12 November 2014

Flower of the week

It's just a humble creeper - but boy can it creep!

I only remember buying two hoya plants (genus Asclepiad) in all the years I've lived here. But as the creepers grew, I would stick pieces here and there - usually in hanging pots.

I don't know what it is about these tough little guys with their leathery leaves that always fascinates me. I've never seen a bird feeding from the flowers, though I suppose insects must.

But once a year - in late Spring - they flower. And it's always such a pleasure to see where these appear.

'Wax flowers' is the common name - and as soon as you handle one of the multi-headed blooms you can see where the name comes from. The waxy flowerheads don't smell, they fall to pieces as soon as you pluck them so are no good for picking. But...

...appearing as they may do anywhere along the creeper's roaming stems, they're always a delight to behold, even if I know that after flowering is finished I'll have to disentangle some of the plants from places where they have no business going - e.g. under the gutters!

Let's hear it for tough wiry survivors.

No flowers yet on this one, even though it has colonised much of the pergola that it shares with a number of other plants and with frangipani (plumeria) just now coming into leaf.

18 May 2014

Half a year without my sweetheart

Six months ago today, Allen died. Sometimes it's as fresh as if it were yesterday. At other times, I can't remember having him near. But I do often hear him reminding me of the power of music. And this morning the ABC played a wonderful version of Beethoven's 9th Symphony. What better reminder that hope and beauty can transcend loss and sadness.

This was Allen's last book - that is, the last one he never stopped trying to read. It's a notebook he built up during his final 10 or so years, when music became his greatest consolation. In it, he had pasted translations of the lieder he listened to over and over again. Like this one (Maiden's song), from a Brahms song cycle:

On Judgment Day I will rise again,
and immediately look for my sweetheart
and if I cannot find him,
I will lie down again and sleep.

Heartache, you Eternity!
Only with another comes happiness!
And if my sweetheart comes not in,
then I don't wish to be in Paradise!

14 May 2014

Moving on (and in)

This is the sort of day it has been.

My mood all day has been much the same, influenced no doubt by the tail end of a debilitating flu or cold. But I've been at my desk anyway, preparing for the final of ten tutorials I will have presented in as many weeks for two first-year groups of teacher-trainees at the local university. I was pleased to be offered this semester of part-time work. It was one of several new pastimes that I hoped would help me learn to live alone and begin to 'move on', whatever that means!

So ten weeks ago, I moved my office out of its former temporary location in the second bedroom, into the small galley room that had been Allen's office ever since we moved here in 1996. My own larger office used to be in a separate studio building, now a second guest bedroom. But I had to give up that larger space when it became impossible for me to be that far away from Allen for any length of time. I could have returned to the studio-office, now that my caregiving duties are no more. But several things dissuaded me from doing that.

First was the attraction of not having to vacate my office whenever I have visitors. The studio has the double bed for visiting couples; the second bedroom has a single bed (which is where my grand-daughter sleeps on her frequent visits). But Allen's little end-room office - once a verandah - is too small to accommodate a bed. So it is always free, no matter how many people are sleeping in the house for the weekend or longer.

Then, too, the distance from the house to the studio meant my laptop inevitably ended up in the house, perched on the dining-cum-sewing table. That's because going out to the studio to check emails and do my banking and other routine tasks is just too much of a nuisance late at night or when it's raining. Giving up the larger studio space seems a price worth paying for the convenience of having all my office things just a few steps away from my bedroom.

What really settled me in my decision to make Allen's office my own was just that: the fact that it had been his. Until I moved in here, this room off our bedroom was a furious empty space that screamed his absence every time I looked into it. I could hardly bear to enter it. So I moved in and made it mine, which meant going through all his shelves and papers first, of course. But that was relatively easy. Allen had been doing it himself for years before he lost the ability to read and write. He was always a well-organised man - socks rolled in his drawer, suitcase nicely packed, paperwork all in order. He had long ago sorted everything he wanted to keep or pass on, and discarded just about everything else.

I moved my things in and found, to my surprise, there is plenty of space. First I discarded several wheelie-bins of old paperwork - things from my university degrees and old freelance jobs going back decades. All the books and other curriculum materials we produced during my ten years as manager of the state's educational publishing facility have gone to our regional university's library. Dozens of other books are going here and there. It's a very liberating feeling, as I remember Allen assuring me when he did the same with his theatre library and paperwork a long time ago - a move which horrified me at the time. 

My new little office has been quite pleasant during the warmer weather - even though it's the only part of the house that doesn't have access to air conditioning. But we rarely used the aircons in the rest of the house anyway, thanks to good insulation throughout and a perfect aspect in all living areas. This office has both eastern and northern-facing windows, so the winter sun streams in but there's no exposure to the hot western summer sun. I've been amazed how cosy the room stays now that our cooler winter weather has arrived. Since it's small and has good windows, the tiniest bit of sun heats it up nicely. I can't help chuckling when I remember now that even after he could barely do anything constructive in the way or reading or writing, Allen still disappeared into this enclave after breakfast every day, sliding shut the glass door connecting it to our adjacent bedroom. In his last months, I would put an opera on his computer for him to watch. I now realise that because his tiny frame could no longer regulate his body temperature very well, he was probably mainly enjoying the room's warmth. - probably just one of hundreds of things Allen could no longer express.

Right outside one window here a beautiful golden penda is growing, a tree I planted in 2009 when I painted the room for Allen and had tiles laid down. As I was closing the blinds this afternoon, I looked out to see the first of the golden penda's new season's flowers had just opened. The light was fading, but I photographed it anyway. I need reminders that life goes on.

26 January 2014

Even so...

I don't know when I will once again be able to start some regular posts here - or some writing elsewhere. My energy at the moment is totally occupied in creating some new kind of order - one that will get me through this interval of time between Allen's presence in my life and the acceptance of his absence. But I want to hold on to some of the thoughts I've had during this period. And as these are often framed in letters to friends and family, I will copy to my blog excerpts from some of these from time to time. I hope later on to be able to come back to these thoughts with less pain and more pleasure in remembering my late husband....

Dear Malcolm,

I was again in tears – reading your lovely words, which I will ask Julian to read at our lunch next Sunday. Thank you so much for taking the time. And thank you, too, for capturing so well the spirit of the man I fell in love with 35 years ago.

So much of Allen’s lively enthusiasm, wit and intelligence was severely taxed in recent years by the dreadful disease eating away at that beautiful brain. Even so, right up to his last days at the beginning of what was supposed to be a short few weeks of (my) respite, he could appreciate the humour in some of the antics of fellow residents in the dementia unit. Watching a guy do something silly at a nearby table while I helped Allen to get a slippery omelette into his mouth, he looked at the guy and then over at me and raised a quizzical eyebrow, as if to say: “Get a load of him!”

Except in short episodes of delusion, mainly in the evenings or during the night, Allen and I never lost the ability to connect – even as words and language lost almost all meaning for him. He was taken to hospital after just his third night in that respite facility, when he apparently ingested vomit while lying in his bed. In all our years together, I can’t remember Allen ever vomiting – even when in hospital. So it will always be a great mystery to me what actually happened. But I know when I arrived there in the morning, and sat with him while we awaited the ambulance, he was already on oxygen and struggling to draw breath. Less mysterious is the fact that he just could not rally during the next four days in hospital, but continued to deteriorate with a terrible pneumonia.

I knew only too well that Allen had been wanting for months to be finished with his struggle. He could no longer manage to read anything but the occasional word, couldn’t write words or even letters and could only barely understand the grammar of even the simplest of spoken utterances. He was so very isolated, and his physical mobility had been likewise impaired. He just couldn’t control the voluntary and involuntary actions of many of his muscles. Each morning while I shaved him, for example, his right hand would perform a kind of pretend-shaving, and I’m not sure he understood which of us was actually holding the razor. He could only shuffle along on his walker – but always insisted on accompanying me to the shopping centre, sometimes waiting on a couch near Woollies if he didn’t feel up to the whole supermarket slog. But when we got home, he never failed to help unpack the bags and put whatever things away he could manage. He just wasn’t one to sit idly doing nothing. And yet he was losing interest even in listening to or watching the many opera DVDs that Chris had sent him from China. He felt all his forces – both physical and mental – slowly evaporating. And he just hated it.

I don’t think he had the will to fight one more battle with pneumonia – and he’d had several. And four days of IV antibiotics had done nothing to reduce the infection. He had to be on IV hydration, too, as he could no longer swallow anything. So it was a relatively easy decision to accept the doctor’s offer to begin morphine – ostensibly to minimise the pain of his difficult breathing. But we all knew what it meant. I had no hesitation in telling the doctor: “Let him go”. Allen was to all intents and purposes unconscious in the last 24 hours or so before that, but I think even he knew this was his chance to slip away. And instead of the two or three days we’d been warned it might take, Allen was gone in just a couple of hours, peacefully drawing his last breath in a lovely corner room with tea-trees and a bright blue sky outside our window. I long ago had to come to terms with the Allen I knew and loved no longer being available to me. But I’m still coming to terms with Allen not being in the next room, dozing peacefully in his favourite armchair. It’s going to take a long time. I’m glad his battle is over. Even so.....

05 December 2013

Roland Allen Harvey 1929-2013


On 18 November 2013 my beautiful husband, Roland Allen Harvey, passed away at Noosa Hospital after a brief battle with pneumonia. His physical and mental health had both deteriorated greatly in the past six months, and though we, his family, have very heavy hearts, we know his passing now, while he still knew and loved us all, was a blessing for him. It is less so for us. 

Allen's poor damaged brain has gone to the Queensland Brain Bank at the University of Queensland. We hope in some small way it will help researchers there to learn a bit more about Primary Progressive Aphasia, the debilitating brain deterioration that ultimately robbed him of his mental fluency and physical agility. 

Allen was cremated in Noosa at 8am on Friday, 22 November. At that exact time, his family gathered at The Spit, where the Noosa River flows into the sea, to remember him with a champagne breakfast.


On 15 December friends and family will gather at a lunch in Doonan to share reminiscences of my dear husband's long, productive and very happy life. 

09 June 2013

A memory of friendship

This orchid opened this morning – a beacon of brightness on an otherwise bleak and wet winter day. The annual flowering of this plant always brings to mind John and Gillian Unicomb. They left the orchid behind as a thank-you gift more than ten years ago, after they'd had a holiday in our house during one of our absences overseas.

John and Allen were at high school together. Then both went on to a lifetime of work in the theatre – only working together once in their late 50s when John played an outstanding Willy Loman in a wonderful production of Death of a Salesman, directed by Allen. Gilly and I first met in Hobart in 1971. We were neighbours and had our babies together the next year.

Sadly, John died earlier this year. So the annual flowering of this orchid brings lovely memories of a very dear man – and of the power of friendships.

05 June 2013

My winter garden

Here are just a few corners of my too-big garden - showing some of the plants that brighten my heart on these (relatively) cold winter mornings.

We call this the butterfly bush (with some ornamental ginger on the left). The white flowers only appear for a couple of weeks at this time of the year. For the rest of the year, it's a pretty unimpressive plant. I cut it right back to the base after flowering. Otherwise it would grow too leggy.

Outside Allen's office window is a little group of fishtail palms. There are at least four climbers living on it. The latest to take hold is this philodendron (at least, I think it's a philodendron - the climbing sort, not the tree type). 

My golden penda tree (below) is full of berries. In the warmer months it will be awash with gorgeous yellow blooms. It's a Queensland native, and  I know the birds visit the flowers for nectar, but I haven't yet seen any birds coming for the berries.

That's one of my smaller poinsettias. It puts on a good show every year, when the overhanging frangipani (or plumeria) has lost its leaves.

I have only a small collection of bromeliads - all in pots, so they won't get waterlogged during our summer downpours. I have placed them along a path that leads from the house to the studio. That way anyone staying out there can enjoy them - as can I when I use the studio.

Most of the bromeliads have grown 'pups' over the last season. I guess they're pretty happy in this spot, which faces north (the prime position for any plant), but has a number of large palms and other things providing some shelter on hottest days.

This year I've moved my herbs and a few greens up to the topmost terrace, right outside the living-room. Too often I would forget to pick these before dark - and then have to wander down to the unlit vegetable garden with just a torch to guide the way. So now they're conveniently located just off the front terrace, and well lit by the exterior lights on that side of the house.

Here you see rocket (behind a small border of ornamental plants). Herbs are on the other side of that little gardenia you can just see at the top right of the photo. The boxes have various oriental greens coming along - for stir-fries. A lime tree provides shelter from the hot western sun.

At the far end of this same terrace (below) is one of two teak rocking chairs that my mother loved to sit in during the year she spent with us.

Also in the photo below is a ponytail palm I inherited from Zoe. It needs more TLC than a working mum can provide. And on the plant stand behind the rocker you might catch a glimpse of my largest Christmas cactus. It's just coming into flower. (There are a few more of these amongst the bromeliads in the photo above.)

Finally, on the pergola outside my bedroom window, a delicately blue-coloured thunbergia is colonising part of the roof as well as the pergola. (This is also one of the climbers that's up in the fishtail palm.) Officially this is now a weed, and shouldn't be planted too close to bush areas, as it can get out of control. But here it's well contained by the parking circle on one side and paths on all other sides. I just have to climb up and cut it off the roof now and then, so it doesn't choke up my gutters. The lovely flowers are well worth that trouble.

02 May 2013

Early introduction to Planet Aphasia

Ask me what is the most dazzling theatre experience I have ever had and I will answer without a moment's hesitation that it was the 1993 premiere production of L'homme qui... at the fabulously renovated old Paris theatre, Theatre des Bouffes du Nord.

This stunning drama, inspired by Oliver Sacks' The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, was the work of British director Peter Brook and his renowned troupe of actors, dancers and musicians known as the International Centre for Theatre Research. Brook's multinational company had had a peripatetic existence until the troupe took up residence at this Paris theatre, built in 1876 and renovated in 1974 under the direction of Brook and his partner Micheline Rozan. The theatre, and the unusual way in which it was brought back to life in a way that maintained its aura as a living relic, is worth a story of its own. The Theatre des Bouffes du Nord featured prominently as a location for the classic French thriller, Diva. And if you read French, have a look at the theatre's official website for an overview of its amazing history and restoration.

We arrived early at the theatre that night, as we weren't sure how difficult it would be to find. (We'd been told it was behind the Gare du Nord, one of Paris's larger railway stations.) And we also knew that Brook's policy did not allow numbered or reserved seats. Tickets were all one price; you sat wherever you wanted, or could. It was necessary to arrive early to get a good seat. And so we had at least 15 minutes in which to sit and marvel at the incredible ambiance created by a restoration that had retained as much as possible of the fabric of more than one hundred years of use. Peeling paint on the stage's walls and overhead a giant domed grill of rusted metal contrasted sharply with crisp new seating that appeared as if suspended within the original and untouched perimeter walls.

The play itself, of course, was performed mainly in French. I say 'mainly' because a good deal of what some of Sacks' patients spoke was gibberish, in keeping with their various brain disorders. Allen doesn't speak or understand French. He knew about Sacks' work, as did I, though I don't know if either of us had yet read the book which inspired the production. But not only did Allen feel he understood most of what was going on, we both felt we could almost 'hear' what the afflicted patients were trying to say in their nominally unintelligible ramblings. All of this was due to the magnificence of the acting – there's just no other word that describes it better than 'magnificent'.

At the play's conclusion, the audience sat silent and stunned for what seemed like ages. Then applause and foot-stamping erupted (the built-up seating had a wooden floor, I think). And when the tumult finally died down, many people, like us, remained rooted to their seats. All around I could hear intense conversations in French start up about the play and its contents. It was an electrifying experience – just what good theatre should be, but so rarely is.

Why do I so often now think back to that magical Paris experience? I suppose it's because in some ways I feel I'm now living inside a Sacksian world. How strange it is that the single most inspiring theatrical experience I have ever had should so eerily have prefigured where our lives were destined to end up 20 years later – Allen struggling, mainly in vain, to make himself understood. And his shrinking brain in ever-increasing revolt against his personality and all that he once was, knew and accomplished.

It seems only appropriate to end with a statement about aphasia taken from an April 2 post on Oliver Sacks' blog:
What is aphasia?
Imagine knowing what you want to say, but your brain refuses to let you utter even the simplest word. Or imagine listening to your friends and family and having no idea what their words mean. Sometimes the ability to read or write is affected too.
That, unfortunately, is the world Allen now inhabits – a place a fellow sufferer has called "Planet Aphasia".

01 May 2013

Testing from mobile

Maybe if I can master the technique of posting from my mobile phone I might be able to get back into blogging.

It's way too long since I was on this site. But things have progressed at home - no, progressed is not the right word....regressed maybe? Yes, A's condition is worsening quite quickly and so we both have to put a lot more effort and energy in to get through each day. What little I have left goes into the garden, when I can get out there.

Visits from our own little Baby Bear (BB as we call her) are a beacon in an otherwise dim world.

24 February 2013

Salamanca Market stalwarts

Hobart's Salamanca Market (Tasmania) and Eumundi Markets (Queensland) could probably be credited with the revival of the market culture in Australia.

Both started with fruit and vegetables and some local craft works targeting mainly local or district residents and occasional visitors. But both expanded to become major tourist drawcards, contributing to the revitalisation of their historic precincts in the process.

Salamanca Market recently celebrated its 40th anniversary. For about half that time my sister has been a stall holder there, selling her handmade jewellery. She uses mainly sterling silver, semi-precious stones and freshwater pearls, but in the last few years she has also incorporated some of her original crochet work to make a range of brooches and other accessories featuring fruits and flowers in a kaleidoscope of colours and patterns of her own design.

My sister's can-do partner is the engine supporting the stall's success. Hard-working and always cheerful, he builds, adapts and facilitates all that's needed to to make the operation (and their home, for that matter) run smoothly.

Both are also wonderful salespersons, well informed about all the materials they use in their jewellery and the processes by which these are produced or mined. And most importantly, they really love meeting the people who visit their stall each week. They are always ready for a chat with tourists and make it their business to be a source of useful information about all sorts of island experiences.

Salamanca Market is what market shopping should be like: local artists, artisans, crafts persons and small-scale entrepreneurs making a living doing something they enjoy. Don't miss the market if you ever visit Hobart (http://www.salamanca.com.au/salamanca_market_hours.htm). There are some 300 or so stalls, as well as dozens of small craft shops and boutiques in the neighbouring sandstone warehouses left over from the city's convict-era colonial past.

And be sure to say hello to my sister and her partner in market stall 250.

(Postscript: It's seems more than coincidence that my sister met her partner more than 10 years ago at Eumundi Markets. She was spending a couple of weeks visiting with me and rented a temporary market stall in Eumundi on two consecutive Saturdays. What began as a friendly exchange between neighbouring stallholders has now developed into a lifetime partnership.)

22 February 2013

Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens

Nothing too unusual to report here on my fourth day of holiday in Tasmania. So how come I'm exhausted? Well let's see. My sister and I did a tour of secondhand shops earlier today - what we call "op shops". She's an expert on the local scene and I was hoping to pick up some tips on how to find the best deals.

In the end I forced myself to pass up a cashmere and wool Perry Cutten 3/4 overcoat ($10) and a camel hair great coat ($40) because... Well, after all, I live in a semi-tropical climate and rarely get to wear even a wool cardigan.

My sister's three rules for op-shopping: (1) you should love the item (not just like it) and find it near-perfect, (2) you should need the item or at least definitely plan to use or wear ear it and (3) the price should be right. Those coats failed to meet the second criterion and one of them was also one size too big (a failure in the first category).

So it was on to lunch at one of North Hobart's many ethnic eateries. Then we visited the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens. Established in 1818 and covering 13.5 hectares, the gardens include 6500 species of plants, 400 of which are Tasmanian natives.

As always when I've visited these gardens, I was transfixed. We probably walked several kilometres, admiring the sequoia, Chinese elms, alders and one magnificent white mulberry that covered a space as big as the average house block.

Below I'll share a few photos from the gardens, including one taken underneath the mulberry, though it doesn't do the old tree justice. And I'm working exclusively on my iPhone to take these photos, post them to my blog and then view the results. I won't be able to check the quality until I take time to review everything on computer later. So forgive any less-than-perfect-quality shots.

21 February 2013

A Tassie tale

I see I have managed to post from iPhone though I can't manage to place photos anywhere except at the end of each post. So here's the second part of my introduction to my current Tasmanian interlude. I hope you can match the photos to the text.

The entrance to the upstairs unit at my sister's house is via a ramp from ground level to the door, through a green tunnel. On the left is a large Japanese maple, clipped to a make a green wall in summer, but just imagine the riot of colour in autumn. And on the right is one massive clematis vine growing from a patch of garden under the ramp. Its colourful burst would occur in spring.

My sister's house is on a steeply sloping hillside so her garden is a series of terraces. Veggies are planted in sunny strips and spots here and there.

Especially delightful are the plants I remember from my cold-weather gardening days - like fuchsia and roses. And can you see that fat bumblebee on the tall balsam?

Hello Hobart

This is the first post from my iPhone and it's an experiment. I'm in Tasmania, visiting my sister. Here's the view from my bedroom window, with the Derwent River and the Eastern Shore of Hobart on the far side.

We sailed up that river yesterday, headed for the relatively new Museum of New and Old Art (MONA) that has propelled Tasmania to the No. 1 spot on Lonely Planet's list of top international destinations. More on that in another post. First let's see if this posts OK.

06 December 2012

The heat's on

It's only 90° outside this morning! That's a relief from yesterday (mid 90s) and the day before (top of 102°). But none of these temperatures is conducive to the kind of heavy slogging that my overgrown vegie patch would require if I were going to make up for a whole season of neglect.
In the matter of degrees Fahrenheit vs Centigrade, as in yards/feet/inches and pounds/ounces vs metres/centimetres/ and kilograms/grams, I'm ashamed to admit that mentally I still visualise the old rather than the 'modern' units of measurement. Australia converted to metric for most purposes during 1974, though the total conversion in all industries actually spanned a period of nearly 20 years due to the complexities involved in converting tools, road signs, speedometers etc. I originally migrated to Australia in 1969, before metric conversion, but was back in the USA for all of 1973. So I arrived back in Australia at the apex of the conversion timeline, and had to make that adjustment at the same time as many others. Perhaps I just consigned that one to the back burner, where it's still simmering. 
For 'young' readers and those my age or older who have adapted more readily to all things metric, check the thermometer and you will see that 102°F translates to about 38.9°C (and I wish I'd thought to photograph it two days ago, when that was apparently the hottest day around here since recording began sometime in the 1800s). Having to use decimals to make a point about temperature just doesn't do it for me – though wait a minute, normal body temperature to me will forever be 98.6°F, and not 37°C, as my daughter knows it. And yet, I like to think of myself as a person who can adapt to changing circumstances, someone who has moved readily among different cultures and countries in both work and friendship. Am I self-deluding in this as in other areas, perhaps?
Let's just agree: it's been damned hot. We do have excellent roof insulation, and get good cross-breezes up here in our hinterland location. So it's usually much pleasanter in the house than outdoors. There are ceiling fans in every room – one of the first things we did after buying this place in 1996. And ten years later, we installed good air conditioners throughout the house, too – even in my outdoor studio. I doubt we'd have invested in these if my mother hadn't been coming to live here, because we were never really worried that much about the few days every summer when temperatures rose into the mid-90s. But I'm now very grateful for the impetus that Mum's coming provided. Maybe it's age, but I'm experiencing the ennui brought on by heat much more this year than ever before. Even so, I try only to resort to aircon when the temperature is roasting. And I must admit that my reasoning has as much to do with soaring electricity costs ($200/mo. when either heat or aircon is used liberally vs. $100/mo. in off-seasons) as with ecological consciousness. 

Of course there's wonderful relief to be had in the pool. And until that 100° day earlier this week, we had been swimming every morning for the past week. It's no small effort to get Allen into his swimming togs and (safely) down to the pool terrace, then in and out of the pool when the surrounding surface is blisteringly hot and he feels every temperature variation so intently. Still, it's well worth the effort.

On our first swim just last week, Allen was quite literally overcome by joy, shouting out as he floated off, "Isn't this wonderful!" I think it's the freedom of movement he experiences in the water that gives him such pleasure, especially now that his mobility on land is so tentative and there's always the anxiety of falling. His balance and motor control are both very dodgy now. And though he still manages 15 minutes every morning on his exercise bike, he can no longer walk very far without succombing to exhaustion. I guess that's the result of insufficient exercise, poor circulation, age (he is, after all, 83) and, more likely, a combination of all of these plus the rampant disintegration of various areas of the brain. Everything from using a knife and fork to washing his hair in the shower requires some degree of supervision and, often, assistance. (He just can't remember that shampoo shouldn't be applied while the head is under the stream of water, or that a soapy head then needs to be rinsed.)  It's no wonder that floating freely in the pool gives him such pleasure.
Allen can't really swim any more – that's just one of many physical skills that he's either lost completely or that have deteriorated badly. But after experimenting with various flotation devices, even a life-jacket, we finally found a simple belted hard-foam device that supports him sufficiently, whether he's just walking in the pool or swimming' on his front or back. So now he will amble up the length of the pool in a kind of bicycle movement when on his stomach. And on his back he can manage a crude backstroke.
I worry what would happen if that belt buckle ever popped, and I have to remain near enough and somewhat vigilant for that reason. However, it's not far to the edge of the pool at any one spot. I think I'd manage to drag him there if I had to, in spite of never getting past intermediate level as a swimmer myself. But even though one half of our pool is very deep – even the 'shallow' end is up to my armpits, as we always planned to swim in the pool, not laze around – I couldn't possibly deny Allen the great pleasure that swimming provides just because there's a danger he might drown! He's had to accept too many losses without adding another.
Deciding what risks are worth taking is often an issue for carers. For example, I have a friend whose brain-damaged but physically strong husband recently decided he'd like to join a rowing club. She had to go into battle to get him in. The club was keen to take him on but their insurance company was a 'proverbial pain', said my friend. It's no surprise that insurance providers are by nature risk-averse, and this company only relented after forms were completed by doctors testifying to the fact that my friend's husband was fit enough to row with the best of them. Even then, they required that he wear a life jacket at all times. The club itself bent over backwards to help, even buying the life jacket! But my friend's husband is embarrassed that he's the only member required to wear one, and he wears a vest over the jacket to minimise his embarrassment.
I completely understood my friend's belief that the very small 'risk' of her husband experiencing a rare epileptic episode while rowing – possibly resulting in an accident – was more than balanced by the pleasure and sense of achievement he gets from participating in this sport. Life isn't risk-free for anyone, so why should her disabled husband be consigned to live a life of sterility! We shared a laugh about the fact that we carers must seem a pretty hard-hearted lot, in allowing our partners to take such risks. But not wrapping them in cotton wool is all part of the struggle to help our them live as 'normal' a life as possible.
A postnote re safety and risk: The rubberised shoes pictured alongside the lifebelt above have been a godsend! Both Allen and I bought a pair of these years ago for walking up and down the stairs that lead to our pool terrace. That was after we had taken a tumble together on those stairs when going down the steps in slide-on sandals, me carrying all our gear and attempting to help Allen not trip over a hose lying across our path. I realised even then that slide-ons were a no-no for Allen, as his mobility had already begun to deteriorate prior to the open-heart surgery that we didn't yet realise he needed. Later, after that surgery and during Allen's long immobility and confinement to an Intensive Care Unit, I brought these shoes into the hospital when physical therapists began to get Allen up onto his feet, and he needed all the help he could get to relearn how to walk. The therapists loved these shoes, as they gave good support and grip on polished floors. Slippers were considered much too dangerous, even in hospital.

20 November 2012

My Baby Bear

Later this week Allen and I will be going down to collect our little Baby Bear, and bringing her back to stay with us for the weekend. This will be only her third visit without her parents. And though she keeps us on our toes, there is nothing but fun and joy from her 6am wake-up until bedtime about 12 hours later. (And she has a good nap at least once a day, so we get to put our feet up then.)

Hooray indeed! BB is 19 months old and has a vocabulary that's expanding every day. I must try to video her giving us a rundown of all the words that she recognises the meaning of, and can say in some fashion (e.g. parts of the body, important people in her life, favourite foods, ABC characters – Angelina Ballerina being a particular favourite, but which as yet consists mainly of vowels ("aa--ii--aa). Ditto Bananas in Pyjamas! Studying her language development is even more interesting than the linguistic courses I loved all those years ago.

BB's facility to remember details is equally astounding. When she arrives here it may be more than a month since she and her parents last visited. Even so, she will go directly to the things she remembers from a previous visit – the drawer containing plastic containers she's allowed to play with, the glass-fronted bookcase whose door she's attracted to though she knows she isn't allowed to rattle (looking at me guiltily while patting it), a bunch of display baskets she's allowed to take off a shelf, a set of dominoes that she loves to move from one container to another, a collection of garden labels taken off plants I've planted in my garden. These she will load and unload into a basket, studying each label intently and 'reading' the text on the reverse of each picture. Exposed to books since birth, she clearly knows that print contains a message. And in a sing-song babble that only she understands, she will 'read' aloud from each label.

Perhaps because Allen's memory is slipping away, and it's so hard (almost imposible) for him to learn new tasks or remember instructions, I am fascinated and overjoyed to watch BB's young brain making (and retaining) dozens, maybe hundreds, of new 'connections' every day. Hers is a healthy brain displaying plasticity in all its wonders. What a welcome antidote to the experience of living under the cloud of Allen's deteriorating brain.

19 November 2012

The rain makes 100

I've been waiting for a special reason to post this, my 100th blog entry! What better way to celebrate than by reporting the first good rain of the season. Literally, all my bowls runneth over! And the birds that use them every day are diving and dipping in a particularly carefree way. They too no doubt know the rains have come.

The distortion inside this bowl is the effect of rain pouring down, filling it and every other garden receptacle that until now I'd been topping up by hand. And even though we only got 33ml, this rainfall on Saturday had a serious feeling to it. It came down hard and fast.

Now, two days later we are sweltering in the kind of temperatures that usually precede a storm, so I'm hopeful there's more rain to come. In any case, the garden has been completely refreshed and the dust of winter washed off all surfaces.

I walked around the house to admire the dripping scenes from all sides. And after the storm, both Allen and I went out to enjoy a strange pastel sunset. I was too awestruck by the pale blue and tangerine streaks to think of photographing it, but I doubt the camera could have done it justice.

Only those of you who have relied on rainwater for your household needs can appreciate how much it means to feel the first rain of the season on your face. When I lived in cities I never even knew what time of year the rains came – or if there was a time when it rained more than at other times.

Now I can smell the rain coming. And if I have any doubt, I can walk down into the paddock and see if the ants are building up mounds of soil at the entrace to their holes. I'm not sure why they do that, but how high they build gives a pretty good idea how much rain we'll get. No matter where I live in future, I'll never take rain for granted again. Nor should we.

About me

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I started this blog in 2009 when I became a full-time caregiver. My husband had been diagnosed a few years earlier with primary progressive aphasia. Over the next four years until his death in 2013, we went on a journey of discovery about this rare condition. My blog is about what I learned, how we both coped and how the journey deepened our love and appreciation of each other. Allen’s journey is over, but mine goes on.