“…and there was light.”  This afternoon twelve feet of light flooded into our little townhome.  It seems as if not only have we added a six foot by nine foot area to our living space, but a deck, waterfall, and back yard filled with trees.  By contrast to the closed in feel of the interior living space in our little townhome, it now feels expansive and open. 

Sometimes it surprises me just how powerful the living, growing outdoors filled with birds and little beasts and thriving greenery can be for me.  I do not share the theology of Avatar, but I share the awe and wonder and respect for the healing influence of the creation. 

On this project, we are using the Design/Build approach.  I think that means something like flying by the seat of our pants as each question/option/decision comes up.  Gratefully, the contractor and carpenters have had very many years of experience doing this sort of project. 

“Would you like the ceiliing raised?  How about a ceiling fan?  If so, what size, color, style of lights?  Is the wall paper staying or going?  How many and where should the outlets go?  Do you want a railing on the short section by the stairs on the south side, a railing on the east side, a railing on the west side, anything on the north side?  How high should the posts be on the east side and what sort of blind will you get for it?  How wide should the steps be?  How wide and thick should the interior support post be?  Where should the switches for the ceiling fan, its light, and the outdoor spots go?  What should be used to transition from cork floor to carpet?  Do you want the sliding glass door to open in the middle or on the side, what side?  What about blinds for all that glass? Verticle? What style? Color? Fabric? Vinyl?

So far it looks even better than I had hoped.  Mary Ann has been skeptical about the project, but when the walls came down today, she seemed to like it very much. 

The noise has been deafening.  We had hung out in the kitchen at the little ice cream table most of the time.  When Mary Ann has been napping in the bedroom, she has seemed completely oblivious to the machine-gun rattle of the drills and pneumatic tools.  At some level, the sounds of construction are music to my ears as the project takes shape.

The last two days have gone pretty well for Mary Ann.  She attended he Tuesday morning group and was fairly alert there.  We ate out at Perkins so that she could have pancakes.  She let me feed them to her.  She consumed about 80% of three buttermilk pancakes and all of two pieces of bacon.  She had eaten a good breakfast and had a couple of cookies at her Bible study.   She ate a small but adequate supper, with a couple of scoops of ice cream to finish it off. 

The Hospice Nurse came by for a while to check in and ask her routine questions about how MA is doing.  She is, of course, interested especially in any changes.  Mary Ann’s blood pressure was high again, 208/100.  It is reassuring just to have someone who listens and writes down what is going on.  It takes a little of the pressure off that sense that I have to be on top of everything and catch problems on my own.  It has seemed a little overwhelming sometimes to feel as if I need to be able to figure out what is going on with Mary Ann and when what is going on warrants an intervention of some sort. 

Stacey came by to show us some more options for verticle blinds to provide privacy with all that glass opening into our living space.  She also brought some more paint samples since Mary Ann had mentioned some ideas for colors to use in repainting the main upstairs interior walls.  I was pretty excited that we came up with what we want to use, and Mary Ann had significant input. 

Last evening Volunteer Patrice spent time with Mary Ann, while I served as an interview Guinea Pig for a Doctoral Student, Gretchen, Daughter of Don and Edie, whom I have mentioned in earlier posts.  That interview was done at PT’s, so I got some time away from the house, and Mary Ann got a break from me.  It is always good to have something different and disengage from the role at home for a while. 

Last night she slept well.  I was grateful, since the time change conbined with late nights writing posts caught up with me, and I headed to bed without writing last night. 

Today has gone very well.  Mary Ann sat in view of the monitor this morning without getting up, so that I could remain with the Spiritual Formation Group downstairs most of the time.

Bath Aide Zandra has struggled with fainting issues interfering with a safe shower experience.  Last Monday, Mary Ann had not yet taken her meds by the time Zandra arrived.  She had no problems with her and enjoyed that she was able to converse with Mary Ann.  For the last couple of weeks, Mary Ann has been very tired and unresponsive as well as fainting often while showering and dressing. 

This morning, I purposely waited and did not give her the morning meds before Zandra came.  Again, she did very well.  Mary Ann did not faint and was conversant with Zandra.  I have been convinced that most often the fainting has come when the morning meds started kicking in.  Many of the meds have the side effect of lowering blood pressure.  This week’s experience seems to confirm that the meds are a triggering element.  I am going to try to remember to hold off on meds until after her shower on those days.  She still has Orthostatic Hypotension, but maybe we can at least minimize the risk of it acting up during her shower. 

Friend and Volunteer Coordinator Mary came by this afternoon to spend time with Mary Ann while I ran some errands related to the remodel project.  She broght some flowers, always very much appreciated by both Mary Ann and me.  Flowers brighten our sometimes stale environment. 

Mary Ann ate a fairly light supper, and then a bit ago she got up from bed to eat a half sandwich.  I hope a full stomach will help her sleep well.  There are, of coruse no guarantees about that.  We have some company from Kansas City tomorrow, a visit we are both very much looking forward to.  We have been friends with the crew that is coming for more than 35 years.

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Not yet, but there are seven guys with trumpets of rams’ horns followed by a large crowd who have been circling the house for some days now.  Should I be concerned??

The addition of a sun room that will change exterior space into interior space adding a six foot by nine foot sun area with twelve feet of floor to ceiling glass (six feet of which is sliding doors) is now in the process of construction.  The new exterior walls are almost done.  The old interior walls will be removed some time in the next few days, probably Monday.

We now spend most of every day and night in this little townhome, 1150 square feet upstairs — easy to care for but somewhat confining.  The large pondless waterfall that we put in last summer is wonderful, but not visible from inside the house.  When this project is complete, the waterfall will be in full view.

Mary Ann’s assessment of the project is that I have really gone overboard.  I think when all is said and done, she will like it very much.  She has never enjoyed going out and spending time on the deck.  This way she can see the beauty of the area behind the house from the warmth or the cool of the house.

I will make no pretense.  This is for me.  I am nurtured by the outdoors.  I crave light.  This will provide access to both while still in the same space as Mary Ann, keeping her in full view.  When the project took shape and the deal was consummated, it was not so clear that Mary Ann was declining to the degree that is now apparent. It seems to me that the timing is actually working out well.  This is a helpful distraction from the focus we have had on preparing for the next phase of our lives.  The project feels very life affirming to me.   Yes, we are spending the Kids inheritance!  They know it and have encouraged us to do so.

The last couple of days have included two nights of adequate sleep, interrupted, but not too often.  Yesterday she ate well for two meals and missed the third, sleeping through it.  Bath Aide Zandra did do a shower since Mary Ann’s leg strength seems to be returning.  She had problems with her, but got the job done.

Today has included lots of fainting, even just sitting in the chair.  I hope that will subside for a time.  A huge rolling shower chair has now been delivered.  Hopefully, that will make a difference.  The Hospice Aide will come tomorrow for the first time.  This way Mary Ann will get three showers a week.  Since she is incontinent much of the time, it is good to keep her clean.  We change disposables very often (cost adds up fast, but worth it) to avoid urinary tract infections [UTI].

The hallucinations were in a challenging mode.  Mary Ann was popping up to go somewhere and do something much of the time she was out of bed.  I, of course, needed to get to her immediately to keep her from falling.  When I got there, she usually didn’t know what she was up for or where she was going.  A few times she had a need that was created by a hallucination. A few times when she was lying down but awake, she was having a waking dream and talking to me about things that had no connection with reality.  I am sure the hallucination/delusion/dream times are distressing to her, and they certainly are very difficult for me to deal with.

The Hospice Chaplain stopped by to introduce himself.  It is a frightening thing to put two preachers together.  Poor Mary Ann couldn’t have gotten a word in edgewise even if she tried.  He would come at whatever intervals we chose.  Since we have a good support system, I suggested once a month.  His time will be best used with those many who do not have an active support system.  It is nice to have an option that is not part of in our organization or denomination.  He spent a good portion of his career in Brazil.  I suspect he has plenty of interesting stories.

Later in the day friend (and former parishioner) Don came by to check out the project.  He had a couple of good suggestions.  More importantly, he brought a cup of coffee from PT’s.  We stood there talking long enough that the workers thought they might put us to work.

For supper we enjoyed a small Lasagna that Daughter Lisa had made and put in the freezer for us when she was here.  Afterward Mary Ann was willing (of course) to head to Baskin & Robbins to get some ice cream treats to bring home.

She is now in bed.  I suspect, given the hallucinations today, tonight may be a difficult one.  We will see how it goes.

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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.