We headed out for a ride in the lush green countryside, through bean fields, wheat stubble after harvest, freshly mown hay being rolled into large round bales, gently rolling hills as far as the eye could see.  The day was warm and sunny with comfortably low humidity.  We took our time as we traveled to Harveyville, Kansas, a thriving metropolis populated with 136 male and 114 female humans and at least a two cats.  One of the cats is huge, by far the largest cat I have ever seen — friendly, but as usual, in charge of the Jepson Pottery Studio.

The studio is filled with hundreds of finished pieces as well as many that are in various stages on their way to completion.  Owner Barry was busy at the wheel turning some unusual looking vases (I think), interacting with two of his four young adult children while he worked.

We had taken to him a dinner plate we purchased at a Medical Supply store. The plate is made of some sort of very sturdy plastic, functional, but hardly pleasing to look at.  It is obviously a plate for use by those with dexterity problems.  The center of the plate is about a half inch deep providing a wall against which the food can be pushed to get it on the fork or spoon.  Without that deep lip, the food often just slides off the edge of the plate on to the table or Mary Ann’s lap or the floor.  The plastic plate is very light, demanding a piece of Dycem (www.dycem.com/), given us by our Occupational Therapist, to keep the plate from slipping.

He made one plate for us to try.  It worked.  Today we picked up five more plates so that we will always have a couple clean for both of us to use. They look great.  Mary Ann had picked the colors, a deep red with an uneven thin blue area around the rim. The plates are heavy, so no Dycem is needed.

We had already gotten four of the chili bowls with handles made with the same colors.  Those bowls have sides high enough so that, as with the plates, the spoon can be pushed against the side to get the cereal on the spoon without sliding over the edge.  I had often needed to feed her the cereal especially when she got to the last one third of the contents of the bowl.  With the chili bowl, I seldom have to help. She can use the handle to tip the bowl, making it easier to get the last of the cereal on the spoon and into her mouth.

He also made us some deep salad bowls, that, along with the chili bowls, can be used for ice cream should that be necessary. By the way, after picking up the ceramics, we drove another half hour or so to stop at the Braum’s in Emporia for hot fudge Sundaes with pecans.

I recognize that it would have been cheaper to use the functional plastic plates.  It is also true that just because Mary Ann has Parkinson’s Disease does not mean the aesthetics of our environment are no longer relevant.  If anything, they are more relevant.  We have less opportunity to get out and see beauty since we are at home most of the time.  We choose to have a quality of life that is nurturing and stimulating.  Objects of beauty are not just unnecessary extravagances but are visual cues that our life together is not just a matter of getting by until we die.

For some reason, Mary Ann did not at all warm up to the idea of using one of the plates to hold birdseed and be placed on one of the flat rocks in the waterfall area in our back yard.  It would look so great!

Today I encouraged Barry Jepson to set up a small area in the shows he does all over the country, an area with items that are user friendly for those with physical limitations.  Since it is a very busy time for him, he is not yet ready to put these new plates on his web site, but hopefully it will happen soon.

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I tried again tonight.  I am resorting to chemical warfare, natural, organic, but nonetheless chemical warfare.  The weapons: blood meal and Cayenne pepper.  I am determined to have sweet potato vines growing in the large pot on the deck, and the squirrels are determined that it will not be so. 

When we first moved in there were no squirrels.  I longed for them.  When the first one came, I fed it.  Now there are a cluster of them.  I still feed them.  That makes it even more annoying.  The ungrateful buggers.  I have taken care of them day in and day out and this is my thanks — eating my sweet potato vines?

That is not all.  I planted some Salvia in the barrel — four plants.  I caught one eating a salad of Salvia leaves.  More than that, chewing off the stems at the surface of the dirt.  If that is not enough, later I caught the squrrel as he was chewing off the Salvia plants that were still in the flats, awaiting transplantation to small circle of plants in front of the house.  I managed to salvage four plants for the front.  They are still growing a week later.  The squirrels seem not to venture into the front yard. 

I have a theory about the squirrels specifically choosing to eat the Salvia.  I mentioned my plight in the Wednesday morning group that meets on the deck.  One member remembered her daughter mentioning that kids sometimes smoke Salvia to get high.  Apparently a strain of Salvia is a hallucinogen.  I decided that the squirrels are partying on my Salvia!  I haven’t noticed any unusual behavior, but then who knows what  behavior is normal for a squirrel.  Actually, the strain of Salvia kids have smoked has been illegal in Kansas for the last few years. 

I have now been assured by two people that blood meal will repel squirrels  and by another person that the vines will absorb the Cayenne pepper — one bite sending the squirrel screaming in agony.  For some reason the movie Caddyshack, Bill Murray and Gophers just popped into my mind. 

With Mary Ann supervising, in the last week or so, I have planted three large pots on the deck, an area behind the house, a barrel near the front door, a small area in front of the house and will soon plant a vining Petunia on a berm next to the house.  There is very little rhyme or reason to the plants and flowers picked and only limited aesthetic value, but at least they are planted. 

Since our circumstances tie us to the house much of the time, it seems worth the effort to work at creating a nurturing environment.  Flowers and plants are a part of  creating that environment. 

One of the activities that creates interest at home for me is creating a friendly presence for the birds.  There are eleven feeders of one sort or another attached in some way to our little deck.  In addition there are a couple of ground feeding areas in the back yard near a tree behind the deck.  There is a heated bird bath attached to the rail.  I have just hung a new little meal worm feeder outside my office window at the front of the house.  I am still in the process of waiting in hopes that a neighborhood wren will discover it.  We have a speaker in the dining room that picks up bird sounds from the deck area through a microphone just outside the window. 

We have planted trees in the back to provide shade and cover for the birds and squirrels and aesthetic variety.  The wildlife that has wandered through includes a couple of Mallard Ducks who regularly come by to eat, a possum seen once foraging in the feeding areas under the tree, last night a brazen Raccoon stopped by to climb on the deck and munch seed from one of the bird feeders.  I have seen his paw prints more than once in the bottom of the birdbath.  Rabbits hang out under the deck and often join the others at the feeding areas. 

We live in a maintenance free cluster of townhomes with multiple subdivisions in all directions.  We have created such a welcoming space for wildlife because I find their presence to be nurturing to my mental health.  Mary Ann enjoys it some, but mostly just tolerates my penchant for feeding the fauna.   

Next week ABC Ponds will begin work on the pondless waterfall that will be constructed behind the deck.  What precipitated the idea was the need to deal with a problem with standing water behind the houses in our area.  Sump pumps cycle constantly emptying into the area.  The clay will not absorb rain water when comes.  What will be created is essentially a manmade wetland with a deep reservoire filled with natural filtering material, covered with perennial native marginal plants.  The water will be pumped from the base of the well to the waterfall.  Kansas State University has been using this process in recent years to deal with run off. 

The environment I have sought to create is not just a novelty.  It is an essential element in my survival here.  The television provides entertainment for Mary Ann.  I watch my share of it but find it to frustrate my sense of well-being rather than nurture it. 

Many a day we are not able to set foot off the property due to the complexities of Mary Ann’s physical needs.  There need to be nurturing elements in our environment. 

Inside the house are paintings, a metal wall sculpture, antiques, crystal and china and ceramics to add quality and variety to the interior of our home.  A few  years ago I commissioned two members of the congregation, a cabinet maker and an artist to create a small worship center that sits in my office, providing a focal point for meditation.  We have a sound system in the living room that provides a good quality of sound for the occasional time after Mary Ann is in bed for just listening to music that feeds my spirit. 

If I will be a healthy and able Caregiver for Mary Ann, there needs to be regular access to that which nourishes my well-being.  I am then better able to provide for her as nurturing and safe and healthy an environment as possible.  Rather than allowing the four walls of our little living space to be confining and boring, empty of the richness we both need to maintain our emotional health, we have committed our time and resources to creating a nurturing space in which we can live meaningfully. 

If you want to write a comment about this or any of the posts on this blog, look to the column on the right side of this page, titled “Recent Posts,”  click on the name of a post and you will find a box at the end of that article in which you can write a comment.  Clicking on the title of the post you are reading will accomplish the same thing.  Comments are appreciated.