wings and things

Swings and roundabouts 3

We had a couple of family gatherings on the weekend. On Saturday it was my first great niece’s birthday party. Neve, my oldest brother’s first grandchild, is already, at 2, very stylish, so I bought her a multi-coloured tutu which her mother says she loves. The finding of this tutu was somewhat serendipitous because on the day before the party, my friend (E. from the nursing home, who I wrote about a few posts back), had set up a stall of her crafts, including tutus! And, just before she packed up I found the perfect one for Neve. I am kicking myself for forgetting to take a photo of that tutu – oh well.

Then, on Sunday, we had another family gathering at the home of another crafty person – my mother. One of the purposes of this pizza + cheesecake lunch was for family members from down south, and in-laws from Scotland, to get their first glimpse of my first great nephew, Spencer. And it was a great glimpse as you can see in this photo of my youngest brother with his first great nephew.


Like E. (oh to hell with anonymity – her real name is Ellen) my mother, Meg, is talented in the art of craft, her own speciality being hairpin lace. Here is a picture of Spencer in his Meg-made baby shawl.



And the above scanned picture is a newspaper article from a few years ago that featured my mother’s hairpin lace baby shawls! I thought she was going to get famous (I was going to be her rich agent!) but I guess baby shawls are not in the category of investment, especially if they are burped upon.

There are two more babies-on-the-way in my family now so my mother will be busy with hairpin lace once again. In the last 12 months around eight of the nursing staff have had babies and we gave them all a shawl; I paid for the wool and my mother did the craft.

Okay, I need to bring this to a coherent conclusion but I can’t be bothered with coherent. Prince is still trying to impress the indifferent chooks to no avail….



The last time Anthony came to a family occasion was about two years ago and it was a horrible experience – the wheelchair taxi, my family’s empathy, my tears on his departure. When I look back, I am in awe of how we tried always to include Ants in every family gathering … until it just became impossible.


Martha: She’s forgotten to get the laying pellets again.
Mary: What? I’m starving!
Prince: Will you two just shut up!


Happy birthday, Neve!
Happy arrival, Spencer!


Swings and roundabouts 2

The two photos I put up in yesterday’s post had absolutely nothing to do with what I wrote and I only added them because, having been on the phone for nearly two hours, trying to get the internet back from its little holiday, I could! So here is my attempt to interpret what those two photos (and a few others) actually mean.


Prince – white peacock
Martha and Mary – the two white chooks
Whoopie – the new chook with the fancy hairdo

Prince: What the hell?
Mary to Martha: Quick! Hide! There’s a huge creature on the other side of the fence!

Martha to Mary: I think it’s okay. He just did this little purry thing in his throat. Anyway, we’re safe in this yard.
Mary: A purry thing! Martha, do you not realise that he is probably flirting with us?
Martha: Yeah, but you have to admit he is kind of cute.
Mary: Cut your beak off, Martha!

Prince: I’m not sure whether these strange, short, ugly things are my cup of tea after all.
Mary: See, Martha, not only does he talk to himself, he’s insulting. Ignore him!

Prince: Okay, so I’m not that good at introductions, but to be rejected so soon by these two whatever-they-ares is very disturbing.


Prince: Indifference hurts.


Whoopie: Is the coast clear yet?

Note 1: Whoopie was given to me by a friend who breeds beautiful poultry – thanks so much, Jane!

Note 2: When I first began writing this blog, Anthony was still at home, but ailing. We started to accumulate guinnea fowl and chooks because Ants remembered having these as a young boy/teenager and I wanted to cheer us all up. But then I got a teensy bit carried away with the whole bird thing (as past blog posts reveal ha!) It’s good, now, to begin again with just a few chooks…. even though this bewilders the peacocks!


Swings and roundabouts


Yesterday I said, rather blithely, “I refuse to be sad” (about Anthony’s Parkinson’s disease etc.). This morning I realised why it’s possible for me to say this.

Anthony isn’t sad!

It’s as simple as that. Okay, so saddish moments come and go, and the first year of him being in the nursing home was a hell of mutual sorrow. But, in retrospect, it was me shedding most of the tears, not Anthony. In fact often, when I left to come home, he would comfort me.

But it’s now that matters and in-the-now neither of us is sad, which is a bit of a miracle really. The weird irony is that I would not be able to cope with Anthony’s illnesses if it weren’t for his own emotional resilience. I’m not very good at emotional resilience, but Ants is.

People often think that the person in the nursing home is the vulnerable one and that he or she is the one in need of comfort. But sometimes it’s the other way around; it’s the visiting spouse or daughter, or grandson, or friend, who is in need of comfort.

Anthony comforts me!



Leaps and bounds!

Gardening: I have planted vegetables in one of the beds that Jake (my lawn and gardener friend) has created for me. I have no idea whether these lettuce, cucumber, corn, parsley and tomato seedlings will grow up but here’s hoping. I’m a bit too nervous to ring Jake and ask if I have planted these things in the right places – i.e. should they be in the grave-like mounds or in the gullies? Just in case, I did both.


Chooks: Six quite different chickens are gradually getting used to each other with minimal violence. They have a lovely yard so hopefully peace will soon reign.


Lunch: I seem to be going out to lunch a lot lately which is something I only ever did very occasionally before Anthony went into the nursing home. This feeling of freedom is relatively new to me. It was always there of course and Anthony was never one of those dominating, bossy husbands who insisted on the adding cream and more butter and salt to the mashed potatoes. Wait a sec. – yes he did!




Missing Ming

Ming has met a beautiful girl and, as a result, I hardly ever see him, except fleetingly.

Of course I still hear him climb in the front window in the early hours (because I keep forgetting to have a second key cut, but I did remember today!)

And, occasionally we indulge in leisurely conversations during the five seconds he has left to get ready for work.

Me: Good morning, Ming! I shout from my bed.

Ming: Morning, Mum. What do you want? he shouts from the bathroom.

Me: Oh, darling, I don’t want anything! How’d the party go?

Ming: I don’t have time for this morning conversation thing, Mum. Can you just leave me alone so I can get ready for work!

Me: Okay, sorry.

It’s all a bit surreal for me. Of course I haven’t actually lost Ming, and I always knew that one day he would meet someone who would both challenge and embrace his opinions, personality, habits, originality.

The beautiful young woman with whom Ming is involved has a similar ‘old soul’ wisdom to his but is much more academic. Every time I meet her, I am impressed by her integrity, and honesty, and the way she looks at Ming.

So, yes, I miss Ming in the sense that I don’t see him as often as I used to. After all, why would he want to be home with me when he can be out and about?

Nevertheless, I always knew that one day I would be without Anthony here (already happened), and maybe without Ming here (happening).

Hence the birds:



I am so proud of this Ming of mine.


Keeping a record

Yesterday, after writing about Anthony not coming home, not asking to come home, and sometimes not remembering home and/or thinking he is home in his nursing home room, guess what?

He asked to come home. Not once, not twice, but repeatedly throughout the late morning and early afternoon. I was so taken aback because this hasn’t happened for ages – maybe months – so I was a bit unprepared. He kept trying to get up from his armchair (he needs help to do so) and, every half hour or so, repeated, “Come on Jules, let’s go.”

Me: It’s too cold and wet today, Ants. Let’s wait until the weather is better.

Anthony: I can light a fire in the fireplace.

Me: We don’t have any kindling.

Anthony: I’ll chop some in no time.

Me: It’s a bit late in the day, today. What about tomorrow morning?

Anthony: You’re unreasonable (removing my hand from his).

Me: What? Are you angry with me now?

Anthony: I haven’t been home for months. You keep stopping me!

After a couple of repeats of the same conversation, more or less, I decided to end it by promising to pick him up at 10.30am today and bring him home. Once that was established, he reached for my hand again and we continued to watch the television and eat olives.IMG_4740

When I got home last night I wondered if this sudden relapse into homesickness (which was a two-year nightmare for both of us which I blogged about on and off) might have been triggered by my conversation with Anthony’s nephew the other day about the possibility of bringing Ants home for the day. In retrospect, I should have steered this conversation away from the topic of ‘home’ (especially within Anthony’s earshot), but I had no way of anticipating that the idea would somehow stick and re-emerge days later.

Okay, so today was when I was supposed to fulfil my promise to Anthony that I would pick him up at 10.30am and bring him home. This may sound callous but I had no intention of doing this, simply because I can’t physically manage him by myself; he is too heavy.

So I made myself wait until after lunch to go in and see Anthony. And I have to say that it was with a mixture of dread and curiosity that I entered his room (with my bunch of camellias).

To my great relief, it was immediately apparent that Anthony had forgotten yesterday’s ‘home’ conversation. Instead:

Anthony: I didn’t expect to see you! You are good at geography.

Me: Look at these camellias!

Anthony: You’re so early! (It was 1pm)

Me: How do you like my boots? (I was wearing colourful boots)

Anthony: A bit way out.

Me: How Dare you!

Anthony: Sit down and shut up.

Me: Don’t you tell me to shut up!

Anthony: Can you put that that that trolley up in my room? (pointing to his walker) – also that woollen coil (pointing to the blanket on his knees).

Me (putting walker into his bathroom and closing door, readjusting his knee blanket): Okay – are you warm enough?

Anthony: Yes.

Me: Right, so can you stop fussing about the stupid blanket? It’s just a blanket!

Anthony: Yes, but look at the little fella (there is always either a child or a pet on Anthony’s lap from around 4pm).

Me: Yes, it’s a beautiful sight, beautiful.

Anthony (after a bit of a slumber): Jules?

Me: Yes? I’m here, Ants.

Anthony: Can you roll me up?

Me: Do you mean put your feet down? (I had his feet up in the armchair) How’s that?

Anthony: Bloody beautiful.

I always have pen and paper handy to scribble down my conversations with Anthony. Today and yesterday have been interesting in terms of his alertness (some days he sleeps and/or drowses during my visits).

It sometimes seems a bit odd to me that I am so fascinated by what is actually a tragic situation but Anthony has always inspired me in one way or another. At nearly 80, he has the most extraordinary resilience; he is positive without meaning to be; and he never complains except to say he is “a bit tired”.

Keeping a record of these conversations seems important somehow. For me, these transcribed tidbits of conversation make me feel as if I have a handle on our situation; that I can somehow control it into a manageable story that Anthony will appreciate.


Spring chicken

One of the best things about getting chooks again is telling Anthony the stories that go with the chooks. He gets a real kick out of my ineptitude.

A couple of days ago I picked up another couple of chooks from some serious breeders who go by the name of Chookloop. As soon as I got home, I put them in the chookpen with the other four but they’re a bit smaller so the big ones started pecking them and one of them was smart enough to figure out how to get out of the chookpen – argh (it took me ages to catch her).

So I brought them inside and put them in a box on the back veranda with some food and water. But, as soon as I turned my back, the smart one flew out and followed me into the kitchen where she hid behind the fridge until I was able to ease her out with a fly-swat (another hour).

I ended up putting them outside the back door in an upside down laundry basket which is where they spent their first night. The next morning, I went out to replace their water and, as I was doing so, the smart one got out, so I let the not-so-smart one out as well. They had a wonderful time frolicking under the fig tree. It was only when I attempted to catch them and put them back under the laundry basket that I realised I might need yet another set of ages/hours.


Notsosmarty was relatively easy to grab, but Smarty eluded me for well over an hour. I finally had to give up being gentle and simply threw myself into the shrubbery under the fig tree in a kind of football tackle which left us both muddy and disgruntled. I gave her a little cuddle, she pooped on me, and a friendship was born.

Since then, they have both spent a couple of nights in the ground cage we raised the guinnea fowl and peafowl in eons ago. I’ve placed this inside the chookyard so that the other chooks can get used to them without being able to peck them. They are also protected from crows, but they do look a bit miserable this morning because it is so cold and wet.

It is great to be able to answer the dreaded question, “So, what have you been up to lately?” with, “I have some new chooks!” instead of my usual, faltering, “Oh, this and that.”

It’s quite refreshing, too, to be able to give Anthony some new news and, as he has always loved chooks, it is a mutually enjoyable topic of conversation. What I like most about this is that the new chooks, despite reminding us both of previous chooks (and even chooks Anthony may have cared for as a child), are a fresh addition to the conversations we have in the cozy world of his nursing home room.

Okay, a bit of dialogue:

Anthony (referring to ‘my hero’ of yesterday’s post after she popped in with his clean laundry): That’s the girl, right?

Me: Yes – she is wonderful.

Anthony: And she’s on our side isn’t she.

Me: Of course!

Anthony: Your hair needs combing (oh why is this such a preoccupation with him?)

Me: Why the hell are you so obsessed with my hair? It’s windy outside, and raining. I’ve battled a storm to come and see you and all you can do is criticise my hair! I’ll have you know this is the best cut and colour I’ve ever had and I adore my hair-dresser.

Anthony: Give me a comb.

Me: What? Why?

Anthony: I can fix you. You’re still a spring chicken.

Hence the title of this post which, remarkably, ties in with the chook thing – ha!

PS. After Anthony combed my hair, I ruffled it up a bit and he smiled the benevolent smile of a chook-owner.




Sometimes I feel a bit guilty for being so totally relaxed and lazy in Anthony’s nursing home room. Okay so I did a bunch of paperwork there today but, for most of the afternoon, I just put my feet up on his knees and watched West Wing while he slumbered on and off.

I think this restfulness is good for both of us; he wakes up from a nap and almost always says, “Jules?” For me, it is good to be there because there must be many, many other times that he asks for me but I’ve gone home.

Most of the staff now know the white lie I want perpetuated – that ‘Julie will be back soon’ – and this seems to comfort Anthony (and me of course!)

This afternoon, as Anthony slumbered, I quietly packed up my things and put a pillow on the chair next to his, where I usually sit. He suddenly woke up and said:

Anthony: Where are you going, Jules?
Me: Just to get some groceries, Ants. I won’t be long.
Anthony: I am crazy.
Me: No, you are NOT crazy!
Anthony: I’m crazy about you.
Me: Oh … well, so you should be!


I no longer think being restful is a lazy thing; it beats the hell out of anxiety, and it beats the hell into acceptance.


Hallucinations are not just visual

I’ve been reading some of Oliver Sacks’ work over the last few days. This wonderful, 82-year-old neurologist – most famous for his book Awakenings which was made into a movie – died last week.

When I was writing my PhD thesis on Alzheimer’s Disease, I referred to Sacks’ work often. I particularly liked the way he melded science with anecdote.

I found it particularly interesting today to read about people who have other-than-visual hallucinations. As it is many years since Anthony began hallucinating, I’ve developed a bit of a fascination I guess.

The fact that people with dementia, Parkinson’s disease and other various neurological disorders, often experience various sensory hallucinations, is well-documented in the academic world but perhaps not widely understood by the people on the ground, so to speak – the carers.

It seems important to translate academic findings into do-able care strategies but that doesn’t seem to happen enough in my opinion. Perhaps I’m in a good position to write about dementia better than I wrote about it before because I’m not studying it now; I’m experiencing its nuances via my husband, Anthony.

And I know it sounds weird but I do find Anthony’s condition, especially the hallucinatory stuff, fascinating. Here are some examples:

Visual hallucinations: baby on his lap; calves outside the window; Ming in the room (when he isn’t); children on the floor; dogs on bed; machinery in the room etc.

Auditory hallucinations: replies to conversations that aren’t happening; often speaks to deceased members of his family as if in response to a question.

Tactile hallucinations: feels there is a baby/child on his lap, or a puppy; will mistake his own hand for mine and kiss it.

A couple of years ago Anthony mistook the hoist that the carers were using to lift him from chair to bed as a pirate ship. I remember vividly the evening phone-calls from the nursing home from carers wanting me to calm him down (in retrospect this only happened a few time). This was terribly distressing of course but soon faded off as Anthony got used to the hoist. But sometimes he still says things that indicate to me that bed-time is traumatic.

Just the other day:

Anthony: They attacked me and took all my clothes off and fiddled around with my genitals.

Me: Ants, they were the nurses putting you to bed! Try to always remember that, please.

I wonder sometimes if the most feisty of dementia sufferers ‘see’ the carers as scary characters from pirate ships, as previous enemies, as terrifying strangers. The latter, I think, is probably the best way of describing what a person with advanced dementia might feel towards a caring nurse at bed-time – I don’t know.

Anyway, this was supposed to be a tribute to Oliver Sacks.

Maybe it is.



Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.

George Bernard Shaw

I have changed my mind so many times over the last few years, months, weeks, days, minutes, moments, about how to best care for a husband, 79, in a nursing home, and our son, 21, embarking on adulthood. It’s doubtful whether Ming will want chooks in his future life!


Not very long ago, whenever people talked about the weather, or gardening – whether it be small-talk or serious-talk – I would tune out. I have never been the least bit interested in anything relating to the actual job/hobby of gardening despite numerous attempts to get interested.

Okay, I got interested many times; but I didn’t remain interested, mostly because I was busy working at the university and bringing up the beautiful brat, Ming (who, by the way, isn’t interested in gardening either.)

Gardening was Anthony’s ‘thing’. His family (mother and younger brother) came here in the late 1950s to run a dairy farm and Anthony began planting things – camellias, palms, silver birches, flame trees, roses, citrus, hedges … and a whole lot of other stuff.

Up until the year before the nursing home, Anthony was still interested in planting, watering, and wandering about, in the garden. But he would get stuck! We only had the walking stick then so he would go out the back to check on a hose and then become paralysed and sometimes it took a whole hour to get him back to the house. Then, one day, when he was in his armchair in front of the fireplace, I told him not to move while I went up to the shop to get some supplies, only to find him face-down in the front yard; he’d fallen again!

Parkinson’s disease (and all of its off-shoots, including dementia) is an ever-changing condition that can make life tricky for those who care for family and friends inflicted. For example, sometimes I can show Anthony photos of home – the new chooks, the better-kept garden, the mowed lawns etc. and he will think he has been home.

But, at other times, Anthony will ask to come home and I will have to distract him. This is not because I don’t want him to come home; it’s because he is mostly immobile now so I actually can’t physically manage him. The guilt is ghastly of course but it is easily blitzed by my almost-daily company, in the nursing home, during the afternoons. And photos of the new chooks!


This morning this wonderful group of gardening people came over (it’s a group I’ve recently sort of joined) and each person had a good piece of advice for me. Plus everyone brings some produce to exchange – fascinating!


I am changing into a gardening person!

Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.

George Bernard Shaw