughtful words. He asks questions that lead the board to profitable discussions that put the brakes on Theo. Board meetings are now adjourned by 10:30 pm because Phillip gets up at 3:00 am for work. The process and quality of Board deliberation has improved.

If we take another look at “Irene” dangling above my profile, we clearly see that each element in SueRena Curtis‘s mobile is integral to the whole. I can’t imagine her without her hat, curly hair or neck piece, can you?

As St. Paul wrote in I Corinthians 12, “Your body has many parts…but no matter how many parts you can name, you’re still one body.”  And many parts swinging together enhance any process.

from The Message. Eugene H. Peterson

Friday, December 10, 2010


Hope was moved from her home to the hospital with pneumonia. During her week stay she suffered a small stroke. She couldn’t walk or feed herself. She was sent to Rehab.

Hope doesn’t remember the ambulance ride, the first weeks of hospital or rehab. Her reality tells her she was doing well in her own home with her own things. As long as she is sitting comfortably she thinks she can do everything she used to do.

She is confused and angry. She is fed food she didn’t order. (The home must be a restaurant.) She doesn’t have her purse to tip the girl who does her nails. She forgets she can’t walk and tries to get out of her wheel chair.

Hope and her now deceased husband gave a home to over 200 foster children. She is frustrated that she can’t even get out of her chair to reach the tissue box for “that woman there.”

Lloyd delivered newspapers when he was 10. He was forced to retire from his sales rep work because of a heart attack and open heart surgery. He never developed a hobby and doesn’t care to read. He walks twice a day and then comes home and sits in a chair by the front window. Lloyd’s wife continues to work and volunteer.  Lloyd stays home and cooks supper. He can’t seem to find a satisfying routine.

Routine gives us a sense of purpose and hope for the future. When we are abruptly removed without warning we have no time or help transitioning to an acceptable routine.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


I once heard who invented “sticky notes” and how it was serendipitous. I don’t remember their name but I wish them a wonderful life.

The little colored stacks make my life possible. Phone numbers, to do reminders, cook book markers, quotes of our residents (“I must be a pain that a pill can’t reach”), an art print at Fred Hutchinson cancer research (“Whale Huggers” by Don McMichael), and the list goes on.

I can see at least 7 sticky notes littering my desk. There are probably more in my basket of business cards—massage, dentist, publishing house editors, plumbers.

I’ve been using a yellow pad for a month or two. One hot pink sticky note is buried under my current priority pile. It gives me a phone number and name, but no context. It will stay under the pile until I conjure up the courage to call the number and admit I don’t remember who or why.

Routine is important to maintain sanity. But the exceptions give our routines flavor and texture. They color our communications with alternatives and differences. They suggest “what if?” and other curious opportunities. The little sticky notes are cheerful carriers.

Until we really don’t remember. We no longer see the lineup of sticky notes on the refrigerator or our bathroom mirror. And if we do notice, we don’t know what they mean. They haven’t just become part of the landscape. We really don’t understand the words.

When Geraldine first moved to Adagio and asked her relative why she was being punished, the answer was delusional.

"I wrote you sticky notes but you took them down and threw them away."

Monday, December 6, 2010


Sunday morning gave us sunshine, soft lavender cirrus clouds to the north, compounding cumulous to the south. Possession Sound quietly reflected the ribbons of light blue sky. On Mt. Baker, the Olympics and Cascade mountains sunlight sparkled like diamonds against white shoulders wrapped in ermine.

The morning gifted us with calm. I would love to think this quiet peace is the way life should always be. I want to think quiet contentment is normal.

Such normalcy would allow us to go about our routines, to easily find comfort in the ordinary.

Sunday afternoon the clouds from the south herded the cirrus clouds toward British Columbia and scattered rain. Geraldine in her wheel chair and I took a flying run up the cul de sac to see the neighbors’ Christmas lights. We got wet but laughed all the way into the house.

3 PM a new caregiver quit before she had a chance to start. So we must work her shifts until we contract with someone new.

3:30 PM a resident followed a delusion out the front door. My husband followed him until reality tripped our dear friend and he fell into a bush.

Sunday evening our expectation of quiet normalcy was gone. We were tempted to complain that life wasn’t fair. Instead we served supper and gave thanks for the brief respite of calm in the morning.

Tomorrow is always another day.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


When my husband serves churches as Certified Transitional Minister, he is not there to preach the saints into his own version of a new system. He holds up a mirror so they can see the reality of what their system is accomplishing. He takes a picture of the myriad foot paths marring the beauty of their congregation (Post TT2). If the members study the picture and consider their ways, they can begin to ask questions. Questions can lead to a new way of walking.

I was describing to a visitor why we had moved six times in 12 years and he began to smile. For 20 years he had served an international company as trouble shooter. If an area office was failing to meet its goals, he might be called in to assess the situation. He visited shops, suppliers and transporters. He interviewed and observed employees, both management and workers. He made few comments until he wrote his report.

Every organization develops a system and sometimes it works. Sometimes the System outlives its efficacy. So many detours have developed around the System that separating tradition from fact is next to impossible. The Vision of the organization can no longer be succinctly stated. Past history just goes on, until controversy builds barriers between members. Distance digs trenches. Bridges are blown up. Transitions become discordant road blocks.

Monday, November 29, 2010


A law tells us what the lawmaker considers important.

For example, Keep Off the Grass informs us that someone has put effort and expense into the green turf.

I observed such a sign. It obviously was effective because the grass was neatly kept. Bordering the grass was an island with shrubbery and mulch. A foot path had been worn next to the bushes. Branches were broken off leaving pathetic stubs proferring a few forlorn leaves. The grass was preserved at the expense of the shrubs.

A system isn’t born in a day. First comes a need that requires solution and if the need is repeated, a foot path becomes visible. Over time we walk the path so often our mind is free to wander elsewhere.

Over time our needs change. We develop new ways of walking but the old paths remain. Some become institutionalized and revered. We call them Time Honored Traditions.

Saturday, November 27, 2010


The following was published as a guest blog post on

In the Pacific NW we wear the same clothes most of the year but in more layers or less. Friday night was half-heartedly scattering rain on the roads. The temperature reflected November rather than August. I slipped out of my sandals, dug to the back of my closet and retrieved dressy flats with the “trouser” socks stuffed in the toes from the last time I wore them, probably last March. I pulled the stockings up to my knees, slipped on my shoes and rushed out the door.

In the car as I drove to the Interstate I felt an odd tickling sensation creeping down my legs.  I couldn’t reach down until I was parked at the church for my meeting. My socks had slipped from my knees to my ankles and as I moved my feet to unload my briefcase and water bottle, they kept sliding. I could feel my heels naked in my shoes, my socks bunched under my instep.

I experienced a change that brought back memories from fifth grade. I remember spending the day hopping on one foot while pulling up the other sock. Within minutes the adjustment needed to be repeated.

Friday night I did not respect the unwritten rules of transition when I changed my shoes. I did not examine my wardrobe making sure each article of clothing covered what they needed to cover before appearing in public. I made an assumption and now I would stand cowering behind a podium dreading the moment of exit with my socks pooling around my feet.

As we transition, we examine our situation, needs, abilities, assumptions. Honesty assists us in gracefully modulating the passage from one position to the next. If we don’t try them on, we won’t know that the socks don’t fit. Worse, we won’t change.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving Day

In honor of the official bird of the day I am linking to my friend, Victoria Redhed Miller
and her blog, Pot Pies and Egg Money. Enjoy.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


Every home, every organization has a working system, whether or not we can identify it.

At Adagio we have a system for cleaning that everyone has signed on to so no one feels like Cinderella. We have a system for meals. For example, Sunday is roast beef, Monday some form of piggy, Tuesday ham loaf because two residents can no longer chew spiral cut ham. Wednesday we prepare two recipes of chicken and something else for the resident who can’t swallow chicken. Week in week out, the system gives us efficiency and flexibility.

We have a system for cooking. We buy beef and pork in chunks weighing upward of 15 pounds. My husband slow roasts it and then I divide it into commercial plastic boxes for freezing. We order 30 pounds of ham ground with pork sausage from D&D Meats (great meat market in Mt. Lake Terrace). We divide it into one-meal loaves and freeze it.

If one person changes their dietary needs, that change affects the whole system. We used to bake exclusively with sugar. Now we study ways to cut sugar and carbohydrates for our diabetic.

I worked for a company that hired a new person who freely used the “f” word. She changed the atmosphere in the whole office.

We served a church where two or three families adamantly pushed for change that didn’t fit with the stated vision. When they flounced out to join a “more progressive” church in town, the entire congregation breathed a sigh of relief.

Personnel, illness, death, job loss are all changes that affect the system. Picture “Irene” with her left eye spinning. Your expectations of this blog would change. Actually, that sounds like fun.

If an element of the system doesn't work, we do not enshrine it and call it Tradition. We change. We transition.

Monday, November 22, 2010


Yes, I know the light was red as we completed our left turn from Sievers Deucy to Glenwood. But we have sat for two days at that traffic light and we took a chance. The only other vehicles were stopped at their red on Glenwood. An airport express van and a PUD utility truck are not known to accelerate rapidily (Fun to say. Try it.)

If you don’t know Glenwood, read in the intersection that makes you wait where you live. The historically worst was waiting at Ignacio Valley Rd for a full 4.5 minutes per cycle. If I was on a motorcycle I had to wait for a car to pull up behind me in the left turn lane and trigger the signal.

A system is a routine that allows function and regularity, such as traffic control. It is a collection of subsystems, such as traffic lights.

The law says Red stop and Green go. I have heard so many versions of Yellow since Drivers’ Ed days that I am unsure of the correct interpretation.

These laws have transitioned through the years from courtesy stops before the invention of traffic lights to today's fineable offenses. They supposedly keep us safe. Perhaps. But they also allow us to drive on autopilot with cursory glances at other traffic. 

They have become an accepted part of our system. We even have a name for it: intelligent transportation system. The newest addition is the traffic enforcement camera system that records our infractions and transfers the news to a machine. I don’t know who or what part of the system callously mails us a ticket.

Cameras are the subject of much debate, while waiting at the traffic light at Sievers Deucy and Glenwood is a foregone conclusion. Unless we can accelerate into the intersection while the light is still green and the airport express driver is daydreaming.

Sunday, November 21, 2010


The Cascade mountain range arches its back like a sleepy dragon from northern California to British Columbia. During the night our section of the North Cascades pushed head first up to low lying clouds scattering white precipitation onto its shoulders. This morning, between rain squalls the sun briefly highlighted this seasonal beauty.

Changing seasons means the vague purple shapes of summer become defined peaks and ridges as they accumulate a snow cap. The highest volcanic peak we can see from our home is Mt. Baker. It receives 150 inches of snow each year. That much snow never completely melts.

Short term memory loss, like the first snow, delineates aging. There is sudden awareness that we are not the same as we were ten, twenty years before. It may be a warning of seasonal change in our lives.

In I Remember Nothing Nora Ephron writes, “I have been forgetting things for years, but now I forget in a new way. I used to believe I could eventually retrieve whatever was lost and then commit it to memory. Now I know…whatever’s gone is hopelessly gone. And what’s new doesn’t stick.”

Dementia is “the general term used to describe various diseases and conditions that damage brain cells.”  Not every senior develops dementia. Not every senior with dementia exhibits the same disabilities. We are unique and remain so in our decline.

Alzheimer's disease is the form of dementia most commonly recognized, but it is not the only manifestation.

Knowing the signs of the seasons allows us to prepare for the transition. If we plan to drive through a mountain pass in winter, we buy snow chains or change our car’s tires. Or, we can take our chances.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


Years before the Anno Domini calendar was instituted, an extended family moved to Egypt to avoid the drought and famine in the country where they tended sheep. The ruling pharaoh gave them their own territory where the sheep wouldn’t mix with Egypt’s cattle. In this good land the generations gave birth to more generations.

In time the sons and daughters of Israel, as they were called, were so numerous that in the current Pharaoh’s mind they threatened his power. He didn’t remember the famine, or the original Israel. His advisors suggested he look at the Israelites as a cheap labor pool and get to work on his tomb.

Through decades of hardship the Israelites began to remember the God of their great-grandfathers. They prayed that He do something to relieve their suffering. He planned their release from enslavement, and decided to transfer to the slaves the blessings Egypt had received. He instructed his people to claim the wealth of the Egyptians on their way out of town.

After enduring blood, boils and death, the Egyptians pushed their riches on the work-hardened slaves. As part of the Exodus, gold jewelry, coins, and fabric traveled with the Israelite families.

From this story came the saying, take gold from the Egyptians.  It simply means take a look at any learning and wisdom. After ruminating I can decide whether or not the idea fits with my personal credo. At least that’s the way I read it.

I attended a writers’ conference and was describing to another attendee the wisdom I had gained from an author. When I showed the book* to her, I was surprised to be chastised that Nouwen was a Roman Catholic.

Well, I knew that. What I didn’t know was the wisdom found on a particular page which I was overjoyed to learn. And share.

Shamed, I took back the book, slunk to my seat and quietly muttered, “The rain falls on the just and the unjust fella. But mostly on the just because the unjust took the just’s umbrella.”

*Nouwen, Henri J.M.  The Wounded Healer.  Doubleday.  Garden City, NY.  1972.

Monday, November 15, 2010


It had been a busy day. Two of the residents in our home sat smiling at morning visitors who arrived full of voluble bonhomie. From out-of-town they were rightly pleased to have made the effort. With more kissing and laughter, they finally left.

Grace’s daughter visited in the afternoon with new shoes. Grace’s dementia had been shaken and stirred beyond her comprehension. Her eyes were hard, expressionless buttons.

She rejected the shoes by throwing them and shouting “No!”  Her controls, stripped by the loud morning activities, reduced her to brain stem-reactivity with bad language hurled at everyone.

The daughter left in tears.

When dementia is upset, everyone pays. Her anxiety and anger caused her to physically resist toileting and any bed preparation. For more than twenty minutes I stood beside her bed waiting her out.  She finally pulled her feet up onto the bed, lay down fully clothed, and grabbed the covers from me. Holding her head with her right hand she muttered, “I will kill you.”

I tried one more time. Before closing her bedroom door I blew her a kiss. Without changing facial expression, she took her hand from her head and “caught” the kiss.

Thursday, November 11, 2010


Especially on Veterans' Day we remember the individuals we know who served as protectors of our liberty.

My mother, Agnes Vander Molen served as a nurse in WWII. She was 95 in June.
Brother-in-law, Bob served with the Navy off the coast of Vietnam.
Our son, Chad served with the Marines in Kuwait and Korea.
My nephew, Jack served in the Army.
My niece's husband is serving in Afghanistan.

There are others and you can name those who represent your family unit.

Thank you to each one. We celebrate your service.
Freedom isn't free.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


Newborn: We are still attached to our mother figure.
Terrible twos: We are testing limits.

Fifth grade: Until Spring Vacation this is the last good year of our lives. When fifth graders return, their teachers discover an unfamiliar group of people acting strangely.
Teenagers, as we adults choose to call them, become hormone riddled and in fits and starts cease to be human.

I know I have generalized. But these four transition points introduce the concept of learning who we are and who we are not. We define our boundaries. We develop descriptions of our “Self”.

Using the wind chime analogy, we differentiate our element’s color from the other family members as we dangle and swing.

Saturday, November 6, 2010


Expressions describing reactions to anxiety or fear:

Quick to blow a fuse.  Red haired hot head. Lose your temper. Irish temper. Quick temper. Hair trigger temper.

Laid back. Slow to anger. Unfailingly patient.

We are working on our reaction time. How quickly does your family unit vibrate and make noise?

Family systems, and so individuals, handle stress and anxiety differently. Chronic anxiety circles around and through us all the time, increasing and decreasing with normal stressors. It is part of life.

But the “fight or flight” response reacts to sudden, perceived danger producing bursts of adrenaline.

Some of us see dangerous threat where others see only a curious shadow. The difference of viewpoint can cause our family wind chime to furiously jangle or gently swing.

Sunday, October 31, 2010


Edwin H. Friedman has written a collection of fables posing “dilemmas of human phenomenon.” The first time I read the first fable I was horrified at his proposition and I quivered for more than a week.

The fable describes a man who has, after much thought, determined his life’s goal. He packs a satchel and heads out to achieve it. He has a vision.

Traversing a bridge he sees a stranger approaching from the other side carrying a coil of rope looped around his waist and shoulder. They greet each other. The stranger asks the man to hold the end of his rope for a minute.

Not wishing to be rude—but wishing he had kept walking—the man reluctantly agrees. He no sooner holds the rope end in his hand than the stranger walks to the side edge of the bridge, uncoils the rope and jumps off.

Dr. Friedman recounts the conversation between the man and the stranger dangling at the end of his rope. We read the man recognizing his situation: continue to hold the rope and lose his vision or let go and hear the stranger drop.

In another book Dr. Friedman writes that asking correct questions is more important than searching for a smattering of answers.

The question I read in this fable is: what is the guiding force in the man’s life?
What question do you see?

Friedman's Fables - The Bridge

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


Children of alcoholics smell anxiety like a cat smells a dog.  Their life depends on reading the people they depend on.

Though hard of hearing with her thought processes clouded by her dementia, Geraldine will wake up when someone else experiences distress. From her space she will offer “I’m sorry” without being involved in the situation. We offer to roll her to her room so she can put on lipstick. She knows she is being removed and she automatically says, “I’m so dumb.”

The wind chime of Geraldine’s family of origin was a jumbled kaleidoscope of sharp edges and unexplained change. There was a constant buzz of anxiety whenever her father showed up at the house. Would he be happy? Angry? Would he punish whoever unwittingly crossed his path? When Dad began to vibrate, everyone suffered.

Geraldine married a man just like dear old dad. We usually do because we search out the same level of coping that we grew up with. We are comfortable with what we know. After a tumultuous year her mother moved in and her husband moved out.

Forty years later her mind returns her to the reality of her youth. Knowing that reality helps us transition her to love and laughter in the present.

Monday, October 25, 2010


Geraldine has lived with worsening dementia for several years. Her family struggled to keep her in her own home much longer than was good for her. But how do you know?

They hired home care nurses to manage her medications and Geraldine chased them out with her fists and rake. She hid the pill bottles or took half the pills at one time. When her family discovered she was hiding her bills under her mattress and not paying them, they changed her mail delivery to their address. When they took over her banking, they learned she hadn’t cashed a pension or social security check in two years.

The family could no longer cover for her when Geraldine’s neighbors called at 2 AM complaining that she was pounding on their door asking for a ride to her house “miles away.” She did have the sense to call 911 after turning on all the gas burners of her stove.

“What happened?” she often asks us. “I worked hard all my life and I can’t even live in my own home. This isn’t fair.”

In her mind Geraldine is 40 or maybe even 50 years old. She kept a clean house and worked outside through rain and cold to manicure a yard the envy of the neighborhood. In her mind that is still the case.

Geraldine loved to weed and could reach the ground without bending her knees. Since a series of small TIAs she has been unable to walk more than 40 steps without a walker and assistance. In her mind she needs to get going and “do some stuff.”

Unable to raise herself out of her wheelchair she whispers conspiratorially, “How do I get out of this place?”

Her nephews and nieces come to visit but she doesn’t recognize these adult people. In her mind they should look like teenagers with long, unruly hair.

Geraldine lives in her own reality, sometimes joining ours and sometimes resisting. What happened is immaterial. What gives her pleasure and joy does matter.

Friday, October 22, 2010


Dementia smells anxiety like a cat smells a dog.

She can survive a loud noise, a door bell. Noisy visitors in the kitchen bring her forward in her living room chair. With a frown on her face she asks “What the hell?” (More about language later.) This is a sudden, acute anxious reaction.

But chronic anxiety that never becomes obvious enough to transition into a feeling is too much continual stimulation. Without knowing why, Dementia becomes angry.

When Dementia begins to vibrate, everyone suffers.

Monday, October 18, 2010


Someone in our family, who will remain nameless, dislikes tinkling wind chimes. I used to have a wind chime but became tired of re-hanging it after someone took it down. If the shells from Hawaii or cheap, tinkling tubes from China reproduced the thundering majesty of Berlioz’ Requiem with four brass choirs, 400 singers and a thousand kazillion tympanis, he someone would hang them on both north and south sides of our house. I have settled for occasionally enjoying our neighbor’s large, wooden wind chime singing in a stiff wind.

Similarly our families, as emotional units, vibrate like a wind chime or mobile. Each member is separate yet attached to another through the supporting bar or string. When a breeze disturbs one member, the balance shifts and all parts are affected. 

Transitional winds puff and blow, challenging our family’s balance. Our pattern of response reveals our system's learned coping techniques. 

None of us swings freely like a spider beginning a new web. We are all connected to long-established webs, some of which effectively fed us and some of which were easily blown apart, giving us little support and no sense of security. Considering the variety of wind chimes and mobiles available in the market place, we also recognize the variety and uniqueness of family systems.

Thank you to the creative and generous Sue Rena Curtis for allowing us to display her mobile, “Irene”.

Saturday, October 16, 2010


Lyrics are words written to accompany music as expression of emotion and thought. Our emotions may set us to chattering. When we take a deep breath and release the unessential verbiage, we enter a spiritual exercise in succinct storytelling.

First we tell our story to ourselves. It is wise to apply the adage, don’t believe everything you think. Then we call for accountability and confirmation and the harmony begins. In time Truth may settle our nerves, and while it may not give us perfect pitch, Truth will encourage us to keep living with lyricism.

We enjoy favorites that combine musicality and words expressing our feelings of identity, place, belonging. Experience can be so individual that we continually invent new expressions. When we experience change these favorite lyrics keep us on the page.

It is a plain song that denies the history of our relationships, the connections with previous generations and dependence on a creative being beyond ourselves.

Unfortunately some days come when we begin to sing and the words wander away from us, when we need others to pick up the staff and lead us. Dementia or stressful circumstances force us into transitions where we barely recognize ourselves. The stories of family, friends and faith support us.

I look forward to sharing lyrics with you.

Thursday, October 14, 2010


When we bought our adult family home we were edging side step toward retirement. Having never been retired before, we were uncertain how to define our life. Time was obviously an element of the definition as was activity. Remove meaningful activity and retirement becomes a slow death. We decided we preferred transition.

Our licensed home carried a name that began with an R and had little meaning for us. My husband suggested Adagio which would put us at the beginning of the alphabet (marketing tool). A musical term, Adagio indicates a slower tempo than Presto or Allegro, but faster than Grave.

We particularly liked the dance definition as “a section of the pas de deux in which the ballerina and her partner perform steps requiring lyricism and great skill in lifting, balancing, and turning.” Lifting and turning sounded a lot like transfers and physical therapy. Adagio is usually the second movement in a four-movement symphony. After almost three years of senior care, movement is written daily in our log but accompanied by important words like hard, formed, loose.

Adagio is a deliberate tempo giving time for reflection and deep breathing, rich harmonies and counterpoint. We move with ease from running arpeggios into soft, exploratory chords.

Adagio is a good change of pace regardless of your age or situation, a balanced stance during transition.