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People often describe their life as a whirlwind. For the past month, Rich’s and mine have been a whirlwind on caffeine. It started Thanksgiving weekend after visiting my mother in Sherwood, Oregon, (southwest of Portland). In the past, Rich and I had talked about moving her to our house in Mount Vernon. Seeing her health and outlook on life wasn’t improving and frustrated with our inability to easily gauge her health, and subsequently care, we decided to proceed with moving her to Washington.

Thanksgiving Weekend

A few months earlier, after several concerning calls from my mother’s caregivers, we were going to admit her to skilled nursing center. However, we changed our minds after the root of the issue was determined. While she was left food in the evening to eat, she was feeding it to Cyrano (an increasingly obese rat terrier) or throwing it away. As a result, she was eating only a few hundred calories per day, and growing increasingly weak and disoriented.

The solution was to more closely monitor her eating; although, she continued to slip Cyrano food. For instance, one caregiver related heating up two mini hamburgers for my mother to eat. She then went outside to sweep the porch, but watched my mother feed Cyrano the meat. When she went inside, my mother said the meat was delicious, but couldn’t possibly finish the hamburger buns.

This type of behavior went on for months. By Thanksgiving, Rich and I knew we had to do something. For the rest of the weekend, we discussed what we needed to do. In-between, we enjoyed camping in our motor home (with three cats) at Battleground Lake, and Millersylvania State Park. It was going to be our last weekend for a while when we could focus just on ourselves.

Refrigerator Shuffle

The first weekend of December, we decided to purchase a full-size refrigerator for the Mount Vernon house. Since we’d bought the house, seven years earlier, we’d made-do with an itty-bitty bar refrigerator, which holds a few days of food, some condiments, cans of soda, dried up apple, we’d neglected to eat, and a bag of year-old Christmas cookies.

If my mother was going to live in the house, she’d need a larger refrigerator, in particular, one with a freezer for frozen foods. She’s barely cooked for years. And now typically eats frozen waffles, various TV dinners, canned soups, a few fresh vegetables, and an unimaginable amount of Oreos, chocolate, cakes, and cookies. I suspect most of her calories are in the form of sugar.

Saturday morning, we journeyed to the Sears in Mount Vernon and found a nice stainless steel refrigerator. However, it couldn’t be delivered until mid-January… unless we were willing to purchase the floor model and deliver it ourselves.

We had a trailer so we could move the refrigerator, but it occurred to us that we should bring the new refrigerator to our Kirkland house, and move the older refrigerator to Mount Vernon.

We rushed back to our Mount Vernon house, attached the trailer to Rich’s truck, and zoomed back to Sear’s. An hour later, after Rich draped the refrigerator in three drop cloths, and restrained it from every angle with a dozen or more straps; we were on the road to Kirkland.

As Rich freed the refrigerator in the trailer, I unloaded the one in the house. We then used a dolly to wheel the new refrigerator across the lawn, through the backyard, across the deck, and up a handful of steps, through the French doors, and into the kitchen.

I then helped Rich wheel the old refrigerator out of the house. While he secured it in the trailer, I quickly put our food into the new refrigerator and freezer, and made two sandwiches to eat in the road.

By the time we got back to Mount Vernon, it was rainy so we opted to unload the old refrigerator the next day, and spend the rest of the day getting the house ready for my mother. We removed the furniture from the guest bedroom (except for the bed), cleaning out the drawers in the bathroom, re-arranging the closets to accommodate her clothes, linens, etc. and planned how we could install a small dog run for Cyrano with a magnetic pet door.

Sunday morning, while having breakfast at Denny’s, Rich read the instruction manual for our new refrigerator and panicked when he realized that it may have been plugged in, but could still be in demo mode with the lights on, but nothing running!

Fearful our frozen food was turning to mush, and refrigerated food spoiling, we hopped into the car, and drove to Kirkland. An hour later, we discovered the refrigerator had been turned on. Grumble.

Back in Mount Vernon, we surveyed what it would take to get the old refrigerator up a half flight of stairs to the front door and up another half flight into the kitchen. The only option was to take it apart. Rich removed the shelves and drawers, along with the heavy freezer and refrigerator doors.

I was in charge of cleaning. It’s amazing how much gunk can accumulate even if you regularly scrub and clean!

Even with the refrigerator dismantled, it was challenging to pull it up the stairs. Once in place, and put back together, it was exciting to have a full-sized refrigerator, and know we didn’t have to skimp on purchasing and bringing perishable foods to Mount Vernon. In the past, we supplemented the limited capacity of the bar refrigerator with large ice chests.

Tired, but satisfied with our efforts, we drove back to Kirkland, to do some laundry and get ready for the work week!

The Big Move

The first Saturday in December, we got up hours before the roosters crow, had a quick breakfast at McDonald’s, and then drove to Oregon. Our first stop was to pick up a small U-Haul truck, which we’d reserved the week before. Rich loves to drive trucks so I could sense his excitement!

We’d already scoped out the furniture and “stuff” we planned to take from my mother’s house. While I packed up canned and packaged foods, dishes, pots, and cooking utensils, and surveyed what was in her freezer, Rich worked in the garage.

My brother showed up for two hours, which speed up cleaning out the garage, and moving my mother’s bedroom furniture (sans her bed) into the moving truck. I then transitioned to packing linens, clothes, toiletries, pictures, and collectibles.

We took a break for lunch, and then continued until early evening. My mother’s favorite caregiver from Visiting Angels kept her comfortable during the turmoil of packing up her house.

Having eaten a large lunch at McMenamins Sherwood, where we’d met nearly 12 years ago, we grabbed a cup of coffee at 7Eleven for dinner, and then drove to Target, Costco, and Wal-Mart to find a specific walker (we later purchased it online). Our goal was to “waste” time before heading to Camas, Washington to see Rich’s new grandson, Coen Lavelle Lary.

He was barely two weeks old, and after losing weight, due to jaundice, was back up to his birth weight of 7 pounds. Rich held him for over an hour, while I marveled at his full head of black hair, long delicate fingers, and Norman Rockwell-perfect face.

We slide into bed around after 11 o’clock, waking up early the next morning to finish loading the last few items into the U-Haul, get my mother ready, and then start the long drive to Mount Vernon. Rich drove the truck with Cyrano in the front seat. I drove Rich’s Honda Insight with my mother and her two cats, secured in two kitty carriers.

About ten minutes into Washington, Rich called me on his cell phone, and asked if we could keep Cyrano. Wow! That didn’t take long for his feline addiction to move to the right, to a lesser specie, a canine! Of course, I said “Yes.”

Meanwhile, it never stopped raining. The sky never lightened. The road was never dry. We couldn’t have fathomed a drearier day for a lengthy, thoroughly challenging drive… at least for me!

My mother’s short-term memory is about 30 seconds. She asked the same questions, lamented the same issues, and expressed the same anger and observations over-and-over again. Every hour, it grew worse with her convinced her cats were suffering, and that we were moments from our destination.

It took over 4.5 hours to reach Kirkland, having stopped once at Burger King for a late lunch. Because my mother can barely walk, we had to convince her to use the wheelchair, which created the challenge of getting her out of the car, onto the chair, wheeling her into the restaurant, getting her into the bathroom, getting her back outside, and into the car, etc.

And of course, the entire time, the rain never stopped!

Because we planned to be away for another few days, we stopped for twenty minutes at our Kirkland house to feed our cats, empty their kitty litter boxes, and collect the mail.

By the time, we reached Mount Vernon it was dark, cold, and still raining. We got my mother into the wheelchair, and “pulled” her up the front steps of the house, and then up half a flight to main floor. After locking up her cats, we proceeded to unload the U-Haul and set up her bed, dresser, and night stand.

While I unpacked, Rich frequented KFC. We ate more fast food in December than the prior three months!

As a whim, I decided to sort through my mother’s drawers. For the past few years, she’s been hiding food in the drawers so many were full of crumbs, along with greeting cards, articles snipped from publications and newspapers, and other tasty morsels, appealing to silverfish, spiders, and other varmints. In addition, the clothes in many of the drawers were a jumble of socks, tee shirts, sweaters, etc.

While sorting, organizing, and wiping out the drawers, I found over $2,000 in cash. Almost every drawer contained a neatly folded stake of bills!

The next morning, Monday, December 10th, we finished cleaning out the U-Haul and dropped it off at a furniture store in Mount Vernon. We went grocery shopped so my mother had food for the rest of the week, and then meet with the local coordinator for Visiting Angels.

We continued to unpack, hang pictures, and other miscellaneous tasks to get my mother settled, before returning to Kirkland.

Recuperate and Revelations

Instead of going to Mount Vernon on December 14th, as we customarily do on Friday evenings, we opted to stay in Kirkland. When we arrived in Mount Vernon, early Saturday afternoon, my mother was happy to see Cyrano, but was extremely confused, saying she’d lived in Mount Vernon for months, and prior lived in Tarzana, California. Her memory of Sherwood and life in Oregon seemed non-existent.

The reports we received from the Visiting Angels, from the prior four days, wasn’t good. She was angry, confused, and perpetually asking for poison or a knife to slit her wrist.

Her mood improved after eating, and especially after watching movies that evening. Sunday she seemed better, but was still confused thinking we’d had Cyrano for years (and not days) and that she’d been imprisoned in Mount Vernon for weeks.

Unexpected Help

Since I had Monday, December 24th off, we decided to go back to Sherwood to start tackling the refurbishing of my mother’s house. Unfortunately, Rich had gotten the flu a few days earlier. While still very sick (he had a 103-degree temperature a day earlier), he was determined to make the trip.

As we were preparing to go to bed on Friday night, December 21st, my mother called, screaming, yelling profanities, and claiming we’d dumped her in Mount Vernon, and destroyed her house. She ended the call by calling Rich and I, “Fuckers. Fuckers!”

Gotta’ love dementia!

We both slept fitfully, Rich being still very sick and me disturbed by my mother’s call. Nevertheless, we got up a little later than usual and drove the 3.5 hours to Oregon. We’d expected to find my mother’s house as we’d left it, full of furniture, kitchen and bathroom drawers packed with “stuff,” cupboards half empty, food still in the refrigerator and freezer, everything disheveled as if “someone” had quickly packed what would fit in a small U-Haul. However, when we turned the key in the door, and walked inside, we saw NOTHING. Everything, except for some cleaning supplies was gone. The floors swept. Closets and drawers cleaned out. All the food was gone. Counters wiped.

We also noticed the dryer was gone, but the washer, which was only a few months old, was still there. I immediately called my brother who said he took the dryer (claiming he thought it was a “free-for-all”), several pieces of furniture, and the food in the refrigerator and freezers.

“What happened to everything else,” I inquired.

Evidentially, Deena, a woman who originally met my mother when she was hired to clean her house, and later did a phenomenal job of overseeing my mother’s care and working with the Visiting Angles, had contacted a dozen or so local agencies, who subsequently came and took my mother’s furnishing. Deena then cleaned the entire house, including tossing out the food my brother hadn’t taken.

Even though, it was startling to see EVERYTHING in my mother’s house gone, it enabled us to immediately dive into fixing it up.

Before we began, however, I called Deena and her husband Bruce. In the past, Bruce had helped around my mother’s house, including taking her to doctor’s appointments.

We zipped over to Deena’s and Bruce’s house to borrow back a ladder, step stool, and other items we’d need to do home repairs and additional cleaning. I was thrilled to see her house. She has an amazing collection of Campbell Kids memorabilia and had been using my mother’s sewing machine to sew quilts and pillows. On her walls were needlepoints my mother had made.

It was gratifying to see some of my mother’s items in her house, and to express our appreciation for the work she’d done, not only monitoring my mother’s care, but ensuring her furnishing went to places where they’d be appreciated.

For the rest of Saturday and all day Sunday, Rich and I rolled up our sleeves, or more accurately, pulled on coveralls, and started cleaning, painting, ripping out (cat run), and assessing what needed to be done.

When we left the house on Monday morning, Rich was pleased with our progress. I felt overwhelmed.

We then stopped by Rich’s son’s house to see Coen, who was much bigger, much happier, and much more of a handful than a few weeks earlier. He’s so CUTE, but teeny at around 8 pounds. It was great to see him and his parents for an hour or two, before heading back up north.

End-of-Year Push

We made good time back to Kirkland, but stayed just long enough to care for our cats, toss our dirty clothes in the laundry, and grab items I’d need for cooking. We got to Mount Vernon late in the afternoon, but before settling down, we made a trip to the grocery store for items we needed.

When we got back, I made a pumpkin/yam pie out of a mini pumpkin I’d had since Thanksgiving. I now realize the inside of a pumpkin dries up even though the outside remains the same. Fortunately, I had enough yams to supplement, along with the all-important Cool-Whip for serving.

Dinner for Rich and I was Taco Bell. Tasty, fast, and satisfying. Rich then collapsed in a heap, still sick with a flu/cold.

Christmas morning, I started a sauce with plenty of onions, garlic, celery, ground turkey pork, and spicy sausage, and cans of tomatoes. I then went outside to work in our garden, weeding and trimming, while migratory trumpeter swans flew overhead, honked as they passed. The swans arrive in late November, and stay through February.

When I went back inside to make my mother breakfast, she started harping on how “everyone” had mistreated her, and my father wasn’t loving enough. He worked 6-days a week overseeing his garment factory in downtown Los Angeles, never smoke, drank or lounged in front of the TV, watching sports, but evidentially he wasn’t affectionate enough for my stay-at-home mother. She was only married for 13 years. When I was nine, and my brother was eleven, my father had a fatal heart attack, leaving her a wealthy widow. She regularly crowed about killing off her husband.

I totally lost it, spewing out how she wasn’t a loving person. She boosted how she’d send her kids to school when they were sick. When in my early twenties, I got mononucleosis and was running a 105-degrees, she refused to drive me to a hematologist across town because of the traffic. I had to find a friend.

On a daily basis, she chastised her kids, expecting them to cater to her needs and do the chores that were beneath her… from cleaning house to cooking, yard work, and going places with her… week-after-week-after-week.

Because she didn’t want to make my brother a “mama’s boy,” he was given significantly more freedom to hang out with friends, do homework, and skirt daily chores. I, on the other hand, was told I was going to get married, have kids, and build a mother-in-law apartment. Therefore, there was no need for me to do well in school. Instead of doing homework, I was expected to cook, clean, and spend every evening keeping her company, doing needlework and sewing.

My long suppressed outburst may have been the first time my mother got a true insight into her shortfalls, selfishness, and extreme narcissism. It rolled off her like water on a duck’s back. She claimed that she was stand-offish at my wedding, and didn’t toast us because my mother-in-law and Rich’s children “took over.” It was beyond her how humiliating it was when only three people toasted us: Rich’s mother, and his two children.

Not my mother. Not my brother. And not my brother’s girlfriend.

Growing up, she claimed that she prevented me from dating and spending time with friends to “protect me.” From what I wondered? Having my own life? As a child, she didn’t want me to leave the house – and I certainly couldn’t have friends over to the house – because she didn’t want to worry about where I was. It was easier for her to keep me busy with chores, lonely and extremely depressed at home.

After releasing years of anger, I stormed outside to continue pulling weeds, and digging up alien plants. Rich, of course, was furious at me for not holding my tongue. He said it would have been okay to scream at her if it had the ability to change a thoroughly dreadful childhood and adulthood. But, it didn’t.

After cooling off, I went inside and finished making two large casseroles of lasagna, using the sauce, which had been cooking for hours. We ate the lasagna later that afternoon. I left some for my mother and took the rest home.

I was happy to get back to Kirkland that evening, in a house filled with the things I love… Rich, bratty cats, artwork, collectibles, etc.

Wednesday and Thursday, I happily worked half-days from home! Thursday afternoon, after sending my last email, we loaded up Rich’s truck, tossed Cyrano in the back seat, and headed back down to Portland for a final “push” to work on my mother’s house.

On Friday morning, while I worked from a Motel 6 in Tualatin, Oregon, Rich met with two cabinet refinishing companies. In-between, he tore up flooring and deposited it in a dumpster he’d ordered earlier in the week. His goal was for us to put everything in the dumpster that needed to be tossed so we wouldn’t have to deal with it later. We ended up barely covered the bottom of the dumpster with flooring, baseboards, scrap wood and fencing, a sofa, wooden cabinet, stove/oven, kitchen countertop, tile, and miscellaneous trash.

In the two and a half days we worked on the house, we accomplished:

  • Removing the damaged oak laminate flooring, padding, and staples (will replace with real hardwood and carpeting)
  • Removing the kitchen counters and ordering snazzy solid surface counters to be installed in February, along with a built-in, stainless steel sink
  • Removing tile backsplashes in kitchen and repairing walls
  • Taking down the cat run and placing parts in dumpster, and starting to repair interior and exterior walls where there was a doggie door
  • Getting quotes to refinish kitchen and bathroom cabinets, and also sanding some woodwork damaged by cats
  • Pulling out the range/oven, and in the process, shattering the oven door (very dramatic and unexpected outcome)
  • Purchasing large tiles, which Rich will install by the front door.
  • Removing baseboards
  • Painting Kilz on floors and walls, which had been“perfumed” by cats
  • Painting most of the upstairs, except a bathroom, and two large walls in the master bedroom
  • Painting most of the downstairs, except the super high “challenging” wall in the living room, going up the stairs, and one bathroom

Because we were determined to get done as much as possible, we grabbed meals on the run, and on both Saturday and Sunday nights, we found ourselves at a Safeway at 8 o’clock, buying packaged salads, sandwiches, and drinks. After all, we’re a classy couple, eating our dinners with plastic forks, while watching TV at a Motel 6…next door to Stars Cabaret.

Sunday afternoon, we locked up the house, happy with our progress, and headed back to Kirkland. The weather was splendid so it was an enjoyable drive with no rain, and all sunshine.

Memorable Start to New Year

On Monday afternoon, the last day of 2012, we drove up to Mount Vernon. My mother was in good spirits, and pleased to see Cyrano, Rich and Lila.

After shopping for the things my mother needed, I made puttanesca. Even though it was super spicy, my mother kept asking for another helping. Rich and I were aghast at how much she ate!

Afterwards, we watched two movies, and could see fireworks in the distance over Burlington. We went to bed, however, a bit before midnight, marking the start of 2013 with our eyes shut.

New Year’s day was splendid. Cold and clear with trumpeter swans overhead, punctuating panoramas of snow-capped mountains. I made a filling breakfast for everyone and made sure my mother had warm clothing, and sensible shoes. She tends to wear moccasins, which don’t provide the support she needs for walking.

Rich eased her down the stairs in her wheelchair, and helped her into the car. It was the first time my mother had been outside since she’d moved to Mount Vernon, and the second trip of any distance that she’s taken in at least 12 months. The longest trip prior was Thanksgiving 2011.

We initially headed northeast to Sedro-Woolly, a small town steeped in lumbering. We then headed west through Burlington, and then Bay View, a cute town on the Puget Sound with a lovely state park where we camped several years ago. Along the way, we pass through farmlands, saw flocks of trumpeter swans, and enjoyed the gorgeous weather.

Continuing west, we crossed the bridge to Fidalgo Island, stopping in Anacortes for peppermint hot chocolate, before driving through Washington Park, and up the steep road to the summit of Mount Erie, the highest point on the island.

While in Anacortes, we stopped to visit our lot, which we plan to build on in another few years. Yes, I know we keeping say this, but we’ve started working with an architect to draw the plans for a three-story, contemporary house with several decks, and large windows for views of the Puget Sound, Mount Baker, and the refineries on March Point. We’re both excited about the prospect of building and moving into the house!

On the way back to Mount Vernon, we stopped at Burger King for hamburgers (veggie burger for me) and fries. While very particular about what she eats, and steeped in the need to always eat healthy foods, my mother has always loved fast food hamburgers.

It was a great start and unexpected start to the New Year… thanks to the weather and Rich’s patience in working with my mother.

In the coming weeks, Rich and I will be returning to Oregon to finish working on my mother’s house. Last weekend, we ordered a new range, and microwave/fan at Sear’s, and have chosen the wooden floors we’ll have installed. This weekend, we’ll pick-out Formica, which Rich will install in two of the bathrooms.

Last week, Rich hired a company to clean the roof and gutter. In early February, kitchen counters will be installed, and the cabinets refinished. There are also lots of small tasks like installing a new fire alarm, door stops, painting the fireplace another color, installed tile backsplashes in the bathroom and above the range, painting and installing new base boards, and and final cleaning of the blinds, light fixtures, and floors.

We’re feeling somewhat optimistic that we’ll be able to start leasing the house in early March!