Category Archives: Memories

A trip of a lifetime

 

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In Belfast, Northern Ireland

What an amazing trip. Ireland was everything I imagined it to be and more. The people were wonderful, the weather was surprisingly good (mainly dry with plenty of sun!) and the sights were breathtaking.

If you want to see all of my Ireland trip photos, I created a public Google Photos album.

I started in the southern part of the country in Blarney and Cork. Blarney Castle was fascinating to tour. I air kissed the stone (couldn’t quite lean back far enough due to my vertigo) but also enjoyed walking the beautiful grounds. Spent the next day in Cork, a charming city. Then I made my way to Westport, where I took a break from being a tourist and enjoyed a stay at a writer’s cabin at a retreat. There were country roads that offered picturesque, serene walks and I loved how the owner’s pets came to visit me during my stay.

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Blarney Castle

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It was in Westport while I was at the grocery store that I happened to see the Alzheimer’s fundraiser. It truly is a global movement and I was happy to support it.

Dublin was a lively, bustling city full of history. Seeing The Long Room at Trinity College was one of the highlights of the trip for me.

I saved my father’s hometown of Belfast for my last stop. I had so much anticipation as the train neared town. Of course Dad would not recognize modern-day Belfast, but there were markers of the past everywhere.

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I’m not a big fan of group tours but I did take a walking tour on The Troubles in Belfast. The guide provided an excellent historic overview of the origins of division and unrest, how The Troubles unfolded in the 1970s and what the future may hold in store for Belfast. From taxi drivers to shop owners, everyone I talked to in Northern Ireland and the republic were concerned about the upcoming Brexit actions that could trigger increased violence along the border.

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The above mural was taken in the working class neighborhood near where my father’s family members lived. I was able to locate the street that was on my father’s birth certificate and the street where my grandparents lived until their deaths.

While Belfast is known for its politically-charged murals, a new crop of murals have also emerged, offering a fresh perspective and are quite artistic.

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I visited my aunt’s grave at a sprawling ceremony just outside of Belfast. She lived to age 95, and while she was plagued by physical ailments in her later years, her mind remained sharp as far as I know, while three of her siblings (including my father) ended up with dementia.  She was a resilient woman, raising three children on her own after her husband died while working overseas.

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Giant’s Causeway was one of my favorite destinations. What a breathtaking site.

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I ate really well while maintaining my gluten-free diet. The awareness of celiac disease and the gluten-free diet is quite high in Ireland, and I ate as well and in some ways even better there than I do here in the U.S. The highlight food-wise was gluten-free fish and chips in Dublin.

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The modified Irish breakfast that was gluten-free came a close second. (I had a few variations of it during my travels.)

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I am grateful I was finally able to complete this trip of a lifetime, and I can’t wait to return.

 

 

 

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Taking a blog break for a bucket list trip

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Blarney Castle

Soon I will be departing for a two-week trip to Ireland. This is a trip of a lifetime for me, as it will allow me to appreciate my father’s homeland in person. I only wish we could have made the trip together. I know he will be with me in spirit.

I will share an account of my adventures upon my return.

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The best kind of birthday gift

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Birthdays are bittersweet for me now, as I have fond memories of my parents singing “Happy Birthday” to me across the miles each year. They would rehearse and make a big production out of it. Even as my father descended into the depths of dementia, he rallied for the birthday performance.

I’ve been fostering dogs for the last several months, something I’ve wanted to do for awhile. It has been a rewarding and enriching experience. While I enjoy fostering, my eye (and heart) was always on the lookout for “the one.”

And now, as a birthday gift to myself, I am adopting my latest foster dog, Magee. He is a sweet rat terrier/fox terrier mix that has proven to be a good fit in my life. (The cats disagree, but I overruled them, haha.)

Like me, Magee is middle aged or so and has a few personality quirks, but is overall a dedicated and loyal companion. Unlike me, Magee overflows with happiness and dare I say … joy.  Anyone who spends time with dogs know there is much we can learn and gain from them.

As we grow older, we learn that the simplest pleasures are often the most rewarding. I now have Magee to guide me on that exploration of everyday joy.

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My mom’s service to her country

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I’ve been thinking about Mom quite a bit this week, as Saturday would have been her 82nd birthday. Since her birthday falls so shortly after the Fourth of July, I always think about her brief, but beloved Navy career during this time of year.

Mom was raised on a farm, and knew the hard work and dedication it took to not only feed a family, but raise livestock and crops to help feed a community. Upon finishing high school, she declined to go to college and instead entered the workforce, working jobs that were typical for women in the day, such as nursing aide and receptionist.

In her late twenties, she decided she wanted something more, so she joined the Navy. Her service was during a brief period of relative peace in the world, and she was assigned to naval stations in the U.S. versus being sent abroad. She always spoke fondly of her time in the Navy, even with its challenges.

She could’ve had made a career out of military service, but opted out after honorably serving for three years. She returned to civilian life, working office jobs and eventually settled in as a proofreader, her excellent attention to detail no doubt enforced by her military service.

A few years later, she met my dad, got married, gave birth to me and the rest is history.

 

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Remembering a friend and fighter for Alzheimer’s caregivers

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I was shocked and saddened to learn that Pamela Jo Van Ahn, executive director of Amy’s Place, died on June 15th.

If you’ve followed my blog for awhile, you’ve heard me talk about how much I loved Amy’s Place, serving those with Alzheimer’s and other dementias and their caregivers. It was such a welcoming, non-judgmental environment, and offered numerous cultural and education events each month.

I loved Pam’s passion and compassion. She was so giving of herself and fiercely devoted to helping caregivers. She was humble and reluctant to accept praise for her work. When she was nominated for a caregiver award earlier this year, she said in an email: “It is not easy for me to be recognized for something I did with a lot of support, help, and caring from others–like you…”

Pam was so supportive of my areas of caregiver advocacy. She introduced me as “the author” when I published my first book, The Reluctant Caregiver, and allowed me to test my care bag prototype that is an integral part of Respite Care Share with members of the Amy’s Place caregiver support group.  img_20170215_172858899

As I was reeling from the news of Pam’s death, I read a piece by a former colleague of mine who just lost his 20-year-old son to cancer. He ended his poignant essay by quoting another journalist, Mike Royko, who wrote after his wife’s death: “If there’s someone you love but haven’t said so in a while, say it now. Always, always say it now.”

We all need the sobering reminder to never take the people in our lives for granted. Never hesitate to call, email, or text your love or appreciation of them.

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A towering reminder

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This week marked the fourth anniversary of my mother’s death. I’ve hit that mark where it’s hard for me to believe that it was only four years ago. It seems like a lifetime ago.

But the towering water oak tree in my front yard serves as a sturdy reminder. It has been four years ago since the last time I had it trimmed. The reason why I remember the date of such a mundane task is because it was the day that I realized Mom was dying and that I needed to be with her. I remember the chaos of that day, with Mom getting admitted to the ER again for uncontrollable pain. I was trying to field phone calls with the roaring machinery going full-throttle outside. There was an issue with a car parked on the street and I was being asked to assist. I remember wanting to scream, “I don’t care about the damn car. My mother is dying!”

I recently had the tree pruned again, and the foreman proposed May 21, the day of my mother’s death. Somehow I thought it was appropriate. The tree may very well outlive me. It grows, it sheds its leaves in the fall, occasionally branches drop, and then it is tended to and left naked with knots. It’s akin to how time alters the grief process. One is left raw with some hardened spots, but life continues to grow.

You may never be the same after the death of a parent, but life does go on.

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The healing power of humor

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The world lost one of its great comedic talents with the passing of Tim Conway this week. My mom loved watching him on The Carol Burnett Show, and I watched episodes with her as a pre-teen and teenager.

One interesting note was that it was reported last year that Conway had dementia. His daughter had mentioned the diagnosis in court filings. But when his obituary was filed, it made note of the fact that he did not have dementia or Alzheimer’s, but instead had excess fluid on the brain.

I was pleasantly surprised to see the outpouring of condolences from a variety of generations. I was unaware of his later voiceover work for animated productions until I checked out his IMDB profile.

We could all use a little more innocent humor nowadays, with the world seemingly so full of hate and division. While one of Conway’s best-known skits (and funniest) is “The Dentist,” I stumbled upon “Dog’s Life” and thought it was hilarious. Conway became his characters, even when they were non-human. His attention to detail elevated his comedic ability to a whole new level. Enjoy, and share with anyone who needs a mood lifter this week.

 

 

 

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